Fitness tracker faceoff: Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band 2 vs Fitbit Surge
Wearables have transformed from niche products for the fitness-obsessed to everyday items in the space of just a few years – a fact that hasn’t escaped the notice of the big tech brands. Here we pit three of the products that fuse fitness tracking and “smart” tech, the Apple Watch, Microsoft Band 2 and Fitbit Surge, against each other to find out which is best.
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band 2 vs Fitbit Surge: Price
Apple Watch – Apple’s first crack at the wearables market – is the most expensive of the bunch, with the entry-level Apple Watch Sport costing from £299 for the 38mm version.
The Fitbit Surge is the most technologically sophisticated fitness band Fitbit has ever made, but since its release, the price has dropped dramatically. Shop around and you’ll find it going for around £160.
Microsoft Band 2 has also seen a big old price cut. It launched at the £200 mark, but can be had for £150 from Amazon, Currys and PC World – meaning you can get two of them for the price of a single entry level Apple Watch.
Winner: Microsoft Band 2
Apple Watch vs Microsoft Band 2 vs Fitbit Surge: Battery
It should come as no surprise that old hand Fitbit has got this nailed, with up to five days use per charge on the Surge. It’s worth remembering, however, that unlike the other two contenders in this fight the Surge has a transflective LCD screen that only needs to activate its backlight in low-light conditions – most of the time, its screen is lit by ambient light so barely draws any power at all.
Microsoft has done a decent job as well – the Band will charge to full power in under 90 minutes and last around 48 hours before it needs to be topped up. Well, it will as long as you don’t ask it to do GPS tracking – our review sample lasted just over three and a half hours while GPS tracking a bike ride.
Sure, the Band’s 48 hours may not sound great compared to the multi-day life of the Surge, but it’s an awful lot more impressive than the 18 hours of average use offered by Apple Watch. It’s also the longest to reach full charge, taking two-and-a-half hours, although it will get to 80% in one-and-a-half. Whichever way you cut it, though, you’ll need to carry your charger to the office pretty much every day if you don’t want to risk running out of battery by the evening.
Winner: Fitbit Surge
Microsoft Band 2 vs Apple Watch vs Fitbit Surge: Screen
Microsoft has opted for a long, rectangular display rather than the more traditional square or round displays you’ll find on other wearables. Instead, it uses a 32mm, 320 x 128 resolution AMOLED touchscreen, with customisable background designs.
The screen on the Apple Watch is easily the most sophisticated of all three devices, having a full-colour Retina display, Force Touch pressure-sensitive input and dozens of customisable backgrounds. It comes in two sizes, 38mm or 42mm, and has either a sapphire crystal screen on the Apple Watch (mid-tier) and Apple Watch Edition, or toughened Ion-X glass on the Apple Watch Sport.
The Fitbit Surge’s LCD screen isn’t overly impressive in terms of pure aesthetics, but it has one major advantage over its peers: as it uses transflective screen technology, it only needs to activate its battery-sapping backlight when it gets dark. During the day, or in normal lighting conditions, the screen uses ambient light instead. It’s this feature which gives it the edge in really bright sunlight, where standard LCD displays – such as on the Band and Apple Watch – wash out completely or prove difficult to read.
Winner: DRAW between the Apple Watch (for quality) and the Fitbit Surge (for practicality)
Microsoft Band 2 vs Apple Watch vs Fitbit Surge: Features
This can often be the true test of a smartwatch, as features can vary wildly throughout wearable tech. The Microsoft Band 2 features a pretty comprehensive suite of fitness software powered by Microsoft Health, including GPS-assisted run and cycle mapping to save your favourite routes, sleep monitoring and analysis, guided workouts with adjustable goals, and inbuilt calorie-monitoring.
As well as standard sensors like a gyroscope and accelerometer, it also has an optical heart rate monitor, skin temperature sensor and, very unusually, a UV sensor that can tell you if you’ve been out in the sun for too long. The sheer amount of data the Band collects is peerless, and the Microsoft Health online portal provides a vast amount of data to help users change their habits for the better.
Apple is also pushing this aspect of its Watch, with iOS’ Health collection incorporating a bunch of pleasingly-designed apps for things like activity tracking and fitness goals. Apple Watch also incorporates an accelerometer, gyroscope and optical heart rate sensor, as well as a barometer and altimete, meaning it can adjust your biometrics and goals for activities such as climbing and incline training. Unlike the Microsoft Band and Fitbit Surge, though, the Apple Watch has no inbuilt GPS, which means it’s forced to use your iPhone’s location services for any mapping-related functions.
In terms of health functions, however, the Fitbit Surge definitely takes the crown. Put together with fitness in mind, the Surge offers real-time exercise stats, continuous GPS tracking and heart rate tracking and tailored, multi-sport breakdowns of your activities – all without needing a phone in your pocket.
It also handles your calorie management and meal plans, and includes an app-based ‘challenge’ feature for competing with friends and family to reach certain goals. Furthermore, it can automatically detect and analyse sleep patterns through heart rate and movement information.
Compatability and apps
In terms of compatability, both the Fitbit Surge and, perhaps surprisingly, Microsoft Band 2 are cross-platform compatible, working on Android, iOS and Windows Phone, while the Apple Watch is restricted to iPhone 5 and above. Sorry, Android fans.
However, there is a little added incentive to go with certain OSes. Anyone on Windows 8.1 will be able to use Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana with their Microsoft Band 2 or Fitbit Surge, setting reminders and taking notes.
Similarly, Apple Watch users can use the integrated Siri function just as they would on their iPad or iPhone. Android users, however, won’t have access to any Google Now functions.
The Apple Watch rules the roost for versatility. In addition to fitness features and a digital assistant, iOS users get access to huge range of purpose-built watch apps. These include navigation software, recipes, messaging and more, with a large amount of the App Store’s existing third-party library set to be ported to the device.
The Microsoft Band 2 includes various ‘ smart’ features, including notifications for incoming calls, messages and social network updates. That means you can get Facebook and Twitter notifications, real-time weather and stock information, and incoming text and email alerts – as long as you’re within reach of your phone’s Bluetooth connection, anyway.
You can also use pre-written responses to instantly reply to messages with your Band in a similar way to the Apple Watch’s contextually-generated responses. And, if you’re connected to a Windows Phone, you can also use a tiny Word Flow onscreen keyboard to respond to text messages – just hit the tiny letters as accurately as you can (trust us, it’s not easy), and the Band uses a predictive text algorithm to work out what word you were trying to type.
The Fitbit Surge, on the other hand, is far more basic – first and foremost, this is a fitness device. There’s no social media integration built into the actual device, and while it does feature call and text alerts when linked to your smartphone, you can’t accept calls or reply to messages. However, it does act as a remote music control for music playing on your phone, which does come in handy.
Winner: Microsoft Band 2
Microsoft Band 2 vs Apple Watch vs Fitbit Surge: Design
A watch is an inherently personal thing, as much as a fashion statement as a functional timepiece. In this department, smartwatches are yet to challenge traditional watches, with manufacturers often prioritising features and battery life (hence, extra bulk) over straightforward elegance.
The Microsoft Band 2 is a good example of this. Although a huge improvement on the first design, the band definitely sacrifices style for substance – as Alan said in his second opinion in our review, it does give the feel of an electronic tag for criminals under house arrest. The Fitbit Surge is a little more characterful, however, and comes in black, blue and tangerine orange options.
Apple, by contrast, has brought its usual design flair to the process, and Jony Ive’s team have crafted a far more alluring, expensive-feeling device. Available in 38 or 42mm sizes, the Apple Watch is sleek and minimalist, and comes in a variety of different finishes such as stainless steel and space grey aluminium.
There are three versions available: the entry-level Apple Watch Sport, which has a choice of five different plastic strap colours, the mid-tier Apple Watch, which has 10 different strap options, including leather and metal as well as plastic, and the Apple Watch Edition, available in 18-karat yellow or rose gold with various metal, leather and plastic strap options. As you’d imagine, though, the premium finishes and straps come with a suitably hefty price attached.
Whichever you choose, all three wearables are dust and splash-proof, so while you can’t take them swimming with you, they’re more than capable of surviving hand-washes and the like. Bear in mind, though, that the Fitbit and Microsoft devices come in different sizes – depending on how dainty (or chunky) your wrists are, it’s worth making sure you buy the right model.
Winner: DRAW – Apple Watch (for prettiness) and Fitbit Surge (for practicality)