Two of the most popular smartwatches on the market are the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa. While Apple has been making smartwatches for years, Fitbit is still relatively new to the space. Even so, the Fitbit Versa was one of the sleeper hits of 2018.
Can Fitbit really compete with the new Series 4 Apple Watch? Which is best for you? Find out in our Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch comparison.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Design and hardware
Both the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa have very approachable designs that will appeal to a lot of people.
The Apple Watch features a more rectangular case with rounded corners, with a digital crown and a single physical button on the right side. The Versa has more of a squircle-shaped case, with a square display and three physical buttons.
They don’t exactly look like each other, but it’s hard not to notice a few Apple Watch-esque design cues in the Versa. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to call the Versa sort of an Apple Watch Lite.
The Apple Watch comes in two sizes — 40 and 44mm — and comes with the appropriate sized strap to fit your wrist. The Versa has one sizing option, but ships with both small and large bands in the box. The Versa is a bit thinner than the latest Apple Watch, though — it’s just 11.2mm. Apple claims the Series 4’s thickness is 10.7mm, but I don’t think it includes the heart rate sensor in that measurement. My Versa is overall thinner than my Apple Watch, despite Apple claiming otherwise.
As mentioned, both support interchangeable straps, though both implementations are proprietary. Apple has a slew of different styles of watch bands, including silicone, nylon, stainless steel, and more. Fitbit has many of these options too, but not nearly as many color or material choices as Apple.
Also, it’s a small thing, but changing Apple Watch straps is a breeze — the company’s proprietary locking mechanism is really well thought out. Changing straps on the Versa is actually really frustrating. Have fun getting the leather straps attached without throwing it across the room.
Now is as good a time as ever to mention overall build quality. While both watches have their similarities, the Apple Watch feels extremely well built compared to the Versa. It might cost a few hundred dollars ($400 to be exact), but Apple clearly does something with that money. Literally every part of the watch — the aluminum case, the OLED display, the rotating crown, and especially the haptics — feels great.
The Fitbit Versa feels great, as long as you don’t compare it side by side, which is understandable. This is about half the price as the Apple Watch after all. One can’t expect the same build quality. It’s not bad, just not in the same league.
That level of quality extends to the displays as well. The OLED Retina screen on the Apple Watch is fantastic. You’ll get deep blacks and vibrant colors, and the panel also supports Force Touch. The large and small screens also have a higher resolution — 368 x 448 or 324 x 394 — than the Fitbit’s 300 x 300 screen. Again, the 1.34-inch LCD screen on the Versa isn’t bad, but you’ll notice a big difference between the two if you put them side by side.
Despite the battery-saving properties OLED has over LCD, battery life is where things take a turn. The Apple Watch lasts around a day on a single charge, maybe a day and a half. You might even have to top it up sometime during the day if you want it for sleep tracking. That’s probably why Apple doesn’t even bother with developing sleep tracking tech — the Apple Watch won’t track sleep out of the box, but some third-party apps will do the trick.
The Versa lasts a bit over four days on a single charge, and that’s with activity tracking, sleep tracking, and the heart rate sensor activated at all times. I can’t wait until all smartwatches last this long.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Smartwatch features
Apple’s and Fitbit’s approaches to software are entirely different. Again, that has a lot to do with how much experience company has in the smartwatch space.
The Apple Watch’s software is clean and fast, though it’s nearly too complex (more on that later). One press on the digital crown will bring you to the honeycomb (all apps) screen, while a long press will activate Siri. For as much as people like to hate on Siri, it’s way faster than Google Assistant on any Wear OS watch I’ve tried.
Apple’s voice assistant has come a long way over the years. It’s definitely good enough to answer questions and perform simple requests with smart home devices, though its ecosystem notably lacks the breadth of smart home device support of Google and Amazon. It’s more than what the Versa offers, though. There’s no voice assistant baked into the Fitbit smartwatch, so you’ll have to do everything the old-fashioned way: by swiping and tapping.
To a point, that’s to be expected. Fitbit OS is only a few years old. While it has vastly improved from the version that launched on the Ionic in 2017, it’s not perfect. Even the latest Fitbit OS 3 lags while swiping through menus and pulling down the notification shade. It is an overall simpler OS though, so if you don’t need everything available to you right on your wrist, the Versa should fulfill your smartwatch needs just fine.
One good example of Apple going a bit overboard with this is the much-criticized honeycomb screen, its confusing version of an all-apps page. It displays all your apps in a honeycomb-style grid. You’re supposed to scroll around and tap the app icon you’d like. It’s not nearly as fast at finding apps in a list view, but luckily you can switch to list view pretty easily.
If your smartwatch use revolves around third-party applications and services, the Apple Watch is by far your best option. Popular apps like Audible and Runkeeper, as well as third-party weather apps like Dark Sky are all available on watchOS, but not on Fitbit OS. Fitbit’s app ecosystem is growing, but it’s still far behind what Apple offers now. Hopefully that will change soon — Fitbit recently gave developers access to two new APIs, which should allow them to more easily create higher quality applications.
Both smartwatches have music storage built in, as well as support for a handful of music streaming apps. The Apple Watch has about 2GB of space for local music storage, and you can also listen to Apple Music and Apple Podcasts from the watch.
The Versa has about 2.5GB of local music storage, as well as support for Pandora and Deezer playlists. There’s no streaming option though — you’ll have to download the playlists before you go out for your workout. That’s about it for music options, but Fitbit of course says more music partners will be added in the future.
Both smartwatches allow you to receive and respond to messages from your smartphone, but there are some limitations. While the Fitbit Versa is compatible with both iOS and Android, you can only respond to messages when paired with an Android phone. The Apple Watch has the advantage of a built-in microphone, so you can respond to messages with your voice, which is handy sometimes.
Both smartwatches connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and both support Wi-Fi. The Apple Watch is also available in a cellular variant, which is great news for those who want to leave their phone at home and still receive calls and messages.
Finally, we have mobile payments. Each company has its own contactless payment service. Apple Pay is obviously available on the Apple Watch, while Fitbit Pay is, you know, on the Fitbit. Apple Pay has been around for a long time now, and it shows — a ton of banks and card companies support it. Fitbit Pay’s list of supported banks and card companies is growing by the week, but as I mentioned previously, it’s a work in progress.
Fitbit Pay is only available on the special edition model here in the U.S., which costs $30 more than the standard model. I’m really hoping there’s just one all-encompassing model with the Versa 2, because it sort of feels like a cash grab to make people spend extra for this feature. The special edition Versa is still $170 less than the cheapest Series 4 Apple Watch, so I suppose that’s a win for Fitbit!
It shouldn’t be surprising Apple still doesn’t allow third-party watch faces, so you get what Apple gives you. That’s not horrible though — especially with the Series 4, Apple includes plenty of great, customizable watch faces. My favorites are the Infograph Modular and Fire/Water faces. It’s also super easy to switch between watch faces. Just swipe left or right to select your favorites, or you can customize your own on the watch or in the Apple Watch app.
Fitbit offers a small set of its own watch faces, which are okay. They’re certainly not as well thought out or frankly as cool as anything on the Apple Watch. However, Fitbit lets third-party developers make their own watch faces, so the options are seemingly endless.
The only downside here is the Versa can’t load more than one watch face at a time, so you have to select a new one in the app and wait for it to transfer to your watch (which can take a long time). Even worse, you can’t choose from a “favorites” or “recents” section, so you actually have to go hunting for a watch face and customize it all over again if you want to go back to a previous watch face. As someone who changes watch faces all the time, this is a big headache.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Fitness tracking
Fitbit is one of the biggest names in fitness tracking devices, so it’s no surprise the Versa is a perfectly capable fitness tracker. Apple has also made strides in fitness and health tracking over the last few years, and it shows with the Series 4 Apple Watch.
Both devices will track your steps, calories burned, heart rate, and active minutes. Both can also track your sleep, but you’ll have to download a third-party app for the Apple Watch for sleep tracking.. Alternatively, the Versa is one of the best sleep trackers out there. Feel free to read about the specifics in our full review.
Both watches will also track a wide variety of different sport profiles. There are some differences, but both at least track basics like running, biking, treadmill, yoga, elliptical, and walking. They both track pool swimming too (thanks to their 5ATM water resistance ratings), but the Apple Watch can also track open-water swims. There are far too many sport profiles to list here, so you can check out the full list of Versa sport profiles here and Apple Watch sport profiles here.
I tested both smartwatches during a 48-minute cardio exercise (an Insanity video that was way too difficult), which you can see below. I also tested the watches against my Polar H10 heart rate strap as a control for the heart rate readings.
Overall, the Versa and Apple Watch’s heart rate sensors picked up on most of the big trends throughout the workout. A few minutes in, my heart rate shot up quite a bit — the H10 reported this spike at a max of 160bpm. The Apple Watch recorded it to be ~175bpm, while the Versa recorded it as a high 189bpm (my max is 193). Later on, the watches showed another heart rate peak topping out at around 170bpm, even though the H10 recorded it at 163bpm. The smartwatches were much more accurate when my heart rate wasn’t nearing peak. The H10 reported my average heart rate to be 133bpm, while the Apple Watch’s was 137 and the Versa’s was 136.
As we’ve reported previously, wrist-based heart rate sensors aren’t going to be as accurate as chest heart rate sensors. Too many factors can throw the numbers off, whether that be skin tone, body hair, or how tight the device is around your wrist. The important thing is they both picked up on the major trends.
For those wondering, calorie burn was also in the same ballpark for each device. I burned 549 calories according to the Apple Watch, 534 according to the Versa, and 571 according to the Polar H10.
If you’re unsatisfied with those heart rate numbers, you can pair a third-party heart rate sensor with the Apple Watch to get more accurate readings. The Fitbit unfortunately doesn’t have this feature.
The Apple Watch is probably the better option for runners, as all models (after Series 1) come with a built-in GPS. The Fitbit Versa only has Connected GPS, so you’ll have to bring your phone on a run if you want accurate distance and pace metrics.
If you need to keep an eye on your heart health, the Apple Watch is, again, probably your best option. It has an FDA-approved electrocardiogram, and it’s one of the few consumer devices to have one built-in. ECGs can help users detect serious heart problems like atrial fibrillation (AFib), and warn you when you’re experiencing heart palpitations. Traditionally, ECGs are quite expensive at the doctor’s office, which of course makes it harder for people without insurance to get. By no means should this be a replacement for attending regular doctor visits if you do have heart problems, but it is still a nice feature to help keep an eye on things.
Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Which is the better buy?
Buying one smartwatch over the other, at least for this comparison, depends on one major factor: what smartphone you own. If you have an Android phone and aren’t keen on buying anything powered by Wear OS or the latest Samsung watch, buy the Fitbit Versa, or the Fitbit Ionic if you need something more powerful. The Apple Watch won’t work with your phone, so you’ll have to look elsewhere.
There’s no question: The Apple Watch is the clear winner. But at what cost?
Things become more difficult if you own an iPhone. Buy the Apple Watch if you want the best of the best. If your budget is $200 and not a penny more, the Versa is an incredible option. Just remember iOS users can’t respond to notifications from the Versa.
I can’t say which is the better smartwatch. Both are really great in their respective areas. The Fitbit Versa is a fantastic value for around $200, and the Apple Watch Series 4 is a fantastic all-around smartwatch if you don’t mind the cost. For you phone nerds, this is like comparing the Pocophone F1 against the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 — you can do it, but there are a lot of things you need to consider before claiming one is better than the other.
That’s it for our Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch comparison. Do you own either of these smartwatches? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
February 5, 2019 at 10:53AM