(Pocket-lint) - The second Fitbit smartwatch - following the 2017 launch of the Fitbit Ionic - is a smaller, softer model that comes in at a cheaper price point.
It's designed to widen the appeal of Fitbit watches, providing the familiarity of the company's popular lifestyle tracking platform with some of the more obvious advantages offered by smartwatches - apps, notifications, music, payments and customisation.
But there's a major omission from the Fitbit Versa hardware: there's no GPS tracking for those runners who want more accurate data, marking this out as a slightly less sporty option.
A design that contrasts with Ionic
- 39 x 39 x 9mm (approx); 37g
- Aluminium body in three colours
- Lots of strap choices
The Fitbit Versa's design couldn't be more different to the Ionic. While the Ionic followed the Blaze with angular design, the Versa picks up curves in a smaller overall package. If you've been worried that watches are too bulky for your wrist, then it's likely that the Fitbit Versa is going to fit - unless you're after something the size of a penny.
Fitbit was keen to emphasise that it's a unisex design, but we can't help feeling that the Ionic is more masculine, while the Versa is more feminine. It's just a shame that in choosing the smaller design, you're getting a smaller feature set too.
Customisation is very much at the heart of the Versa - as it is with most smartwatches - but less so with fitness devices, such as those from rivals Garmin. Not only does the Fitbit offer the choice of black, rose gold and aluminium colours, but there is a full range of strap materials, colours and styles too.
Changing these straps takes a bit of fiddling, although not as slick and easy as changing straps on something like the Apple Watch, but it's easy enough and brings an instant lift to the look. In many ways, this all makes the Fitbit Versa one of the more adaptable watches out there. You can transform it from pool to playground, gym to boardroom, day to night.
Importantly the Versa escapes looking like a sports watch, a far cry from the older Fitbit Surge, while still hanging onto many of the sporty features you might want - like waterproofing for swim tracking - and the platform, of course, which basically invented the idea of step tracking.
In some ways the Vesa reminds us of some of the Pebble devices. You'll remember, of course, that Fitbit bought Pebble.
Fitbit Versa hardware and features
- Colour touchscreen display
- Heart-rate monitor
- Accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter
But where the Versa design doesn't deviate too much from Ionic is in presenting a fairly square display that's colourful and bright.
Its interface is more engaging than Google's Wear OS, but it's fairly simple too. It's not the fastest UI and as it's a small face it's trying to do a lot. Put it next to the Apple Watch and it feels as though Fitbit needs to do more to speed up the responsiveness, but let's not ignore the fact that the Versa is a lot more affordable.
The three hardware buttons about the body provide control, but there's full touch from this display too. The highlight, for us, is the use of detailed photos for the activity screens, like running or swimming. Compare that to Garmin's top-of-the-line sportswatch, the Forerunner 935, and Fitbit's menu system is a lot more interesting to look at.
Of course it's the hardware that really defines the overriding functions of the Fitbit Versa; step-tracking is a big part of the package, enabled by the built-in accelerometer, but with a lack of GPS hardware it has to use motion to detect and provide data for a lot of your exercise. If you have a connected smartphone it can pull the GPS data from there, but as a standalone running watch, this is an obvious weakness.
When looking at your results in the Fitbit Dashboard, you're also not going to get the full set of stats that the Ionic supplies. Essentially, if it's more about sport than smart, then Ionic is a better choice for you.
The back of the Versa features an optical heart-rate monitor which provides more substantial data, not only for backing up your exercise measurement (with heart rate being the best way to measure intensity), but also for 24/7 tracking. Wear your Versa all day and night and you'll have a more complete picture of your heart, from resting lows to stressful highs.
For some, the combination of movement detection and heart-rate monitoring will be enough: if you're tracking 10,000 or more steps a day then the Fitbit Versa is a smart companion; if you do most of your exercise at the gym with no need for GPS, then again you're well served - especially with profiles for a range of different exercise types.
Even if you do take this watch running, you'll get stats that bear some relation to what you've done, with average pace and distance not being too far from our expected norm. Heart-rate readings did return the sort of averages we expected, however, comparable to other wrist-based devices, so if you're an occasional runner then you'll potentially have all you need in the Versa.
Bluetooth music on your wrist and mobile payments
- Connect to headphones
- Easy Deezer syncing over Wi-Fi
- Fitbit Pay (via NFC)
What the Versa does offer, however, is an interesting music experience. It's boosted by a partnership with Deezer that will not only give you a free trial, but give you an easy route to getting music onto your watch. Fitbit has even assembled some playlists so you can tap and leave it to sync (it needs to be connected to Wi-Fi to do so), but the process is relatively easy.
So too is connecting Bluetooth headphones. Once those headphones are in place, you can listen to music from your wrist with no need for a phone. Sure, Fitbit isn't the only company to do this - Apple Watch, TomTom Spark, most Wear OS watches and new Garmin Forerunner 645 Music will do much the same - but it's a feature that's well worth having for those who like to exercise with music. Just make sure you're paired to a great set of sports headphones.
While Android Pay and Apple Pay are probably familiar to you, there's another mobile payment battle raging in the land of watched. The Fitbit Versa is equipped with NFC and that unlocks Fitbit Pay, meaning you can make payments from your wrist. It's not as versatile as Android or Apple's approach, because the supported banks (in the UK at least) is a lot fewer in number, but you can use your watch for ad hoc contactless payments.
Small body means small battery
- Battery life struggles
- Bulky battery charger
But using all these functions has a cost, and that's in the stamina of the watch. Fitbit says that the battery is good for four or more days, but that's a shorter life than the Fitbit Ionic, most likely down to having less physical space for battery.
In practice that experience holds roughly true: we found that we'd often deplete the Versa battery in three days, or less. Longer life can certainly be had of you don't use all the watch's features, but those features are there to take advantage of!
Charging is via a fairly bulky module that you clamp the Versa into. It's not as precise or slick as the magnetic charging option of the Apple Watch or the easy plug-in route the latest Garmin devices. It sort of looks like it was designed to be a stand, presenting the watch while charging, but to us it feels a little too unwieldy.
Software and smart ecosystem
- Fitbit app offers connections to other platforms
- Complete life tracking
- Customisation and apps
One of the biggest appeals of Fitbit devices is the app and ecosystem. Fitbit sat on the "lifestyle" side of fitness trackers long before other "sports" devices realised that things could be better presented.
That's still true in a way, with Fitbit's smartphone app presenting easy-to-digest information at a glance. Again, however, if its detailed workout information you want, then it's bettered by other dedicated sports devices.
The app is also a gateway to a range of expanded features and customisation. Newly added to this model is female health tracking (monthly cycle and fertility calendar) - something we're yet to test but will update in the future - but it's designed to make sure you have another significant element of your health in one app. It's a huge nod to how important Fitbit's female users are to the company.
But the app also gives you customisation options and the ability to add more apps to your watch. Don't get too excited though. While there are some additions, this isn't really the place to find a huge range of familiar company apps. That said, apps for watches don't really seem to be having the huge impact that some might have originally expected and you're well served by Fitbit in all the important areas.
Reminders have become probably the biggest thing that smartwatch owners are using and those are widely supported by Versa. Android users also get smart replies so you don't have to reach for your phone when you get a message - and these can be customised within the app. From an Android point of view we're perfectly happy with the notification experience and how this transfers. We've not tested it with iPhone yet, but we'll update once we do.
So is the Fitbit Versa that smartest of the smartwatches? No, it isn't. But it is a smarter Fitbit, serving the needs of Fitbit fans, providing a little more interaction with your smartphone, while offering you a wide suite of health tracking functions.
The low price will widen the appeal of the Fitbit Versa as a broadly ambitious smart watch, as will the more compact design. But that size brings compromises, most notably in battery life, which is average-to-good for a smartwatch (like the Apple Watch or the Huawei Watch 2 Sport) but not a patch on the week-long battery life from better dedicated sports watches.
For Fitbit fans though, the Versa presents choice. If the Ionic was too square, too obvious and too much money, then you get a lot of the same connected experience from the Versa, all wrapped up in Fitbit's lovely lifestyle tracking app. The real decision is what you want your watch to be: if it's a lifestyle tracker, then the Versa is probably for you, if you want more hardcore data then it's probably not.
The Fitbit Ionic not only brings a solid, lightweight design with a beautiful screen, it also adds built-in GPS and dedicated swim functionality that the earlier Blaze was lacking. It's that GPS that makes the biggest difference compared to the Versa.
- Read the full review: Fitbit Ionic
Garmin Vivoactive 3
The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is just as comfortable being a high-end activity tracker as it is being your daily fitness tracking wearable. In this regard, it's comfortably one of the most versatile smart fitness watches around.
- Read the full review: Garmin Vivoactive 3
Apple Watch Series 3
Ok, so it's far pricier, but it does a whole lot more than the Versa, especially for Apple users.
- Read the full review: Apple Watch
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