Fitbit were the first big name in wearable fitness trackers and were so influential that their brand became synonymous with fitness trackers. At a certain point people started wanting more from their fitness trackers, and in response, Fitbit attempted to build their own smartwatch but just could not crack the market the way they did the fitness tracker market.
Recently they brought the Fitbit Ionic to the market but that was seen as mostly a stop gap until their recent purchase of Pebble managed to bear fruit. Pebble was a relatively successful smartwatch with its own operating system that started on Kickstarter but then Fitbit bought it and enfolded the entire company in a bid to produce it’s own successful smartwatch platform.
One look at the Fitbit Versa and you will see that Fitbit have produced a VERY Pebble-influenced smartwatch which is not at all a bad thing. It may have different buttons but the display and shape of the watch was reminiscent of the Pebble Time Steel.
So what did I think of this new Fitbit, largely influenced by the Pebble team while retaining it’s fitness-oriented focus? Read on to find out.
What’s in the box?
As per usual there is not a heap in the box. The review unit is the special edition which comes with a woven cloth band as well as the standard rubber band. There are two sizes of each band in the box, a medium and a large. The large was a good fit on my wrists and it had the ability to go another 7 or 8 notches bigger for those with tree trunks for wrists.
Along with the 2 bands a charger is included in the box, as expected. Add in the quick start guide and you are done describing the entire contents of the box.
Hardware and Design
The hardware and design is very similar to the Apple watch which is in turn very similar to guess what? The Pebble Time. Back when the Pebble Time was released I was not a huge fan of the design but now that I have used “it” in the form of the Fitbit Versa I quite like it. Sure the display does not fill the entire face of the watch leaving some decent bezels but after a while you just don’t notice them.
Similar to the Ionic there are three buttons on the smartwatch — this time though there are two on the right and one on the left. The buttons are long thin buttons which are easy to use and do not stand out and deter from the shape of the watch.
Fitbit have included a decent heart rate detector in the smartwatch, as you would expect from a company known for their fitness tracking hardware. The heart rate detector was extremely accurate when tested against some medical-grade heart rate monitors.
The GPS in the smartwatch is only a connected GPS so if you want to track that run you will have to cart along your smartphone with you.
One thing you will can do with this smartwatch is to take it with a swim. It is not “water proof” but is water resistant to 50 metres for wearing in the pool or rain. During swimming you can track laps, duration and calories burned. Due to my tendency to sink rather than swim I did not test out the swimming part but I did shower with the watch a few times and did not have any issues afterwards.
The battery life on this smartwatch was something else. Even with constant heart rate monitoring 24/7 (why not test my sleep quality while I am using this) the battery lasted 5 days! Right from the very first time I opened the box I did not have to recharge it for at least five days. It makes Wear OS watches and their 1.5 days (if you are lucky) look extremely mediocre.
The charger for this device is quite good- one of the best I have used in any wearable device. The charging cradle is pinched open by squeezing the bottom of it, slot the watch in and release the cradle and it is secure within the charger. It charged every single time unlike some smartwatches which need a perfect connection each and every time, something that they are unable to consistently do.
As Dan noted in his review of the Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit Pay works really well. With the Versa I did not have to unlock the watch with a PIN each time, just turn the display on. It does have a security PIN required for when you first put the watch on but it detects it being on the same wrist the entire time and hence a PIN is not required after that first time.
I managed to use Westpac and Bendigo Bank credit cards successfully. Interestingly there were less hoops to jump through with each card compared to Google Pay — unlike Dan I did not have to call the bank or any of that hassle to setup each card, they sent me an SMS code to approve the setup. Setup was a breeze and I actually did it while waiting for my burgers to be ready one Saturday night. You can see if your bank supports it on the Fitbit Pay webpage.
Would it surprise you if Fitbit had once again built a wearable that is excellent at fitness tracking? Me neither. The Versa is no exception that is for sure. It can track nearly every metric you can think of including specific workouts such as Run, Bike or Weights. I used this a few times and it seemed to work well, although I am not exactly sure what it was tracking for my weights workout other than calories and time.
The heart rate was fairly accurate and normally within a few beats of where my heart rate actually was (yes I wore around a medical, engineering-tested heart rate monitor for a few hours just to check that). I am not sure how accurate people really need their heart rate to be and why they would need to know within more than 10 beats but this was accurate to under five beats per minute at any specific time so it should do most (let me know in the comments why you would need a smartwatch to be more accurate than that — I am genuinely interested).
How is it as an actual smartwatch though?
We have been waiting for Fitbit to make a decent smartwatch for a long time and while the Versa is a huge step in the right direction it is still lacking in certain areas. The developer support is something that obviously will take a while to build up and for this reason at this stage there are very few apps available for the Fitbit Versa.
Fitbit have developed all of the basic fitness-oriented apps for the Versa including things such as stop watch and timer, alarms etc. There are a few third party apps that do pretty much the same stuff the Fitbit apps do which is disappointing that there are not more — you would think a name as big as Fitbit would be able to attract more developers.
Fitbit have included quite a few watch faces themselves which gives users a lot of choice — of course though they are a long way behind the sheer volume of watchfaces available for the Samsung and Google smartwatch platforms. Most users who buy the Fitbit Versa, ie. the general public, will have no issues finding a watchface that displays the information they want to see.
One of the main reasons I use a smartwatch is for notifications and the ability to reply to them — I am unable to carry my phone with me at all times during the day and thus a smartwatch allows me to only check my phone when something important arrives (such as a funny cat gif). The Fitbit allows you to receive notifications for all apps you wish to — you need to whitelist those you wish to receive notifications from in the Fitbit app — but the problem is that at this stage there was no way for me to reply to all of them.
Apparently, and I suspect it is for US customers only at this stage, you can have some pre-prepared replies for certain apps but that setting is not available in my Fitbit app where it should be. So while I could see every single notification I could not reply to them. Another bug bear was that even though I may have cleared the notification on the phone it would remain in the memory on the Fitbit until I cleared it from there too — it would be nice if this was included in the permanent sync process but I suspect this would kill the battery life.
Using the software on the watch was easy even though I had never used it before. It is basic and very intuitive but in the end the lack of apps is what is limiting the device. I am not sure how difficult it is to develop for Fitbit with their APIs and if there are any limitations but I would suggest to them that they remove any and all roadblocks to any and all developers to get apps onto the watch — without them it is a hard sell versus the other smartwatches in the wild.
The Versa does have the ability to connect to Wi-Fi for updates, downloading apps and syncing but unfortunately if you have even a modicum of security on your Wi-Fi connection you cannot use it. Not only does it use 2.4GHz networks only it will “NOT connect to 5GHz, WPA enterprise, or public Wi-Fi networks that require logins, subscriptions, or profiles. If you see fields for a username or domain when connecting to the Wi-Fi network on a computer, the network isn’t supported.” In other words, if you have a password required on your network then the Fitbit Versa cannot use it. Hopefully this is something Fitbit are able to fix with software updates that are hopefully on the way — updating a watch over Bluetooth is painfully slow.
Dan did a thorough job reviewing the Fitbit App when he reviewed the Fitbit Ionic so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here.
I will say that most of these companies do a decent fitness app but no one does it as well as Fitbit.
Somethings that the Versa does better than other branded watches I have tried is sleep tracking. The sheer detail that the sleep tracking provides as well as the insight into the quality of the sleep is extremely useful (although depressing when you realise just how little sleep you actually do get).
The Fitbit Versa will also track your periods, assuming you are female. Obviously this is not something I was able to test out but an update that is meant to be on the way to the smartwatch as we speak will enable it for those who are so inclined. The Fitbit app allows females to log their period, record symptoms and compare their cycle against other stats like sleep, activity and weight.
If you want to see more of the Fitbit App head over to Dan’s Ionic review for the extensive look at its functionality.
Should you buy the Fitbit Versa?
While for Dan the lack of apps was a killer for him it is not a killer for me. I only use my smartwatch in a very basic way, as do most people. Most people who would be looking at this just want to track the basic metrics such as steps, sleep, heart rate etc while getting a bit of basic notification from your phone. For those people this smartwatch is perfect. The Fitbit app is second to none and provides a lot of information in an easy setup as well as adding a lot of extra functionality such as challenges and competitions against friends.
The watch is basic in its looks but I liked that. It is a square box with rounded sides. It was extremely comfortable to wear and I had no issue wearing it 24/7, something I am often unable to do as I find a watch at night often inhibits my sleeping.
The Fitbit Versa in it’s basic incarnation with rubber band is available for a tick under $300AU at the Fitbit website or at your usual bricks and mortar stores (Rebel Sport have it for $239.20 this week) while the special edition variant we tested has an official RRP of $349 but for that you get the rubber band and also a woven cloth band that is super comfortable and if this had the same discount as the standard edition at that price I could highly recommend it (in other words, if you can, wait for it to be on Sale: Harvey Norman had it for $276 last week). Various retailers often have sales on their Fitbit devices so we highly recommend shopping around before making any purchase — all the usual retailers carry them: Officeworks, The Good Guys, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Rebel Sport etc.
The Fitbit Versa is perfect for those who want a smartwatch that has all the usual fitness functionality while at the same time providing some decent phone-smartwatch functionality. While there are not many apps available for it at this stage I am sure that given the sheer size of their market Fitbit won’t take long to attract many more app developers to their platform.
If the Fitbit Ionic was a step in the right direction then the Versa is well down the path of the right direction and just needs more app support to cross that finish line.