Since my Apple Watch arrived in late April, I’ve worn it. But I soon found that I was looking for something different with my fitness tracking. I’ve previously used several different Fitbit devices and found them lacking, but when I saw the Charge HR I decided to give them another chance. Here are my notes after using both together for more than two weeks.
Fitbit started by just tracking steps like a pedometer, and that’s their bread and butter still. The watch does the same, but it’s downplayed. It’s not one of the 3 circle metrics focused by Apple. I don’t need to stand up for a minute of each waking hour, but 10,000 steps are a good reliable metric for making sure you’re moving enough. If you can hit 10,000 steps every day, everything else is easy to make - 3,000 calories, 5 miles, etc. The Apple Watch pushes you to get 30 minutes of “exercise”, but this isn’t customizable, and the threshold for exercise was too low for me. It was too easy to conquer this, but then I can’t push it further or make my goal for it more challenging in some way. Most of Fitbit’s goals are customizable; you can only customize the “Move” goal on Apple Watch.
Food tracking and calories
A big part of weight loss is tracking what you eat, and making sure there’s a calorie deficit in your daily calories in vs calories out. I’m trying to maintain at least a 1000 calorie intake deficit, below what I burn. The Watch didn’t really show me either of these numbers.
The Apple Watch tracks calories burned, but it labels it “active calories”, and the number is much lower than the total calories burned as tracked by the Fitbit. I think the Apple Watch is only calories burned when your heart rate is above a certain threshold. If this is correct, that number isn’t helpful. We burn calories all the time, even when sitting, breathing, or sleeping. I want to know the total throughout the day, to get an accurate picture of calories in/out.
Heart rate tracking
The Fitbit Charge HR has a distinct advantage in terms of excercise and heart rate: the sensor is always on when you’re wearing it. The Apple Watch heart rate sensor takes samples of your heart rate about every few minutes or so, but doesn’t increase that unless you activate the exercise app. The Fitbit is less hassle when you want to make sure it’s tracking everything.
Most of the Fitbit products track sleep. They monitor your movement to determine if your sleep was effective, if you were waking up, or not deeply asleep through the night. This is a nice addition, but I could take it or leave it. Since the Charge HR battery lasts about 2 or 3 days, many nights I need to leave it plugged in at night.
Fitbit Charge HR doesn’t really have notifications for anything more than caller ID. The more-expensive Surge takes limited third-party notifications and has a black-and-white touchscreen to respond to them, but I haven’t used that model. The Apple Watch is great if you’re looking for these notifications on your wrist. After using it for a month, I started turning most of them off. It felt like having an annoying friend nearby, bugging you at the most inconvenient times about things which typically aren’t currently relevant. Except for reminders, they weren’t helpful.
Siri, however, is quite useful when I didn’t accidentally trigger it by bending my hand back against the button. A simple “Hey Siri” is all I needed to send a text or perform other basic tasks on the go, and it is excellent. This is a big feature I miss when only using the Fitbit.
Apple Watch touch communications features are weird
I’m not sure why Apple chose to include the features for sending single emoji or your heartbeat to others. I suppose some are using it with their significant others maybe, but it just seems creepy and weird to me - a distraction from more important elements of the device. Sending your heartbeat doesn’t work unless the recipient has an Apple Watch, so this has limited application for the time being.
The Fitbit has excellent apps for iOS and Android. The watch is currently only supported for iOS. Some folks are working on hacking in some support for the Watch on Android, but for now if this matters to you then you’re stuck on iOS with the watch.
Appearance and comfort
Both are very comfortable with the default bands: the Fitbit vs an Apple Watch with the sport bands. The Apple leather bands are also very soft, though the magnetic band felt like it was getting looser throughout the day. The Apple Watch looks nicer than the very-geeky-looking Fitbit, but both still look like “tech gadget” things, even with nicer bands. The Charge HR band has an old Casio-watch-style hook and loop. Even after lots of regular use, it still often grabs wrist hairs and causes pain. The Apple sport bands are just as secure without grabbing hairs or pinching.
The Apple Watch is what spawned my newest interest in fitness, and I’m glad that others in my Twitter circles are making great progress. I think the Apple Watch has a lot of potential for fitness, but it needs a lot of work yet - mostly around allowing different metrics for the circles, more available metrics, and customization of what metrics are shown.
Apple should also offer calorie counting with a food database, and try to catch up on social features. A lot of what keeps me engaged in Fitbit is seeing my friends’ activity.
I think the Apple Watch could still meet my expectations with a future update. For now, it’s only in second place. My Apple Watch mostly sits on the charger, except when I play with the development tools. My day-to-day device is the Fitbit.