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While its feature set isn’t quite on par with that of the Fitbit Ionic, the Versa feels very much the same watch in a different, lighter and friendlier design. It also brings a clear, bright and beautiful screen, a new and improved heart rate sensor that is constantly updated with even smarter functionality via firmware updates, smart notifications, contactless payment capabilities and all the features Fitbit users will have come to know and love. Fitbit has basically looked to bring the rich feature set as seen in its Ionic smartwatch but bundled in a more everyday ‘lifestyle’ kind of way, making it a watch for those that are into fitness but not necessarily fanatical about it.
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The Versa comes in three colours. It’s both thinner (11.2mm versus 11.4mm) and shorter (37.6mm versus 38.6mm) than the female-friendly 38mm Apple Watch, and its decidedly non-athletic aesthetic makes it look more like a fashion statement than a fitness one. Versa is versatile enough to be worn to a business meeting or a night out. And perhaps most importantly, it won’t look ridiculous on a tiny wrist.
At just 23 grams, Versa is also incredibly light, even when using one of the heavier metal link bracelets. Swapping the bundled sports band for one of the 16 leather or fabric ones Fitbit is selling is easy enough. Versa’s band options are attractive and affordable, particularly the metal link band. Versa’s display is on the small size at 1.34 inches, and slightly off-centre due to Fitbit’s insistence on putting its name on the front of the device, but it’s incredibly bright and crisp. The bezels are a little chunkier than the ones on the Apple Watch, and without a black-friendly OLED screen, you’ll notice them a whole lot more on Versa. Swipes and taps register much really quick on Versa and Fitbit have tweaked the interface so it’s much more intuitive and touch-friendly.
As a fitness tracker, Versa is pretty much Ionic without onboard GPS, but for the price, the lack of a dedicated tracking chip isn’t a surprise. More bothersome is the absence of NFC on the base model. If you want to make payments using Fitbit Pay, you’ll need to spring for one the more expensive special-edition models, available in graphite or rose gold with woven bands. Otherwise, everything else is here, including on-watch training, specialized exercise tracking, and advanced heart rate monitoring. It runs the same Fitbit OS as well, whose library of apps have been greatly expanded from the early days of Ionic.
While it’s still nowhere near as robust as the Apple Watch store or even Samsung’s Gear store, you’ll find a decent selection of apps, including Yelp, The New York Times, Philips Hue, and Nest, as well as several fitness-related apps. There are 550 apps and clock faces available for Ionic. Like Pebble, Fitbit’s apps are decidedly specialized and mostly single-featured. For example, the Starbucks app is still just a place to store your loyalty card but we can see a similarly passionate community building around it as Versa grows. Fitbit has started the ball rolling with its own Fitbit Labs section, which contains more specialized, nonessential titles, such as Think Fast, a mental agility game, and the upcoming New Parents app that lets moms and dads track diaper changes and feedings.
Apps load far more quickly and effortlessly than they did when Ionic launched, and I didn’t receive any error messages when switching clock faces. That’s an important improvement because users are going to want to swap out their faces a lot. We counted more than 50 styles to choose from, many of which are professionally designed with smooth animations and up-to-date stats, and Fitbit says hundreds more are on the way.
Fitbit’s impressive sleep tracking is on display here too, though the lack of a dedicated app means you’ll have to log into your dashboard to see the results. Fitbit has added a nifty Today screen that shows your daily stats by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. While it isn’t as visually polished as Apple’s Activity app, it’s a smart way to see steps, goals, floors, distance, and workouts. Women can also track their menstrual cycle on this screen, an important piece of Versa’s feature set that isn’t quite ready yet.
Period tracking gives Versa an important distinction over Apple Watch. While Apple gives women a way to track their cycles using Health or various third-party apps on the iPhone, Fitbit will be baking it more deeply into its ecosystem, pushing it to Versa and prominently displaying it in the Fitbit app. Women have long been underserved by the smartwatch, and Fitbit’s whole approach with Versa is a breath of fresh air.
The killer feature is battery life. Versa’s battery life is about the same as Ionic, but it’s even more impressive in such a small package. We wore Versa along with an Apple Watch Series 3 while listening to an hour of music, two half-hour workouts, six hours of sleep, and lots of notifications, and after 24 hours the Fitbit Versa has75% left compared to the Apple Watch with 38%. That’s is pretty impressive, to say the least. Those numbers put Versa’s battery life at exactly four days, but I reckon most people will be able to push it into a fifth. The biggest battery suck was music playback, but even then, I lost just 8% after a full hour of listening, as compared to 14% on Apple Watch.
When you need to charge it, Fitbit has introduced yet another plug with Versa, and this one is a little less portable than Ionic’s magnetic cable. The watch comes with a small cradle that opens when you pinch the sides and shuts to hold the watch in place. It’s a nice piece and I liked it better than Apple’s inductive puck, but some outdoors enthusiasts might miss being able to toss a simple cable into their bag on lengthy sojourns.
Notifications on Versa mimic the ones on your phone, so unless you spend some time managing them on the Fitbit app, you’ll probably be getting a pretty consistent stream of buzzes. You can set default message, calendar, and email apps from the ones installed on your phone, and notifications from those apps will receive a degree of prominence, but the system isn’t nearly as robust or refined as Apple’s. You can’t interact with notifications in any way (even if a Versa version of the originating app is installed on your watch), and they occasionally duplicated or didn’t show up at all.
Fitbit has at least promised to bring Android quick replies in a future update, but for the most part, notifications on Versa or any other Fitbit smartwatch will never be central to the experience. We can live with that, though we wouldn’t mind Fitbit adding voice control or teaming with Amazon to bring Alexa to Versa. The lack of any sort of assistant is a glaring omission in the age of AI, and it would make a great addition to Versa 2.
The Fitbit Versa has three important things going for it: it’s small, it’s attractive, and it has a great battery. Plus it costs less than the cheapest Series 1 Apple Watch. If you aren’t an Apple devotee, Versa is a no-brainer, but iPhone users who don’t want to spend top dollar on an Apple Watch Series 3 should take a hard look at Fitbit’s new smartwatch. And since it works across multiple platforms (iOS, Android, and any remaining Windows Phone users) you won’t be stuck with a piece of costume jewellery if you switch.