Moblog

Apple Watch vs. Fitbit Charge 2

I had an Apple Watch Series 1 for about six months but switched to a Fitbit in April (Charge 2 HR, previously had an Alta) and don't think I'll be going back to the Watch. This isn't an actual review, just a quick musing on what I've found that works for me with some more details about how notifications work.

The Apple Watch generally did not help me accomplish anything that my old Alta didn't already – it did some cool things, like replying to texts and once even answering a phone call, but in reality I text relatively little and talk on the phone even less. Both helped me stop constantly missing phone calls (which are all the more important because they are rare) and texts due to my habit of leaving my phone on silent in odd places around the house because I have no pockets to tuck it into while I play with the kids.

The Fitbit, on the other hand, has live heart rate monitoring and step and sleep tracking built in, all things that actively helped me as a pregnant woman (did you know your resting heart rate is usually about 15-20 clicks faster when pregnant?) and continue to help me as I handle a baby+toddler and work on a healthier lifestyle. We also already use a Fitbit scale and occasionally track food with the Fitbit app, so there is some investment in that ecosystem to begin with. I was taken in by flashy Apple technology (and that rose gold!), but forgot what my real goals are. Now I feel like I'm back on track, and with a rose gold Fitbit, too 🙂

The biggest specific usability issues I had with the Apple Watch besides its lack of non-workout fitness tracking were battery life and notifications, with bulkiness and random shutdowns also annoying me. Meanwhile, the only things I miss about it are reminder notifications and pinging my frequently-misplaced phone, with the latter mitigated by having a Tile Slim.

Notifications are probably the thing with the most nuance and affect more people, so I've thought about them quite a bit. My preferred setup seems to be a little different from most people I've observed, though. I personally like being able to see/read through notifications without having to hear or feel them in real time – the only notifications I've allowed to make sounds/vibrations for the last 8 years have been phone calls, texts, calendar events, and reminders. Other notifications turn the screen on with the banner, but otherwise don't disturb me. When I'm working or idling, I often have my phone next to me face-up, where I can glance at it when I want to for any notifications (typically just email, Slack, and Twitter for me – I aggressively prune back notifications in general). If I need to keep my phone nearby but I'm trying to focus or with family/friends, I put it face-down.

The Apple Watch only shows notifications in one place. This makes sense in that having two (or more) devices buzzing can be aggravating, but for silent notifications this is pretty silly and rather inconvenient for non-silent notifications with your phone unlocked. Also, they haven't solved this for iMessage syncing so when I'm on my computer it's still multiple pings anyway.

There were two common scenarios that made this unworkable for me. First, if you have silent notifications going to your watch, they do not light up your phone screen, and the watch doesn't display anything unless you raise your wrist. Since those are silent notifications, they don't buzz, so I don't know to look at my wrist. I started falling behind on my work email because I had come to rely on my phone as a semi-passive notification system for all emails. The fix? Stop sending any silent notifications to my watch, at which point they lit up my phone again. (Desktop notifications don't cut it as a replacement – I do a lot of work from my phone.) Which meant that I couldn't scroll through them on my watch if I left my phone elsewhere.

Second, is that if you left your phone unlocked for, say, map navigation or kids playing Endless Alphabet, the notification banner would only be displayed there and not alert the watch. This led to me missing urgent changes a number of times when going somewhere (e.g. "you left his bag at home") because I don't feel/hear the vibration and can't stare at the unlocked screen the whole time. I believe the watch would still receive the notification so you could scroll to see it in the notification center, and you could open the entire app to check, but you would not receive a haptic alert or be able to just lift your wrist to see it. I tried to get in the habit of turning my phone off silent during those situations, but then would forget to switch it back, and it didn't solve being able to see messages privately at a glance.

The Fitbit will only do call, text, and calendar notifications, so I do miss reminder notifications, as well as the occasional WeChat ping. Reminders can't be replaced by calendar events because calendar events don't "stick" as lock screen notifications – a reminder will typically stay there even as you unlock/re-lock your phone, which is important for me, especially since Touch ID sometimes unlocks your phone unexpectedly. But on the plus side, those notifications come through so long as your phone is also displaying them – so you can get your notifications while your kid watches a video, but they won't bug you if you're on do not disturb or have the actual text message open already. The dual buzzing does not bother me most of the time – if anything, it helps me not miss things, since the only notifications that do buzz are ones that I consider time-sensitive.

Since most people I know have non-silent notifications on for many things, like email or (the horror) Twitter, I'm not sure these concerns really come up so much. But I learned a long time ago that I'm never the only one who does something a given way, and honestly, I think it's worth trying more silent notifications in general. Passive alerts are nice, and so is the Fitbit!

P.S. If you want to know why I went with a Charge 2 instead of an Alta HR, it's because the lack of a button and inconsistent response to lifting the wrist on the Alta infuriated me. It also only displays notifications vertically, which is impossible to read. The Charge is much better in all ways except for being wider, but it's not bulky, even on my small wrist.

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