Now that Fitbit has announced a new entry-level smartwatch, we see how it stacks up against the Apple Watch for those looking for a smartwatch and fitness tracker hybrid.
The Fitbit Ionic was Fitbit’s first true attempt at a smartwatch, but many would agree that its design proved divisive, especially among female users. It certainly veered towards a more masculine design with its sharp corners and blunt edges. The Apple Watch, on the other hand, has achieved a much broader appeal, which goes some way to explain why Apple has stuck with the same design for three generations now.
With the Fitbit Versa, Fitbit hopes to change its fortunes and appeal to a wider audience. But how does it hold up against the more established Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch Series 2? Let’s find out.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch – Design and display
Fitbit acquired Pebble, arguably the company responsible for kickstarting the whole smartwatch product category. That acquisition was largely for its software assets and much of Pebble’s OS is now visible in Fitbit OS, right down to the physical button arrangements on both the Ionic and Versa.
But now, with the Versa, Pebble’s design ethos makes a return. The Versa looks very much like a smartwatch that Pebble would have put out; it’s almost like a more refined Pebble Time. The curved edges and corners look far less aggressive than those seen on the Ionic, and it’s much closer to the Apple Watch in this regard – but with a wider face.
This is a watch I see both men and women happily wearing.
Related: Fitbit Versa vs Fitbit Ionic
The Versa, like the Apple Watch range, opts for a square face, rather than trying to ape a more traditional watch’s round face. In my opinion this has always made more sense for a smartwatch: it’s a more sensible shape for displaying menus and text on the screen.
In terms of the display, both the Fitbit Versa and the Apple Watch Series 2 and Series 3 feature a screen with 1000 nits of brightness. This is exceptionally bright and makes viewing both smartwatches in bright outdoor conditions much easier. Both panels offer great colour production as well, with vibrant colours.
The Fitbit Versa has a 1.34-inch display, with a 300 x 300 resolution. The Apple Watch Series 2/3 come in a choice of 38mm (272 x 340 resolution) or 42mm (312 x 390 resolution) sizes, so just edges out the Versa in terms of pixel density. Both displays look incredibly sharp from your wrist.
As mentioned, the Versa opts for three hardware buttons alongside its touchscreen for interaction. The Apple Watch has its more elegant and recognisable rotating Digital Crown, which you twist to scroll through menus and press as a button. This is supported by an additional side button. Hardware controls on both models are useful when using the watch during exercise.
For swimmers, both the Versa and Apple Watch Series 2/3 are water-resistant to 50 metres and both support swim tracking.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch – Sensors and specifications
The main difference between the Versa and Apple Watch, when it comes to fitness and exercise tracking, is the former’s lack of built-in GPS. While the Fitbit Ionic had integrated GPS for distance and location tracking, you’ll need to bring your phone along to piggyback its GPS using the Fitbit Versa’s Connected GPS function.
If you plan to carry your phone with you anyway, then this won’t be an issue. However, some folk like to exercise without having to worry about carrying another device.
The Apple Watch Series 2/3 have built-in GPS, so you can leave your phone behind. The Apple Watch Series 3 can also be bought with optional LTE, meaning you can still make and receive calls and texts without your accompanying phone.
Otherwise, the Versa and Apple Watch Series 2/3 include an accelerometer and heart rate monitor. The Versa also includes an altimeter, which was added to the Apple Watch Series 3. This tracks your elevation – particularly useful during those arduous hilly sprints. Comparing elevation data against your heart rate is a good way to understand the intensity of your exercise, too.
The Versa also has a relative SpO2 sensor, which tracks your blood oxygen level. Currently, this isn’t enabled or used for anything, however.
Both the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa offer onboard storage for your own music and can be paired with Bluetooth headphones. The Apple Watch can be synced with your iTunes library or, if you have an Apple Music subscription, you can save offline playlists. In addition, a fresh playlist of Apple Music tracks will automatically get synced to your watch when it’s charging and on Wi-Fi, meaning you’ll have new music for your next workout.
The Versa lets you sync your own tracks or will also work with Deezer if you have a subscription, similarly letting you sync offline playlists.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch – Activity and exercise tracking
This being Fitbit, health and fitness plays a prominent role in the Versa. You can expect all of the usual all-day activity tracking and sleep tracking for which Fitbit is well known. The watch interface has also been improved with Fitbit OS 2.0, so you can more easily view trends in steps and resting heart rate directly from your wrist.
Fitbit’s automatic exercise tracking feature allows you to just start exercising and the watch will record it without any user input. Fitbit Coach returns too, offering a range of workouts you can follow directly from your wrist. More workouts are available through a subscription model.
The biggest introduction to the Fitbit Versa comes as a result of the company’s attempt to broaden its appeal. New is female health tracking, which will enable female users to track their menstrual cycle. This feature is part of the Fitbit app, rather than specific to the device, but there will be a unique in-watch experience for Versa owners.
The Apple Watch now has many of the same activity tracking features, and this extends to automatic exercise tracking for certain workouts. The one thing the Apple Watch lacks is any official sleep tracking, although this functionality can be had via third-party apps. Still, Fitbit’s sleep-tracking feature is one of the best I’ve used, providing more useful data than most rivals.
Related: Apple GymKit
Apple Watch’s GymKit feature will be of interest to anyone using gym equipment. This lets you pair your Apple Watch with equipment such as treadmills and elliptical machines and enables two-way data exchange. This means the watch can share your biometric data (weight, height, and so on) with the treadmill, and the treadmill can share its distance and elevation data with the watch. It makes tracking indoor workouts far more accurate and useful than before.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch – Smartwatch functionality and apps
This is the area where the differences between the devices becomes really becomes apparent. The Apple Watch has the benefit of being better established. There are far more apps available for its refined operating system, which has been through a number of updates to improve functionality. It’s taken some years to get to this point – and many of the complaints levelled at Fitbit OS ring true of the Apple Watch when it was first released.
Right now, the number of apps available for Fitbit OS are limited. This should improve over time, and will certainly be aided by a second Fitbit smartwatch running the operating system. If you’re looking for variety of apps then the Apple Watch has a distinct advantage, with apps ranging across areas such as productivity and games to shopping, all accessible from your wrist.
The smartwatch functions are also much better realised on the Apple Watch: you can compose messages from your wrist and reply to incoming notifications. Fitbit has only just added quick replies using canned responses to Fitbit OS, but this works with only Android devices right now. The Apple Watch has a microphone, too, which means you can make and receive calls and call upon its Siri digital assistant. None of these are an option from the Versa.
Related: Apple Watch vs Fitbit Ionic
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch – Battery life
While the Apple Watch might win out for smartwatch features, the Versa claims the crown for stamina. You can expect more than four days of battery life from a single charge of the Versa – double what you’d typically see from the Apple Watch Series 2 or Series 3. For a device that you’ll want to wear all of the time for all-day activity tracking, that sort of stamina is important.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch – Which is better value for money?
The Fitbit Versa will cost £199.99 in the UK, whereas prices for the current Apple Watch Series 3 (38mm) start from £329 for the GPS-only model, rising to £399.99 for the GPS + LTE option.
That’s a pretty pronounced difference, then, making the Versa a tempting choice if smartwatch functionality isn’t a priority. If you’re simply after a more advanced fitness tracker, or even have more basic exercise needs, then the Fitbit Versa is more than you need.
Pre-order: Fitbit Versa from £199.99 at Amazon
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch summary – What’s the difference?
Design: Both watches opt for a square display. The Apple Watch has a slightly higher-resolution panel, but both benefit from 1000-nit brightness, making them great for outdoor use. Both devices are also water-resistant to 50m.
Specs: The Versa lacks the built-in GPS of the Apple Watch, meaning you’ll need to carry your phone along for distance tracking. The Versa has a currently unused relative SpO2 sensor, whereas the Apple Watch has the option of an LTE modem for always-on connectivity.
Apps and smartwatch functionality: The Apple Watch has the much bigger app catalogue and wider smartwatch functionality, including an integrated microphone for hands-free calling and Siri digital assistant.
Battery life: The Versa offers more than four days of battery life; the Apple Watch will last about two days off a single charge.
Price: The Versa is significantly cheaper at £199.99. Prices for the Apple Watch Series 3 start at £329 for the GPS-only model.
Which smartwatch would you go for? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.