The $199 Fitbit Versa is the company’s new “mass-appeal” smartwatch
A new Fitbit smartwatch is ready to keep last year's Ionic company in the device family lineup. Today, Fitbit announced the new Versa smartwatch, a thin-and-light metal wearable that runs on Fitbit OS. The longtime king of fitness devices knew it needed to expand into the smartwatch category, and it started that evolution last year with the debut of the $299 Ionic. But the Ionic ultimately replaced the Fitbit Surge, which was the most high-tech and comprehensive fitness watch the company made at the time. Not everyone needs such a powerful device, and that's where the new Versa comes in—it's a smartwatch that mixes smart functions with important fitness features to (hopefully) reach a wider audience than the Ionic.
In the short time I had with the new Fitbit Versa, I was struck at how light it is. While Fitbit didn't provide the exact weight of the Versa, the company did note that the Versa is its lightest device to date. The Versa is quite comfortable to wear, but it also doesn't feel flimsy thanks to its all-metal, rounded-square case. Its case comes in black, gray, and rose gold colorways, as well as special graphite and rose gold editions that come with two band options instead of one. Like other smartwatches, the Versa is compatible with a number of silicone, leather, woven, and metal bands made by Fitbit.
Like the Fitbit Ionic, the Versa has three physical buttons on its sides and a 1.34-inch, 300 x 300 LCD touchscreen that together allow users to navigate Fitbit OS. Lack of GPS differentiates the Versa from the Ionic, as the new device has an optical heart-rate monitor, onboard storage for music, up to 50 meters of water resistance, and on-device coaching with Fitbit Coach like the company's first smartwatch had. The Versa does have a connected GPS feature, though, meaning you can map outdoor activities when you're bringing your smartphone along for the ride.
The special editions of the Versa have NFC capabilities for Fitbit Pay in the US, but all Versa models sold in Asia will be able to use Fitbit Pay. The Versa also works with Android, iOS, and Windows devices, and it has a battery life capable of lasting more than four days on a single charge.
While Pebble wasn't mentioned in our briefing, Fitbit certainly took note of old Pebble designs when developing the Versa. The new smartwatch looks like what a 2018 Pebble device may have been if the company hadn't been purchased by Fitbit at the end of 2016. I say that as a compliment because, in comparison to the chunky Ionic, the Versa is much friendlier and easier to wear. Fitbit made the Versa to be a mass-appeal smartwatch, as well as a smartwatch that users of its fitness trackers could upgrade. With its less polarizing design, lack of GPS, and more affordable $199 starting price, the Versa definitely has more mass-appeal than the Ionic does.
Menstrual tracking and other new features
Launching on the Versa is Fitbit's new menstrual-cycle tracking for female users. Starting this summer, the Fitbit app will let users track their cycle by inputting when they have their period and cycle symptoms, such as headache and cramping. Over time, Fitbit's software will be able to predict the time of future cycles and give users information about how their cycle may be affecting other aspects of their lives. This goes hand-in-hand with smartwatches like the Versa that track daily activity, sleep, and heart rate—data collected by the Versa can help Fitbit's software learn more about how your daily habits are affected by your cycle, and vise versa.
It's unclear why it took Fitbit so long to incorporate menstrual-cycle tracking into its app. There are plenty of cycle-tracking mobile apps that do not require a companion wearable to function as they rely solely on the user inputting information on a daily or weekly basis. Fitbit users will have to input data anyway since neither the Versa nor the Ionic can detect period symptoms like cramping or mood swings.
Currently, none of the biggest smartwatches or wearable platforms—watchOS, Android Wear, Tizen, or Garmin's OS—lets female users natively track their cycles. The launch of Fitbit's cycle-tracking features appears to coincide with the Versa's release since the company figured out how to intelligently monitor and analyze biometrics such as heart rate as they relate to a woman's menstrual cycle. Nevertheless, I'm sure plenty of female users would have welcomed the ability to monitor their cycle and other fitness data all in one app much sooner.
In addition to cycling monitoring, the Versa will showcase Fitbit's new on-device "personalized health center," which is really just a redesigned Today app. This is where users can see daily health and fitness stats on their wearable, and Fitbit has added new daily and weekly metrics to the Today app to give users a clearer picture of their progress and goals. Fitbit OS on the Versa will also deliver more personalized alerts, reminders, celebrations, and other notifications as users meet their goals, pass milestones, and request information about their progress. While individually small improvements, new features like these contribute to the longevity of Fitbit's devices and software—the more value a Fitbit device can add to a user's life, the more likely those users are to stick with the device and the Fitbit platform as a whole for the long run.
Android users get an extra perk with the Versa in the form of quick-replies, which allow them to respond to text messages from the watch itself. Fitbit can't offer this to iOS users since Apple's system is a closed one, but Fitbit claims it's working on some similar features for iOS users. Garmin also offers quick replies for Android users on a number of its wearables including the Vivoactive 3, but it, similarly, cannot do so for iOS users.
A new tracker for kids
But the Versa isn't the only new member of the Fitbit family: the $99 Fitbit Ace is the company's first tracker for children. Aimed at kids who are eight years old and up, the Ace takes the design of the Fitbit Alta and uses specialized software to track kids' activity. You can think of the Ace as a basic fitness tracker: it monitors daily movement and sleep, sends reminders to move to the wearer's wrist, and has a showerproof design, all with more than five days of battery life. Parents can monitor their children's activity levels from the Fitbit app, and kids can see their own stats in a kid-friendly page of the app.
"Kid-friendly" in this case means removing unnecessary data that Fitbit believes kids shouldn't be worrying about yet, like calories and body fat percentage. But kids can see their daily activity stats, badges earned by achieving activity goals, and parent-approved challenges that they can take part in with friends (who are also approved by parents).
It was only a matter of time before Fitbit made a tracker for kids. Garmin already makes a few wearables to track kids' activity, and as a company that wants to provide health wearables for all, Fitbit was bound to develop a tracker like the Ace.
Check back on Ars for our Fitbit Versa review in the coming weeks. Both the Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Ace are available today to preorder starting at $199 and $99, respectively. Both will be widely available in April.
Listing image by Valentina Palladino