Apple Watch vs. Fitbit

Jun 9, 2019

It seems like everyone has some sort of fitness tracker these days and if you don’t have one, you definitely know someone that does – as evident by their increase in midday walks or strange new habit of moving their arm up and down at random times. There are seemingly a hundred different fitness/smart watches on the market but form what I’ve seen, the two most popular options are the Apple Watch and Fitbit. I personally have had both, starting out with the Fitbit. I wore a Fitbit for about three years before switching to the Apple Watch which I’ve had for almost two.

When I had the Fitbit and was researching the Apple Watch’s features to determine if it was worth the money, I struggled to find any articles that compared the two, so I thought I’d do just that! In order to make a fair comparison of the exact data collected by both fitness trackers, I did three different activities while wearing both the Fitbit Blaze and Apple Watch Series 2. I tracked each of them as an “exercise” so I was able to get the analytical data specifically for those periods of time to compare.

Before I delve into the results of my testing, let’s talk features. All models of the Fitbit focus on the steps you take throughout the day to determine whether or not you reach your goal, but steps aren’t the only goal. The goals it sets for you to reach each day are:

  • total steps
  • total mileage
  • flights of stairs
  • total calorie burn
  • active minutes

The Apple Watch has similar goals, but only three:

  • active calories
  • active minutes
  • standing hours

The main differentiator between the two is that the Fitbit is step focused, while the Apple Watch is “active calorie” focused. Active calories are (intuitively) the calories you burn while doing activity. It doesn’t count the calories you burn while sleeping, sitting, or doing low levels of activity such as walking slowly. The idea is to elevate your heart rate and get your blood flowing to burn a certain number of calories each day. The Fitbit on the other hand doesn’t care whether you run your steps or take a casual stroll, they just rack up throughout the day.

The Fitbit also comes in a variety of styles – some simpler that just show you your stats, and other more intricate that will show you your texts and music. The Apple Watch only has one style, with a new version coming out every year or two. Since there are such a variety of Fitbits, the prices also vary – from $70 to $250. The newest Apple Watches will run you $279 for the Series 3 and $399 for the Series 4. Though the Apple Watch offers more features than the Fitbit – such as the ability to download apps that perform endless functions – it will also cost you a bit more depending on which Fitbit you compare it to.

Alright enough of that, it’s time to get into the results of the exercise testing. In order to run a fair test, I did three different activities – a leisurely dog walk, a strength training/weight lifting exercise, and a speed walk on the treadmill. The following chart shows all of the information each watch gave about each exercise:

Activity

Time

Apple Watch

Fitbit

Dog Walk

42 min

Selected “Outdoor Walk”

130 Active Calories

200 Total Calories

103 Avg. Heart Rate

0 Active Minutes

Selected “Workout”

3153 Steps

234 Total Calories

105 Avg. Heart Rate

38 Active Minutes

Strength Training

30 min

Selected “Strength Training”

313 Active Calories

368 Total Calories

150 Avg. Heart Rate

30 Active Minutes

Selected “Weights”

785 Steps

254 Total Calories

141 Avg. Heart Rate

30 Active Minutes 

Treadmill

25 min

Selected “Indoor Walk”

218 Active Calories

259 Total Calories

144 Avg. Heart Rate

25 Active Minutes

Selected “Treadmill”

2928 Steps

243 Total Calories

146 Avg. Heart Rate

25 Active Minutes 

Many of the results of the two trackers’ diagnostics were pretty comparable, but some values differed greatly from one to the other (noted in purple text). The difference in active minutes and calories during the dog walk may be skewed based on selecting “workout” as the exercise on the Fitbit since there is no “outdoor walk” option. However, the Apple Watch calculated a higher calorie burn during the treadmill exercise than the Fitbit, even though my average heart rate was calculated as slightly lower.

The main difference I found between the two was in the results of the strength training exercise. Truth be told, this differentiation is the reason I opted for an Apple Watch over the Fitbit. The Fitbit has trouble tracking activity when you are not moving your arms. When doing strength training, especially leg workouts, the Fitbit doesn’t pick up your activity as movement. The Apple Watch is much more heart rate based and counts your strength training as exercise, paying close attention to your heart rate to produce a more accurate value for active and total calories. Meaning, you don’t have to be moving in order to get active calories – your heart rate can be elevated with little/no arm movement. I’m not sure how true this is when  you don’t have a strength training workout running, but I do notice that I get active calories throughout the day when I’m doing activity even when my arms aren’t moving much. This difference in method of calculation resulted in a huge difference in the “total calorie” burn value – 368 on the Apple Watch and only 254 on the Fitbit.

The other downside to steps being the main goal on the Fitbit is that I only racked up 785 while doing 30 minutes of strength training. Since the Fitbit focuses so heavily on steps, it removes a lot of the incentive to do strength training when you can get 2928 steps from 25 minutes of walking on the treadmill instead. Strength training is just as good – if not better (in my opinion) – exercise as speed walking, but doesn’t count as such on the Fitbit.

This leads me to my second comparison – the result of these exercises on my overall daily goals. The dog walk and strength training exercises were done on one day, and the treadmill exercise was does during the midnight hour at the beginning of the second day.

On the Apple Watch, the dog walking and strength training exercises, along with the rest of my daily activities, got me to exceed 100% of my daily goals. my personal daily goals are 550 active calories, 30 active minutes, and 12 standing hours. I achieved 825 active calories, 33 active minutes, and 16 standing hours.

On the Fitbit, the dog walk and strength training exercises only got me to approximately 2/3 of my daily goals. I racked up 7,990/12,000 steps, 3/10 floors, 3.35/5 miles, 2429/2500 calories, and 61/30 active minutes.

These results further extenuate the point that strength training is not very valuable on a Fitbit. I would have to walk another 4,000 steps, 7 floors, 1.65 miles, and burn 71 more calories to meet my goals though I’m already well over 100% on the Apple Watch.

On the second day, I took my values just after doing the treadmill workout and getting home from the gym. This means I was only two hours into the day, but on the Apple Watch I’d already met almost half of my daily goals, and about 1/3 of my goals on the Fitbit. More specifically:

Apple Watch: 280/550 active calories, 33/30 active minutes, 2/12 stand hours.

Fitbit: 3,414/12,000 steps, 1/10 floors, 1.46/5 miles, 386/2500 calories, 35/30 minutes.

So if your eyes aren’t crossed by now from all those numbers, I have some final conclusions.

Get a Fitbit if:

  • You just want to get moving more (walking, running, etc.)
  • Having multiple goals motivates you
  • You are on a strict budget
  • You want to achieve a certain number of steps each day

Get a Apple Watch if:

  • You want to do weight lifting or strength training regularly
  • You want fewer goals to focus on
  • You want a smart watch AND a fitness tracker
  • You already have an iPhone
  • You can afford it

I enjoy both of these fitness trackers when I use them regularly. They both serve their purpose if you put in the effort – they encourage you to stay moving, allow you to compete with your friends, enlighten you to your level of activity, and keep you accountable. They both are worth buying in my opinion but I personally favor the Apple Watch since I enjoy lifting weights… not to mention how seamlessly it works with the iPhone. I hope you enjoy whichever you choose & if this helped you make your decision, tag me @thegoblinden and let me know!