June 24, 2024

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Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Which fitness ecosystem is best?

12 min read
Fitbit Sense vs Apple Watch Series 6 watch faces displays 1
Fitbit Sense vs Apple Watch Series 6 watch faces displays 1

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

If you’re looking for a fitness wearable, there is no shortage of devices to choose from. While this may be the case, two brands really stand out. Very often, it comes down to Fitbit vs. Apple Watch. And seeing as Fitbit is now owned by Google, this once again comes down to the same debate we’ve been having on mobile for years: Google or Apple?

Things are a little more complicated here, though. While both brands offer great products, the experience is very different depending on which option you choose. In fact, they are almost so different as to be incomparable. But compare them we shall!

Fitbit vs. Apple Watch: Fundamental differences

As I just alluded to, Apple and Fitbit take a fundamentally different approach to wearables.

Fitbit devices are designed for fitness first and foremost, hence the name. While a few devices blur the line between smartwatch and fitness tracker, the focus is squarely on monitoring activity and counting calories.

See also: Fitbit buyer’s guide: Everything you need to know

Conversely, the Apple Watch is a smartwatch that can also be used for fitness. This is an important distinction. With that said, however, the sheer perfectionism of Apple and the huge ecosystem of third-party apps ensures the Apple Watch can offer one of the most robust fitness platforms available.

Again, we run into the issue of comparing apples and oranges (there’s a pun in there). Neither platform is better for fitness aficionados; rather, each has particular pros and cons. That’s what we’ll be exploring here in this Fitbit vs. Apple Watch showdown.

Fitness tracking with Fitbit

fitbit sense review calories burned active zone minutes today

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Fitbit has been in the fitness wearables game for the longest time, and it shows in the comprehensive range of features and extremely robust data tracking.

A typical Fitbit offers the following:

  • Tracks steps taken, calories burned, and floors climbed via barometric altimeter
  • Tracks distance traveled and pace via standalone GPS or connected GPS
  • Tracks Active Zone Minutes
  • Records heart rate on-demand, throughout the day, and during workouts
  • Offers automatic activity detection
  • Sleep tracking with details on sleep stages, restoration, total time asleep, nighttime disturbances, and trends
  • SpO2 monitoring

Additional features found on higher-end variants, such as the Fitbit Sense, include:

  • Electrodermal activity monitoring (stress)
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Skin temperature

All these sensors are top of their class. Fitbit generally has some of the most accurate heart rate sensors on the market.

It’s how Fitbit uses the data it collects that is impressive, though. In particular, the activity auto-detection is hands-down the best I’ve used. Fitbit devices will accurately detect my walks, runs, bike rides, and even the occasional weight lifting sessions. The same is true for sleep detection, which is extremely reliable, in my experience. Here is an area where Fitbit wins in any Fitbit vs. Apple Watch face-off.

Fitbit’s activity auto-detection is hands-down the best I’ve used.

There’s a lot more to explore with Fitbit, too. Fitbit boasts extensive social features (great if you want a spot of encouragement) and integration with many useful services (Apple Health, Google Fit, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, Strava, etc.).

fitbit inspire 2 review fitbit app fitbit premium

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

On top of that, Fitbit OS supports a growing ecosystem of third-party apps. If you’re looking for a feature that isn’t included by default, there’s a chance you’ll find it here alongside a slew of fun and useful distractions.

The app itself is also among the best, being clear to navigate while providing a lot of information.

If you want more, you can opt to plumb for Fitbit Premium. Fitbit Premium is a paid service that provides more insight into your health data via a “health metrics” dashboard, alongside guided workouts/workout videos and personalized insights.

See also: Fitbit Premium review: Is it worth it?

I find this irksome. While it’s perfectly understandable that Fitbit might want to offer additional services for a fee, the way it is done here feels cheap. Being told that additional sleep data is being kept behind a paywall is frustrating when you already paid for the device you’re holding. It would cost nothing more for Fitbit to show you that information, but you need to pay monthly to get the full benefit from your $100+ device.

And while I wouldn’t mind paying for guided workouts, being shown them constantly via the “Discover” tab makes it abundantly clear that you are getting a sub-par experience.

Fitbit and Apple both have premium options, but they’re handled much differently.

When comparing Fitbit vs. Apple Watch, it’s only fair to point out that Apple also has a paid offering in Apple Fitness Plus. However, this is handled quite differently, as we will see in a moment.

Fitness tracking with the Apple Watch

apple watch series 6 review workout screen running gps

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Apple Watches come with a wide range of sensors to help you track health and fitness. The latest model is the Apple Watch Series 6, which offers the following:

  • Tracks steps taken, calories burned, and floors climbed via barometric altimeter
  • Tracks distance traveled and pace via standalone GPS or connected GPS
  • Records heart rate on-demand, throughout the day, and during workouts
  • Offers automatic activity detection
  • Sleep tracking with details on total time asleep, nighttime disturbances, and trends
  • SpO2 monitoring
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

You’ll notice there is no skin temperature sensor or electrodermal activity monitoring here. In Apple’s defense, the usefulness of both these tools is debatable.

The other sensors are, once again, top class. In fact, in his Apple Watch Series 6 review, Jimmy called the Apple Watch Series 6 heart rate sensor “one of the best [he] ever used.” I often use the Apple Watch as the yardstick against which to compare other devices for review.

Like Fitbit, Apple also offers social features such as competitions with friends and is just as compatible with third-party services. If a fitness app is compatible with any smartwatch, it’s likely to be the Apple Watch.

With that said, the actual fitness ecosystem appears surprisingly bare-bones at first glance. The Fitness app displays four rings for movement, exercise, and standing-time… and not much else. You can dig deeper to get more information, but it’s not presented front and center. This is largely found in a second app, Apple Health, which collates the data pulled from other devices and apps you might be using.

See also: Your complete guide to Apple Health, Apple Fitness, and Apple Fitness Plus

Sleep tracking is also bare bones here. You get your time spent asleep but don’t get the detailed breakdown of sleep stages (again, this data should be taken with a pinch of salt). Until very recently, the Apple Watch didn’t offer any sleep tracking at all! And unfortunately, despite the onboard SpO2 sensor, the Apple Watch won’t alert you to potential issues like sleep apnea.

apple watch series 6 review sleep stats

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

There are caveats to these issues that we will get to in a moment. But also lacking, in my experience, is activity auto-detection. While this is a feature of the Apple Watch, in theory, I find it to be very fickle on my Apple Watch Series 5. I can go on a 10-mile hike, and there is about a 40% chance I’ll see the prompt to record the walk. Even impromptu runs get missed, and you can forget bike rides. While you may have a different experience to report, this is a win for Fitbit in my book.

Sleep tracking is very bare-bones on the Apple Watch.

But Apple begins to pull ahead in the Fitbit vs. Apple Watch race once you start looking deeper.

That Health app, for example, actually hides all sorts of interesting data and insights you might otherwise miss. You can get notifications of irregular heart rhythms, you can set up a medical ID, and you can even set an automatic timer to make sure you are washing your hands for 20 minutes. You’ll also see data coming from all kinds of sources, including the iPhone itself. You’ve got walking speed, VO2 max, headphone audio levels, heart rate variability, even walking asymmetry.

Apple Watch App Store

Things get even better once you start adding additional apps. While Fitbit OS has an increasingly varied selection of apps, it simply can’t keep up with the options on iOS. Whether you’re looking for an app to play music based on your heart rate (Endel), brain training on your wrist (Peak), interval timers, or anything else, you’ll find it here. You can even choose entirely different sleep trackers with far more detailed breakdowns of information.

This is where the Apple Watch begins to pull ahead of other options and becomes, in my opinion, the most flexible fitness ecosystem on the market.

Like Fitbit, Apple also has a paid service that can be used in addition to the core experience: Apple Fitness Plus. Unlike Fitbit, however, this service isn’t constantly front and center. While there is a tab in the Fitness app devoted to it (one of only two tabs, in fact), it is clearly marked as a separate service.

Moreover, Fitness Plus is squarely focused on guided workouts and videos. There is no gated data from your watch, and you at no point feel like your device’s wings have been clipped without it.

See also: What is Apple Fitness Plus? Here is everything you need to know

Fitbit vs. Apple Watch: Design and hardware

Apple Watch Series 5 Lying Down

The Apple Watch is a beacon of smartwatch design and is widely praised for its premium feel and great looks. There are a variety of materials offered each generation, with some being more luxury-oriented than others. But even the basic aluminum models feature stunning curved, AMOLED displays, minimal bezels, amazing haptics, and an all-around polished finish. A stand-out feature is the “digital crown” that mimics the appearance of an analog watch while offering a tactile and convenient form of navigation in addition to the touchscreen.

The Apple Watch is a beacon of smartwatch design.

When Fitbit is trying, it is capable of some great aesthetics, too. Although you could certainly also say its smartest devices are somewhat derivative. At a glance, you could easily mistake the Versa 3 or Sense for an Apple Watch. They feature the same square display, the same rounded corners, and a similarly large screen. The Sense and Versa 3 are the most well-designed Fitbit devices ever launched.

fitbit sense review design display watch face 1

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Fitbit Sense

But Fitbit can’t quite keep up with Apple’s production values, however. Nice though the Versas are, the screens feature subtle bezels and are actually a lot smaller than they appear. The materials generally feel lighter and less expensive, too. That’s fair, though, given that the Fitbit Versa 3 is cheaper ($230 vs. $380 for a standard Apple Watch Series 6), as is their most high-end offering, the Fitbit Sense.

There is also only one Apple Watch design (which has barely changed since the very first iteration). If you were looking for something more subtle — that could be worn in addition to a regular watch, for example — you will be disappointed. Fitbit, on the other hand, offers a wide range of different models to suit any need. The Fitbit Charge 4 and Inspire 2 are far more svelte options that are also very lightweight for sleeping and traveling. They also come in much, much cheaper than any Apple Watch at just $130 and $70, respectively.

fitbit charge 4 review watch face on wrist 1

So far, the Apple Watch is just about pulling ahead of the Fitbit in most areas. Apple’s biggest Achilles’ heel, though, is battery life. As it always has been.

A Fitbit smartwatch will typically last around 5-6 days, though this will be shorter if you use the always-on-display or go for multiple runs. Either way, it never gets as low as the Apple Watch’s roughly 36 hours. While the Apple Watch will almost always get you through a day, the issue is sleep tracking. If you choose to use Apple Sleep or one of the third-party offerings, you will need to charge the watch every day for 90 minutes. That’s 90 minutes of missed data and possibly much more should you forget.

Battery life drains more rapidly when you use the GPS, too. This means that you won’t want to use the Apple Watch for anything longer than a 10k.

Also read: Fitbit vs. Garmin: Which is right for you?

That said, neither an Apple Watch nor Fitbit would be my top pick for runners. There are a variety of great running watches if you need a long-lasting, accurate device — many of which are made by Garmin.

Fitbit vs. Apple Watch: Smartwatch features

apple watch series 6 review siri voice assistant

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

If you’re reading a comparison of Apple Watch vs. Fitbit, chances are you’re primarily looking for a fitness device. If you’re looking for a smartwatch, the answer is far more straightforward: Apple Watch is hands-down the better choice.

The Apple Watch has a much wider range of productivity apps available in the app store, it has cool features like widgets (complications), and it integrates with an iPhone in a myriad of smart ways. Everything has Apple’s unique touch, too. Even the torch is thoughtfully designed; it doesn’t become fully bright until you point it away from yourself and can be turned off by covering the screen with your palm.

And again, the huge ecosystem of third-party apps also makes a big difference. I’ve used my Apple Watch for everything from learning with cue cards to prompting myself during speeches.

Related: The best smartwatch deals we could find

And while Siri is generally considered one of the poorer voice assistants, it actually works really well on Apple Watch. If you’re using it to set timers and make calls, you’ll find it’s extremely useful to have on your wrist. Even if you only use the preloaded Apple Watch apps, you’ll have access to a variety of handy features: maps, a remote camera controller, news, weather, a walkie-talkie, a radio, podcasts, and more.

I genuinely miss my Apple Watch when I’m not wearing it, which I can’t say for any other device I’ve worn on my wrist.

fitbit sense review amazon alexa voice dictation 1

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

None of which is to say that Fitbit devices can’t be good smartwatches. There is a slew of useful features on the Versa line, and these devices have great touch-responsiveness and snappy processors (starting with the second generation).

In particular, the inclusion of both Alexa and Google Assistant on the Versa 3 and Sense is a welcome addition. Having the choice of two different assistants gives Fitbit the edge here, especially as they are generally considered to be superior options.

Fitbit devices also benefit from a host of third-party apps, although you’re less likely to find exactly what you’re looking for (and it probably won’t be as well-made). The selection of pre-loaded apps is much narrower, too.

Of course, the big catch is that you will need an iPhone to use an Apple Watch in the first place. But then, if you only have an Android phone — what are you doing reading this? In terms of support, both platforms see regular updates which are pushed through reliably.

Fitbit vs. Apple Watch: Final thoughts

Fitbit Sense vs Apple Watch Series 6 watch faces displays 2

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

As you can see, there is no single best choice when comparing Fitbit vs. Apple Watch fitness ecosystems. Personally, I prefer Apple’s offering on the whole. Fitness tracking on an Apple Watch has the potential to be more comprehensive, thanks to the unrivaled app store. Apple Health also does an amazing job bringing a wide range of features together in a single spot. The latest Apple Watches have among the best wrist-based heart rate trackers on the market, and the hardware and software are up to Apple’s usual incredibly high standards. The Apple Watch is a computer on your wrist with a slew of powerful sensors. If you put the work in, the possibilities are nearly endless.

See also: The best fitness trackers: Fitbit, Garmin, Xiaomi, and more

But Fitbit devices are arguably more focused on fitness. This is apparent in the superior sleep tracking, far better activity detection, and longer battery life. They give you more options in terms of hardware, too.

We’d also like to know what you think. Which company has the best ecosystem, Apple or Fitbit?

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