Fitbit’s Versa is not a smartwatch in the traditional sense, but it is a brilliant iteration of the company’s fitness tracker–and may even be their best device to date.
Arriving just six months after Fitbit’s last smartwatch offering, there is a lot of expectation riding on the Versa. The Ionic was a device full of unrealized potential. Ultimately its high price, industrial design, and under-baked features left a lot to be desired.
With the Versa coming so quickly after the Ionic, could it be that Fitbit has addressed these problems and produced a genuinely desirable smartwatch?
Fitbit Versa Specifications
- Display: Touchscreen, color LCD
- Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Optical heart rate
- Ambient Light
- 4+ days battery life
- 0 – 100% in two hours
- Water Resistance: up to 50m
Thankfully, this is not the Ionic version two. The Versa bears almost no relation to its earlier sibling. Instead, it more closely resembles Pebble and Apple’s smartwatches. This is a vast improvement over the Ionic, which looked far more industrial. For the most part, the Versa looks like quite an attractive regular wristwatch.
There are just three hardware buttons; one on the left, two on the right. The square watch face is made up of a touchscreen color LCD screen, surrounded by a black bezel. The aluminum body seems quite small until you put it on your wrist and it turns out to be a perfect size. It is large enough for you to quickly interact with it but small enough not to be intrusive.
Like many of Fitbit’s other devices, the watch band has a proprietary connector. While this means that you can’t attach a watch strap from anywhere, Fitbit does offer replacement bands which range from $ 30 for a standard band, to $ 90 for the metal link variety.
Flip the Versa over, and you’ll find the optical heart rate sensor, charging connectors, and the currently inactive SpO2 sensor. Unlike nearly every other smartwatch, the Versa comes with a charging dock, which is a welcome surprise.
Placing the watch into the dock is relatively simple, requiring just a squeeze on the side of the dock to lock the Versa into place. The official specifications give the Versa a battery life of four days, but in practice, it seems to be closer to two.
With the Ionic, Fitbit debuted their smartwatch operating system, Fitbit OS. This proved to be one of the upsides of their acquisition of Pebble, importing a lot of stylistic and user interface elements from the company. With only six months separating the Ionic and the Versa, there haven’t been any significant changes to Fitbit OS.
The Versa easy and straightforward to use; the touch controls are intuitive, and the interface is attractive and uncluttered. The default clock face unsurprisingly puts your fitness stats front and center. As soon as the screen is turned on, you get a quick overview of your steps, heart rate, and activity. If you choose to change the clock face through the Fitbit app, then these stats can still be found by swiping up to open the Today panel.
Swiping left from the clock face brings up a list of all apps installed on your Versa. There are those that you expect like Exercise, Alarms, Coach, and Relax. Then there are the more novel entries like Strava, Deezer, and Fitbit Pay. There is also a slightly barebones app store for Fitbit smartwatches which can be found in the Fitbit app on your smartphone. Most of these apps are low quality, so its unlikely you’ll spend a lot of time playing with third-party apps.
Just like any good smartwatch manufacturer, Fitbit has bundled together a lot of features to make their devices stand out. Fitbit’s fitness trackers mostly share features like step counting, activity tracking, and heart rate measurement, and these can all be found on the Versa too. There is no in-built GPS, so any location tracking is reliant on an active connection to your phone.
The Apple Watch and Google’s Wear OS have deep integrations with their respective smartphone platforms, allowing you to respond to notifications and interact with their smart assistants. The Versa lacks in this respect as the most you can do is view your smartphone’s notifications.
Sometime in 2017, Fitbit apparently decided that what the world needed was yet another contactless payment platform. Thus, Fitbit Pay was born. While this is a nice idea, the reality of getting banks and financial institutions onside is another thing.
Tech heavyweights like Google and Samsung have struggled with this in the past, and it seems Fitbit is intent on repeating their mistakes. Currently, only a handful of banks worldwide offer support for Fitbit Pay, limiting its usefulness. In the UK there were only two specific types of credit card supported, so I wasn’t able to test it.
According to the user manual, you need to add card information in the Fitbit app, set up a lock screen PIN on the Versa, and then you are ready to go. Where contactless payments are available, tap the Versa against the machine, and the in-built NFC will take care of the rest.
The Versa is listed as “water resistant to 50 meters”. On the surface, this sounds great, but there is some crucial information missing from their specifications. For instance, the Versa is not IP or ATM rated. These ratings are based on independent and standardized tests to determine water resistance performance. This isn’t necessarily an issue, as Fitbit may have just chosen to forgo the cost of rating the device.
However, digging a little deeper into Fitbit’s user support forums uncovers a post about the Versa’s water resistance. A response from a Fitbit employee states “to avoid any damage, I don’t recommend swimming with it.” This seems to contradict the official Fitbit support page on water resistance.
Ultimately the Versa should be suitable for water-based activities like swimming, given that swimming is in fact a trackable activity. However, their slippery use of language, inability to accurately define water resistance, and lack of IP rating suggest that Fitbit is being intentionally evasive.
The Versa’s most exciting features are ones that aren’t available just yet. Just like with the Ionic, the Versa has an in-built SpO2 sensor, which is currently inactive.
Peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) is a measure of blood oxygen levels, and Fitbit’s website says they may activate the sensor in the future to help users track conditions like sleep apnea. However, they also made the same statement about the Ionic, so if this feature does materialize, expect it to be in the more distant future.
The Versa also marks the first time Fitbit has hoped to include period tracking — or as they call it “female health.” Their website promises that female users will be able to “log [their] period, record symptoms & compare [their] cycle against other health stats like sleep, activity and weight.” Female Health tracking is reportedly coming at some point in May 2018.
Fitbit’s First True Smartwatch
The Versa is not a smartwatch in the traditional sense. Yes, it is a fitness tracker that can do smart things. But without deep integration to your smartphone, the reality is that the Versa is merely another iteration of Fitbit’s fitness trackers, albeit a brilliant one.
Whether you find this a problem or not will depend on what you want out of a smartwatch. It is a feature-packed device that builds on, and solidifies, Fitbit’s expertise and dominance in the wearable market. What is certain though is that the Versa is the best Fitbit device to date.