FITBIT unveiled its latest smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa, in March, boasting of a new lightweight design, more personalisations and a battery life that’ll last for more than four days.
The new device builds on the success of the Fitbit Ionic which was released in November last year and is positioned not as a replacement but as an alternative with slightly fewer tricks, such as lack of inbuilt GPS, but with a lower price point of £199.
Since its launch, we’ve been putting the watch through its paces on a daily basis to see how it compares not only to its predecessor but also other smartwatches in the market. Here’s what we think of it.
With the Versa, Fitbit hasn’t just updated the design of one of its previous or existing wearables like a lot of brands do in this space; it’s given it a completely new look.
One thing you’ll notice, though, is that it’s perhaps more Apple Watch-y than any of its previous releases, boasting what the health tech giant is calling a “Squircle” watchface design. Don’t worry, we’re cringing too.
Despite its offensive design name, the Fitbit Versa is a much more handsome and friendly-looking watch than many of the firm’s previous devices, especially the Ionic, which we have to admit we weren’t the biggest fans of. In comparison, the Versa is pretty nondescript and thus harmless looking, ensuring your eyes are left to concentrate more on what’s happening on the display than around it.
The Versa isn’t only nice to look at, as it’s also one of the most comfortable smartwatches Fitbit has made thanks to its lighter weight. Fitbit claims its one of its lightest smartwatches on the market due to its ultra-thin, anodised aluminium case and slightly-tapered and angled design that has been built to fit small or large wrists. However, this lightweight design does make the Versa feel a little cheap.
As for the Versa’s display, it’s a vibrant, colourful touchscreen with a brightness up to 1,000 nits. This means that even in direct sunlight or underwater it’s easily visible, even when not turned up to the maximum brightness capacity. Touch commands also seem to be much improved over the Ionic, are now more fluid and uninterrupted.
Performance and battery life
The most important thing about a smartwatch isn’t just how it looks, but how it performs; and how long it lasts before you need to go out of your way to charge it again. Fitbit claims the Versa’s battery life is not quite as impressive as its bigger, more expensive sibling, and claims it’ll last four days rather than five. After using the watch for a good two weeks on and off, we were rather impressed that its stamina matched up pretty well with Fitbit’s claims.
As with any smartwatch, the total number of days you’ll get out of it is completely dependent on how many workouts you track throughout the week, if you keep it on at night time for sleep tracking, and if you have the brightness setting set to low or high.
Once it’s been fully charged and used for a full 24 hours, including two intense workouts and sleep tracking, the Versa was at a rather impressive 70 per cent capacity. After three full days, it was at just over 10 percent before finally dwindling to zero halfway through the third day.
As for actual device charging, Fitbit doesn’t opt for juicing its wearables via traditional microUSB, so if you’re travelling then the special Fitbit charger will need to make its way into your suitcase. It’s also worth noting the Versa’s proprietary charger comes with a clip-in dock (included), which makes it much easier to charge compared to the magnetic pin on the Ionic.
Tracking a workout with the Fitbit Versa is really easy and works in the exact same way as on the Ionic. Whether it’s running, cycling, swimming or HIIT that you want to track, there’s a dedicated option for this on the device’s Exercise app, accessible as the first option in the main menu carousel. This consists of Run, Bike, Swim, Treadmill, Weights, Interval Timer and Workout modes.
To track your run, for example, you’d simply select the Running tab from the Exercise option by swiping left from the home screen, then tap go and off you go.
During the exercise, the watch will display a selection of your vitals, which will differ depending on what exercise you’re tracking. For example, the running option will display distance and time, whereas the swimming option will display the lengths and meters swam alongside the time, and then the general workout option will show heart rate the calories burned. Many other tracking variables can also be seen, such as the current time, time taken, heart rate, etc by swiping left or right on the main display during the exercise tracking.
Once you’ve ended your exercise by telling the Versa you’re done, you’ll get a workout summary. These little summaries are a great touch, giving you the lowdown on your performance as soon as you’ve finished. In our running session, for instance, the Versa workout summary told us what our maximum heart rate had been in beats per minute (BPM), alongside our average BPM during the whole exercise, the time it took to complete the workout as well as the distance travelled.
As with the display during exercise, this summary changes depending on the exercise you do. After a HIIT class, in which I’d chosen the standard “workout” option, we were told how many calories we’d burned as opposed to distance travelled and time taken. This is all viewable in the app, too, after you’ve synced your watch to your smartphone, alongside all the other variables, pictured side by side with any previous workouts you’ve done.
Another impressive capability for a wearable at this price point is the swim tracking. It works very well, and accurately tracks your laps in a pool, for instance, recognising when you’ve reached the other side and kicked off to start your next lap.
What really surprised us was that the Versa is able to offer clear on-screen recordings with its brightly-lit display as we swam. It isn’t easy to swipe between the different tracking variables during this mode though, as you can imagine, as the display doesn’t recognise finger taps so well underwater.
There’s also a nifty feature called Run Detect, which was also seen on the Ionic. It means the Versa is clever enough to know when you’re taking a break, and automatically stops and starts tracking a run, swim or cycle by sensing the status of your movement. The other good news here is that this feature doesn’t come into play if you don’t want it. Choose a standard “workout” exercise from the list before beginning circuit training, for example, and it tracks your heart rate continuously until you tell it to stop. It works really well, meaning you can get on with the workout without checking the watch all the time and making sure it’s recording your movements accurately.
Then there’s sleep tracking, too, which while not exactly a fitness feature, still works in a similar manner. If you wear the Versa to bed, it will automatically track your sleep by recognising your inactivity, stillness and decreased heart rate. A summary of your sleep pattern will then be offered within the app after waking up; displaying how long you were asleep for in total, with this time split into either REM (rapid eye movement), light and deep sleep. This analysis is provided in an easy to understand manner and spits your results against an ideal target “benchmark” of someone the same sex and age as you.
The Versa comes with Fitbit’s latest OS 2.0, which includes a new dashboard that provides a more simplified and intuitive view of your health and fitness data. This includes “Stats at a glance”, which allows you to see your daily and weekly health and fitness stats, historical activity, heart rate, and exercise summaries from your wrist by simply swiping up on the main display.
The on-screen icons are displayed very well on the Versa and in a clean way so not to confuse users. One of our favourite features in the Versa software is that Fitbit has given the watch more customisation options than ever before. This, Fitbit said, is something it has realised its customers really want, so made it a bigger focus in the development of the Versa.
You can customise your own watch faces to make the Versa look how you want it to, something we saw a bit of in the Ionic, but this time around there’s hundreds more different designs to choose from. You can also purchase third party clock faces, some of which are customisable right down to the text colour and arrangement of data.
First seen on the Ionic, the Fitbit Pay platform is available to use on the Versa, enabling you to use to the watch to buy stuff without your phone or wallet. We tried the feature in different stores and while it didn’t work in one, it did in the other four. The feature worked relatively well but it is a little fiddly, as it requires you to input a 4 digit pin before bringing up the contactless payment screen.
At the moment, the contactless payment feature doesn’t work with many banks in the UK yet, either, so we wouldn’t advise this being one of the main reasons why you buy the Versa. So far that list includes just Danske Bank and Starling Bank, so pretty limited. Fitbit has said it’s working to rectify this, though so it could change soon.
While its feature set isn’t quite that of its bigger sibling the Ionic, the Fitbit Versa feels very much like the same watch but with a much more welcoming design. And let’s not forget that lower price of £100.
This is what made the Ionic somewhat difficult to recommend. Despite there being so many features, it was just a little too expensive compared to all the other wearable options out there.
Saying that, the Versa has completely changed the game for Fitbit at least, as you can now get your hands on some great fitness tracking features that all sync with the really well designed Fitbit app for much less than before. It’s essentially a really good option for those that really wanted the Ionic but thought it was just that bit too pricey to justify it the splurge.
In the UK, the Fitbit Versa is available to buy for £199, with colour options of silver, black or rose gold as well as several watch strap colour combinations.
Nice lightweight design, customisable, relatively low price for the feature set.
Battery life not as good as Ionic.
A little cheap feeling.
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