When Fitbit launched its first “real” smartwatch, the Ionic, last fall, its target customer was clear. Between the many sensors, Fitbit Coach software, and (literally) edgy design, you could tell the Ionic was made for athletes — or at least those who consider themselves to be one.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, but what about the casual user? There are plenty of people who want to get in better shape, but aren’t so serious about it. One might even think they’re Fitbit’s primary demographic.
Well, rest easy, Jane and Joe Average — Fitbit has you covered with the Versa, a smartwatch meant for everyone. It’s cheaper, slimmer, and has fewer features: Whereas the Ionic has real GPS enhanced with Glonass positional tracking, the Versa has only Assisted GPS. The Ionic also features Fitbit Pay for wireless payments, whereas that feature is only available in a premium “special edition” Versa (in the U.S., anyway — for global models, every Versa has Fitbit Pay).
“We’ve been panning our entry into smartwatches for a while,” Fitbit CEO James Park told Mashable. “We had always planned a portfolio of products. Ionic was just a first step.”
The Versa has a new, slimmer design. Instead of hard edges, the Versa’s case has a “squircle” shape that looks like an iOS app icon that’s ready to pop. It all feels very Samsung, really.
The Samsung comparison is apt: The Versa, which you can preorder Tuesday and ships in April, directly competes with the Apple Watch more than any Fitbit product before it. Just as Apple bills its smartwatch as a great tool for everyday health and fitness, challenging you to complete various circles that measure your activity, the Versa shows you heath stats and fitness tracking at a glance, including workouts, sleep quality, heart rate, plus — for the first time on a Fitbit product — menstrual cycle tracking for women.
“It is designed to get better and better at predicting for you when your periods should be and where your fertile window should be,” says Dr. Kate White, a professor of gynecology and Fitbit advisor. “The fine-grain detail that the feature will capture will let you have a [better] conversation with your doctor.”
Female health tracking won’t be available at launch, instead coming in an update due in May. Users will be able to keep track of and see data on the device with the Versa and Ionic, while other Fitbit users will have it only via the app.
When it launched the Ionic, Fitbit debuted its own smartwatch operating system, Fitbit OS. The Versa launches with Fitbit OS 2.0, which gives users more information directly on the watch (as opposed to needing to launch the app). On Android, users also get smart replies for texting and some messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp. Fitbit says it’s working on bringing similar functionality to iOS, but has been stymied by Apple’s “closed system.”
There’s also a new way to enjoy music: In addition to Pandora, Paris-based Deezer now has a music app for Fitbit OS. The Versa has room for up to 300 songs, and now some of them can be Deezer playlists, including the service’s Flow feature, which automatically creates personalized playlists for you. Of course, you’ll need to subscribe to Deezer, which costs $9.99 a month, though the service offers a three-month trial.
I got a chance to try out the Fitbit Versa at a launch event in New York City. While the unit was a demo model and I wasn’t able to pair it with my phone, most of the functionality worked, and the user interface was pretty much final.
Right off the bat I was impressed by how light the smartwatch was. The silicone strap was very comfortable (there are metal and leather options as well), although there’s a hook on the loop you tuck the band into that makes it slightly harder to put on — though that same hook ensures the loop doesn’t slide around, which is nice.
The Versa has three buttons, two on the right and one the left, as well as a touchscreen. That strikes me as one button too many, though I’ll reserve judgment until I can give it a full review. The screen was sharp and bright, and it responded well to touch. Starting a workout is as easy as pressing the top-right button, scrolling to your desired activity (running, cycling, etc.), and tapping the screen a couple of times. That’s at least a couple of steps fewer than on the Apple Watch (though your mileage may vary there if you’ve customized your watch face).
I was a little bummed that changing the watch face isn’t that easy — you need to use the app to do that — but it’s a trade-off I could live with.
One of the big advantages of Fitbit doing its own OS is battery life. Fitbit claims the Versa will get you 4+ days of battery life between charges. The company made similar promises about the Ionic at launch, and when we reviewed it, we found that the watch was still going after more than four days of use.
The Fitbit Versa has an aluminum case and comes in three colors: charcoal black, light gray, and rose gold, with silicone bands to match. The regular model costs $199.95, and the Special Edition, which includes Fitbit Pay and comes with a premium watch band, costs $229.95. Alternate bands cost between $29.95 and $99.95.
By comparison, the current Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $329, so the Versa is in a much better place to compete than the Ionic, which costs $299.95. And with Deezer, Fitbit now has a better option than just Pandora (which launched with the Ionic). It’s doubtful anyone could unseat the Apple Watch from its perch as king of wearables at this point, but for fitness-conscious folks disappointed with the options on the Android side, the Fitbit Versa could be workout buddy you’re looking for.
Fitbit is also launching a new fitness tracker for kids, the Fitbit Ace.
Correction: This piece originally implied female health tracking would also be available on the Fitbit Alta HR, but the feature’s on-device functionality is limited to the Versa and Ionic smartwatches.