Fitbit Versa review: Slowly but surely pushing Fitbit past the “fit” bit
Every company hopes to make a device that appeals to the masses. But when you're a company like Fitbit, known for its fitness expertise, it can be harder to clear the mental hurdle in consumers' heads that separates what you're known for and what you want to be. People who prioritize wearable features that aren't fitness-related may not even look to Fitbit when considering a new device, because fitness is so deeply ingrained into the company's identity.
Fitbit's core will always be health and fitness, but the company is actively trying to make devices that appeal to people who don't necessarily place their exercise and dieting regime on a pedestal. The new $200 Versa smartwatch speaks to those users as a wearable designed for "mass appeal." With its combination of Fitbit-developed fitness features and Pebble-influenced smartwatch capabilities, the Versa aims to bring more users into the Fitbit ecosystem with the promise that it can add value and convenience to all parts of your life.
It's not shocking that the Versa stands tall as Fitbit's most polished smartwatch to date. The company learned a lot since coming out with its two previous smartwatches (the Blaze and the Ionic) and since purchasing Pebble at the end of 2016. Pebble loyalists will immediately recognize the Versa's design as a Pebble derivative; it closely resembles the Pebble Time Steel.
The Versa has the same rounded-square case shape as the Time Steel had, and it is made of a satin-finish aluminum that looks more fashion-forward (and some may say, female-friendly) than the Time Steel's aura. On the slim edges of the Versa lie three buttons that navigate back on the display and provide quick access to the workout and alarm apps.
Fitbit appears to have needed the help from Pebble to right the wrongs of its Blaze smartwatch, which debuted in 2016. Not only is the Versa a more attractive smartwatch than the Blaze, but it also doesn't have the Blaze's weird metal harness that surrounds its module. Even the Versa's charging dock—which requires you to pinch its sides to open up the plastic throne enough to fit the Versa's case in—is a more elegant charging solution than the cage-like monstrosity that the Blaze needed to charge.
Dominating the case is the 0.94-inch, full-color LCD touchscreen that, along with the side buttons, is used to navigate the watch's apps, programs, and settings. The screen isn't always-on, but you can program the backlight to stay on for up to 20 seconds before the display goes dark. A forceful tap on the screen, a flick of the wrist, or a press of the left-side button wakes it back up again. Some Pebble loyalists may scoff at the lack of an always-on display, but Fitbit likely chose this type of display not only because most other smartwatches have the same but also because it preserves battery life.
The interchangeable, 20mm bands sit on the top and bottom edges of the Versa, secured by quick-release pins that are similar to other smartwatch bands. You don't need to remove the bands to charge the Versa, which is fantastic because the bands are quite difficult to get back on after removing them. You must hold the pin back while both removing and replacing the bands, making it difficult to do while holding the Versa's tiny case at the same time. While the Versa isn't compatible with any 20mm band, Fitbit has a wide array of silicone, leather, mesh, and other types of bands you can invest in.
You'll want to get a few silicone-based classic bands if you're a swimmer since the Versa's design tracks swimming and is water-resistant up to 50 meters. Other hardware perks include Fitbit's standard optical heart-rate monitor, a tri-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, an altimeter, and storage for about 300 songs. While the Versa doesn't have an onboard GPS, it does have Fitbit's connected GPS feature.
Only special edition, $229 Versa models will have NFC for Fitbit Pay, making users essentially choose if they want to have the option to use contactless payment systems with the Versa. Fitness enthusiasts will find music storage more useful than other users. NFC is arguably a feature more often included on all-purpose smartwatches, since all the big players have their own payment systems (Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.). I wish the Versa had both on every model; that way, one user could pay for a coffee on the way home from a run while another could use it to pay for a birthday gift for their significant other.
As far as battery life goes, Fitbit promises the Versa will last more than four days on a single charge. After two and a half days of all-day and all-night use, my Versa was down to 56 percent. At that pace, it should fall in line with Fitbit's estimate, easily making it past the four-day mark before needing to be charged. That's great for a modern smartwatch, considering the Apple Watch Series 3 lasts about two days on a single charge, while many Android Wear devices demand charging every night.
The hashtag "FitbitForAll" came on my Versa's packaging, and I understand why Fitbit is positioning this as a smartwatch that anyone can wear. It's thinner and lighter than any of the company's existing wearables, and it's more appealing to wear all day long with its various finishes and band options. Fitbit explained that last year's Ionic was meant for fitness buffs who wanted a device that combined the best fitness features with crucial smartwatch features. The Versa is meant to attract more users, including those who aren't training for marathons or Iron Man competitions.