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Fitbit Versa Review

Fitbit Versa Review
PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • $199.95
Fitbit’s latest activity tracker and health smartwatch, the Versa, is aimed at women but just as suitable for men, and looks rather like the 38mm Apple Watch.


We’re big fans of Fitbit’s first proper smartwatch activity tracker - the Ionic - as you’ll read on our Fitbit Ionic review. But one of the criticisms levelled at the Ionic was its size – deemed by some as too large for smaller (that is, female) wrists.

Without wanting to stereotype the sexes, women generally have smaller wrists than men - and I speak as a man with rather thin wrists. The new Fitbit Versa (short for "versatile") is aimed at women, with a smaller and lighter watch body plus specific female-health tracking features. It's less boxy than the Ionic, and more like a standard smartwatch in looks. Apparently, at the moment over 60 percent of smartwatch owners are male, and Fitbit sees an opportunity to grow this market for women.

That said, it will also suit men who prefer a smaller watch case than the Ionic’s larger, angular design. Its screen is certainly large enough for easy stats display and the interactive workout sessions through Fitbit Coach.

It’s also £100 or US$100 cheaper than the rather costly Ionic but boasts most of the same features, minus the built-in GPS on all models and Fitbit Pay on the standard model. It effectively replaces the old Fitbit Blaze fitness watch, which is now discontinued.

The Fitbit Versa is aimed at a wide range of people, from the casual walker to the more devoted runner, cyclist, swimmer or serious gym goer. It's not just focused on fitness but on other gentler (but no less important) aspects of our overall health, too - from calmness and sleep to more detailed female health tracking features.

There are smart features, too, although nothing like what you get from the likes of the Apple Watch or Android smartwatches. This won't bother people for whom health and fitness are the main goals, and Fitbit beats the other smartwatches hands down on these aims.

Notifications are great, and the Versa sees the release of customisable Quick Replies (see below). 

FITBIT VERSA PRICE AND RELEASE DATE
The Fitbit Versa is available now from the Fitbit Store.

The standard models cost £199.99 (US$199.95, €199.95), with a Special Edition priced at £229.99 (US$229.95, €229.95). The Special Edition comes with a woven strap and includes contactless payments via Fitbit Pay.
This puts the Versa firmly in the upper-mid-price of the Fitbit range – nicely below the Ionic (£299/$299/€349), but some way above the less-smart Fitbit Charge 2 (£139/$149/€159). It also makes the Versa some way cheaper than the entry-level Apple Watch and some other smartwatches that do however boast a larger choice of apps.

There is the usual array of accessory straps, in extra silicon colours, leather and metal; see below for more details.

Versa will also be available in stores worldwide beginning April 2018, including Argos, Amazon, John Lewis, Currys PC World in the UK, and in North American retailers such as Amazon.com, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Target, and Walmart.

DESIGN AND DISPLAY
The Fitbit Versa is noticeably smaller than the Ionic, which (while thin) is quite large for a watch. Its screen size is 34mm diagonal, by 24.075mm high, and 24.075mm wide. That makes it more compact than Apple's 38mm Watch, with which its shares a common look. It's also slimmer and lighter.

Fitbit has clearly listened to criticisms that some – especially women - found the Ionic too large. But while the Versa might be more suitable for women, it’s not overly feminine, and men who prefer a smaller smartwatch shouldn’t be put off.

I had no problems with the Ionic's size or weight, but find the Versa almost weightless on the wrist - and large enough for using the Fitbit Coach screen videos.

It’s available in three standard (Classic) models with silicon straps, with the watch case made from anodised aluminium:

• Rose Gold watch case with a Peach ("millennial pink") silicon band

• Silver Pebble watch case with a Grey silicon band

• Black watch case with a Black silicon band

These silicon bands are "stain proof" according to Fitbit, and are certainly the best choice for more intense activities. The woven Special Edition bands and metal strap options are more dressy, but fine for milder, everyday walking. We found the woven band super comfortable.

There are two Special Edition Versas:

• Rose Gold watch case with Lavender woven band

• Graphite watch case with Charcoal woven band

The Special Edition Versa also ships with a black silicon band for swimming, as the woven canvas strap is not waterproof. Other than the woven straps and colour cases the Special Editions operate exactly like the standard models. The woven straps are available only with the Special Edition Versa, and not separately.

Separate wristbands are also available for customisation. There are two extra Classic Silicon band colours (seen above in White and Periwinkle Blue, at £24.99 / $24.95 / €29.95 each). 

There are four Horween Leather straps (in Lavender, Cognac Brown, Saddle Stitch tan, and Midnight Blue, at £49.99/$49.95).

For £69.99/$69.95 there are two versions of a stainless-steel Mesh strap, in Silver and Black. And, at £89.99/$89.95, there’s stainless-steel Links straps in Silver, Black, and a thinner Silver Tapered version.

The colour touchscreen display has a resolution of 300-x-300 pixels, and reaches 1,000 nits. A nit is a unit of visible-light intensity, and 1,000 nits means you can view the screen even in bright sunlight when running, for instance. A typical LCD screen has just 200-300 nits.

Fitbit has increased the amount of recent historical data that can be seen on the screen, which is a great improvement that Ionic users will be screaming for when they see the Versa – don’t worry, Fitbit has rolled out the same look for the Ionic, too.

For swimmers, the Versa is water resistant up to 50 metres. Water resistance works well, and is also found on the Ionic and Flex 2 Fitbit trackers. At the very least it means you don't need to take it off when stepping in the shower. At best, it offers basic swimming tracking - including the ability to count laps and how many calories you’ve burned up and down the pool.

VERSA FEATURES
The Fitbit Versa features all the functions of the Ionic, with the exception of built-in GPS. Instead, the Versa can connect to your smartphone’s GPS. This lack of built-in GPS matters only if you prefer the option to run (and track via GPS) without your phone.

The Versa measures Steps, Distance, Calories burned, Floors Climbed and Active Minutes, as well as automatic Sleep and Activity Tracking. Reminders to Move help you get moving at least once an hour (in the daytime) for 250 steps as a minimum. 

It uses Fitbit’s wrist-based PurePulse heart-rate monitor, which can be used to improve the efficiency of your exercise, workouts and sleep, as well as monitoring heart health.

Your doctor might clip a thimble-sized sensor onto your finger to test your heart rate - using a technique called photoplethysmography. Fitbit's PurePulse technology also uses green LED light (from the underside of the watch) to measure blood flow. This does away with the need for expensive and uncomfortable chest straps and electrocardiograms (EKGs).

Thus, Fitbit can measure your cardio fitness level and resting heart rate, and determine which heart-rate zone you are in during exercise. It's also used to measure which stages of sleep you are in during the night.

It also has an SpO2 sensor that estimates the amount of oxygen in the blood so you can monitor blood oxygenation during sports activity. On the health side, your SpO2 value is an important indicator - if it drops below 95 percent, it could be a sign of poor blood oxygenation (hypoxia).

EXERCISE AND WORKOUTS
Like the Ionic, the Versa features Fitbit Coach – a series of built-in workouts. It comes pre-loaded with: 10-minute abs; 7-minute workout; and a 20-minute Treasure Chest (including jumping jacks, pushups, shadow boxing, shoulder tap pushups, one-legged spidermans (tricky), high knees, jumping jacks, superman planks, and bicycle kicks).

Sign up and get an extra two programmes for free. You can also pay a £7.99/month or £38.99/year (US$39.95) subscription for further workouts.

Versa can track lots of other activities including gym-based workouts such as running on a treadmill or weight training. Activities include Run, Bike, Swim, Treadmill, Weights, Interval Timer, and Workout. You can turn on each mode with a swipe or two of the touchscreen.

In the Exercise section of the Fitbit app, you also can personalise your weekly goal to the number of times you want to exercise per week.

Fitbit's SmartTrack feature uses a 3-axis accelerometer to detect the intensity and patterns of your movement to determine which kind of activity you’re doing. Activities include Walking, Running, Aerobic Workouts, Elliptical, Outdoor Biking, Sports and Swimming.

It can then automatically recognise and record your workouts - measuring how long you were active, the number of calories burned, and your heart rate zones.

GPS: CONNECTED BUT NOT BUILT IN
The top-end Ionic is the only Fitbit tracker with GPS built-in. The Versa, like the Charge 2 and now-discontinued Blaze, can connect to your smartphone’s GPS. If you always run with your phone this function works just fine. If you want to run phone-free then the Ionic’s built-in GPS makes more sense.

WELLNESS, HEALTH, REST AND SLEEP TRACKING
Fitbit believes health isn’t all about exercise. Overall wellness is a vital goal, too.

The Versa features in-depth sleep tracking, measuring the different Sleep Stages you achieve during the night – from Light to Deep and dreamy REM sleep. You can benchmark your sleep against the average for your age and gender.

Talking of rest, the Versa helps you find moments of calm through the day by following personalised Guided Breathing sessions based on your heart rate. You choose between-two-minute and five-minute breathing exercises.

With its focus on women, Fitbit has added Female Health Tracking (available from July), which allows users to stay in tune with their bodies and monitor changes by logging details of their menstrual cycle and checking resulting dynamic prediction data in the Fitbit app. This isn’t available on any other smartwatch without installing a third-party app, and full marks to Fitbit for recognising this as a core aspect of half of its users' health interests.

Fitbit wants to help women understand how their menstrual cycle connects to their overall health. According to its research, 80 percent of women did not know how many phases are in a menstrual cycle, and more than 70 percent were unable to correctly identify the average length of a cycle.

Women can log their menstrual cycle data, and record symptoms such as headaches, acne and cramps.This should lead to dynamic cycle predictions for where they are in their cycle and when to expect a period using Fitbit’s cycle algorithm that gets smarter and more accurate as periods are logged. Users can see where they are in their cycle at-a-glance on their wrist.

The data will then be delivered to Versa’s new Today screen, which is available by swiping up from the bottom of the device.

Younger users can learn more about the menstrual cycle, ovulation, fertility and common misconceptions with educational content through the Fitbit app.

Such female-health information could be useful for fertility planning and general reproductive health. Female Health Tracking will be added to the Ionic later, so if women do prefer the larger smartwatch (and its built-in GPS) they won’t be forced into buying the Versa instead.

Users can choose to hide any such data from the phone and Fitbit app, so it’s an option rather than an obligation. And, obviously, men can just not enable it.

Fitbit already has the largest collection of sleep data through its legions of users, and hopes to build the same for female health data, and use this to improve health insights for women.

VERSA SMART FEATURES
The Fitbit Versa isn’t just an activity tracker, it’s a smartwatch, too. This means it can run Fitbit’s own and third-party apps. There are over 500 apps and different clock faces to choose from in the App Gallery - downloaded through the phone app.

Built into the Versa are Weather and Strava exercise apps. Plus there’s a Music app, which controls the up-to 300 songs that the Versa’s 2.5GB memory can carry. You load music onto the tracker using the Fitbit Connect desktop app, and it's compatible with iTunes and the major digital music players - although not Spotify.

Fitbit also has a partnership with Deezer Music, where there’s a free three-month trial of the 53m-song streaming-music service for Versa users.

Other popular apps you can download to the Versa are Philips Hue for smart lighting so you can control your smart lights from your wrist, or another for your Nest smart thermostat. And there are plenty of utilities such as Flashlight, World Clock and Calculator. There are also apps for sports such as tennis and badminton, running and swimming.

Notifications from your phone straight to your wrist are essential for any smartwatch. Incoming text messages, emails and phone calls can all be set to ping on the tracker. You can also get your Calendar notifications on the watch. The same is true of non-smartwatch Fitbits such as the Charge 2 and Alta HR. 

A big change with the Versa - and soon to be rolled out to the Ionic - is the opportunity to respond to calls or messages via the watch itself. Fitbit’s Quick Replies has a set of pre-written responses you can send back from the watch. With new pre-populated and customizable quick replies, users can respond to notifications and text messages directly from their Versa. Users can customize up to five quick replies to text messages in the Fitbit app. Text is limited to 60 characters.

At launch, this is available for Android users only, but Fitbit is working on adding this for iOS and Windows phone users too.

You can also set a silent alarm that buzzes on your wrist – great for not waking a bed partner, but not always a welcome buzz! If you don't press the button to dismiss it, it will let you snooze for nine minutes before alerting you again.

You can use the Fitbit app to add your credit or debit card to the Fitbit Versa Special Edition – for use with Fitbit Pay. The standard edition Versa lacks the NFC (Near Field Communication) chip required for contactless payments - presumably to keep the price down but at the cost of a missing smart feature.

Versa Special Edition owners can use the watch to complete purchases worldwide - at any store that accepts wallet-free payments. All purchases are covered by your bank’s fraud protection. At the moment this is limited to a couple of minor banks in the UK (Danske and Starling), but Fitbit says it is working with all the major banks to make Fitbit Pay compatible with their systems. In the US Fitbit Pay works with American Express, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and others - plus ANZ in Australia and ASB in New Zealand.

Although not of great use till the banks get in line, the lack of Fitbit Pay from the standard edition Versa suggests that Fitbit is half-hearted about making this a key feature.

VERSA BATTERY LIFE
Probably due to its smaller size the Fitbit Versa has a little less battery life (4 days) than big sibling Ionic (5 days) despite no built-in GPS.

This is still at least twice as long as you’ll get from even the latest Apple Watch.

As usual, Fitbit has designed an entirely new charger for the Versa, and this must be its largest. You place the Versa in a chunky cup rather than attach a magnetic charger as you do with the Ionic. Why Fitbit insists on so many types of charger we have no idea. Surely it could have used the same magnetic design as the Ionic, which is perhaps its finest tracker charger..

FITBIT APP AND MOTIVATION
While the Versa can show a lot right there on your wrist, a lot of the power still resides in the mobile app.

The Fitbit app is excellent in displaying all your health and fitness stats in a clear and graphically informative way, including more historical data than you’ll see on the watch display.

There's a lot more, too - more than you'll get from Apple health, for instance. There is a great Friends league where you compete against other Fitbit users if you so wish - brilliant motivation to keep going for more steps. You can also compete against friends or yourself in interesting daily or weekly Challenges and virtual Adventures in real-life locations, such as the New York Marathon.

And there are hundreds of milestone badges to reward you along the way. 

There is a ton of expert guidance in the app, too - telling you more about efficient workouts, cardio exercises, how to get better sleep, etc. The new Feed feature lets you join virtual groups where you can get advice and motivation for activities such as walking, hiking, healthy eating and Mind & Body matters.

FITBIT VERSA VS FITBIT IONIC
Fitbit's two proper smartwatches are the Ionic and Versa. There are a lot of similarities, and some differences in design, price and features.

The smaller watchcase of the Versa is meant to appeal to women (and men) who found the Ionic too large. It’s smaller in all dimensions, and lighter, too – not that the Ionic was fat and heavy, although it certainly boasts a large display.

Versa screen size: 34mm diagonal, by 24.075mm high, and 24.075mm wide.

Ionic screen size: 35.99mm diagonal by 21mm high, and 29.23mm width.

Versa boasts nearly all the Ionic’s features, with the same health and fitness metrics tracked – plus apps, notifications and alerts, and music storage and control. Fitbit Coach is on both smartwatches, but Fitbit Pay works only on the Special Edition.

Both are water resistant up to 50m deep.

The main difference aside from size is the Versa’s lack of built-in GPS. Instead, it can use the GPS on your phone. If you want to run phone-free you’ll need the Ionic - otherwise, it makes little odds. And if you want to use your watch for contactless payments you'll need to buy the more expensive Special Edition Versa.

The accessories are greater for the Versa – with metal straps choices denied to Ionic users.

The Ionic has a five-day battery life, compared to the Versa’s four-day battery. Battery life is important - who wants to be charging their watch when about to head out for an active day? But the Ionic's extra day is probably not going to be a deal breaker for people choosing between the two Fitbit smartwatches.

So other than the connected rather than built-in GPS and the wider choice of Versa straps the Ionic and Versa are essentially the same smartwatch – but differing in size, with the Versa smaller than the Ionic.

FITBIT VERSA VS FITBIT BLAZE
If price is a significant point in your choice of a fitness smartwatch then you might consider the now-discontinued Fitbit Blaze, which sold for £159/$199, and will likely be cheaper online now that it is no longer available from Fitbit.

The Blaze is not a smartwatch in the same way as the Versa or the Ionic as it cannot accept extra apps. But if fitness and health are your key requirements then the Blaze covers these ably enough.

It will connect to your smartphone's GPS (just like the Versa) but lacks the Ionic's built-in GPS (just like the Versa). Both have colour touchscreen displays.

From a design point of view the Versa is much less chunky and a lot lighter than the Blaze, and its internal hardware is newer, and likely more accurate. The Versa also boats on-watch music storage and control, and works phone-free with Bluetooth headphones. The Special Edition Versa also works with Fitbit Pay's contactless payments system.

While we liked the Blaze, and think it's still a decent activity tracker (at a good price), we believe the extra money for the Versa makes it a much better buy today.

Should Blaze users upgrade to the Versa? This is less of an easy decision if you're happy with the Blaze. The Versa offers more in a smaller, lighter case, with smarter features and technologies - but for basic fitness tracking the Blaze still does the business despite it being end-of-life in Fitbit's eyes. Women might be swayed by the Female Health Tracking as well as the smaller case design.

SPECS
  • Colour touchscreen smartwatch, compatible with iOS, Android and Windows Phone
  • 2.5GB music capacity
  • counts steps, distance, active minutes, sleep stages, calories, heart-rate, floors climbed
  • connected (not built-in) GPS
  • waterproof up to 50m.

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