Smartwatches, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit, add a touchscreen to your wrist to free up your hands while you work or exercise. These wearables go far beyond relaying the time by checking on your vitals, capturing workout data, storing credit card info for paying at stores, and showing notifications such as your incoming calls or text messages. And with work calendar integrations and smart home controls available at a tap, these smartwatches streamline your daily tasks for a boost in productivity. But while both brands’ watches feature capacitive touch displays, are water resistant down to 50 meters for swims, and store digital payment methods, they cater to two different lifestyles. With Apple Watch, the focus is on replacing your smartphone, while Fitbits are complementary accessories that prioritize rich health readouts and advanced workout tracking. I tested each company’s current lineup to determine which is best based on your priorities as well as provide my overall impressions of each selection to the rest of the landscape.
See quick info below on the top watches from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews of these models.
Apple Watches only work with the iPhone lineup, which is disappointing for those not invested in Apple’s walled garden. Fitbit, on the other hand, is a fitness-focused wearable that plays nice with both iOS and Android smartphones. The Apple Watch boasts a bold design complete with a physical dial, called a digital crown, as well as a side button. Each model features durable Ion-X front glass, but the Series 7 steps things up by including an IP67 rating that’s both water- and dust-proof. Fitbit watches are slick and simple, complementing—not replacing—your phone, with an easy-to-use UI. Visuals and graphics are toned down, which helps get the battery life to as much as seven full days from a single charge. Fitbits allow for more customization with more clock faces and apps but suffer from a rudimentary app store that’s not too far off from the original Pebble—the first smartwatch to hit the market almost a decade ago. However, the simpler Fitbit benefits from lower prices and advanced health sensor performance when tracking activities or sleep.Trevor Raab
WatchOS for the Apple Watch is the key differentiator between the two brands since it blends natively with your iPhone. Messages, notifications, Apple Wallet, calendars, and more are just a tap or swipe away to create a phone-like experience on your wrist complete with calls and texts that seamlessly handoff between the watch and phone. From here you can do things like scroll through news feeds, play games, and glance at your daily scheduled meetings while customizing your layout either in a grid or list for scrolling. In addition to a frictionless layout, multi-tasking is smooth, apps are fully featured with visual elements, and you can talk to the Siri smart assistant on all models. This power and display costs battery life, which in our testing is often just over a day and a half with moderate use. Overall, the UI is seamless and a cut above Fitbit’s for usability in everyday tasks but missing in-depth fitness tracking. Basic details like specific workout types or the max heart rate you’ve hit on a run to actionable sleep advice and in-depth tracking of the Fitbit are lacking on the Apple Watch.Trevor Raab
If your primary focus isn’t for scrolling through information on Reddit or replacing your phone but briefly seeing notifications at a glance, tracking in-depth health metrics, and exercise often, a Fitbit is an excellent option. The brand’s sleep and workout tracking is best in class, plus Fitbit hosts leaderboards and awards achievements to add a gaming element to the process. Fitbit’s operating system varies by device, but all three models below feature an always-on display, which means you can see the time whether your wrist is raised or not. (This option is only found on the highest-end Apple Watch, the Series 7.) On the entry-level tier, the Charge 5 uses a simplified display and limits apps to just essential tools like timers, scans, and payments to create a functional smartwatch. You can tap and drag to swipe between panels for each of these categories. The touch screen is incredibly slim, but the haptics are responsive. Upgrade to a Versa 3 and you’ll find the interface is like the Apple Watch with downloadable apps like Spotify Controls, Find my Phone, and even Yelp. Graduate to the Sense at the top of the class, and you have a viable alternative to an Apple Watch with the many apps, faces, and sensors. Fitbits (with the exclusion of the Charge 5) allow for different voice assistants like Google or Alexa. They aren’t as cohesive as the Apple Watch lineup, which delivers a similar app experience across all of its devices.
Which mobile device you use will determine whether you go with an Apple Watch or a Fitbit. Android owners can scroll to each Fitbit by price tier to see which works best for their goals and budget, since an Apple Watch is off limits. But even if you own an iPhone, don’t write off Fitbit entirely, as you may prefer the richer health data and connected fitness experience. Otherwise, Apple Watch offers a seamless iPhone-like experience on your wrist so you don’t need to get distracted by pulling out your phone as much or even bring it around if you add your watch to a cellular plan.
Health sensors relay your vitals. Every watch below can measure your heartbeat, but higher-end devices with electrocardiograms (ECG) can check for irregular rhythms. Electrodermal Activity (EDA) scanners measure perspiration to help you monitor stress levels and control them. Blood oxygen is measured in SPO2 and checks for circulatory system functionality from organs like your heart and lungs. Premium watches can even monitor temperature variability from your skin to let you know if you’re getting sick.
The size of your smartwatch screen determines how much room you have to read texts or view notifications and interact with your finger by touch. Bigger isn’t always better, as seen by how the Charge 5 activity band we recommend below makes the most out of its limited screen space. However, with a proper capacitive touchscreen like on the large Series 7, you can better type, navigate, and see visuals from your wrist—good for those with poor eyesight or larger fingers.
To put together a pool of watches to test, I ordered both Apple and Fitbit’s current lineups—from their entry-level devices to their most premium offerings—breaking them down into three categories based on price and performance. While I’ve owned some devices, specifically the entry-level Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit Charge 5, I took testing notes on each device over the course of one week. I integrated each smartwatch into my daily life from tracking my sleep to ten hours of daily desk work and a nightly one-hour exercise session consisting of weightlifting and cardio. This gave me an idea of the performance accuracy of each watch, real-world battery life expectations, and overall usability across different scenarios such as checking information while banging out work or starting a workout routine up. I used each app to dive deep into advanced functionalities, like the Apple Watch 7’s ability to check SP02 on the fly and the Fitbit’s diet planning and achievement system, thoroughly exploring every nook and cranny to see what works and what doesn’t.
At the most basic level, smartwatches provide notifications and health data on your wrist. Apple cuts advanced features to keep pricing low, but Fitbit takes an interesting approach by scaling down the essential health features to an activity band. By doing this, its budget Charge 5 option provides all the major health sensors and features like tap to pay at the cost of productivity apps or on-wrist communication.
Platform: Android or iOS | Sensors: Heart rate, SP02, ECG, EDA, and GPS | Screen: 0.86 x 0.58-in. AMOLEDCharge 5 WatchFitbitamazon.com$179.95$157.75 (12% off)Buy Now
Platform: iOS | Sensors: Heart rate | Screen: 1.3-in. OLEDApple Watch Series 3 42mmApplewalmart.com$199.00Buy Now
Platforms: iOS | Sensors: Heart rate, accelerometer with fall detection, compass | Screen: 1.78-in. LTPO OLEDApple Watch SE 44mmAppleamazon.com$299.99Buy Now
Platforms: Android or iOS | Sensors: Heart rate, SP02 | Screen: 1.6-in. AMOLEDVersa 3 WatchFitbitamazon.com$229.95$193.45 (16% off)Buy Now
Platforms: iOS | Sensors: Heart rate, SP02, ECG | Screen: 1.9-in. LTPO OLEDApple Watch Series 7 GPSAppleamazon.com$469.98Buy Now
Platforms: Android or iOS | Sensors: Heart rate, SP02, ECG, skin temperature, and EDA | Screen: 1.6-in. AMOLEDSense WatchFitbitamazon.com$299.95$227.00 (24% off)Buy Now
The Fitbit Sense feels more like a side-grade than an upgrade from the Versa 3. It shares the same exact design and dimensions as the Versa 3, with three additional health sensors for checking skin temperatures, stress levels, and heart rhythm over an ECG. Outside of this, the stainless steel finish (an upgrade from the Versa 3’s aluminum) and bands are too similar to differentiate between a higher tier. And, ultimately, if you don’t feel you need these readouts, leaning toward the $100-cheaper Versa 3 saves some serious cash.
This flagship offers all of the features of a Fitbit, with an advanced EDA scan app for measuring stress, high and low heart rate alerts, on-wrist skin temperature variations, and a more accurate 24/7 heart rate. Readings were on par with all of the other smartwatches I tested during workouts and sleep, with the most notable stand out being smoother animations and slightly shorter load times over the Versa 3. For example, swapping between app pages felt buttery smooth, and I was able to hop directly into the apps without having to wait. On the Versa 3, the page swipe animation slightly dragged, and apps took a second longer to open.
Overall, the Sense is an impressive health tracker that doesn’t feel too premium. For the high price tier this sits in, the older UI feels unpolished and the design doesn’t scream high-end smart watch. Thinner bezels and an upgraded band could really help in this area. If you can get the Sense on sale, it’s a better version of the Versa 3, but there’s no noticeable boosts to battery life, tracking accuracy, or overall comfort.Hunter FenollolHunter Fenollol, our resident expert of all things consumer tech, from smart home to VR gaming headsets, has years of knowledge creating product explainers, in-depth reviews, and buying guides to help you get the most from the latest electronics.