Apple Watch vs. Fitbit

Both devices have strengths and weaknesses

Some Fitbit wearers purchase an Apple Watch because they are more interested in seeing notifications on their iPhone than they are in the Apple Watch activity features. They see the Apple Watch as a device that provides a different experience as far as activity tracking of exercises, runs, and walks.

However, after a few months, the Activity and Workout apps on the Watch become two of their favorite Apple Watch features. People who wear these devices every day focus more on the activity readings from the Apple Watch than those from the​ Fitbit. We reviewed both devices, and they differ in several areas.

Apple Watch vs Fitbit

Overall Findings

Apple Watch
  • Measures exercise.

  • Includes a heart monitor.

  • Assists in setting goals.

Fitbit
  • Measures activity.

  • No heart monitor.

  • Monitors progress toward goals.

Both the Apple Watch and the Fitbit are useful devices for individuals who are interested in their fitness levels. The Apple Watch has other features, such as messaging and notifications, that the Fitbit doesn't try to match. However, the Apple Watch costs more and doesn't work without a partnership with an iPhone.

The Fitbit encourages competition with other Fitbit wearers. The Apple Watch coaches the wearer to make gradual improvements in their activity levels. For people who sit for long periods in front of a computer screen, the Apple Watch stand-up reminders are a valuable addition that Fitbit can't match.

Activity Features: Exercise Is Different From Being Active

Apple Watch
  • Requires extra effort to count as exercise.

Fitbit
  • Counts all steps as activity.

One of the biggest revelations for Fitbit wearers is that all those active minutes they are proud of aren't all that active. The Fitbit may show 80 active minutes, which is roughly the length of two long dog walks, while the Apple Watch records the steps but thinks that only five minutes of the movement qualifies as exercise. That's a big difference and something worth noting when it comes to achieving long-term fitness goals.

If you walk at a reasonably slow pace (about 18 or 19 minutes per mile), the Apple Watch doesn't categorize those leisurely walks as strenuous exercise. Both devices register the movement, but in different ways. The difference comes from the heart rate monitor in the Apple Watch. It knows that those miles didn't take much effort, while the Fitbit can't determine how much work went into those walking workouts.

Goals and Coaching: Both Set Goals but Only One Coaches

Apple Watch
  • Coaches new users on setting goals.

Fitbit
  • Sets goals but doesn't coach for improvement.

With the Apple Watch, you can set a calorie goal each day—a number you intend to reach through movement. As the day progresses, the pink circle in the Activity app gradually closes.

Newcomers to the Apple Watch may pick 700 calories as their goal. That may sound like a reasonable goal for a relatively active person. As it turns out, burning 700 calories takes more effort than you may realize. New users often miss their goals in the first week. They are accustomed to burning over 2,000 calories with a Fitbit, so surely they can hit 700? It turns out that Fitbit adds the calories you burn naturally into the mix. That's a skewed number when you're looking at it later in the context of how much you burned through effort rather than just breathing.

What is interesting is the Apple Watch's reaction to calorie-burning failures. The following week, it suggests a lower calorie goal as something to try. When you reach your goal for a week, the following Monday, the Apple Watch suggests a higher goal. The Apple Watch gradually scales things up from week to week, turning what was once an unachievable goal into a possibility.

That's a contrast from the Fitbit. With it, you can set step goals and see how far you are from achieving your goal. It's up to you to determine what's realistic regarding goals. If you start out setting unrealistic goals, you'll appreciate having the Apple Watch gently coach you along and make suggestions on what you can conceivably accomplish. 

Extra Feature: Time to Stand Up

Apple Watch
  • Reminds users to stand up regularly.

Fitbit
  • No stand up feature.

Anyone who spends the majority of the day sitting in front of a computer screen can enjoy the gentle reminder from the Apple Watch to stand up during the day. At first, the notification comes every hour like clockwork if you haven't stood in the previous 50 minutes. Soon, you train yourself to get up and move around during the day. Just this small amount of movement can make you feel healthier and more productive during the workday. This is a feature that the Fitbit lacks.

Competition: Fitbit Encourages Competition

Apple Watch
  • No social prompts to encourage competition.

Fitbit
  • Encourages competitions with co-workers and friends.

One thing you may miss with the Apple Watch is competing with others. With Fitbit, you can challenge co-workers and friends to competitions in which you try to outstep each other during the weekend or on a specific day. There's no social challenge element to the Apple Watch Activity app, so there's no way to compete with friends in your workouts. If you're accustomed to wearing a Fitbit, you know there's nothing like a friendly competition to motivate you to get out there and move.

Final Verdict

The Apple Watch is the best choice if you're looking for smartwatch features in an activity tracker. The sophistication of its activity app, goal coaching, and stand-up notifications set it apart from other trackers. However, the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to operate. Users without an iPhone find the Fitbit a helpful fitness companion.