TL;DR review: Fitbit’s new Versa is a cheaper, more comfortable, fitness-focused smartwatch than its model for athletes, the Ionic, but it still can’t compare to the Apple Watch.
Cool Factor: 😎😎😎 (3 out of 5)
Learning Curve: 📘📘📘📘 (4 out of 5)
Performance: 💪💪💪 (3 out of 5)
Bang for the Buck: 💸💸💸 (3 out of 5)
⚡⚡⚡ (3.25 out of 5)
I think it’s fair to say few people liked Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch released last fall. It was expensive at $300 and its retro-looking design was a tad too boxy for many (especially women).
All of Fitbit’s well-known tracking features were present, but Fitbit OS left a lot to be desired. The Apple Watch was simply the better buy.
Fitbit’s new Versa smartwatch still isn’t on par with an Apple Watch. Apple’s wearable is already way ahead of the competition and it’s the best choice if you want myriad fitness-tracking and smartwatch features.
However, if you’re fine with a smartwatch that doesn’t have every bell and whistle, but can still track all your fitness needs, the Versa is a good-looking, comfortable, long-lasting, and cheaper alternative that starts at $200.
Comfiest Fitbit ever
Right out of the box, the Versa is a much better-looking smartwatch than the Ionic. Though I didn’t dislike the Ionic’s retro-ish design, I know plenty of friends and colleagues who thought it looked ugly on the wrist.
With such criticism, it’s no surprise Fitbit went back to the drawing board to produce a more aesthetically pleasing design that’s more unisex. The case resembles an iOS app icon and now has rounded corners, a thinner profile that’s slimmer than an Apple Watch, and comes in several colors (black, silver, and rose gold).
I’ve been trying out the black aluminum Versa with matching black silicone band for the last few weeks and several things jumped out to me.
It’s really comfortable. I can confidently say the Versa is the most comfortable Fitbit wearable — smartwatch or fitness tracker — I’ve ever used. Even on my bony wrists, the Versa feels good. It’s light enough that I hardly ever noticed I had it on, and it didn’t bother me at all when I wore it to bed.
The screen is really bright. The Ionic had a great display that worked brilliantly in direct sunlight and the Versa does too. The display’s a little smaller (1.35 inches with 300 x 300 resolution) than the Ionic’s 1.45-inch screen and the 38mm Apple Watch’s 1.5-inch display, but it never was an issue.
The bezels are huge. Our TVs and phones have slim bezels, so why not our smartwatches? I was quick to voice my worries for the Versa’s thick bezels (so thick Fitbit had room to slap its name on the bottom one), but they’re not as offensive in person. A larger screen with slimmer bezels would have been welcome, but maybe that’ll come in the next model.
Swapping bands is clunky. Like the Apple Watch, you can buy different bands to mix and match with your Versa: classic silicone bands ($30), Horween leather bands ($60), and metal links ($100). Versa bands use a spring mechanism, but unlike swapping bands on an Apple Watch or Wear OS smartwatch, doing so on the Fitbit is pretty cumbersome. It took me several minutes (yes, really) to swap the band on the Versa and when I finally managed to complete the overly cumbersome task, I vowed never to swap the band again.
All-star fitness tracking
Like the Ionic, the Versa puts fitness and health tracking front and center. Everything else is secondary.
As you’d expect, the Versa is very good at counting your steps, distance, calories burned, amount of activity (all of that good stuff) you’ve done and then presenting it all on the redesigned and more intuitive Fitbit OS interface and Fitbit smartphone app.
The Versa has pretty much every fitness and health-tracking feature found on the Ionic. It’s constantly recording your heart rate, it tracks your different sleep cycles, and it has a handful of automatic activity tracking modes for running, biking, swimming (the Versa is waterproof up to 50 meters), and weightlifting (to name a few).
You can also get a couple of free workouts on the Versa through the Fitbit Coach app, but if you want to unlock more you’ll have to pony up for a $40 per year subscription, which of course also gives you access to video workouts on your phone or tablet. Basically, if you’re a big fitness buff, you’ll probably find Fitbit Coach useful.
The Versa has a few neat features worth highlighting. One of them is a “Relax” app that helps you de-stress with a timed breathing session. Breathing sessions are set to five minutes by default (a bit long), but luckily you can change that to a shorter two-minute session in the settings. The Relax app works almost exactly like the the built-in Breathe app on the Apple Watch (Apple Watch lets you set the breathing session between 1-5 minutes, though).
The other practical health-based feature is menstrual cycle tracking. The feature’s coming out in May software update. Naturally, as a guy, I wouldn’t be able test it out myself, but it’s great to see Fitbit include it. We’ll update this review when the feature is added and tested by a female.
At the end of the day, the Versa is a Fitbit and it does all the things a Fitbit should do. I’d be really worried if the Versa’s fitness-tracking capabilities regressed.
Noticeably missing on the standard Versa is a built-in GPS like on the Ionic and Apple Watch Series 3. The regular Versa has Assisted GPS borrowed from a paired smartphone, which means you won’t get detailed mapping for your runs without it.
Smartwatch is still afterthought
Despite an overhauled design and robust fitness tracking, the Versa is still an average smartwatch.
Fitbit OS is slightly more intuitive this time around, but the Versa still drops the ball on many core smartwatch features.
Almost all of the shortcomings I had with the Ionic are still present on the Versa. Changing watch faces is tedious and a pain in the ass. You can only change them from the Fitbit mobile app, and the selection of watch faces are mediocre. Whether from Fitbit or not, the watch faces do the trick, but none of them are what I’d call classy. Most of them cram too much info onto the screen:
The Versa has local storage good for holding up to 300 songs and works with Pandora and Deezer (new), but that’s it. Where’s Spotify? Not to mention, getting MP3s onto the Versa also requires connecting it to a computer.
Notifications haven’t been improved, either. The Versa works with both iOS and Android and you can see notifications pop up on its little screen, but you can’t interact with them. For example, my iMessages come through on the Versa, but there’s no way for me to respond to them because Apple doesn’t allow anything other than an Apple Watch that.
Fitbit says quick replies, which will work with services like Facebook, Slack, and Messenger, are coming for Android users in a spring update later. The company is apparently figuring out “workarounds” for a similar feature on iOS, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Any workarounds are likely to be half-baked or in violation of Apple’s terms of service.
Furthermore, the standard Versa doesn’t come with NFC, which means there’s no Fitbit Pay. If you really want the feature, you can step up to the $230 Special Edition.
One key way the Versa bests the Apple Watch is battery life. Like the Ionic, the Versa is a battery champ and gets up to four days of battery life compared to the Apple Watch’s 1-2 days. I actually got up to 4.5 days.
Fitbit’s second stab at a smartwatch is much better than its first try. From the design to the improved software, there are clear influences taken from its Pebble acquisition that translate to a more polished smartwatch.
I’ve been comparing the Versa to the Apple Watch Series 3, which starts at $330, but a fairer comparison would be to the less powerful Apple Watch Series 1, which starts at $249. Both don’t come with built-in GPS. The Versa’s swim-proof whereas the Series 1 isn’t. Apple’s smartwatch beats the Versa for overall smartwatch capabilities, though. However, if you value long battery life, the Versa is the clear winner.
Without a doubt, the Versa is an affordable and attractive fitness wearable. It has all the fitness tracking a Fitbit should have. The smartwatch half, however, still has a ways to go.
Correction: The original review incorrectly stated the Special Edition comes with built-in GPS.