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Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Fitbit Versa 2: Best smartwatch to give as a gift

Both smartwatches do double duty as fitness trackers, but one is half the price of the other.

The Apple Watch Series 5 starts at $399 (£399, AU$649) and makes an ideal gift for an iPhone user who wants to keep an eye on their health and fitness goals, or get notifications from their phone. But the Fitbit Versa 2 costs half as much and has many similar features, plus it works across Android and iOS. I've been wearing both these watches for a few weeks to determine which one is better at tracking workouts, getting notifications and has the best battery life. 

Read more: Best gifts for people who are obsessed with CrossFit

Sarah Tew/CNET

Five generations in and the Apple Watch has really come into its own as a do-it-all smartwatch. The always-on display now means you can always see the time without lifting your wrist, although don't expect the battery to last longer than a day. Like the Series 4 before it, this watch still has a built-in ECG and a wealth of exercises it can track, as well as an LTE option and built-in GPS. It does, however, only work with the iPhone.

Read the Apple Watch Series 5 review.


You're receiving price alerts for Apple Watch Series 5 GPS (44mm silver aluminum case, white sport band)
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A versatile hybrid that's equal parts smartwatch and fitness tracker, the Versa 2 adds a few improvements over the first version that make it a good option for Apple and Android owners alike. Like the Apple Watch, it too has an always-on display, but the battery will last more than twice as long. Expect at least five days between charges if you don't have the always-on display active. It also gives you built-in sleep tracking, Alexa support and Spotify control on your wrist.

Read the Fitbit Versa 2 hands-on.


You're receiving price alerts for Fitbit Versa 2

All-day comfort so you can go from the office to the gym

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes (40mm and 44mm) while the Versa 2 just comes in one size. I have a fairly small wrist and found both of these watches very comfortable to wear all day. With the Versa 2, I hardly had to take it off at all because I could use it to track my sleep.

Want a wide range of finishes and straps to choose from? You'll find the biggest selection with the Apple Watch. Everything from aluminum and stainless steel to the more expensive ceramic and titanium finishes that cost upward of $800. The Versa 2 has three aluminum color finishes with a variety of straps.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Versa 2 gets a much nicer color AMOLED display than the first generation Versa and it's easy to see in bright sunlight when the brightness is turned to max. (The always-on display could be a little brighter for me during outdoor workouts, however.) Notifications and on-screen prompts are clear and legible.

The Apple Watch uses a color LTPO OLED Retina display. It also has Force Touch, so you can press on the screen to register different options.

They're both water-resistant to 50 meters (164 feet) so you can use them to track swims and they'll be fine if subjected to occasional splashes. 

Fitbit still makes its straps pretty difficult to swap in and out, as they have tiny toggles, whereas the Apple Watch is simpler with a button to slide the strap in and out. The charging dock for the Versa 2 is also a pain. Not only is it not backward-compatible with older generations of Fitbit watches like the original Versa, the cord doesn't tuck underneath the dock neatly so it's next to impossible to get your watch to lie flat on the dock when it's charging.

Smart features put the Apple Watch a step ahead

If you like customizing the look of your watch face, the Versa 2 has a lot more options to choose from than the Apple Watch, including third-party watch faces. There's even a Bitmoji watch face that changes expressions depending on your activity or time of day (my personal favorite).

Both have an always-on display and, thanks to the latest Fitbit OS 4.1 update, the Versa 2 now gets the option of a color always-on display, like the Apple Watch. But the Apple Watch only makes it through one whole day with a little extra to spare when I have the always-on display active. That's with a 40-minute workout thrown in and regular use throughout the day getting notifications from my phone. The Versa 2 makes it two-and-a-half days with always-on active and the same usage. That goes up to five-and-a-half days when the display is set to raise-to-wake.


The always-on display on the Versa 2.

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Being smartwatches, both support voice assistants, though they handle that in a different way. With the Versa 2 you get Alexa support to control smart devices, check the weather, start a workout or set reminders. There's no speaker, so you'll have to read the screen to check responses. And it's kind of slow.

With the Apple Watch closely integrated with Siri, you can speak the wake word or hold the button to summon the assistant. You'll be able to hear Siri talk, send text messages, speak responses and do most of what Siri offers on your phone.

Of course, you'll also be able to customize what notifications come through from your phone on both of these watches. However, you will only be able to respond to notifications from the Versa 2 if you're on Android, not iPhone. Both allow you to accept and reject calls from your wrist, regardless of what phone you're tied to, but if you have the Versa 2 you won't be able to take the call on your wrist because there's no speaker -- you'll need to grab your phone.

For me, the biggest advantage that the Apple Watch has over the Versa 2 when it comes to smart features is built-in connectivity, both GPS and cellular, which means you can leave your phone at home and take calls, send messages or stream music on the go when doing an outdoor workout, for example. (It does come at an extra cost, however.) With Emergency SOS you'll also be able to call emergency services from your wrist and share your location, plus alert your emergency contacts. The Apple Watch Series 5 also offers a built-in compass.

Both offer music storage, although it's more complicated to pull across music to the Versa 2 from a computer than it is to use the seamless transfer offered between the iPhone and Apple Watch. You can also pay with your wrist thanks to Fitbit Pay and Apple Pay on the Versa 2 and Apple Watch respectively.

I've been testing the Apple Watch and Versa 2 primarily with an iPhone and definitely feel the Apple Watch was the faster of the two when it comes to syncing and transferring settings. Occasionally, I have noticed integrations with third-party apps such as Spotify and Snapchat for the Bitmoji face require me to log in and sync again through the Fitbit app.

Read about some of the other features offered in WatchOS 6 on the Apple Watch.

Fitness tracking is Fitbit's forte, but Apple has ECG

I have used both of these watches during a number of different workouts (Pilates, indoor spin class, outdoor runs and outdoor bike rides) and have been impressed with the results from both. During my outdoor run, for example, both gave fairly consistent results when it came to tracking my heart rate, although I did find the Apple Watch updated my heart rate slightly faster. I haven't yet tested these watches against the gold standard in consumer heart rate tracking, a chest strap.

The Versa 2, however, can show you what heart rate zone you're in during a workout, such as cardio or fat burn, which I appreciate. Only the Apple Watch offers you on-wrist cadence tracking so you can see your steps per minute, plus pace alerts for running that can notify you if you fall below your chosen pace. You can see your pace on the wrist for the Versa 2, but you won't get alerts.

Both watches can track plenty of different workouts and automatically detect certain activities like running or walking. I find it easier to see and interpret the data from my workouts using the Fitbit app rather than trying to search for it across the Activity app or Health app on iPhone.

Fitbit also offers the Coach app (you'll need to download and sync it across to the watch from the Fitbit app) which puts three free workouts with visual guidance on your wrist. This hasn't changed since the first Versa but it's still a nice touch for those who might not have time for a full workout. You can pay for a Fitbit Premium subscription ($9.99 a month in the US) to get more workouts.


Sleep tracking on the Versa 2.

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Sleep tracking is only available natively on the Versa 2 and I really like how Fitbit shows you a breakdown of your different sleep stages, such as REM and deep sleep, plus gives you a sleep score out of 100. Thanks to the latest OS 4.1 update, you can now see your sleep score on the Versa 2 and the watch now has a feature that vibrates to wake you at the optimal time in your sleep cycle (within 30 minutes of your alarm). Fitbit calls this smart wake.

Unfortunately the app won't tell you much about how to improve the sleep score (apart from some standard prompts to go to bed on time) unless you have a Fitbit Premium subscription which has more advanced sleep tools and analysis.

I also found that there was sometimes a variance between how I felt and the sleep score: For example, one night I got 8.5 hours of rest and felt great in the morning, but my sleep score was in the low 60s. The sleep score does take into account your restoration, which is sleeping heart rate and how much you toss and turn during the night. (Maybe I'm an overly active sleeper, because my restoration score showed a lot of restlessness.)

The Apple Watch helps you keep tabs on your daily activity using a ring-based system, which hasn't changed since the first generation. On the Versa 2 you can find your daily metrics in the Today section by swiping down from the main screen.

As for health and heart tracking in particular, the Apple Watch Series 5 pulls ahead. With a built-in ECG (electrocardiogram) that's FDA-cleared, the watch can also detect high, low and irregular heart rates and notify you accordingly. It also has fall detection. Both watches offer menstrual cycle tracking, although you can't log details on the Versa 2 like you can on the Apple Watch. Instead, you'll need to do that in the Fitbit app.

Which one's right for me?

Considering the Versa 2 costs half as much as the Apple Watch Series 5, if money is your concern, then this is the watch for you. Especially because it works across Android and iOS. It also has a wide range of activities that it can track and the Fitbit app makes it really easy to see your fitness metrics.

For runners, or those who want to leave their phone at home and stream music on the go, make calls or send messages, the Apple Watch with built-in LTE is the clear choice. It also has the benefit of ECG in certain countries.

Also, now that Apple has reduced the entry price of the Apple Watch Series 3 (which also has GPS and an LTE option) to $200, it's another good option for Apple users who want the tightest integration with an iPhone.

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Originally published earlier this year.