Apple Watch v Fitbit Surge: 2015 super watch showdown

Two of the biggest smartwatches of 2015 put head-to-head
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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


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


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


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 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


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.

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How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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