- More agreeable design than the Ionic
- Packed with features
- The price is right
- Fitbit Pay not on all devices
- Heart rate inconsistencies
- No built-in GPS
Fitbit's back with the Fitbit Versa, its second smartwatch – and it's a huge hit. With a better design and more affordable price tag than the Ionic, this has the potential to enjoy the success of the Fitbit Blaze, which has been one of the more popular Fitbit wearables.
The big thing missing here is the built-in GPS, which you'll need to get by pairing it with your phone. But otherwise, the Versa shares the same Fitbit OS software and even the relative SpO2 sensors for blood oxygen found on the Ionic – though they're still not "live".
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Fitbit Versa: Design
My colleague Husain said it best when he described the Versa as "more human looking" than the Ionic. Gone are the hard edges of Fitbit's other smartwatch, with a more rounded aluminum case. Even the buttons – it's the same three-button layout as the Ionic – have softer edges to them. It's smaller than the Ionic, with a display measuring 1.34 inches diagonally, and it's light. Light. It's thin too, measuring 11.2mm thick. Fitbit says it's the lightest smartwatch on the market, and although I haven't been able to get an exact weight, I can tell you that I've barely felt I'm even wearing a watch when I've had it on.
Essential reading: Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch
The Ionic alienated Fitbit's female market with its large, unattractive shape, which the company has gone some way to remedy with the Versa. But a black box on your wrist is still a black box, so Fitbit is giving you more options to customize this time. You can pick up the Versa in black, grey, or rose gold in its standard edition, and charcoal or rose gold in the more pricey Fitbit Versa Special Edition. The standard models all come with colored silicone bands, while you can plump for fancier woven bands in the special models. Of course, Fitbit sells a mix of silicone, leather, and metal bands separately, which is just as well considering you can only use proprietary bands with the Versa.
This is standard practice for Fitbit, and when I asked why, it said it's to ensure the heart rate sensor is lying flush against the skin at all times, and that to use a universal lug system would risk compromising accuracy.
The Versa has a 300 x 300-pixel resolution display that's vibrant and easy to read even under harsh sunlight, with brightness topping out at 1,000 nits. The watch is also waterproof to 50m, the same as the Ionic, making it just the third Fitbit device so far capable of being dunked in the pool.
So yes, the Versa is more palatable than the Ionic and makes the Fitbit Blaze's octagon design look positively amateurish by comparison. But it's also very utilitarian, and even with the most dashing band and case color combo, it's not competing against the Wear fashion brigade. Some people won't like it, but I can't see its looks being hated as much as the Ionic's.
We spoke to Fitbit about the design of the Versa, which shone a bit more light on the reasons behind it. Any similarities the Versa shares with Pebble's smartwatches, Fitbit insists, are purely coincidental, but it's hard not to see a bit of the now-defunct company's DNA in there.
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Fitbit Versa: Fitness, health, and heart rate
The story from Fitbit is that workout performance on the Versa is the same as the Ionic, and in our testing, that's generally been the case. The Versa isn't gunning to be the "performance" watch that the Ionic is, which is why Fitbit isn't including GPS here, but otherwise, it does all of the fitness trackings of the Ionic and comes with all of the health features we expect from Fitbit.
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That means exercise; running, cycling, swimming, yoga, and gym workouts can all be tracked from the Versa. There's also heart rate, step tracking, calorie burn, distance traveled, and sleep tracking. And with Fitbit OS 2.0, you can now more easily view a lot of this on the watch itself.
Running with the Versa has delivered the same sorts of results we've got from the Ionic. I've been testing it against the Polar H10 chest strap, and it's been mostly fine until it's under pressure. As you can see on the run below, the reading was all over the place at the start, and I've no idea why. However after that early blip, it seemed to gain control and performed more evenly for the rest of the run, and that's generally how I've found the Versa in my time with it: varying. Sometimes it's spot-on (average heart rate has been pretty accurate) but I've also looked down at my wrist while running to see it trailing behind the chest strap.
As is often the case, it all comes down to the intensity, and what you need from your fitness watch. If you're looking for something to track mostly moderate runs and gym sessions, the Versa is up to the task; if you want something that can handle high-intensity sessions in short bursts, you'll probably want to look elsewhere.
As well as running you'll be able to track the previously mentioned list of workouts, which includes swimming thanks to the 50-meter water resistance. Another feature Fitbit offers is Fitbit Coach, which out of the box offers three basic workouts that the Versa will guide you through.
However, if you sign up for a premium Fitbit Coach account, you'll also get personalized workouts sent to the Coach app, along with a load of other video and audio-guided workouts to do with your phone.
I should also mention sleep tracking. The Versa gives you Fitbit's sleep stages and insights, which uses heart rate to break down your phases and then gives you personalized tips to sleep better. The Versa has delivered the same accuracy that I've had on other Fitbit devices. So it's generally very good, even if it's sometimes slow to realize I've got out of bed. Right now Fitbit has the best sleep tracking of fitness trackers and smartwatches, and nothing has changed here. What's still annoying is that you still can't share your health data with Google Fit and Apple Health, so you're walled into Fitbit's app.
Fitbit Versa: Female health tracking
One of Versa's more interesting features is Fitbit's female health tracking, which is now life. It's available on the Ionic too - via an update - and activity tracker users can try it out - they just can't see data onscreen in real-time like smartwatch owners.
The idea is that Fitbit's female health tracking lets women log and track their menstrual cycles and symptoms with the view to comparing the data to activity and sleep patterns to spot correlations.
Women will be able to log their cycles in the app, get tips and feedback, and check the dashboard on Versa to see where they are in their cycles. Tracking is done using the calendar and 'trends' right now, but Fitbit has told us it's looking into using heart rate to one day detect patterns, though this will need to be fully validated before anything is launched.
Read this: Fitbit's female health tracking explored in-depth
Now, we've been testing female health tracking on the Versa and we've found it to be a mixed bag. The info served up on your wrist on 'xx days until your next period' and 'xx days until your fertile window' is simple and handy to glance at. And the fact all this period data sits within what's probably your main health and lifestyle tracking app is a bonus compared to existing standalone apps.
There are some limitations - for one, this isn't designed to be used as a form of contraception like an app like Natural Cycles. So, the ability to add basal body temperature, for instance, would be a natural upgrade as would more features for pregnant women. Fitbit's ambitions to integrate sleep, activity, mood, and menstrual cycles aren't quite there yet either - we'd like to see more mental health options. It's also not ideal for anyone who doesn't have regular periods and there's currently no option for women with periods longer than 11 days.
Overall, we see this as the beginning of something exciting with lots of potential to expand. It's another example of how Fitbit is trying to appeal to more women, and also how it's betting on long-term health features to keep its wearables on people's wrists.
Fitbit Versa: Smartwatch features
The Versa is the second smartwatch to run Fitbit's operating system, Fitbit OS, letting you download third-party apps to use alongside Fitbit's own. Developers do have to do a little tweaking to get their apps working on both the Ionic and Versa, but Fitbit tells us that this process is pretty simple, and already quite a lot are available to download on the Versa. Strava, Starbucks and the Accuweather app come pre-installed, just like they did on the Ionic. Right now the app selection isn't huge – third parties included – and other than Strava there aren't many I've opened more than a couple of times.
Hopefully, the Versa will spur more developers to get involved. It's also in developers' interest to get existing Ionic apps running on the Versa, especially as this watch has every potential to sell better than the Ionic. There might be the odd app that makes use of the Ionic's GPS, but otherwise, you can expect to see the same apps and clock faces working across both.
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Included in those apps are Deezer and Pandora, as users of those services (European users won't get Pandora) can download playlists to the Versa, connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and listen directly from the watch. If you'd prefer, you can upload your music files using Fitbit's desktop software. You should be able to get a little over 300 on board.
Now, without built-in GPS, I've found the inclusion of music storage a little useless when out running. I have my phone with me, and having access to all of Spotify is more appealing than fiddling around with playlists and limiting my music choice. But for working out in the gym, or even swimming with the right pair of headphones, this gives you the option of leaving your phone in the locker.
When it comes to Fitbit Pay on the Versa, the situation is a little strange. In Europe, every Versa will come with NFC out of the box, but in the US only the Special Edition versions get it. I asked Fitbit about why it's fragmented the lineup in the US, and it seems to simply come down to save costs. The Versa is being treated as less of a standalone watch than the Ionic, hence the lack of GPS and therefore Fitbit Pay being a bit less essential.
I mentioned earlier that it's now easier to view your activity history on the Versa, and that's thanks to the new Today dashboard in Fitbit OS 2.0: swipe up from the clock face to see a history of your steps, calories burned, recent exercises, and your current and resting heart rates. There are tips that appear at the top too, telling you to do things like drink more water. Right now the only thing you can't see on there is your sleep history, but Fitbit told me it's working to change that.
There's more: Fitbit has made some changes to the menus and shortcut buttons with OS 2.0, with the same features rolling out to the Ionic. A long push of the back button will now bring up options to toggle notifications and screen auto-wake – useful when it's bedtime, I've found. We're still clarifying how Fitbit Pay will work on the Versa, as we've been unable to try that out yet.
Notifications have also been changed in Fitbit OS 2.0, and now appear by swiping down, rather than up. Soon Fitbit will also let you send 'quick replies' from the watch, which you can pre-set in the app, and this feature is set to roll out to Android users only in the spring. iOS users: Fitbit told me it's working on it, but doesn't yet have an ETA.
That leads me to another point: the Versa is going to be a bigger deal for Android users. The Apple Watch is arguably the best smartwatch out there right now for iPhones, but for Android owners, that's not an option. In the Apple Watch's lack of Android support, the Versa may find a significant audience frustrated by what's currently on the shelf.
Fitbit Versa: Battery life and charging
Fitbit said the Versa battery can run for four+ days, and I managed to get it to five in my testing before it needed recharging. The Versa is beating the Apple Watch and anything running Google's Wear OS by some margin. It even trumps the three days managed by the Samsung Gear, one of the longer-lasting smartwatches. Naturally, how much battery you get will vary depending on how much you're exercising and playing music, but you should be getting four days minimum.
The Fitbit Versa comes with a charging stand that looks like a hybrid of the Charge 2's and Blazes. It's a dock that you pinch at the sides to open up and keeps the Versa nice and secure when it's replenishing. It does baffle me that Fitbit has so many different charger designs, but there you go.
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