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Apple Watch vs Fitbit: how to choose the right wearable for you

Fitbit vs Apple Watch
(Image credit: Future)

Fitbit and Apple are two of the biggest names to consider if you've been thinking about buying a new smartwatch or fitness tracker – but which is the right one for you? We're here to guide you through the key differences between the two brands, and equip you with the facts you need to make an informed choice.

While Fitbits and Apple Watches share many similar features, including daily activity and heart rate tracking, there are also lots of key differences that you should know about when choosing between the two.

Knowing where to start can be daunting, and upgrading can also throw up myriad possibilities that make it tough to choose which is the right watch for you. With that, here’s some help in choosing the right device for you.

Apple Watch

It’s been six years since the first Apple Watch was released, and since then it’s seen a course correction from a focus of apps for the device, to focusing primarily on your health.

Currently there are four models on sale directly from Apple:

All three use Apple's latest operating system for wearables, WatchOS  8, which introduced new mindfulness tools, improved outdoor cycling features (including more accurate calorie counting for e-bikes), a pilates workout mode, and an updated photos app with new portrait watch faces.

Battery life

Your Apple Watch's battery life mainly depends on how often you will use the fitness features throughout the day, but as soon as you put it in at 8am and then come back to watch Netflix at 7pm, you will usually be left with 40% charge remaining.

Fitness features

There are a ton of features that you can cater to your needs, including a raft of activity-tracking options, plus on-board GPS so you can leave your phone at home and still record your runs, swims and rides.

Alongside this, if you know of others who also have an Apple Watch, you can see their fitness goals throughout the day, and even compete with them over a seven day period.

Better yet, exclusive fitness goals appear during the month, to further challenge you on the tasks you usually take part in. From walking, to pilates, and strength goals, they’re all here.

Another great feature, which you'll find on every device except the Apple Watch 3, is fitness detection. If you're 10 minutes into a walk, for example, the Watch will display a prompt asking whether you want to track it. Those first 10 minutes will already be logged if you choose 'Yes', meaning your entire journey will be tracked. It's a very handy feature, and means that even if you're just running errands and wouldn't normally think to activate tracking, it will still count towards completing your daily Rings. Since the launch of WatchOS 8, your watch can also track cycling automatically, so your daily commute to work will could towards your goal as well.

If you're interested in getting more active at home, it's also worth noting that you'll get a free three-month subscription to Apple Fitness Plus when you buy a new Apple Watch, giving you access to hundreds of instructor-led workouts on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.

Pricing

It’s best to see the Apple Watch versions as good, better, and best. All are fundamentally excellent smartwatches that benefit from a mature operating system, so it's a matter of balancing your budget against their features.

The Series 3 is a great entry point for those who want an Apple Watch with a heart rate feature, at the lowest price. But it’s a design that’s already outdated, with a smaller screen than the others and unavailable watch faces that are only accessible on later devices.

The SE is a great in-between option. It includes the features of the Series 4 onward, though it omits the ECG, so if you want an Apple Watch that can detect irregular heart rhythms then you won’t get it here. It's another excellent entry-level device though, if you can afford to spend a little more.

The Apple Watch 6 gives you a lot more features for measuring your health and wellbeing, including blood oxygen monitoring, plus an on-demand ECG, for a significantly higher price. Fitness is the primary function of the Apple Watch in 2020, so if that's your main concern then you won’t go far wrong here.

The Apple Watch 7 is a relatively small upgrade, with the main difference being smaller bezels on the watch face, and slightly larger case sizes (41mm and 45mm compared to 40mm and 44mm for the Apple Watch 6). There are no extra sensors for health tracking (the rumored blood pressure monitoring is apparently some way off yet), but there's a 70% brighter always-on screen mode for use indoors, the display is topped with tougher crystal, and the watch's case is now rated IPX6 for protection against dust.

Fitbit

It’s hard to believe that the first product Fitbit released back in 2009 was a clip-on device that only measured steps and sleep. Now there multiple varieties of Fitbit available to suit many different groups of customers.

The company made waves in creating smartwatches with fitness as a priority, and it came to a head in 2020 where Google announced it was buying Fitbit to bolster its wearable armory. They're not just for Android, though; Fitbit devices also work with iOS, making them a great choice whichever handset you use.

From basic activity tracks for monitoring your heart rate and step count to fully-fledged smartwatches, there’s a Fitbit for everyone. As we’re talking about the Apple Watch here, the closest products that rival it are the newly launched Fitbit Versa 3 and the Fitbit Sense.

However, that might soon change. Fitbit is now owned by Google, and the two companies recently announced that they're currently working on a premium Fitbit powered by Google's smartwatch operating system, Wear OS. We don't know much about it yet, but this is likely to be much more of a direct competitor to Apple.

There's a wide range of Fitbit devices available, from the sleek Fitbit Luxe to the sports-focused new Fitbit Charge 5, but if you're looking for something comparable to an Apple Watch, the Versa 3 and Sense are the two you should be looking at.

Fitbit Versa 3

The Fitbit Versa 3 is the more affordable of the two Fitbit smartwatches, and is an excellent alternative to the Apple Watch 3 or SE for Android device owners. You can respond to notifications from Facebook, messages and email, make contactless purchases with Fitbit Pay, control your Spotify playlist, track workouts and more, all from your wrist.

Alongside the hundreds of watch faces that can be enabled on the device, there’s also a variety of colours to choose from:

  • Black
  • Midnight / Soft Gold
  • Pink Clay / Soft Gold

Fitbit Sense

The Fitbit Sense is the higher-end of Fitbit's two new smartwatches, with a similar design but a more advanced feature set to monitor your health and wellbeing. Alongside the features of the Versa, it has the first electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, which can detect signs of stress based on changes in your skin's conductivity. It can also detect variance in skin temperature, which can be a sign of an upcoming illness, plus your heart rate and blood oxygen saturation (SpO2).

The colours to choose from are:

  • Carbon / Graphite Stainless Steel
  • Lunar White / Soft Gold Stainless Steel

Battery life

Both the Fitbit Sense and the Versa 3 offer a six-day battery life (though the exact duration will vary depending on the features you use), with a minimum of a 12 minute charge to keep you going for the rest of that day.

Fitness features

This is where Fitbit shines; once the app is downloaded onto your phone, simply sync your device and a wealth of health and fitness data will be available at your fingertips - all presented in a format that's clear and easy to interpret. In addition to heart rate, sleep and activity metrics logged by your Fitbit device, you can also use the app to log your hydration, set weight goals, log food, and track your menstrual cycle.

If you're mostly interested in tracking your fitness, and not so concerned about other smartwatch features, it's worth checking out the full range of other Fitbits as well. The Fitbit Charge 5 is particularly impressive, with on-board GPS to track outdoor workouts, the same stress monitoring tech as the Fitbit Sense, workout tracking, an ECG sensor, heart rate monitoring, and sleep tracking – all packed into a compact case much smaller than the Sense or Versa 3.

Apple Watch or Fitbit

If you're still not sure, the decision comes down to a few factors. If you use an iPhone, it makes perfect sense to complement it with an Apple Watch. You gain features that are exclusive to the Watch, such as Siri and deep integration with iOS.

Currently, Apple is leading the way in the smartwatch market, and the current lineup of Apple watches are great all-rounders that benefit from a mature operating system, long-term support from Apple, and a wide range of apps. Although they don't focus on health as much as Fitbit's devices, their workout tracking features and Apple's upcoming Fitness Plus subscription service encourages you to go that extra mile and consider the effects of your lifestyle on your wellbeing.

If you’re using an Android phone, a Fitbit device is the one to go for, especially now that the company has been purchased by Google, and a premium Fitbit smartwatch powered by Google Wear OS is coming soon.

Fitbit's heritage in workout tracking and health makes its devices a good choice if you're particularly interested in monitoring your workouts and cardiovascular health. The Fitbit Versa 3 offers you a similar feature set to the Apple Watch SE, alongside the SpO2 feature that the SE model lacks. Its lower price might also be enough to tempt iPhone users.

If you're interesting in practicing mindfulness, the Sense's stress tracking, mood logging and breathing exercises could make it the best device for you, helping you manage the pressure of life in 2021.

Overall, the decision is yours; it just depends on the phone you have and how much tracking your fitness means to you.