An already crowded smartwatch/fitness & health tracker space just got a little more congested with the recent release of Fitbit‘s latest smartwatch. The new Fitbit Versa is the company’s latest attempt to claim a slice of the smartwatch pie currently dominated by Apple and Samsung. Fitbit, of course, is no stranger to wearables; they’re the pioneer of fitness trackers and their devices have been worn around the wrists and on the belts of Medgadget editors for many years.
We’ve been using the new Versa for the past couple of weeks to see if Fitbit can still be competitive in the smartwatch space. Before we dive into the review, there’s a couple of things we should explain. First, since we are a health blog, we’ll be concentrating primarily on the fitness and health features that originally made Fitbit popular; you can consult your nearest consumer gadget blog for more info on how Versa performs otherwise as a smartwatch. Second, we also know that there are plenty of excellent comparisons of the Versa to the Apple Watch on the web. While this editor has faithfully been wearing an Apple Watch since April 2015, we’ll try to limit our comparisons and focus this review for those of you who have yet to don a smartwatch altogether. With that said, here we go!
Design and Hardware
I know what you’re already thinking, so let’s start off with the obvious: yes, the Fitbit Versa has many striking resemblances to that other smartwatch. Like the Apple Watch, the Versa has the characteristic rounded rectangular shape with a deep black touchscreen display. Along its left and right sides are three navigation buttons which are also used in conjunction with the Versa’s touchscreen. It’s a fairly simple design which helps it to pair well with a variety of elastomer, leather, and metal accessory bands that can be easily swapped out.
On the backside, which bulges out just slightly, sits the heart rate sensor and charging port. We liked how Fitbit managed to make the heart rate sensor flush with the rest of the housing; this made the Versa more comfortable to wear, and unlike many fitness trackers, it didn’t leave a sensor-shaped imprint in our wrist after a day of wear. The charging port, on the other hand, uses yet another proprietary connector; readers who already own Fitbit products will be stuck with another cable.
Inside, the Versa has a fairly standard suite of sensors for tracking your fitness, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, and altimeter for detecting your orientation and movement, and of course, there is also the optical heart rate sensor. We think these core sensors have improved significantly since their first appearances in Fitbit trackers. However, as with all fitness trackers, they’re not perfect, so as we’ve said in previous reviews, metrics such as step counts should be used as a baseline for establishing your goals and comparing your performance day to day as opposed to an absolute measurement.
An interesting new addition to the Versa is an SpO2 sensor for tracking your blood oxygenation levels. However, this sensor is currently disabled, we’re guessing until Fitbit can perfect the algorithms needed to accurately measure SpO2 off your wrist. One notable omission that had been present in Fitbit’s other smartwatches is built-in GPS. While it was likely removed to increase battery life to over 4 days of continuous use, this means that your running routes won’t be as accurate if you’re not tethered to a GPS-enabled smartphone during your run. The Versa also includes an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the display’s brightness and a vibration motor to send a variety of alerts and notifications. Finally, the Versa is waterproof up to 50 meters.
All of the data from the Versa is synced to an Android or iOS smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy. It’s also notable that the Versa has Wi-Fi built-in; we’re told this is used to more quickly transfer music and update the Versa software.
Fitbit products are best known for their fitness tracking capabilities, and we think the company has done an excellent job incorporating its core strengths into a smartwatch environment. Even for the more passive wearers (those who don’t consistently engage in intentional periods of exercise), there’s a lot of useful features to encourage them to stay healthy. One feature we haven’t seen in most non-Fitbit smartwatches is an emphasis on resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is often linked with overall physical fitness (a lower average resting heart rate is found in many athletes), so it’s neat to see this constantly being recorded and available to view anytime. Another useful feature for the more sedentary is automatic exercise tracking; with this feature, the Versa will automatically detect when your heart rate increases to 50% of your maximum or higher with a corresponding increase in your step frequency, and starts recording this as a walking exercise. We think this is an excellent way to motivate users, as it reminds them that even just a short, brisk walk is an exercise that can be beneficial to one’s health.
Another feature that all users might find helpful is automatic sleep tracking. We’ve never been a huge fan of wearing a watch while sleeping, but Fitbit captures a lot of interesting information about your sleep. Using the heart rate sensor and accelerometer, the Versa can record the time spent in REM, light, and deep sleep. You can compare your statistics over 30 days, benchmark them against other men or women your age, set sleep goals, and program alarms to help you meet them. It’s convenient that the sleep tracking all occurs automatically, although on one occasion, the Versa didn’t detect that we were awake, and during one night, we were only able to view simplified sleep details due to the Versa being unable to read a consistent heart rate.
Finally, for women users, it’s worth mentioning that the Versa will soon be able to log your period, record symptoms, and compare your cycle against other health stats like sleep, activity and weight. It’s not available yet, but we think it could be a useful feature once enabled, and it’s another sign that Fitbit is investing in healthcare applications.
For the more fitness-minded wearers, the Versa can store up to seven exercise presets on the device, with more than 15 exercises available. Starting an exercise session is super-easy with a dedicated button that opens up a menu of exercises when pressed. Pretty much everything is available, even yoga and golf! We also really enjoyed trying the paid personalized workout routines powered by Fitbit Coach. Directly on the Versa, you can start a routine that consists of viewing a brief animation showing the technique, followed by a specific period in which you perform the exercise. During the routine, the watch will automatically keep time, guide your through each exercise in the routine, and monitor your heart rate.
There’s a lot more health and fitness tracking features on the smartphone app and Fitbit web dashboard that we won’t delve into. While it’s always impressed us with a robust set of tools and a ton of useful information, a word of warning to Apple users that Fitbit still refuses to integrate with Apple Health. Thankfully, the $1.99 Sync Solver app that we’ve been using for years still works by syncing your data between Fitbit’s servers and your Apple account.
- Lots of useful features for both active and sedentary wearers
- Excellent 4+ day battery life
- Simple design with a variety of different accessory bands
- Outside of its fitness features, functionality is limited
- GPS has been removed
- Can we finally get some Apple Health interoperability!?
The Versa is the best fitness tracker Fitbit has ever made. It’s chock full of neat features and a comprehensive set of tracking tools, and with the future inclusion of female health and SpO2 tracking, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Fitbit might take its platform as a bona fide health wearable. Though it may lack some features of its smartwatch competitors, it blows their fitness platforms out of the water, and at $199, is a compelling reason to go with something other than Apple or Samsung.
Product page: Fitbit Versa…
More information and link to buy: Fitbit Versa