Less than half a year since its foray into smartwatches, Fitbit is back with its second offering: the Versa. The acquisitions of Kickstarter-famous Pebble and payment start-up Coin have been central to Fitbit’s progress in this product segment, and now the company is building out its portfolio.
There are two differences between the Versa and the Ionic in western markets – the former lacks in-built GPS and a NFC chip for payments – but that's not the case elsewhere. Interestingly, the Versa does support Fitbit Pay in India, but that's sort of pointless for now since no banks are currently on board. Hence, the only difference between that matters is the lack of GPS.
Much of the rest stays the same, with full waterproofing up to 50m, an impressive battery life (over four days) for a smartwatch with a colour screen, and continuous heart-rate tracking. There's also a problem: while the Versa and Ionic sit at $200 and $300 respectively in the US, they are priced a lot closer to each other in India than Fitbit intended them to be, thanks to tax adjustments between the two launches.
The newer Versa costs Rs. 20,000, and while the Ionic is now up to Rs. 25,000 officially, retailers still have units at its older price of Rs. 23,000. Of course, this might not last long. Either way, the Versa is still more affordable than its direct competitors, the Apple Watch Series 1 (which also doesn't have GPS) or the Samsung Gear Sport (which does have GPS), and is at around the same price level as the current best non-Apple effort.
It's obvious at first sight that the Versa looks a lot like the Apple Watch. During the review process, a lot of people who saw the Versa remarked about exactly that. In reality though, the Versa is more square-ish than Apple's offering, or rather a 'squarcle' – a portmanteau of square and circle – as Fitbit designers call it.
Unlike the Apple Watch and its pricier cousin, the Ionic, the Versa has a square display – a 1.34-inch LCD screen with a pixel density of 317ppi. It’s smaller than both, but as a result of that, the Versa rivals the Ionic in terms of battery life, and handily beats the Apple Watch. In our experience, it consistently delivered over four days of life, as Fitbit promises.
Also unlike the Ionic and much like the Apple Watch, the Versa's design allows for a simpler strap. You can use most 22mm watchstraps, and are not restricted to what Fitbit sells. Speaking of that, Fitbit is promising several options when it comes to materials, including leather, mesh and metal.
The Versa ships with a standard silicone strap, and the mesh strap can be availed as part of the Versa Special Edition, which costs Rs. 2,000 more and comes with additional silicone straps. Unfortunately, neither the Special Edition and the other first-party straps – leather and metal – are readily available at Versa's exclusive online partner, Amazon, at the time of writing.
The Versa is also lighter than the Ionic and Apple Watch. At just 38g, it's the lightest amongst its prime competition: 41g or 50g for the Apple Watch, depending on which variant you pick up, and 47g for the Ionic.
Moving on to the user interface, the Versa has three buttons just as on the Ionic: one on the left and two on the right. All three can be used to wake up the screen, but only the left button puts it to sleep. You can also tap on the display or tilt the watch towards you to wake it. On the main screen, aka the watch face, the two right buttons act as shortcuts to the first two apps (top-left and bottom-left) on your first app screen.
Swiping up from the bottom on the watch face brings up the Today app, which gives you a quick glance at important stuff, such as battery life, stats for the day, and the last three exercise sessions that the Versa tracked. Swiping down on the watch face brings up notifications as it would on phones, and you can tap on them to read more or even reply. (Yep, smart replies are here for Android users; we'll get to that in a minute.) Swiping left on the watch face lets you browse through your installed apps, in groups of four.
Like all Fitbit products, the Versa needs the Fitbit app for Android or iOS in order to work. While the app began life as a pure fitness tracker, the company's foray into smartwatches has complicated its interface over time. That means needing more taps than should be necessary to get where you want to go, such as changing watch faces and installing new apps.
Though the app is complex, Fitbit OS on the Versa (and Ionic, for that matter) is anything but. The company has taken a minimalistic approach, and the UI makes use of distinctive colours to help with recognition. With a recent update, both the Ionic and the Versa are now capable of sending quick replies when paired with Android phones. You can choose between five customisable text responses and half a dozen emojis, and they work with most common apps, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram, among others. The functionality depends on the quick actions implemented by the developer of the app.
As before, there are tons of watch face options available for the Versa. Unlike the Apple Watch, you can also install third-party offerings. Fitbit is trying to show devs what's possible with watch faces beyond just cramming in information, and so we have Fitbit Labs, which includes unique little interactions such as "taking care" of a dog or a cat by essentially "feeding" it steps.
But since Fitbit OS has only been around for a short while, the app collection is still sparse compared to watchOS and Wear OS. It's also far too US-centric, with the likes of Pandora, Deezer, Yelp, Nest, Walgreens, Starbucks, and United Airlines, none of which are usable in India. That said, there are some useful ones such as Strava, The New York Times, Flipboard, and Tennis from Fitbit Labs. Of course, with big app developers such as Google, Instagram, and Twitter pulling support one by one even for the Apple Watch, it's clear that there's little interest in apps for smartwatches in general.
The Versa lets you listen to music via Bluetooth headphones, but you have to go through the hassle of manually transferring files to its internal storage, which requires a Windows PC or Mac. There's about 2.5GB of available space, if you're wondering.
Like most Fitbit wearables, the Versa is capable of automatic workout detection, which means you don't have to manually start exercise tracking for it to be recorded, provided the activity lasts for a minimum of 15 minutes. During our review period, we found that the Versa was quite good with automatically tracking heavy movement exercises – be it cycling or running – but would fail to pick up a game of tennis if we didn't wear it on our racquet hand.
When it comes to the range of activities, the Versa is on par with the Ionic: it can do running, walking, hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, golf, weightlifting, spinning, yoga, circuit training, kickboxing, martial arts, and Pilates. It can also handle interval workouts and equipment including elliptical trainers, stair climbers, and treadmills. Each activity has a stock image that shows up on the Versa, which we felt was a nice touch.
Unlike the Ionic, the Versa relies on your phone's GPS – Fitbit calls it 'Connected GPS' – since it doesn't have the hardware built in. You can choose whether to have it off or on from the Versa itself, alongside other settings such as automatic laps, auto-detection, auto-pause, and the length of your swimming pool. The Versa is fully waterproof up to 50m, so you can track your swims without worry. We used the Versa daily in the shower, and submerged in into a bucket of water for 10 minutes a few times, and it still runs fine. Remember to wipe it down after it gets wet though, otherwise the sensors might be obstructed.
The Versa underwent our standard testing procedure, with its accuracy at measuring distances tested against mile markers on a running track. We compared the numbers against the reading from a smartphone with built-in GPS (in this case the Samsung Galaxy S8+). Since the Versa doesn't have built-in GPS, this is merely a test of how Fitbit uses the data provided by the phone's sensors versus a leading fitness app, Runkeeper.
Our data set consisted of 10 laps of 500m, with Connected GPS alternately on and off. With Connected GPS turned on, the Versa had an average error rate of 7.17 percent versus Runkeeper on the phone. With Connected GPS turned off, the error rate went up 10.22 percent. In every test, the Versa always estimated lower than the actual distance. Honestly, these aren't great numbers for a product that costs Rs. 20,000. We've seen better from trackers that cost a lot less, such as Samsung's Gear Fit 2 Pro.
That brings us to battery life, easily the biggest selling point for Fitbit's smartwatches. The Versa lasted for over four days, with us checking notifications all the time and tracking exercises every other day. We could stretch it to five and a half days with low activity before we got the low battery warning, which is triggered at 25 percent. You can squeeze a full day in after the prompt first appears. There are no power saving options, but honestly, there's no need for them.
Moreover, the Versa achieves that battery life despite offering continuous heart-rate tracking, even when you're not tracking an activity. That allows the Fitbit smartwatch to collect heart-rate data all day, and in turn give you a more reliable indicator of your resting heart-rate. We found Versa's hear-rate tracking to be fairly accurate, in line with how we were feeling during an exercise.
That continuous heart-rate tracking also helps in other ways. Like the Apple Watch, the Versa offers guided breathing exercises on-board, via the Relax app, in either 2- or 5-minute options. Once you hit start, it analyses your breathing pattern by reading your heart-rate and then "guides" you to inhale and exhale by creating vibration patterns on your wrist.
Meanwhile, inside the Fitbit app, the heart-rate data is used to determine your Cardio Fitness Level, which shows how fit you are for your age and gender, by estimating your VO2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise). As we noted in our review of the Fitbit Charge 2, it should be seen as an estimate since a proper evaluation requires a controlled lab environment.
With its second smartwatch, the Versa, Fitbit has improved upon the design. Everyone will be okay with being seen with the Versa on their wrist, which can't be said of the Ionic's edgy design and large trapezoid ends. Plus, the Versa retains everything good about the Ionic (save for the in-built GPS), including full waterproofing and a battery that lasts nearly a full workweek. Fitbit deserves praise just for that, considering how difficult it is to manage battery life on any device with an LCD screen.
Add to that Fitbit's fitness ecosystem, which the company has been building for longer than most. The company recently improved functionality by adding female health tracking – and maintains a lead over Apple Health, Google Fit and Samsung Health. With Fitbit also improving its watch through updates (quick replies among those), the Versa is a great new contender at around the Rs. 20,000 price point.
Of course, there are problems. There are very few apps (and no basic offerings such as an official Maps app) and there's no voice assistant from Fitbit, à la Siri on Apple Watch and Google Assistant on Wear OS. And then, there's also the matter of inaccurate tracking, which is not acceptable for a fitness tracker at this price point. Laughably, Fitbit has introduced another proprietary design on the charging front. It eschews the magnetic hook of the Ionic, and opts for a cradle that holds the Versa in place.
If you have an iPhone and an Apple Watch Series 3 seems too expensive, you could save Rs. 10,000 and choose the Series 1. For those who have an Android device, or are open to stepping outside the Apple ecosystem, the Versa is worth a look. The Versa could also be attractive if you're buying a smartwatch for the fitness side of things, where Fitbit remains one of the best in the industry.
A problem unique to India is the minimal price difference between the Versa and the Ionic, and this makes choosing between the two Fitbit smartwatches tougher than it should be. The Ionic costs just Rs. 3,000 more and gives you in-built GPS, allowing you to leave your phone behind. On the other hand, if looks are more important, then the Versa is the best that Fitbit has to offer right now.
Price: Rs. 19,999, available via Amazon in black, grey, and peach
Ratings (out of 5)
Other features: 4
Value for money: 3