Apple Watch Series 5 and Fitbit Charge 4 are quite different. One is a fully functioning smartwatch, the other one of the best fitness bands around. We may all be talking about smartwatches, but there’s still a market for activity bands.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The Series 5 device was released about a year ago. It comes with some nice upgrades, the most famous of which is the always-on display. We are expecting the next generation to land in September, and there’s already lots of speculation on what to expect.
Fitbit Charge 4, on the other hand, is not likely to be updated for a couple of years. Revealed a few weeks ago its headline grabbing feature is built-in GPS.
If you’re in two minds on which of these is right for you, this article might help. Keep reading to see how they stack up.
Fitbit Charge 4 or Apple Watch Series 5: Specs
Both the Apple Watch and Charge 4 are fairly lightweight and water-resistant. However, the similarity in terms of design ends there.
Fitbit Charge 4 looks exactly like its predecessor. It retains the fairly sporty design, grayscale OLED display, and the singe physical button in the form of an indent. The only change looks-wise is that its a fraction thicker than before.
Series 5 has, as well, retained its signature look over the years. It has a square-ish design, and full colour, touch sensitive, high quality display.
In terms of actual specs the display of Charge 4 measures 35.8mm x 22.7mm. With Apple, you have two sizes to choose from, a 44m and a 40mm. Both are only 10.7mm thick which is actually less than the 12.5mm of the Charge 4.
It’s not even worth comparing the quality of displays considering Series 5 is miles ahead. It has an LTPO OLED Force Touch Retina display that comes with 1000 nits of brightness. Plus, this is a device the will never go dark thanks to its new always-on feature.
Fitbit’s OLED grayscale with 100 x 150 pixel resolution does the job. But saying it has lots of room for improvement would be a huge understatement.
Luckily water-proofing is excellent on both. At 5 ATM you won’t need to worry about putting the wearables on or off when going for a swim or taking a shower.
Apple’s device comes in a number of build options including an aluminium, stainless steel, titanium and ceramic iterations. The Fitbit only comes in a rubberised design which includes a silicone strap and aluminum and polymer case.
The Apple Watch and Charge are also very customisable. There are a plethora of straps options so with a bit of shopping around you can find one to fit your personal style.
The differences continue under the hood.
When it comes to fitness tracking sensors, the two wearables share an optical heart rate sensor, accelerometer and altimeter. This list continues with the Series 5 to include an electrical heart sensor (ECG) and compass. Fitbit, on the other hand, has an SpO2 sensor which tracks variations in your blood oxygen level during the night.
As mentioned, you now get built-in GPS with Charge 4. This is an important update as it means you have precise data on pace and distance and it allows you to leave your phone behind when exercising outdoors. The Apple Watch has had this feature for a while now.
Finally there is also cellular connectivity on Apple’s device. The Series 5 features a small electronic SIM card. As you’d expect, this comes with on-going monthly fees.
At 18 hours, battery life remains Apple Watch’s stumbling block. Just like its predecessors, you’ll be charging it every day. Charge 4 comes with a fairly decent 7 days on a single charge. This falls to 5 hours with GPS switched on, slightly better than Apple’s 4 hours.
Here’s how the specs compare.
|Fitbit Charge 4||Apple Watch Series 5|
|Material||Built of more lightweight material including an aerospace grade aluminum case.||Aluminium, stainless steel, titanium, ceramic|
|Core unit size||35.8mm x 22.7mm||44 x 38 mm
40 x 34 mm
|Display type||OLED, Grayscale
||LTPO OLED Always-On Retina display with Force Touch
1000 nits brightness
|Resolution||100 x 150 pixels||394×324 (40mm)
448×368 pixels (44mm)
|Battery life||up to 7 days, 5 hours with GPS switched on||Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery
Up to 18 hours. (4 hrs with GPS switched on)
|Water resistance||up to 50 metres (swim-proof) – 5 ATM||up to 50 metres (swim-proof) – 5 ATM|
|Weight||30g||Case weight: 30.1g (for 40mm version); 36.7g (for 44mm version)|
|Sensors||Optical heart rate tracker, 3-axis accelerometer, altimeter, Pulse Ox, vibration motor||Optical heart rate sensor, Electrical heart sensor, improved accelerometer up to 32 g‑forces, improved gyroscope, barometric altimeter, ambient light sensor, compass|
|Microphone & speaker||No||Yes|
|RRP||$150||starting at $399|
Fitbit Charge 4 or Apple Watch Series 5: Functionality
When it comes to fitness tracking, you’ll find most of the essentials on both devices. This includes 24/7 heart rate monitoring, the usual steps, distance, floors climbed, activity tracking, move reminders and more. It’s all there.
The above mentioned GPS is an important extra that comes on both. It’s a big advantage for those who often run or cycle outdoors.
The software experience, however, is quite different. Fitbit comes with a single app which is fairly easy to navigate and a website dashboard.
The Apple Watch, on the other hand, offers two fitness apps: Activity, which monitors your daily routine; and Workout, which tracks running, cycling and walking sessions. All of this info is regularly synced to the Health app, so you can keep everything in one central location.
Its worth nothing, Fitbit and Apple software does not play nice. You will need to opt for a third-party app if you want their apps to communicate.
So let’s delve right into the differences.
In Fitbit’s case the important extra that you get is in the form of the Pulse Ox sensor. The functionality was only recently enabled on a few of its devices including the Versa range and Ionic. This allows for monitoring blood oxygen levels during the night. Apple will reportedly get this feature when watchOS7 is released. If the rumours are correct, that is.
The other addition is native sleep tracking. In the morning the app spits out detailed info on light, deep and REM sleep stages. The Apple Watch still does not have this, although again rumours are it may be coming in a few months time.
Fitbit Charge 4
The extras that you get with the Apple Watch are mostly to do with health tracking rather than fitness tracking. These include monitoring for falls and automatically dialling emergency and notifying your loved ones with your location in the case of an accident.
What’s more, Apple’s optical heart rate monitor looks for irregular heart rhythm. You’ll get low/high heart rate alerts which let you know if the device suspects there is something wrong with your ticker.
Then there is Apple’s FDA-cleared ECG sensor. The device will spit out a full report in the ECG app that will let you know if your heart rhythm is normal or there are issues.
Finally, let’s not forget the larger display of the Apple Watch. This comes in handy when trying to monitor your stats while running, for example. You will need very good eyesight to do the same on the Fitbit.
Here’s a run-down on how the watches compare when it comes to activity tracking.
|Fitbit Charge 4||Apple Watch Series 5|
|Native sleep tracking||Yes|
|ECG monitor||To be enabled soon (maybe)||Yes|
|Blood oxygen||Yes||To be enabled soon (maybe)|
|Low and high heart rate alerts||Yes|
|Alerts for atrial fibrillation||Yes|
We’ll keep this section very short – because the list of smart functionality on the Charge 4 is very short. The fitness band shows basic notifications to keep you connected on the go. There are the usual alarms, Spotify control and a bit more functionality but that’s mostly it. The only other feature worth a mention is NFC for payments not the go.
Apple is in a different league. You’ll find native and third-party apps for everything imaginable, music storage and more. Plus there’s (optional) cellular connectivity. When you are away from your phone, the watch automatically switches to the cellular signal.
Fitbit Charge 4 or Apple Watch Series 5: The bottom line
There’s a reason the Apple Watch is the best selling smartwatch in the world. It is the choice for those looking for an all-rounder. Everything is there, from fitness tracking to lots of smart functionality. But all of this comes at a price.
The Fitbit Charge 4 is the less expensive option. It is right on par with the Apple Watch in terms of fitness tracking and even comes with some extras such as pulse Ox and sleep tracking. But it lacks most of the smart functionality.
Short battery life remains Apple’s biggest stumbling block. Therefore, if you’re more interested in general activity and exercise tracking and don’t need all the other bells and whistles, Charge 4 is the one to go for. It takes care of the basics, and is about twice as cheaper than Series 5. If you’re after a polished smartwatch experience, the Apple product is the safe choice.
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