When the Apple Watch debuted in 2015, it was expensive, limited, and mostly marketed as a luxury item. If you wanted a fitness tracker, by then the Fitbit app was already installed on people’s wrists, along with many others that focused on step counting, heart rate measurement, and the like.
What a difference seven years makes. Today is the Apple Watch 7 and the Fitbit Sense are the flagship products of both companies, and now seems like the perfect time to take them on. So which fitness tracker/smartwatch rules them all? Not surprisingly, the answer is mixed.
Which one you should buy depends in part on the phone you own, what profile you want from a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and whether you want to replace your smartphone or expand its capabilities. Bottom line? Get an Apple Watch 7 if you already own an iPhone and want to mix productivity with general fitness. Fitbit Sense is for those who want deep health and fitness data and aren’t closely tied to the Apple ecosystem.
|Compatibility||iOS||iOS and Android|
|Monitor||41 mm, 45 mm||40.5 mm|
|Weight (aluminum model)||32.0g, 38.8g||45.9 grams|
|Connection||Wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou, LTE, UMTS on cellular models||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Glonass|
|waterproof||down to 50 m||down to 50 m|
|voice assistant||siri||Alexa or Google Assistant|
|Battery life||18 hours||up to 6 days|
|mobile payments||Apple Pay||Fitbit Payment|
|Color options||midnight, stars, green, blue, red||Sage Gray, Silver Stainless Steel|
|sensors||ECG, SpO2, heart rate alerts, fall detection, compass, permanent altimeter||ECG, heart rate alerts, EDA, skin temperature sensor, heart rate alerts, SpO2|
design and comfort
Fitbit and the Apple Watch are great devices. They all looked great on my wrist, and while I consider myself a hardcore Apple fan, I’ll admit I loved the Fitbit’s sleek lines and lack of a side button. It was heavier, though, at 45.9 grams compared to 38.8 grams for the 45mm aluminum Apple Watch 7, but neither felt bulky or awkward. The Sense silicone strap isn’t as smooth or comfortable as the standard Apple Watch loop strap, but you can switch bands for both devices if you don’t like what’s included.
I used to wear both at once, one on each wrist, and while my partner teased me about it, it either looked great in a more elegant or formal setting. I would be comfortable with both either in the gym or at the Met Gala.
But where the Apple Watch really shines is its screen. Both have a super-sharp and bright AMOLED display, but the Apple Watch is about 20 percent larger than the Fitbit Sense display.
tl; DR: Slight bezel on Sense, despite Apple Watch’s larger screen.
Health tracking and sensors
This is the crux of the issue, isn’t it? Both devices pack a lot of sensors into a small space. Both measure an electrocardiogram (ECG), blood oxygen, and heart rate and include an altimeter, gyroscope, and accelerometer. The Apple Watch has a compass, but the Sense has an electrical activity (EDA) sensor and a skin temperature monitor. EDA is used to measure changes in the electrical conductivity of the skin, and it’s related to how much tension I feel—a lot, all the time, thanks to my editor’s deadlines.
Scan Details Sense’s EDA sitting quietly for two minutes while covering the screen. I’ve been wearing this thing for a week, and it doesn’t give me a stress score, so I don’t know how useful an EDA check would be. Apple also has something to calm you down, called Mindfulness, but they don’t care about any metrics. It’s just a Watch app to encourage you to slow down and take a few deep breaths now and then. I honestly found it more helpful than focusing on my stress levels.
I have also found that the two devices do not match well even when they are used for the same activity. Last week I took a leisurely walk, and the readings on the two devices were very different. The Sense said I walked 1.44 miles over an hour and 19 minutes, with an average heart rate of 122 beats per minute and burned 620 calories. However, the Apple Watch counted 1 hour and 18 minutes of exercise time and a distance of 1.32 miles. I also burned just 361 calories at a heart rate of 132 beats per minute. These divergent results are problematic, because I don’t know who to believe.
When it comes to tracking your goals, both devices offer ways to do so. The Apple Watch has its famous ring that fills when you stand and move, which means if you close it you’ll live another day. (Just kidding! Apple isn’t that strong—yet.) The Sense monitors what it calls activity zone minutes, which tracks how much time you spend burning fat, your cardio, or your peak cardio zone when you exercise each week.
tl; DR: Although they both track the same data, more or less, I’d give Fitbit a slight advantage since its health data is top notch. A lot of the shortcomings of the Apple Watch can be remedied by third-party apps.
The Apple Watch made its bones as a smartwatch before Apple decided to focus on its health features. So it’s no surprise that the Apple Watch has superior smartwatch features.
Part of that is because it only works with the iPhone, so the features between them are very integrated. You can do almost everything on your Apple Watch that you can do on an iPhone. Make and receive phone calls? examines. Send and receive messages? examines. Do you want to download a lot of apps? View maps and photos on your wrist? Take control of your home? Check, check, check check.
On the other hand, Sense cannot offer this level of integration with the iPhone. It works with Android devices, however, this is a big plus for those who haven’t bought into the Apple ecosystem. It can make and receive calls through your Android phone, but its messages are rudimentary, consisting mainly of canned responses. Messages can’t be sent via iPhone at all, because Apple wants you to buy an Apple Watch and blocks third-party integration with the popular messaging service.
Fitbit’s App Store is also a bit thin, with only a fraction of the apps available. It also requires a more hands-off approach to portal management, which is an issue for almost every app store other than the Apple Store. Not surprisingly, Apple’s offerings are more robust; The Watch, iPhone, iPad, and Mac all share some codes in their operating systems, and one company rules them all. Fitbit’s Sense doesn’t have the oomph of a processor to run complex apps, nor does it have the integration that Apple could provide.
tl; DRApple Watch, raise your hand.
This does not think. The Apple Watch can last about 18 hours on a single charge and the Fitbit Sense can last up to six days. Both devices have been used for wireless charging and can be fully charged in about an hour.
tl; DR: Fitbit, no contest.
One nice touch Sense offers is the Daily Prep Score, which tracks your body’s need to recover after workouts and effort. The Apple Watch doesn’t have this feature yet, though fans on Reddit are begging for days off while their episodes close. (I think no one is slack in Cupertino.)
But the daily standby score is only available to Fitbit Premium members, at a cost of $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. In addition to the degree of preparedness, you also get sleep tracking, stress management and alertness, deeper analytics of your data, and guided exercises.
Apple also offers a wellness service in the same price structure as Fitbit ($9.99 per month or $79.99 per year), which it calls Fitness+. It includes many fitness classes that you can watch on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, but required to your Apple Watch to use it. It also offers “walk time” and “runtime” guided activities on the watch. Walking guides typically include interviews with guests such as comedian Hassan Minhaj and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Bernice E. King. Each running guide focuses on the city and features music and training tips from Fitness + coaches.
I’ll admit it’s no fun paying a company more money each month after they pay a few hundred dollars on their products, but that’s the world we live in today.
tl; DR: It’s hard to say, because the two distinct services are completely different. Go with Fitbit if you want deep data analytics. Apple classes are better and more fun.
Apple always costs more. It’s like a law of nature or something, in which case you’re paying an extra $100 for the base Apple Watch 7 model ($399 for the 41mm model and $429 for the 45mm model) over the Sense. ($299, although it’s currently on sale as low as $219.) You’ll pay more for your Apple Watch if you choose the cellular version, which adds another $100. Although you may decline this extra cost, it’s nice to be able to leave the house without your phone, knowing that you can still make and receive phone calls, handle messages, and the like.
tl; DR: Fitbit, but the watch’s additional cellular features are certainly nice to have.
If we compare two health trackers, this is a win for Fitbit. But we are not. We’re comparing Sense, a very capable health and fitness tracker with some smartwatch functionality, and the Apple Watch, a gold-standard smartwatch that also tracks health and fitness very well. It’s not a simple comparison because which one you should buy depends on what you want to do with the device.
If you are not an iPhone user, you should get a machete. It’s an easy choice. It’s cheaper, looks great, and does great health and fitness tracking. You will not be sorry.
If you’ve invested heavily in the Apple ecosystem, as in, you own an iPhone, a Mac, an iPad, and subscribe to all Apple services, etc., it’s the Apple Watch. Again, it’s an easy choice. I did the Apple Watch 7 and don’t look back.
If you’re not deeply rooted in Cupertino’s offerings and only have an iPhone but probably mostly use Google or Amazon online services, it’s a lot more complicated. The Apple Watch will pair well with your phone, but if all you need is health and fitness tracking, Sense is a better value. But if you want a complete smartwatch that replaces your iPhone in many circumstances, the Apple Watch is probably a better fit, despite its higher price tag.