Fitbit vs. Apple Watch - Which Wins the Wrist?

Fitbit vs. Apple Watch - Which Wins the Wrist?

Fitbit Charge and Apple Watch on Wrist
Fitbit Charge and Apple Watch on Wrist. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I thought I wanted an Apple Watch the first time I saw it demonstrated. But I've been wearing a Fitbit since the first model debuted. I have years of activity history with Fitbit. One model after another have been my constant fitness companion.

But then I rented an Apple Watch via for a two week trial. It took only two hours to convince me I had to buy one.

I'm wearing the Apple Watch and I love its fitness features. But Fitbit still beats it in several ways. Here are six things I'll miss if I say goodbye to Fitbit, and four things that swayed me to the Apple Watch cult.

Sleep Tracking - Fitbit Beats Apple Watch

Fitbit Tracks Sleep
Fitbit Tracks Sleep. Kathryn Donohew/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

The Apple Watch has to be recharged daily, and most users will recharge it while they sleep. This eliminates sleep tracking with the Apple Watch.

Most Fitbit models track sleep (the Zip doesn't) and some of them automatically detect sleep periods so you don't even have to remember to start and stop tracking (the Charge, Charge HR and Surge).

The Fitbit app displays sleep data both on the dashboard and in drill-down for nightly, weekly and monthly graphs. You can set a sleep goal.

Sleep is important for overall health, losing weight, and for effective physical fitness training. You can use other apps for sleep tracking while your Apple Watch recharges, but it's sad that it can't be included in the first generation.

Battery Life - Fitbit Beats Apple Watch

Apple Watch - Battery Level
Apple Watch - Battery Level. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The biggest hassle of the Apple Watch is that it has to be recharged daily. While I usually could get more than 24 hours of battery life, that would just leave an awkward need to recharge it in the middle of the next day. Taking a plane trip overseas can mean you'd need to recharge it before you reached your destination.

The Fitbit Zip is the mightiest for battery life, lasting for months. The other Fitbit models have a battery life of days to weeks. Fitbit wins by a landslide.

Compatible Phones - Fitbit Beats Apple Watch

Fitbit Works with Nokia Lumia Windows Phone
Nokia Lumia Windows Phone with Fitbit Flex. Wendy Bumgardner © 2014

Fitbit made the choice of not linking into Apple's Health Kit, but its app pairs with iPhones as well as Android and Windows phones.

If you own an Android or a Windows smartphone, you are out of luck with the Apple Watch. Even if you have an older iPhone, the Apple Watch requires at least an iPhone 5 and won't pair with any other operating system. I had to upgrade from my old 4s before trying the Apple Watch.

If you buy an Apple Watch and ever plan on switching away from the iPhone, you'll be left with a mostly-useless Apple Watch. With Fitbit, you can switch away without fear.

Friendly Competition - Fitbit Wins over Apple Watch

Fitbit Friends
Fitbit Friends. Screen Shot by Wendy Bumgardner

It's likely that your friends have a Fitbit. By May, 2015 the number sold was almost 11 million. You can easily add friends to your Fitbit competition list from your contact list and Facebook list, or invite them via email.

You can try to beat them on the 7-day leaderboard and you can engage them in competitions. You can send them cheers and taunts through the Facebook app.

It's less likely you have many friends with Apple Watches and so you'll be left out of all of the Fitbit fun without a similar replacement. I felt that same loneliness when using the Garmin vivofit and the Polar Loop and A300. Fitbit is friendliest.

Heart Rate - Fitbit Wins with Zone Indicators

Fitbit Charge HR Workout Tracking
Fitbit Charge HR Workout Tracking. Fitbit

All Apple Watches have an LED pulse reader built in, and it continuously monitors your heart rate during a workout session. The Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge also have LED pulse readers, while other models of Fitbit do not.

Until Apple rolls out an operating system update, Fitbit has the edge. They display which of three heart rate zones your pulse is in, allowing you to gear your workout to an exertion zone. After your workout, you get a graph of your heart rate throughout the workout and time spent in each zone.The Apple Watch doesn't - yet.

With the Apple Watch, you can see your pulse on demand, or see it continuously while using the Workout app. It's nice to see a number, but there is no indicator as to what percentage of maximum heart rate the number represents, and no summary or graph of time in different heart rate zones. It doesn't yet share the heart rate data with the other fitness apps you can use. If I want to use MapMyRun or the Nike app, I can't see my heart rate in those apps or have heart rate data included in my workout summary.

The Apple Watch heart rate data will be available to other apps with the update coming later in 2015. But for now, it is disappointing. Even once it arrives, wearable tech experts say neither Apple nor Fitbit's wrist-based heart rate measurements are as accurate as wearing a chest band. If you want accuracy, you may want a chest strap heart rate monitor anyway.

Wearing Options - Fitbit Wins Over Apple Watch

Fitbit Models 2015
Fitbit Models 2015. Eric Thayer/Getty Images News

If you want to wear a watch, the Apple Watch is a stylish timepiece. But if you want to track activity without wearing something on your wrist, Fitbit has more options. The Fitbit Zip and Fitbit One can be worn clipped to your waistband or carried in a pocket. You can leave your wrists bare or wear bracelets, a Swiss chronometer, bangles, etc.

I clip my Fitbit Zip to my shoe to track indoor cycling and earn steps for it. With the Apple Watch, I track indoor cycling as an exercise session instead and it credits me for calories and exercise minutes, but not steps.

You can choose a different look for your wristband Fitbits. You can buy different colored bands for the Flex and there are jewelry coverups available to camouflage the Flex and Charge.

An array of after market Apple Watch bands are also available to change the look of your Apple Watch.

Notifications - Apple Watch Wins Over Fitbit

Apple Watch Messaging
Apple Watch Messaging. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Apple Watch owners love the notifications feature. Not only can you read texts and see incoming calls, you can actually compose texts, answer calls and make phone calls. You can use custom answers or use voice-to-text to dictate. I found the dictation worked very well. You have quick access to favorite friends with a press of a button.

You can set which other apps are allowed to send you notifications to your Apple Watch. Maybe you have a lot of apps giving you notifications on your phone, but you don't have to see all of them on the watch.

The Fitbit Charge, Charge HR and Surge all show incoming calls and the Surge also shows incoming texts. However, I found that my Charge HR often just stops giving me call notifications. I have to keep reconnecting it to my phone.

Apple Watch is the king for notifications.

Navigation and Maps - Apple Watch Wins Over Fitbit

Apple Watch Map
Apple Watch Map. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Fitbit app exercise tracker can be used to see your walk on a map on your phone, but you can't view maps on any of the Fitbit devices.

The Apple Watch has a map display and can give you navigation directions (walking or driving) to a destination.

I find the map on the Apple Watch to be too small for me to read easily, but the navigation directions are excellent. You receive a tap when you are approaching a turn to alert you to look at your watch for more details. The taps and sounds are even different for left vs. right turns.

It's easy to look up a destination using Siri on the Apple Watch and start navigation. Not only that, asking for Burgerville brought up useful info such as the rating from Yelp, phone number, how long it would take me to walk or drive there, address, map and hours of operation.

Just raising your wrist and saying, "Hey, Siri" you can ask for grocery stores, gas stations, fast food, etc. and get a list of what is nearby. From the list you can drill down to find more details and start navigation.

Most of the Apple Watch functionality depends on the phone being within 20 feet. But it is very convenient to use voice commands to the Apple Watch while you are walking or running and not to have to get your phone out.

Music Control - Apple Watch Wins Over Fitbit

Apple Watch Music - Podcast Control
Apple Watch Music - Podcast Control. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You can control your music playback with the Fitbit Surge but currently not with the other Fitbit models. It uses Bluetooth Classic for music control rather than Bluetooth 4.0/LE.

Apple Watch has the edge here as the music controls are easy to access with Glances. You can even load a music playlist onto the Apple Watch and then leave your phone at home during a walk or run (assuming you have Bluetooth earphones). You can adjust the volume easily.

But I was even more pleased to discover that the Apple Watch controlled playback of audiobooks and podcasts, including skipping ahead 15 seconds or back 15 seconds. I usually listen to those rather than music and I often find myself going back to review a sentence that got drowned out by a leaf blower or traffic.

With the Apple Watch, I rarely have to get my phone out to fiddle with my podcasts, audiobooks or music. That makes it a great walking companion.

Inactivity Alerts - Apple Watch Wins Over Most Fitbits

Apple Watch - Stand Achievement
Apple Watch - Stand Achievement. Wendy Bumgardner ©

One of the three fitness tracking features of the Apple Watch is Stand. It aims to remind you to move each hour to reduce the bad health effects of sitting too long.

If you've been sitting for an hour, you get a tap on your wrist and a notification that it's time to stand up. You need to stand up and move around for a minute to get a kudo that you've moved.

One of the daily goals in the Apple Watch Activity App is to Stand for at least a minute during 12 hours of the day. You can see on a graph which hours you missed.

Fitbit has no inactivity alerts on most of its models. The Fitbit Alta debuted in 2016 with a vibrating move reminder if you haven't logged 250 steps in the hour. It also allows you to set and achieve goals for moving each hour during your chosen time period.

Next: Which Wins - Apple Watch or Fitbit?

Which Did Wendy Choose - Apple Watch or Fitbit?

Apple Watch and Fitbit Zip
Apple Watch and Fitbit Zip. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I forsook my Fitbit Charge HR and passed it on to a friend to adopt. I freed up my wrist and dedicated it completely to the Apple Watch.

But I didn't stop wearing a Fitbit. I replaced the battery in my Fitbit Zip and I wear it in my pocket or on my waistband. It keeps the competition going with my Fitbit friends.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by Fitbit for some of the models used by this reviewer over the past several years. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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