When choosing a new fitness tracker, the decision often boils down to one key contest: Fitbit vs Apple Watch. The two mammoth brands have been at the top of the tracker game for years and, though the likes of Garmin and Whoop also boast some of the best fitness trackers on the market, the pair remain two of the biggest names in the wearable space.
But, with many people looking to upgrade, which one should you pick to take pride of place on your wrist? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. Instead, you have to consider your health and fitness goals, what you plan to use the tracker for, and the metrics you value most to determine which brand wins.
Not only this, but you’ve also got to pick which Fitbit or Apple Watch you want, with different models and generations offering varying degrees of detail in their health and fitness feedback (not to mention catering to a range of budgets).
To help you make your mind up, we’ve considered the features, workout-tracking credentials, design and battery life of the Fitbit and Apple Watch models available to deliver a final verdict on which one wins this high-tech battle royal. So, read on to find out which brand is right for you.
What models are available?
There’s a huge range of Fitbit fitness trackers and smartwatches available, from the sports-focused Fitbit Charge 5 to the all-singing Fitbit Sense. Apple has a few models – the SE, 3, 4, 5, 6, Apple Watch Series 7 and the newest Apple Watch Series 8.
While all of the models in Apple's range have the same squarish, chunky look, you'll find more variety among Fitbit's catalogue of models. Some, like the Charge 5 above, are thin, discreet bands, while others like the Sense have larger, square-shaped clock faces more reminiscent of the Apple Watch.
Wearable analyst Leo Gebbie from Connected Devices told Live Science that, historically, Fitbit and Apple targeted different areas of the fitness industry.
"The Apple Watch was positioned as an exclusive premium-tier device offering a powerful user interface and third-party app support, whereas Fitbit offered a range of more affordable fitness trackers and smartwatches backed up by a well-established brand," he said.
"However, Apple has diversified its offering over time, bringing older models of the Watch down the price curve to compete directly with Fitbit smartwatches."
One of the main differences between Fitbit and Apple Watch is the latter’s close optimization with the rest of the Apple ecosystem. You need an iPhone to activate the Watch, and it is integrated with Apple’s other devices and services to provide an excellent user experience. By contrast, Fitbit devices are compatible with all smartphones, and simply require the Fitbit smartphone app for connection, making them easily accessible.
It's also worth pointing out that Fitbit models are a lot cheaper — some of the best budget fitness trackers are Fitbit designs. Apple's wearables tend to be pricier.
Which has more smartwatch features?
This one is a win for Apple, which boasts more smart features than its fitness tracking companion.
An Apple Watch offers notifications, alarms, timers, Siri and a huge app store. By contrast, Fitbit has some basic services like notification mirroring, and a smaller app offering. You can use your Watch to make payments through Apple Pay, while only a handful of the Fitbit models allow payment via Fitbit Pay.
Apple Watch even has some models with Cellular capabilities, meaning you can accept calls and texts from your wrist, without your iPhone. The latest Apple Watch Series 8 also has a temperature sensor that can be used for ovulation tracking, and an advanced gyroscope for fall detection.
The companies also have slightly different approaches to music: with Apple, you can download albums on your watch from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. On Fitbit, the only way you can download music is if you do so via Deezer or Pandora.
It's not a huge issue if you prefer to store music on your phone, but it does give Apple the edge in this category.
Which is better for tracking workouts?
Both Fitbit and Apple Watch can track workouts. However, depending on the actual device you're using, they will do this in very different ways, says Gebbie.
"For example, any device from either company can detect when a user is active and record metrics like heart rate and calories burned to review afterwards. But when it comes to specific forms of exercise, there are some differences.
"If you want to go for a run, you’ll be best served by a wearable with GPS on board to get the most accurate tracking of your movement. All Apple Watches include this, whereas not all Fitbits do."
Owning an Apple Watch allows access to Fitness+, hundreds of instructor-led home workouts including HIIT sessions, yoga and spinning on your iPhone, ipad and Apple TV (but this requires an extra subscription).
You can get workout classes from Fitbit too, but only if you subscribe to Fitbit Premium.
Which one has more features?
The Apple Watch and Fitbit models are packed with health and fitness features to monitor heart rate, steps, calories burned, sleep and workouts.
All Apple Watches have inbuilt GPS, while only some Fitbits do. Similarly, some (but not all) Fitbit models and Apple Watches have blood oxygen tracking capabilities. The higher-end Fitbits with GPS and the Apple Watch Series 7 and 8 all do, while the SE and 3 Watch don’t. Both the Fitbit Sense and the Apple Watch 7 and 8 have ECG readings, allowing you to monitor heart health.
Gebbie also highlights that "the top-of-the-range Fitbit Sense smartwatch packs some new sensors, which are less common across the wearables landscape, such as an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor which analyses a wearer’s sweat levels to check for signs of stress."
Both brands offer motivational prompts in different forms. Below, you can see the Apple Ring system, which encourages you to move about during the day, while Fitbit has an Active Zone Minutes scheme (which recommends 150 minutes per week spent in your targeted heart rate zone).
You can also use your Fitbit or Apple Watch to help with your mental health. The Apple Watch has an inbuilt breathe app, while the Fitbit Sense has a electrodermal (EDA) sensor to track how stressed out you are. This works by measuring the perspiration of your hands, which can be a marker for stress. The Fitbit app also has meditation tools included.
One of our favorite features on Apple Watch is if you start a workout but forget to log it, you will get a prompt asking if you want to turn on tracking.
Even more impressive, the Apple Watches 7 and 8 use specialist AI software to recognize the type of movement you’re doing. For example, rather than simply track that you are dancing, they can distinguish that you are Bhangra dancing – and give a more accurate calorie count as a result.
Which design is better?
With its square design, the Apple Watch has hardly changed since it launched in 2015. The Series 8 has the biggest and toughest screen to date (41mm and 45mm).
The Fitbit started out as an activity band-type design and a lot of its models still stick with this aesthetic. The Inspire 2, Charge 5 and Luxe models are all slim trackers, while the Versa 3, Versa 4 and the Sense have a larger, square face.
Both Apple Watches and Fitbits are swim proof and can be personalized by changing bands or watch faces.
Which look you prefer is down to you, although in our experience the slimmer designs are easier to wear during the night, so they might be preferable for sleep tracking.
Which has better battery life?
When it comes to battery life, Fitbit wins hands down, said Gebbie. "The Apple Watch offers an 18-hour battery life, which means you need to charge it every day, whereas many Fitbit trackers and watches can last for days or even weeks at a time without charging.
"This simplicity and reliability is attractive to a lot of users, and our research at Connected Devices has always found that battery life is hugely important to customers.
"However, the Apple Watch offers a more polished user experience than even top-end Fitbit smartwatches, with a more advanced operating system and a wider suite of services.
"This means that the Watch is something of a Swiss Army Knife and is intended to reduce wearers’ reliance on their smartphones by offering a powerful experience on the wrist."
The question of which device is better, Fitbit vs Apple Watch, really boils down to what you want from your wearable.
"People who want to spend less money and have a straightforward tracker for their fitness and health will be better served with a Fitbit fitness tracker, whereas those who want a premium smartwatch that can do it all should look at the Apple Watch – as long as you own an iPhone," said Gebbie.
But, with a spectrum of offerings from both companies, it’s a case of matching up the features and sensors that you want with the price you are willing to pay.
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Maddy has been a writer and editor for 25 years, and has worked for some of the UK's bestselling newspapers and women’s magazines, including Marie Claire, The Sunday Times and Women's Health. Maddy is also a fully qualified Level 3 Personal Trainer, specializing in helping busy women over 40 navigate menopause.