Is this the smartwatch that breaks into the masses? Fitbit certainly hopes so. It’s stripped away the non-essentials from its first true smartwatch, the Fitbit Ionic, to deliver a more basic wearable at a cut-down price and a cut-down size. In doing so, it wants to attract a wider demographic to the smartwatch party, which until now has been dominated by men. Albeit the kind of men who glance nervously at their watches and and refuse to dance.
The obvious benefit is the size of the watch on the wrist. I’m used to wearing a bulky Garmin Fenix, so the Versa feels ridiculously compact and lightweight in comparison. Women more used to wearing delicate, featherlight watches may not feel quite the same.
Fitbit Versa review: Design and key features
It loses out to designer watches for style as well, despite Fitbit softening the corners with a rounding effect. You can choose between three colours – grey, rose gold and black – but the largest amount of customisation comes from downloadable watch faces and a choice of straps. A silicone strap comes in the box and you can buy a designer leather strap for £50, for instance, or perhaps a mesh metal one for a rather excessive £70. Fitbit is doing its best to create the versatile black dress of watches, transformed by accessories, and make a bit of cash on the side.
One inevitable consequence of dropping down in size is a smaller battery, which is why the Versa lasts just over four days on a single charge compared to the Ionic’s five days. That seems a sensible compromise, not least because Fitbit’s battery life claims are true – based on my week with the Versa – and that it recharges in under two hours. There’s even a neat charging station you can slip the Versa onto but note that this is (yet another) proprietary charger from Fitbit and incompatible with the Ionic.
Also note that to keep the battery life high, the screen is off most of the time. You can activate it with a vigorous flick of the wrist but I found this only worked about half of the time; often, I had to press a button to check the time. The 300 x 300 screen is lovely and bright, though, when you do manage to activate it.
As the lack of GPS indicates, this isn’t an outright fitness watch in the ilk of Garmin Forerunners. If you want to track your run or bike ride down to the last metre, you’ll need to bring your phone with you so the Versa can “borrow” its GPS chip.
Without a phone in the vicinity it still attempts to track how far you’ve been but, naturally, it isn’t as accurate. The good news is that it’s waterproof to 50m, so will track laps, calories burned and so on in the pool.
While it has many elements of a fitness watch, the Versa is best thought of as a lifestyle watch. One that, not only fits in with your lifestyle but also aims to improve it. For instance, by default it nags you every hour to get up and do some steps.
In that same spirit of life improvement, there’s a “Relax” app that’s call-the-lawyers reminiscent of the Apple Breathe app, and you’re encouraged via the Fitbit phone app to join its community of users for encouragement and support.
Fitbit Versa review: Ease of use
The watch’s Fitbit OS is incredibly easy to use. It supports all the usual smartwatch notifications – emails, texts, phone calls – and it’s obvious what action you need to take to silence a notification or respond. The main navigation is via swiping and pressing the big Home button on the left of the screen but there are also two physical buttons on the right that can be used in certain situations.
You shouldn’t expect a huge app store to rival Apple’s. Fitbit only opened up its SDK to developers last year and there are still fewer than 100 apps to choose from. There’s a handful of big names – Strava, New York Times, Hue Lights, Yelp – but in the main the third-party apps are from individual developers. Most developers’ focus appears to be watch faces, with hundreds on offer to suit everyone from the data obsessed to the minimalist.
The other app of note is for music-subscription service Deezer. This allows you to sync playlists to your watch and with room on the watch for up to 300 songs that should be enough variety for several workouts. Deezer costs £10 per month, though, so you may prefer to take manual control and download your own tracks to the device instead.
One final thing I feel duty bound to mention is the presence of an NFC chip for the Fitbit Pay app, but don’t get excited. Right now, only two obscure credit cards are supported in the UK.
Fitbit Vera review: Verdict
While all these minor gripes mean it isn’t as slick as the Apple Watch, the Fitbit Versa comes surprisingly close. Keen runners and cyclists will be better served by a watch with GPS inside but the Versa is something you can wear every day without being conscious of the lump of silicon, glass and plastic on your wrist. With Fitbit’s community to back it up, it’s a great buy at £200.