Everything you need to know about how the two wearable heavyweights compare
When considering the best smartwatches out on the market, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit Versa should be at the top of your wishlist.
Fitbit has built on the Ionic through the Fitbit Versa, while the Apple Watch has progressed into one of the most versatile everyday smartwatches you can buy.
But when the two devices are put side by side, which ranks out on top? Well, we’ve been living with the devices for the last few weeks in order to see how the pair compare on design, features, battery life and – most importantly in this case – value for money. Read on below to see who reigns triumphant.
Though Fitbit’s first smartwatch, the Ionic, gave us more of a sporty, angular look, it wasn’t for everyone. And that’s something which has been rectified through the Versa, which, in our view, is much more capable of competing against the Apple Watch in the looks department.
Available in aluminium cases of rose gold, silver and black, the Versa maintains the same three-button and touchscreen navigation as the Ionic, though does so in a curved, sleeker body. When we’ve been caught wearing it, some have even mistaken it for an Apple Watch on a couple of occasions, since the two both feature a square bezel over a circle. Of course, the Apple Watch features the Digital Crown to help you get around, instead of side buttons.
But while the two are fairly similar at first glance, they do feel quite different on the wrist. Featuring a 1.34-inch LCD screen (which features a pixel density of 300 x 300), the overall width of the Versa is around 38mm, matching the smaller variant of the Apple Watch, which also sports a larger version available at 42mm.
So while things aren’t too dissimilar in actual size, the 30g weight of the Versa (half that of the 42mm Apple Watch) means this is as close as you can get to a smartwatch that feels weightless on the wrist.
(Top, Fitbit Versa; bottom, Apple Watch 42mm)
In terms of how the two screens compare, Apple is still up there with rival Samsung as providing the best display in the business. It pops vibrant colours, and also doesn’t attract the same smudges and fingerprints as many others, particularly those from the Wear OS clan.
Fitbit’s effort isn’t lacklustre by any means, but you do have to crank the brightness to max in order to view the screen in sunlight and generally get the best out of it. It’s also just not as responsive as the Apple Watch; you’ll routinely find yourself on a run or cycle and double-tapping (often triple-tapping) the face in order to get a response. This kind of frustration also extends to the raise-to-wake feature, which is weak at best on Fitbit, and excellent on the Apple Watch. These may sound like small issues, but, trust us, they grate when you wear the Versa day-in and day-out.
Now, let’s talk customisation. While Apple is still the gold standard in providing additional bands (with many third-parties also flooding the space) and customisable watch faces, Fitbit’s Versa is perhaps its greatest challenger.
In the same way as Apple, users can style their watch with leather, metal and sporty bands, while the Clock Faces section of the Fitbit app is slowly accruing more and more faces you can rotate – although, annoyingly, you can’t save multiple faces onto the Versa itself, like you can with the Watch.
All things considered, it’s quite difficult to split this pair in terms of design, due to their similarities. The Apple Watch clearly sports a more premium build than the Versa, and perhaps just edges things here due to the fantastic display, but we imagine there’s plenty of you out there that would rather have the lighter, more svelte design of the Fitbit smartwatch. Or maybe you hate square-faced watches, in which case you can get lost.
Design is largely subjective, but what you can’t argue with are the features inside both smartwatches. And there are some key differences to be aware of.
For Fitbit, these areas include best-in-class sleep tracking(breaking down how much time you spent awake, light, deep and REM sleep), female health tracking (allowing women to log details of their menstruation and receive personalised insights) and, in the future, sleep apnea detection through the currently unused SpO2 sensor.
Apple, meanwhile, has yet to delve into any of those zones, instead emphasising the likes of activity tracking (detailed below) and smartphone independence. The latter has been bolstered by the Apple Watch Series 3’s LTE capabilities, meaning you can theoretically replace it with your smartphone and stream music, answer calls, receive messages and more.
Both companies also have their own contactless payment systems. However, while Apple Pay and Fitbit Pay are comparable in countries like the US, the latter lags seriously behind with support in the UK and other territories.
There’s plenty of work to be done for Fitbit in its raw smartwatch smarts, but we are seeing signs that it’s keen to improve its experience. Quick replies, for example, which allows you to respond with five customisable responses to your notifications, has recently made its way onto the Versa.
That’s not quite as strong as Apple, which lets you type out replies and generally pulls in notifications more consistently than Fitbit’s smartwatch, but it’s a start. The Watch also boasts Siri for quick replies to messages, audio dictation and quick settings of timers and alarms – and there’s no rival on the Fitbit.
While more apps are being added to the Fitbit Gallery, it’s nowhere near rivalling the depth of Apple’s App Store, but the progress that’s been made since the turn of the year has been encouraging.
There’s plenty more areas to consider in the features, which we cover extensively through our dedicated reviews, but the above highlights the key areas of both devices.
For our money, the Apple Watch is still the go-to for the most rounded smartwatch experience – especially if your motive to buy is exercising with it. That said, if you’re after the device that will truly monitor you around the clock and you don’t necessarily care about the likes of LTE, GPS or apps, the Versa is likely your best fit.
Activity tracking and music streaming
With both companies now veterans of the tracking game, you can expect all the regular fixtures here – step counting, hourly reminders to move, calorie burn and round-the-clock heart rate monitoring. But once you delve deeper, there’s a couple of differences to be aware of.
And, when it comes down to it, the Apple Watch’s activity tracking is a step further than what the Versa can provide, mainly thanks to built-in GPS. The Fitbit smartwatch can piggyback onto your smartphone for distance accuracy when out on runs or cycles, but for those who want to exercise without that burden, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the only option. Things are much more consistent and accurate without having to ping to another device in real-time, and the Apple Watch’s GPS locks on within seconds – great for when you just want to get up and go.
When you’re out exercising, it’s likely you’ll also want to tap into your tunes. You’ll need a pair of Bluetooth headphones to pair, of course, but both of these devices do allow you to stream, albeit in different ways. The Apple Watch, you guessed it, only streams from Apple Music, allowing users to download playlists directly onto the Watch (or stream with data if using the LTE version of the Series 3).
However, since LTE isn’t an option on the Versa, you’ll have to stick to syncing your tunes pre-exercise. You can also only do this through Pandora in the US, with Deezer recently arriving on Fitbit’s smartwatches in Europe. It’s naturally not as fluent, but still doable and works fine when up and running.
Battery life and price
These are two areas the Apple Watch can’t compete with the Fitbit Versa.
Standard versions of the Fitbit device are available for $199.99, while its special editions, which include a woven strap instead of a silicon one, retail at $219.99. There’s very few smartwatches at the same price point that can compete with that tag, and you can expect it to drop during holiday sales at the end of the year.
In comparison, the Apple Watch Series 3 has a wide range of prices, starting as low as $329 without LTE, $399 with LTE, and then climbing up further depending on your choice of casing and straps.
That heftier price tag doesn’t mean you get more battery life, though. While the Apple Watch is still very much a nightly charge operation, stretching out to over a day if you skimp on features such as LTE and exercise tracking, the Versa is able to stretch things out to four days, and sometimes even five. That’s about as good as it gets in the industry right now, though we expect Apple to catch up through the Apple Watch Series 4.
Fitbit has done a fine job of swinging for the smartwatch champ, but, ultimately, it does fall just short of the Apple Watch in some key spots.
If you’re looking for the most mature wearable on the market right now, the Apple Watch’s density in features and strong design make it tough to look past. It still has room to improve, particularly in terms of battery life performance and sleep tracking, but it’s likely to be a good fit for the majority of users who pick one up.
Of course, there are reasons to opt for the Versa, instead. You may simply prefer the look of the device, but it also excels in its battery life and features that Apple has so far turned its nose up at. The fact it’s roughly $100 cheaper doesn’t hurt, either.