Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: 2015 super watch showdown

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: 2015 super watch showdown

Two of the biggest smartwatches of 2015 put head-to-head
Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge

It's the smartwatch showdown for 2015 but will it be the Apple Watch or the Fitbit Surge that wins the battle for your wearable wrist space?

Both devices pack a plethora of sensor-laden tech to track various aspects of your life, as well as keeping you up to date with smartphone updates.

But which one should you buy? Read on to find out how the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch measure up…

And make sure you also read:

The definitive Apple Watch review

Our in-depth Fitbit Surge review

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Design

Fitbit v Apple Watch

The two super watches (a term coined by Fitbit) for 2015 are very different in their approaches to the smartwatch genre.

Apple has clearly taken a very fashion conscious approach by offering up its debut wearable in a staggering 38 different hardware designs. There are two different sizes to choose from, three different editions and multiple colours, straps and designs for each.

Essential reading: Apple Watch tips and tricks

What the Apple Watch is actually made from depends on what edition you decide to buy. Some models come with a single crystal sapphire face which, we're told, is the second hardest transparent substance known to man. If you're looking for a sports watch, go for the Watch Sport or stainless steel Watch with a Sport strap.

In our Apple Watch review we said: "Whether you find the Apple Watch a terrific example of fashion blending with tech, or a square boxy abomination is a question of taste. But for our money, it's the best looking smartwatch made to date."

The Fitbit Surge is very much a fitness focused device, although it's a world away from the likes of the Zip and the Flex, and is definitely more smartwatch than activity tracker.

It comes in three sizes and is made from a flexible, durable elastomer material similar to that used in sports watches. It also boasts a surgical-grade stainless steel buckle.

In our Fitbit Surge review we noted: "The Fitbit Surge's rubber strap, which comes in black, blue or tangerine looks nice enough and, crucially, is both comfy and secure, but it's hard to look past that dated looking display and the increase in girth from the modules bottom to top end is rather bizarre."

On looks and sheer wearability there's no real competition. It's the contender from Cupertino all the way.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Display

Fitbit Surge v Apple Watch

Another easy win for the Apple Watch is when it comes to the display. With the smaller Apple Watch, the 38mm one, you're looking at a 340 x 272 resolution and for the larger 42mm model it will be 390 x 312 pixels. That means both displays are a 5:4 ratio.

It might not be the sharpest but it's still a great smartwatch screen. From our Apple Watch review: "Part of the appeal is the 340 x 272 pixels, 290 ppi screen (390 x 312, 302ppi for the 42mm one), and while it's not quite as sharp as the Samsung Gear S, it's one of the most vibrant we've seen from any smartwatch to date and shows off the deep colour palette of Watch OS."

Wareable guide: Best fitness trackers you can buy

The good news, for Fitbit fans, is that the company is bringing displays to the Fitbit mix for the first time with its trio of new devices – albeit not ones quite as startling as Apple's.

The Surge's display is a touchscreen, monochrome, 1.25-inch LCD one with a backlight for low light visibility.

"It's easy to navigate around the Surge's options and features without getting lost, and we've had absolutely no issues with touchscreen responsiveness, even in the pouring rain," we said in our review.

"The LCD screen has a backlight so it's also usable in low light situations – you can toggle this light on or off, or set it to automatically come on when in use – through the settings menu on the device itself rather than having to use the app."

So the Surge's display is practical but drab, the Apple Watch's is lovely but drains its battery like no-one's business (more on that later). Which you prefer depends how you will use it.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Hardware

Apple Watch v Fitbit

The Fitbit Surge is a super charged activity tracker and packs in an absolute wealth of sensors to keep you fit and healthy.

The two standout features for the Surge are its GPS connectivity and 24 hour optical heart rate monitoring. GPS is essential for accurate run tracking, and the continuous heart rate feature puts it head-to-head with the likes of the Basis Peak and the Microsoft Band.

The Fitbit Surge tracks detailed motion data and keeps tabs on daily totals for a month. It can store heart rate data at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5 second intervals all other times. The app itself lets you see daily, weekly and monthly graphs of all sorts of metrics.

Wareable verdict: Fitbit Surge review

Apple's stuck an optical heart rate monitor onto the back of its watch, which uses infrared and standard LEDs to measure your capillary blood flow and detect your pulse.

But there's no GPS built in to the Apple Watch – you're going to have to rely on your iPhone for detailed tracking.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Software

The Fitbit Surge pairs up with your smartphone using Bluetooth, or your PC or Mac using the wireless dongle. The Fitbit app is available across Windows Phone, iOS and Android and the data will also sync with the info from your Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Scales.

The comprehensive app shows you your progress, lets you record workouts, map routes, share and compete with your friends, log your food intake and earn badges based on your activity achievements.

The Apple Watch, like the iPhone and the iPad, could be an app lovers dream - eventually. Using its own propriety OS, the WatchKit API meant that devs have been able to knock up a roster of killer apps in time for launch. So there's some great apps to download at launch such as Citymapper and 'background game' Spy_Watch though quality does vary.

Read this: The best Apple Watch apps so far

Apple has already managed to team up an impressive number of high profile app makers such as American Airlines, the MLB and Honeywell so many more big partnerships are expected. The likes of Facebook are still missing, for instance, and lots of big names are due in the next few months.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Activity tracking

The Fitbit Surge supports running, cross-training, biking, strength and cardio workouts. It also offers the usual activity tracking functions, so it will record your number of steps, floors climbed, distance travelled, calories burned and it also measure your sleep quality.

The sleep function is automatic, so you don't need to tell your Fitbit smartwatch that you're planning on catching some zeds.

From our Surge review: "The activity tracking is, as you'd expect from a company with plenty of experience in this area, incredibly reliable (we tested against older Fitbit models, as well as rival activity bands) and the Surge does a great job of motivating thanks to the ease of seeing how well you are performing against your goals."

Essential reading: Google Fit v Apple Health

Fitness tracking is also a big part of the Apple Watch setup with the tech giant splitting its offering into two main areas; Activity App, which is all about health, movement, wellness and your daily routine, and Workout App, which tracks running, cycling and walking. All of your Apple Watch data is collated on your iPhone using the Apple Health app.

In many ways, the Apple Watch wasn't built to be a sports super watch. The Move Goal coloured circles look great but beyond daily activity, it's kind of useless without third party apps. Its own Workout app isn't accurate enough for running. There's no built-in sleep tracking, probably because it needs charging every night. And it tells you you've burned 600 calories just for sitting at a desk.

Hopefully, third party apps will plug this gap but it's worth noting that while in many ways the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch, it's far from the best fitness tracking smartwatch.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Notifications

The Fitbit Surge displays smartwatch notifications such as incoming calls and texts, and it also has the ability to control your music.

That's it though. You can forget about WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and the like – the Surge doesn't even offer native app updates like emails and calendar reminders. A crying shame and certainly not what you'd expect from a 'super watch'.

Fitbit versus the world: Microsoft Band v Fitbit Charge HR

On the Apple Watch there's the notifications you'd expect with text, email, caller ID, Twitter and Facebook all featured. It's still early days for some - Facebook's app support isn't ready yet so some notifications can't be read onscreen for instance. And apps such as WhatsApp struggle with multiple messages.

There's also customisable emojis and pictorial hand-gestures as communications that you can send back to your mates. Our favourite so far is using Digital Touch to send creepy handwritten notes to other Watch-wearing tech journos. Calls can be full voice using the watch's waterproof speaker and are rather handy while driving with quick one button access to Watch contacts.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Battery life

The Fitbit Surge is supposed to have a five to seven day battery life but in our testing we only got three days including one hour of GPS. It charges via a proprietary connector though not the same one as the Fitbit Surge.

The Apple Watch does require daily charging, as expected. We've generally been going to bed with 20% of battery left each night so it's not bad enough to worry about making it home.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Price

Apple Watch starts from $349 for the 38mm Sport and goes right up in the thousands of dollars for the solid gold Watch Edition.

The Fitbit Surge costs $249 in the US, £200 in the UK and is available now. So if you're on a budget and it's sports you're after, it's the more sensible choice.

Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: Verdict

Fitbit v Apple Watch

Price is bound to play a big part in your decision whether you choose an Apple Smartwatch or a Fitbit Surge as your 2015 smartwatch.

But while the Surge doesn't quite match the Apple Watch in terms of grandeur and features, as a standalone fitness device it has more about it than its fruity rival, and if you're looking for a smartwatch to measure and analyse your runs and fitness, it may well be your best bet.

However, the Apple Watch is definitely the most exciting wrist wearable that we've seen in a long time and, if the iPhone / iPad example is anything to go by, it will a device that evolves and improves as their dev community sink their teeth into it. It's not perfect but it's very wearable and it has real potential.

Your thoughts

Let us know what wearable has caught your eye using the comments feature below...

29 Comments

  • goodwin says:

    Only the apple watch and apple watch edition feature the Sapphire crystal, the apple watch sports however is made of a Ion strengthened glass ( used in the iPhone 6 and 6 plus)

  • JEByrd says:

    Here is the thing about activity trackers.  I look first and foremost at function over style.  I need something that I can play sports in, and not worry about it getting scratched or soaked with sweat.  I don't want to worry about battery life on a daily basis and I prefer the design of the FitBit Force/Charge HR or the Garmin VivoSmart over anything that is bulky and has a larger screen on it. 

    I love the simplicity of the VivoSmart, but hate its fragmented eco-system and lack of application details.  But it gives me a fully functional activity tracker that is durable, functional, and can display notifications with media player controls.

    Activity Tracker > Smart Watch  

  • LaxMom says:

    After wearing my  Band for 2 weeks I am sorry to say I will be returning it before the  30 days it's up. I loved it in the beginning but the reality is sinkng in. I am a woman with a small wrist. I have been wearing it 24 hours a day aside from charging and it is just unbelievably uncomfortable. It's like buying a pair of pumps you like because of the style knowing they hurt like hell and regretting your purchase after you realize you just can't wear them. The idea of the band is a great start but it does feel like a prototype. I don't care how stylish it is but comfort is big. The fact that I can't wear it in the shower is also an issue. Though I'm sure it will come MS should have really stepped up the software. The band collects a lot of info but the software gives no useable info. The things I overlook in the beginning have reared their ugly heads. The sleep and heart rate info for me is imperative so I like that in the beginning. The notifications are also a nice touch but I feel I am settling. I will most likely buy the Surge.

  • wookietim says:

    When it comes down to it, the Fitbit surge is exactly what I want. Right now.

    I might need to explain that. The Apple Watch (Which I'll never get since it's Apple and I dislike that company, but I am using that as a stand in for all smartwatches like it) is a platform for apps that go beyond fitness. The problem being that fitness stuff is the only thing that really a watch like this can do in a better way than a phone can. Therefore for the foreseeable future all that I am going to use a smart device on my wrist for is fitness tracking and the fitbit does that much better (IMHO) than the Apple Watch does.

    That said, someday someone will figure out an app that makes smartwatches actually useful beyond fitness tracking. On that day I will reevaluate my purchase decisions. 

    • robertm says:

      Have to agree with the fitbit surge love here. I'm actually a big fan of Apple products, but right now I'm not sure I need an Apple watch. I have my iphone and ipad and thats all the mobile connectivity I need.

      What I could use though, is a slightly more competent version of the fitbit flex that I'm wearing. And that's the surge (or to step outside fitbit, maybe the microsoft band), not the Apple watch.

      My biggest possible improvements include GPS on the fitness band itself so I don't need to carry a phone with me when I'm exercising, heart-rate sensors, and good battery life. If Apple work on getting the battery life up on the watch, get a GPS into the watch then they might have something that does what I need. Right now though, they don't.

  • Kelsie says:

    So if I'm currect the apple watch has to access your GPS through your phone and uses your data whenever you are not in an area with wifi, but the surge has it's own gps so it will reduce the amount it needs to use your data. 

  • DakarDad says:

    In your article, you write, "The Fitbit Surge supports running, cross-training, biking..."  I tried using my new Christmas gift Surge for biking and found that it isn't ready to do this reliably.  On fitbit's forum Allison, the forum manager replied to one person, "We're working on it! Algorithms on the current GPS-enabled apps like Free Run and Hike are calibrated specially for those activities. A cycling app is in development, but we've got a little ways to go before it can harmoniously crunch all your activity data."  In my test today, the Surge was unreliable both for HR and for GPS.  Surge says it needs to be one to three finger widths above the wrist bone for accurate HR readings.  That advice proves challenging to follow when exercising as the wrist is significantly smaller than the forearm three fingers higher. 

  • marisolcuevash says:

    I would love for someone to come up with a fitness band that has what the polar ft80 and the fitbit surge does they would be the perfect one and if you can sync it with a chest hrm...

  • lalorosas says:

    If you have size and resolution, isn't that enough to get the ppi? 

    "While the ppi count is unknown at this point, we do know the Apple Watch display is a Retina one...."

    #JustSaying

  • Pammykn says:

    I'm interested in purchasing the Surge, and I cycle quite a bit, really am interested in knowing if it'll work like I need it to. I have the MapMyRide app, but it just eats up too much battery power. My longest ride ever of 73 miles didn't get recorded because my phone died @ 48 miles. Will the Surge synch with apps like MapMyRide?

    • ToxicGecko says:

      Don't do it!!! The Surge does not have the ability to track cycling workouts. It also does not have the ability to sync with other apps like MapMyRide, Strava or anything else for tat matter. The only way to track cycling data is to manually upload the data to the fitbit app or website after each and every ride. The app will only track walk, run and hike. The surge adds a few more options, but still no biking. They are supposedly working on a surge cycling option, but the last update I saw on that was late last year. It's already been out for a while and still no love for the cyclist. You should look at the new Garmin Vivoactive or the older TomTom multisport watch.

      • keithjgrant says:

        It sounds like biking support is still lacking, but according to their website, Fitbit does support integration with several third-party apps like RunKeeper and MapMyRun: http://help.fitbit.com/?l=en_US&c=Topics%3AX3rd_Party_Integration

      • Lindsaynicole says:

        "

        WHAT DOES SURGE TRACK?

        Regardless of the activity, Surge tracks steps, heart rate, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, and simplified heart rate zones. To seamlessly track and view workout summaries for your favorite activities, put Surge into a specialized exercise mode for that activity type. Exercise modes for running, walking, hiking, and biking will automatically activate GPS tracking.

        Information from these workouts is synced and saved automatically to your Fitbit dashboard and can be viewed later to understand your progress. Up to seven exercises can be added to your device, such as Yoga, Elliptical, Golf, and others, as well as a generic "Workout" exercise that you can rename in your dashboard."

    • dfinalcut says:

      I use RunKeeper and Strava apps at the same time on my phone (for different reasons).  I carry a battery backup and that works fine. They also make solar chargers as well.

  • tinaabutler1954 says:

    I have been using a body media fitness tracker for years. I also am looking for something a little more comprehensive such as heart rate and better at reading my sleep cycle. For static activities like treadmill, cycling or elliptical where I don't use my arms much I have worn my tracker on my right leg just below my knee. Much more accurate for tracking my workouts.

  • mgk says:

    Which of the two has a *better* heartrate monitor?

    Thanks!

  • masterphin says:

    Owning the Surge since March I'm rather fond of the fitbit infrastructure and MFP integration. I liked Up but kicked it after the 3rd Up24 died on me in the shower. I tried both Basis products, just awful isolation there. The Surge does not like showers either - I charge it at shower times. Apple watch does well there and does what a fitness tracker needs to do in my book, measure calories spent during workouts and all day, very much the same as Surge does. My ask is different, can I please use Surge (or rather Up3 for that matter) for night time tracking of sleep (need to fight insomnia) and Apple Watch during the day to activity and workout tracking as well as increased efficiency at work and bring it all together in ONE APP for data correlation? 

  • rafaeljuarez says:

    I like that the Fitbit comes with a large network of users.  Many of my friends are part of that and I get to get motivated and held accountable right off the bat.  My consistency of workouts is through the roof and the challenge of beating my best and competing daily with friends is very motivational.

  • Modawg says:

    I went with the surge. Honestly? 1 day battery life and Apple's reputation of having an penchant to hold out on basic features means that an iWatch won't be worthwhile until "iWatch 4s." This 4s version, I imagine, will probably have no need for the phone and include video/a2dp support. I'm imagining a 3 day life that you'll probably be able to supplement with  third party moderately sized battery attachment.

    My conclusion is that you're better off waiting at least five years if you want an iWatch.

  • Hieronymus says:

    In addition to all the much touted health and fitness benefits, the Fitbit range has sleep tracking features and a seriously useful silent alarm.

    OK, so maybe the Apple Watch does all that business too, but given the battery life is unfunny the only obvious place for device when you're asleep is stuck on the end of a USB cable. Not your wrist.

    The whole battery thing is beginning to look like a millstone around its neck, isn't it.

  • Triksy says:

    I weight train and would really like to know whether the fitbit accurately calculates calories burned in a workout....and also if it calculates your daily calories burned at rest as well? Any info would be fab! I'm considering one and really don't want to waste my hard earned dosh! Thanks! :) 

  • jacbec says:

    I already have a Smartwatch (Michael Bastian Chronowing) that looks much greater than Apple Watch. I have also used a Fitbit for several years. I could care less about notifications (my iPhone is always in my pocket) and there is no way I will charge a device every day. So my vote remains FitBit!

  • Sunisky says:

    well the fit big can not give you all the information or things that the apple watch but I wanna know because Im about to win a free apple watch.

  • FernandoBac says:

    I don't have any. But reading the discussions i think Iwatch should evaluate more in some aspects as "battery life", "sleep tracking"... on the other hand it have more possibilities for app developers besides it doesn’t t have the perfect hardware... its just my opinion...

  • SugarCane6 says:

    I have an Apple Watch and a Fitbit Charge HR.  I love the Apple Watch for business applications, test, phone, calendar notifications, not so much for fitness.  The Fitbit is by far the better fitness tracker.  I would love to find a device with the best of both, rather than having to choose or to wear both at the same time!

  • JohnB says:

    Have been using a low cost Fitbit watch for a year. In that time the band has broken twice. Once the brain of the gadget failed and Fitibit sent me a new one promptly and with no excuses or cost to me. So I love em for that but the band quality is not good so am looking at an alternative.

  • basboyblair says:

    Basically I can run around and use Kettle Bells with the FitBit where the Apple watch I would smash the hell out of it doing a single KB Snatch.... so go with the rubberized less expensive one. 

  • charlyne says:

    Just to clarify before I go and purchase one or the other at the weekend - for activity the fitbit is better?? however the apple watch is fab but more for what you would normally use your phone for?

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.