Apple Watch Series 5

Apple Watch Series 5

At the end of 2017 I bought a Fitbit Charge 2 because it was on sale for $100. I did not own an activity tracker at the time, I had been thinking about getting one for a while, and I had tried out the Microsoft Band 2 in late 2015. The low price point just made the purchase frictionless. I'm of the opinion that smartwatches are excessive, they only add a little more convenience over taking out your phone. There is a reason many people do not wear a watch, it is because you have one in your pocket. Almost anything a smartwatch could do my phone could do, with 4x the screen size. Activity tracking, however, is something a wrist based device really excels at and even today I think it is the only good reason for a device on your wrist.

I was initially hesitant about buying a Fitbit in the first place because I thought, "Why do I care about how many steps I take?" When I actually bought the device I realized that it could do so much more, constant heart rate tracking, exercise tracking, and now my favorite feature, sleep tracking. After using it for a little while I found the metrics provided by my Fitbit interesting. For example if I did a hike I could see I took 20k steps and did 6 miles and that was longer than the 15k step, 4 mile hike I did a month back. It was sleep tracking that quickly became my favorite feature though. My sleep schedule in college was pretty garbage so having numbers on how garbage it was became a slight motivation to improve things. The Charge 2 also had basic smartwatch type features like receiving notifications from your phone, however this was limited to just to built in OS things like messages, calendar, and email.

The Fitbit Charge 3 came out in 2018 so I picked one up to replace my Charge 2, the Charge 3 is not a huge upgrade, it does support receiving notifications from all apps, but the increase in battery life from five days to seven days was enough of a sell for me. I have been happily wearing it every day, besides the days I forget to put it back on after charging it, for just over a year now.

So why all this Fitbit talk when this post is titled Apple Watch Series 5. I feel like a little context is important. I already have a thing on my wrist which I feel like does everything I want a thing on my wrist to do. I do not think I really care about being able to look at stock prices or a map on my wrist, my phone can do that better. But the Apple Watch is a popular product and the people who buy it seem to like it so there must be something there, right? Over the last two weeks I think the answer is, yeah, there is something there, but you probably could have just bought a Fitbit. I'm also a person who thinks virtual assistants like Alexa or Cortana are also excessive. They are really only useful for asking what the weather is or to set a timer so I do not know if I'm the best source.

After buying the Apple Watch two minutes before the local Apple store closed I biked back home, marveled at the packaging, opened the box, and synced it to my phone. I took off my two watches, my Fitbit and a regular analog watch, and put on the Apple Watch. I took a little while to go through all the settings, disable all notifications except from messaging apps (I really do not need to know about every email I get), set up a watch face, and went about on the rest of my day.

There were five major differences that I noticed. The first was heart rate tracking, the Charge 3 records your heart rate every 5 seconds, giving you constant, up to date metrics on if you are dying. The Apple Watch on the other hand records every 10 minutes. You probably don't need to know your heart rate even every minute, unless you're in a hospital, so this was an acceptable change.

The second was activity tracking, my Charge 3 keeps track of steps per day, floors climbed, miles traveled, and calories burned. The Apple Watch instead focuses on daily movement, exercise, hourly movement. Apple calls this, "Move, Exercise, and Stand". When I got my first stand notification I stood up for about a minute, wondered why the activity did not complete, went to get some water, got a notification that the activity completed, then realized that stand actually meant walk around for at least a minute. The Charge 3 does the same thing with hourly step reminders, and you can actually configure them unlike the Apple Watch.

The third difference was exercise tracking, things like running, biking or weight lifting. The Apple Watch supports many more exercise types and even if it does not specifically support it there is an "Other" category which is nice. Later in 2019 I did start using Strava to share my bike rides and I could not get my data to sync over without buying a separate app. The Fitbit to Strava integration works great.

The fourth and most important difference was the lack of native sleep tracking. The fact that the Apple Watch does not have built in sleep tracking makes sense since the battery life reported by Apple is around 18 hours. Disappointed by this I checked and found some third party apps that track your sleep. I tried Pillow and AutoSleep. Pillow is free with limitations or a monthly charge of $4.49 for extra features. AutoSleep is $2.99. I wore my Fitbit to bed as well, did my normal bedtime routine which involves reading Reddit and playing Sudoku for at least 30 minutes before going to bed, falling asleep, and then reading Twitter in the morning before I get out of bed. The Charge 3 was the only thing that got my wake up time correct. The other apps thought I was asleep further into the morning even though I was actually awake.

The fifth difference was battery life. As I mentioned earlier Apple claims a battery life of 18 hours. I turned off "Always On Display" and was probably getting up to 48 hours of battery life. Even with that legendary battery life I was still charging it at least once a day, usually when I went to shower in the morning. Compare this to the Charge 3 which gets 7 days of battery life. I can see why for most people 18 hours of battery life is not really an issue, you charge your phone every day when you go to bed so it is no big deal to charge your watch every day at the same time. Since I wanted to do sleep tracking this was not a valid solution for me. The Apple Watch charges quickly so charging frequently is not a huge problem but it still adds friction to owning the watch. I traveled to Olympic National Park for a weekend last year in September. When I was packing for the trip I charged my Charge 3, put it on my wrist, and did not pack the charger. Three days later when I got back home I still had ~60% battery left. Not having to pack a proprietary charger on a three day trip is great because that is one less charger you could potentially lose. When my Charge 3 is at 10% battery I do not have to worry too much cause I will probably still have 12 hours left to plug it in. I probably could not say the same for the Apple Watch. I was surprised to get almost 48 hours worth of charge out of it but I still felt the need to charge it every day because I would be worried about not making it to the charger on day two of wearing it.

The Apple Watch does support apps! Since I have owned a Windows Phone I have never been a huge fan of apps. Do I need to control my music on my wrist when my headphones can do that for me already? Are looking at directions on my wrist any safer than looking at directions on my phone? Do I need a fifth way to control the lights in my apartment? The answer to all of these is probably not. If I'm walking somewhere it is a little more convenient to look at my wrist rather than pull out my phone. However, if I'm at work my phone is already on my desk. Watch or phone, it is the same thing. The Apple Watch also has the benefit of being an Apple product, notifications work 100% of the time, where on the Charge 3 they work about 90% of the time, this is not a huge issue because you need to have your phone on you but it is slightly annoying. The Apple Watch can also interact with notifications but after swiping out one text message letter by letter I decided to stick with my phone.

The major selling point for the Charge 3 over the Apple Watch is price. The Charge 3 is $150, currently on sale for $100. The Apple Watch Series 5 starts at $399. There is a lot of value in the Apple Watch but I did not think there was an extra $250 of value in the Apple Watch when I use it for the same exact things as the Charge 3. The Charge 3 even has a leg up considering that it lasts 7 days and can track my sleep. I did also consider the fact that Alphabet, parent company of Google, bought Fitbit in 2019. I do not want Google to get any more of my data. Even then I could not justify the Apple Watch.

So I'm keeping the Charge 3 for the time being. If Apple announces built in sleep tracking this year for the Apple Watch I will definitely buy one as that is the one feature I really want on the Apple Watch. I would also buy one if the Apple Watch could get three days of battery life. With three days you can easily go two days without charging, only needing to worry about charging on the third day.

If you own an Apple Watch and use it for things besides fitness stuff that your phone can not already do, let me know. And if you do not have either an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, and you consider buying a wrist device consider saving the money and getting a Fitbit, unless you hate Google, like I do.