How do these two mainstream watches compare on specs?
The new Apple Watch Series 4 and Fitbit Versa are two mainstream, unisex, everyday smartwatches with their own app stores and that take health and sports tracking seriously. So two of 2018’s (no doubt) most popular smartwatches have a lot in common.
But they’re far from identical. The Series 4 doesn’t work with Android phones. The Fitbit Versa is half the price. The new Apple Watch is going big on ECG. The Versa has a four day+ battery life.
Our Apple Watch Series 4 review hasn’t gone live yet so look out for a fully tested head to head in future, complete with a definitive verdict. For now, we’ll run down the design, specs and features of each watch and how they compare on paper.
At first glance, the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa look fairly similar but if you’ve seen both in person you’ll know that’s not exactly the case.
As we’ll dig into later on, the Series 4 is double the price of the Versa (at least) and it shows. The Apple Watch feels more polished and premium, certainly. It comes in aluminium (space grey, silver, gold) and stainless steel (LTE only – space grey, silver, gold) and the Digital Crown now has haptic feedback which is a nice touch.
The Versa comes in black, grey and rose gold and if you want the charcoal finish, you’ll have to go for the Special Edition which also gets you an NFC chip for Fitbit Pay (in the US, all have it in Europe) and fancier woven straps in the box. It doesn’t look cheap by any means, it just looks the part of a mid-range smartwatch, nothing luxe here but nothing offensive either.
Now, the Versa is small and very light to wear on the wrist. It’s 11.2mm thick and the display is 1.34-inch diagonal – only the straps come in small and large sizes. Small is for wrists 5.5-inch to 7.1-inch in circumference and large is for wrists that are 7.1-inch to 8.7-inch in circumference.
The Apple Watch Series 4 meanwhile comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes – there’s no smaller, more compact 36mm or 38mm options here. It’s worth noting though that, compared to the Series 3, the new model has a larger display in the 40mm Series 4 watch than the 42mm Series 3. It’s slightly thinner than the Versa at 10.7mm. Both smartwatches are waterproof to 50m.
Health and sports are now a big focus for both Apple and Fitbit but both the Series 4 and Versa also act as everyday smartwatches too. So let’s start with how they compare here.
As we said, the Fitbit Versa works with both iOS and Android and its smartwatch features are also stronger on Android.
Fitbit OS 2.0 includes watch faces, notifications and quick replies – on Android; NFC payments (in Europe and on the Special Edition in the US) and your Fitbit activity and history including steps, calories burned, resting heart rates and recent exercises. There’s also an app store but currently the selection still isn’t huge despite Fitbit’s efforts to increase interest. Plus there’s music storage for around 300 tracks.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is a more fully featured smartwatch. As well as watch faces, notifications, quick replies, Apple Pay, activity tracking, music storage and a much livelier app store – to match or best Fitbit’s Versa. There’s also the option for LTE calling, a new Walkie Talkie function and Siri voice controls built in which are now smarter in watchOS 5.
As for screens, the Versa has a 300 x 300 resolution display with a brightness up to 1,000 nits. Apple has more pixels to play with and does a good job of hiding the bezels. The 40mm Apple Watch Series 4 has a 324 x 394 OLED display and the 44mm Series 4 has a 368 x 448 screen – both also up to 1,000 nits brightness.
Health and sports tracking
On health and sports, the main difference between these two watches is that the Apple Watch Series 4 comes with GPS built-in and the Fitbit Versa.. doesn’t. So you’ll have to take your phone out with you on a run to use its ‘connected GPS’.
The Versa does have a heart rate monitor, though, and can track running, cycling, swimming (remember it’s waterproof), yoga and gym workouts. There’s also sleep tracking, with sleep stages and insights, built in whereas on the Apple Watch, you’re relying on third party apps. Fitbit Coach has a couple of options for free but if you pay you get access to personalised workouts. Still annoying – you can’t share any of this data to Google Fit or Apple Health.
New this year to the Fitbit platform, and especially useful on the Versa, is female health tracking. It means women can log their menstrual cycles and symptoms and gets tips and feedback. The Versa is also one of the devices with SpO2 sensors which are capable of measuring blood oxygen levels but not yet live.
The Series 4 is a neat does-it-all sports smartwatch. It has built-in GPS, as we said, there’s also GLONASS, Galileo and QRSS; a tweaked optical heart rate monitor; a barometric altimeter, a breathing app and auto workout detection in watchOS 5.
An improved, more precise accelerometer and gyroscope mean that the Apple Watch can now detect falls – it can even be set to contact family and friends/emergency services via its existing SOS feature if it detects you’ve fallen.
The big story with the Series 4 and Apple Health though is the new ECG (electrocardiogram) monitor. This medical grade sensor means you can get an ECG reading by placing your finger on the Digital Crown and it will track any abnormal measurements, possibly helping to detect atrial fibrillation. This feature will be coming as an app later this year in the US only – it currently has FDA clearance not approval so will need a clinical trial to get beyond this stage.
It’s a big step towards defining what smartwatches can do and gives the Apple Watch the edge when it comes to serious health tracking from the wrist.
Apple says the new Series 4 will have a similar battery life to the Series 3 i.e. a day or so worth per charge. Officially it’s 18 hours and it charges via the magnetic charging puck. So those hoping for a real improvement in this department are left wanting.
This is one area where the Fitbit Versa really shines compared to the Apple Watch. The Versa can go for four days on one charge and our US editor-at-large Hugh Langley actually managed to get five days out of it in his testing. By our complicated maths, that’s way over double what you’ll get from the Apple Watch which really makes a difference in week to week use.
Charging your smartwatch twice a week rather than nightly also makes more sense when you consider that the Fitbit Versa has native sleep tracking so you’re probably more likely to wear it to bed. It charges via a charging dock.
Another big tick in the Fitbit Versa column – it costs £199.99 which is a real sweet spot in terms of how much people want to spend on a smartwatch. You can then pay more for extra silicone, Horween leather or stainless bands, either from Fitbit itself or have a look for third party Versa bands (though Fitbit advises against this to ensure HR accuracy).
The Apple Watch Series 4 starts at £399 for the regular GPS model and at £499 for the LTE models. You can choose from the Nike and Hermes editions that can run you into the thousands and there’s lots of first and third party straps and bands to choose from.
Let’s start of by saying that both these smartwatches are terrific options, compared to the competition. There’s a reason Apple and Fitbit smartwatches sell in the millions where others struggle.
For most people, the Fitbit Versa is a great smartwatch all-rounder for the money. And if the Series 4 looks steep, there’s also the now cheaper £279 Apple Watch Series 3 to consider.
There are a couple of big reasons you’d be better off with an Apple Watch, though. Apple Pay, for one, as standard and built-in GPS will be a dealbreaker for a lot of people as could LTE be if you want to use this as a standalone device. As ever, it’s a personal decision – you might like Fitbit’s fully integrated female health tracking, the wide range of apps and straps for the Apple Watch.