As two of the most hyped-up fitness wearables for 2015, I thought I would take the time to give them an in-depth comparison. There’s plenty to write about so, I’m just going to focus on how the leading features can be applied towards improving fitness and health.
Activity Tracking – Everyday usage
The Apple Watch built-in activity app revolves around three metrics visualised as rings; Move, Exercise and Stand. Considering you burn twice as many calories when stood up compared to sat down, I think tracking this metric is a great way to get users up and moving more frequently.
The Move ring is based on your target of calories, and its figure can be increased/decreased to suit your goals. Within the watch face you also get a breakdown per hour on a line graph of how your day is going. The Exercise ring tracks more intense movements from brisk walking upwards.
The Surge serves up your everyday tracking stats like step count, distance, calories burned and active minutes. As a bonus, the latest Fitbit devices can also gather data on floors climbed. It may be a good way to encourage you to take the stairs over the elevator.
As for inactivity tracking, only the Apple Watch out of the two will give you a nudge if you’ve been idle and still for too long. It’s a feature that’s widely available on other wearables from Garmin, Jawbone and Misfit, so surprising that Fitbit are yet to include functionality on any of their devices.
Winner: Let’s open this up with a draw. While Fitbit offers a broader range of stats, Apple’s stand metric and inactivity alerts do have some use for everyday tracking.
Tracking Distance over GPS
Both watches measure distance in slightly different ways. For Apple Watch, you have to hook up an iPhone to measure your distance over GPS. It may be considered impractical for runners, but manageable for cyclists and hikers.
Instead the Fitbit Surge has GPS built inside the watch giving it the clear advantage of unchaining yourself from a smartphone. Whether its as accurate as a Garmin remains to be tested.
Winner: Fitbit Surge. It has GPS which can be used independently from the phone.
Both wearables can take a pulse measurement straight from the wrist. With no chest strap required, users can track their heart rate throughout the day without wearing a restrictive Heart Rate Monitor. It’s a wise move which will encourage users to track their pulse beyond exercise, such as when waking up, or throughout the day. The heart rate tracked within both wearables allows intensity of effort to be included in the calorie algorithm; increasing accuracy when calculating daily energy expenditure.
Fitbit uses PurePulse Heart Rate technology. From the wrist it shines a light into your capillaries, the light reflects back into the watch which can be used to take a reading. It can take continuous pulse measurements, meaning every second during exercise and every 5 seconds during daily routine. That’s perfect for getting analysis as you sleep or analysing your heart rate recovery post exercise. You can also set target heart rate zones during workouts to help you maintain a desired intensity (Fat Burn, Cardio, Peak).
The Apple Watch Sport uses 4 sapphire lenses to capture pulse with infrared and LED technology. I’m under the impression, the Apple Watch doesn’t track heart rate to the same level as Fitbit. It’ll detect your pulse during activity and when you glance at your watch but it won’t capture the data continuously. As an extra, you can send your Heart Rate to a fellow Apple Watch user by tapping the screen with two fingers. In the future this could be useful feedback for a sports coach to assess how hard their athletes are working. Realistically though, its probably not that useful.
Winner: Fitbit Surge. The use of continuous heart rate whether exercising, resting or sleeping ensures more holistic heart rate data profile is collected.
The Fitbit Surge, Charge & Charge HR wearables don’t store music on your wrist, instead they use Bluetooth to control the playlist you’ve already selected on your phone. Simply put, no phone nearby, means no music. Whilst jogging with a phone might be impractical, bike riders could easily have their phone tucked away and use a Surge to control the playlist.
Apple who brought us the iPod, iTunes and the App Store have a clear advantage for multimedia. You can upload 2GB of tunes onto the Watch Sport, enough to surpass your workout and battery life. In addition you could ask Siri for a song request by pushing in the digital crown; provided you’ve got a data/Wi-Fi connection, its so much more practical than trying to navigate a touch screen with sweaty fingers! Much like the Surge, you can also play songs which are stored on your iPhone.
The availability of apps on the Apple Watch Sport opens up even more entertainment possibilities. Imagine a Spotify or Deezer app. Sure you’ll probably have to be connected to your iPhone to use it, but then you’ll be able to control a playlist of streamed music from your wrist.
As for exercising in your gym or living room, if you happen to own an Apple TV, you can use the Watch as a remote. There’s great potential if you’ve downloaded an exercise video routine; you could adjust the volume or rewind an instruction you didn’t hear from the wrist.
Winner: Apple Watch Sport. For what it can already do, and the potential once app makers get on board.
Integration with other Exercise Apps
At launch, the Apple Watch already has support from Nike+ Running App, which captures distance ran and gives you real-time cheers from friends on your Facebook feed. This feature is also available on the Samsung Gear S. Popular cycling and running app Strava is also geared up, providing real-time elevation gain, average speed and heart rate during your activity. What’s more you get segment-by-segment updates and trophy news as you set personal records.
Given the likes of Endomondo and Runkeeper have developed Android Wear apps which work off smartphone GPS, it’s a dead cert they’ll roll out compatibility for Apple Watch Sport.
Whilst the Surge won’t allow you to download additional apps and use them within the device, your collected data can be shared with other apps via 3rd party integrations. This includes apps such as Runkeeper, MapMyRun, Endomondo, Weight Watchers, MyFitness Pal and more. There is also long-overdue Strava support coming soon. In honesty, the Fitbit app is pretty good in its own right, and will show you your exercise routes and frequency within the app itself.
Winner: Apple Watch.
Comparing the two watches, you’d be surprised at the time difference in usage you’ll get from a single charge. Product testing from Apple using pre-production watch software, has calculated just 18 hours charge from everyday usage. This includes a mix of time-checks, app usage, among other things but only 30 minutes of workout time whilst playing music.
Looking into Apple’s tests further, off one battery charge you’ll get 6.5 hours of continuous music playback or 6.5 hours of a workout session with the heart rate sensor active. Though these numbers are helpful, Apple carry the disclaimer “actual results will vary”, implying real usage may provide even shorter results. Personally I can imagine users trying to play music and workout with the heart rate sensor at the same time, zapping up power faster than in isolated conditions.
For the athlete who exercises twice in a day, the lifespan of a single charge is impractical. If it survives your morning shakeout of 45 mins to an hour, your app notifications throughout the day will hammer the battery way before your evening workout kicks off. If you’ve got concerns but still fancy an Apple Watch, Apple do state that the 42mm variant will give you slightly more usage, over the 38mm watch face version.
The Surge on the other hand with its Lithium-polymer battery, states the GPS on the watch can be used on the device for around 5 hours on a full charge. For those activity tracking, expect to have between 4-5 days usage before needing to recharge the watch. Why is it more sustainable than an Apple Watch? The monochrome screen on the Surge won’t be as demanding on the battery as a colour screen on the Apple Watch. Secondly, the Surge will only alert the watch with call and text notifications; the Apple Watch is going to deal with so much more from all your iPhone applications; that’s going to stress the battery! Fitbit’s simplistic approach to non-essential exercise features ensures your battery life lasts for longer.
That said, if you’re a 4 hour marathon runner or enjoy ultra-endurance events, I wouldn’t risk using either device on race day, simply because of how rapidly the battery will be drain when using GPS on the Surge, or activity tracking on the Apple Watch Sport.
Winner: Fitbit Surge. Moral is you can’t track your exercise if the battery is flat Though Apple gives you more bells & whistles, the efficiency of the Surge means it can be relied upon when you need it for your activity.
I won’t send you to sleep with the details on this one. Fitbit’s sleep tracking software is regarded as pretty decent. Whereas older Fitbits like the Flex, needed 5 taps to activate sleep mode, the Surge can automatically detect as you fall into the land of Nod. How you ask? A period of 60 minutes without movement and the lowering of your heart rate, will notify the wearable that you’re dozing off.
Don’t worry though, if you were only watching a late night movie, you can always edit the sleep info from within the Fitbit smartphone app. You can even choose your sleep mode; select the sensitive mode if you want to get more granular with your movements.
The Apple Watch Sport doesn’t claim to offer sleep tracking. That doesn’t mean to say it can’t, as with an accelerometer inside, it’s plausible a 3rd party app developer could create one. Sleep monitoring iPhone apps such as Sleep Cycle, can already detect subtle movements when the iPhone is placed on a mattress. If their app was expanded with Apple Watch pairing, it may be able to give a bigger picture on sleep movements.
Before getting excited though, remember that limited 18 hour battery? You’ve got to take it off your wrist at some point to charge, so during your sleep may be the best opportunity.
Winner: Only Fitbit gives you the battery life for suitable sleep tracking. As a betting man, I predict the Apple Watch 2 will come with a 24 hour battery and thus official sleep tracking software which plugs into iOS HealthKit.
Compatibility with smartphones
If you don’t already own an iPhone, you’re going to have difficulty using the fitness features on an Apple Watch. You MUST use an iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 or 6 Plus in order to connect to the watch over Bluetooth 4.0, which isn’t available on iPhones 4s and older. 4.0 is also known as Bluetooth Smart and allows wearable and iPhone to wirelessly transfer data across apps on both devices. Pretty useful for looking at your data in real-time on the iPhone.
I can understand a lack of Android compatibility with Apple Watches, but was disappointed to see no functionality with an iPads which have Bluetooth 4.0. Maybe future releases, will be able to communicate with Macs or iPads without the need of an iPhone.
Where Apple fails, I believe is one Fitbit’s key strengths across their product range. Whether its the the Flex, the Charge or the Surge, you can send fitness data from your wearable straight to your mobile across all 3 major mobile operating systems. Yes as well as Android and iOS, you can download the Fitbit app onto a Windows Phone device too; most manufacturers neglect Microsoft. As a bonus, the Fitbit app can communicate to tablets and iPads on these operating systems too.
Winner: Fitbit Surge dominates the Apple Watch. It’s ability to work with so many devices makes it super accessible to more exercise enthusiasts.
Verdict – Choose wisely
As you can see, there’s quite a few differences between the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch Sport. My advice is to firstly make sure your smartphone is compatible, then consider what you actually want to get from the wearable. If you’re keen to track as much data as possible, go for lengthy runs and are interested in sleep tracking, the Surge is the best pick. Apple Watch on the other hand gives you a watch design you can appreciate away from the gym, the multimedia features to keep you distracted during your workout, and greater integration with the leading fitness apps.