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Testing Things: The Step Count of the iPhone vs Fitbit 

For all us tracking enthusiasts, we had to know, why a 3000 step difference between an iPhone and Fitbit? So you don't have to, we tested them for you.

Since we have gotten deep into the idea of tracking our steps, a discrepancy has arisen. The iPhone could be counting 9,000 steps while the Fitbit was counting 12,000 steps. This is sort of like having two clocks in a room that show competing ideas of what time it is. No good.

Was My Fitbit Over-Counting?  Hummm

My suspicion was that my modest Fitbit was over-counting. I noticed that it does a good job of tracking my heart rate at lower levels, but once I get into the upper ranges it becomes hopelessly disoriented. My boom-boom-boom heartbeat while on the spin bike is too much for it to handle. So I was prejudiced to think that the less spendy Fitbit was the bad actor here.

Walking and Counting, trying not to look crazy

How does one test them? Simple. Get up in the morning, first thing put your iPhone in the pocket and the Fitbit on the wrist at the same time. Go for a brisk walk and manually count your steps. Yes, counting out loud while trotting down the sidewalk will get you some unwanted attention, but this is science and we won’t let a bit of personal embarrassment derail our worthy cause.

I checked every 500 steps by manual counting. Both were slightly undercounting: 495 for the iPhone and 486 for the Fitbit. At 2000 steps the iPhone was showing 1987 and the humble Fitbit gave a reading of 1977. Both were close enough for me. 

Those bathroom breaks add up

So how was it that there could be a 2000-step differential in their counting on a daily basis? All those steps to the kitchen, the bathroom, the conference room add up. A lot. It has puzzled me for some time how a person could claim they could easily get 12,000 steps a day. In my pre-Fitbit-wearing recent past, when I relied only on my phone, 8,000 steps seemed like a chore. It turns out that hitting the delightfully impressive 10,000 is not that difficult. A bit of pacing while talking on the phone, and three 20 minute walks a day and I am there. 

What to do? 

What is the bottom line? For all you tracking obsessives out there (calling David Sedaris), the Fitbit is your budget step-tracking tool, but if you are willing to keep your phone on you 24/7, it does a fine job also.  My guess is the iWatch will probably do a good job too; that is, if you like the way they look. If you are not sure if your device is tracking all your steps, do a bit of early morning manual step counting and test it yourself. No cheating by watch/phone shaking. We want an honest tracking assessment. Right? 

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


    • My iPhone is in my pocket it counted 8900 my Fitbit on my wrist 5800. I’m pretty sure that the iPhone is accurate as the distance I walked was pretty far and I walked 1 hr and 10 mins at a fast pace

  1. I also notice big difference believe Fitbit a little more sensitive-I bust my butt at working the oil fields . Making sure am getting extra steps throughout the day and after 12hr ur shift guilt it showing 7miles and I watch far behind under 5 miles-rings are not even completed and don’t get me started on trying to track my sleep. IWatch 40% of the time(that’s being generous)able to calculate my sleep-mist of tge time nothing like I haven’t been wearing my watch but my Fitbit always on point/calculating sleeps and steps including heart rate?
    I find IWatch hit and miss fir me and after 2years of frustration am done am going back to Fitbit or maybe try Samsung?

    • Hi Kenny,
      Kudos for going for your steps while having such a demanding job. None of the activity trackers are all that accurate. The best solution is to just pick one, then stay within its ecosystem. You can then measure increases or decrease of apples to apples, pardon the pun. The best sleep monitor is the WHOOP, but it also is not that great at activity. Hope that helps.

  2. My Fitbit on my wrist and the iPhone app were showing the same number of steps, distance, and calories burn daily, until we were without choice given the new app. Now, the counts are not even near each other! Not very happy with Fitbit, now, and I’ve used one for years.


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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