Fitbit is best known for its fitness trackers including the Charge 2, Alta and Flex 2, but over recent years it’s also released a string of fitness-orientated smartwatches – slick, stylish wearables that can do much more than just count steps and calories.
Its most recent smartwatch, the Ionic, is a great looking bit of kit which stumbled in one key area: it lacks the apps to compete with the Apple Watch and WearOS devices like the Huawei Watch 2. We also found its performance – specifically its synchronisation and notification handling – a little patchy at times. When you’re spending the best part of £300 on a smartwatch, it’s fair to demand that these kind of things are up to scratch.
Fitbit’s latest addition to the smartwatch family, the Versa, is substantially cheaper, at only £200. Unfortunately, it’s been necessary to make one or two significant compromises in order to create a great looking watch at such a low price, most notable of which is the lack of GPS. This will leave die-hard fitness enthusiasts frustrated, but if you’re not worried about knowing how many seconds you’ve shaved off your 5K PB, or don’t mind carrying your smartphone on every workout, it might not matter.
Fitbit Versa Review: What you need to know
The Fitbit Versa brings all the best features of the Charge 2 to a device that resembles a smartwatch rather than a chunky charity wristband. As well as displaying phone notifications on your wrist, it automatically logs your steps, calories burned and the quality of your sleep. It’s waterproof to 50m and tracks swims, but there’s no built-in GPS. One advantage the Versa has over the Fitbit’s fitness trackers is that you can store music on the watch by transferring your own files or by using the Deezer app. The Special Edition version of the watch (£219) also comes with an NFC chip for making contactless payments.
Fitbit Versa Review: Price and competition
At £200, the Fitbit Versa is considerably cheaper than the £300 Ionic. However, the Ionic, which has GPS and NFC as standard, has come down in price since it’s launch and you can pick one up for £240.
The cheapest Apple Watch Series 3 is still considerably more expensive than the Fitbit Versa, with prices starting at £329, but two fitness-orientated smartwatches that can rival it for value are the Mobvoi Ticwatch E and S. Despite costing £120 and £150 respectively, both models run Google’s WearOS and come with GPS (but no NFC).
If you’re more interested in fitness features and excellent battery life more than a big screen, the £169 Garmin Vivosport is another great choice. It has GPS, an optical heart rate sensor, and shows smartphone notifications, but doesn’t support music playback.
Fitbit Versa Review: Design
The Versa might look a bit like an Apple Watch imitation with its square aluminium casing and rounded corners but the discreet, lightweight design is perhaps the best thing about it. At 24g without a strap, it’s lighter than the small 38mm Apple Watch, which tips the scales at just under 27g, and it’s drastically less bulky than the Samsung Gear Sport, which weighs 50g.
The watch is also thinner than the Fitbit Charge 2 – measuring only 11mm deep – so most of the time you forget you’re even wearing it. If you’ve previously been put off smartwatches because they look and feel too chunky, you should try the Versa.
Along with three buttons – one on the left side of the casing and two on the right – navigation is via the watch’s 300 x 300 pixel touchscreen display. For a device that costs only £200, the Versa’s screen is a real strong point. Menus look sharp and detailed, colours are bright, and contrast is excellent.
If you want to change the way your Versa looks, its straps can be changed quickly and easily. Unfortunately, though, you’re limited to buying one of Fitbit’s own bands, which can be pricey – the stainless steel strap, for example, costs £90. And although it looks good, I have to say I wasn’t convinced by the £50 leather band that came with our review sample. It wasn’t uncomfortable in the slightest, but its smooth surface slides around a tad too easily on my wrist, which isn’t great if you want to use it while exercising.
Fitbit Versa Review: Features and performance
The Versa incorporates most of the features you’d expect to find in a fitness-orientated smartwatch. The default clock face prominently displays the time and date, but a quick tap of the display jumps between mini widgets displaying your heart rate, step count and calories burned. Swipe up and you’ll get a more detailed breakdown of your day that includes info about your resting heart rate, distance covered and number of staircases climbed, as measured by the watch’s altimeter.
Much like the Apple Watch, the Versa aims to get you on your feet for a set amount of time every hour (presumably because this is proven to have significant health benefits). It vibrates on your wrist to alert you if you’re some way off the target of 250 steps (which can be removed or changed) and you can easily see a summary of how many steps you’ve taken in a given hour from the Today menu, along with the number of hours that day that you’ve successfully met the target.
During the day, the Versa takes your heart rate at five-second intervals, and when you’re exercising it’s measured every second. The readings from the optical sensor were mostly in line with what I was expecting when resting, but they were much more hit-and-miss when exercising, which isn’t uncommon for such technology.
The one glaring omission in terms of fitness features is GPS. When you press the watch’s top-right button you can choose from Run, Cycle, Swim, Treadmill, Weights, Interval Timer and Workout, but because there are no built in location sensors, you’ll need to take your phone with you if you want to accurately track a run or bike ride. Frustratingly, I couldn’t reliably get either of these modes to work when I used the Versa with a OnePlus 5T – “Connected GPS is running” showed every time in my notification tray, but more often than not, the pace and distance widgets simply never moved from zero.
I should add that both modes worked fine when I later paired the watch with a Sony Xperia XA2, but it’s still concerning that some of the Versa’s key features might not work consistently across all Android devices.
The Versa also supports music playback, and can either store up to 300 of your own tracks, or download your Deezer playlists for offline playback. This might sound like a feature worthy of celebration, but when you consider that you’ll most likely have your phone with you when running (in order to use the aforementioned connected GPS feature), it probably makes most sense to connect Bluetooth headphones directly to your handset and save the watch’s battery. Having said that, when you do play music from your phone, the watch has no built-in remote app for skipping tracks or changing the volume.
One area in which the Versa excels is battery life. Fitbit’s wearables have good form for battery life, with the Ionic lasting around five days between charges. The Versa is listed as only needing a charge every four or more days, and this was exactly right– I still had more than 25% battery on a Tuesday afternoon, having charged the watch the previous Friday. This eclipses the performance of wearables like the Apple Watch Series 3 and Fossil Q Control, and goes some way better than the much larger Samsung Gear Sport too. The Garmin Vivoactive 3 is perhaps the only sports-orientated smartwatch that exceeds this, managing up to six days between charges.
Part of the reason for this stellar battery life is that the Versa’s screen is off when you’re not using it. You can activate it with a sharp 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.
Fitbit Versa Review: Apps and Fitbit mobile app
Fitbit OS is mostly very simple to use. While I’m not convinced there’s any benefit in having more than two physical buttons – as far as I can tell the bottom right button only ever acts as a shortcut to one app – you soon get the hang of it. Most things can be found with a matter of only a few presses and swipes.
Like Fitbit smartwatches before it, where the Versa comes bit unstuck is that it doesn’t have very many apps. Most of the important bases are covered – indeed, there’s a Coach mode for guiding your workouts, along with apps for music, alarms, weather, payments and a timer – but in the app store there are still fewer than 100 apps to choose from, most of which are from individual developers. There’s a handful of big names – Strava, New York Times, Hue Lights, Yelp, but most developers’ focus appears to be on custom watch faces, with hundreds on offer to suit everyone from the data obsessed to the minimalist.
The Fitbit smartphone app is also easy to use. You can catch up with all the important details about your day from the app’s home screen, where you can also log your weight, water consumption and meals. Tap the Versa icon in the top corner of the app, and you can set your basic fitness goals, switch clock faces, browse apps and set up Fitbit Pay. In the notifications menu, there’s a decent number of customisation options available too; you choose whether you receive alerts for calls, texts, calendar events, emails, and there’s also the option to enable notifications for any of your other apps.
After the Versa syncs every morning, you can also check how well you slept the night before. Unlike some fitness trackers that only offer info about deep and light sleep, Fitbit’s Sleep Stages uses your heart rate to log time in light, deep and REM phases, along with the amount of time you’ve spent awake each night. Considering WearOS and WatchOS still don’t offer native sleep tracking, that’s one big perk the Fitbit offers over its rivals.
This all sounds great, but when I used with my OnePlus 5T, the Versa’s notification handling and syncing were flakey at best. Notifications scarcely arrived on time and I frequently received notifications asking me to restart my phone to clear the error. Again, these problems largely disappeared when I switched to a Sony Xperia XA2, but I still experienced some syncing issues along with regular crashes in the Fitbit smartphone app, which was disappointing.
Fitbit Versa Review: Verdict
Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Fitbit Versa. It looks and feels better than any other smartwatch that I’ve tested under £200, it’s considerably lighter and less bulky than all of its rivals, and then there’s the outstanding battery life. The Versa lasts some three to four times as long as the Apple Watch Series 3. Let that sink in for a moment. You’ll only need to charge Fitbit’s smartwatch twice a week, at most.
As you’d expect, Fitbit’s latest smartwatch also offers most of the core features that most fitness enthusiasts will look for – there’s heart-rate and sleep analysis, swim tracking, music playback, and of course the basics like step and staircase counting.
Sadly, the lack of in-built GPS will lose the Versa a lot of potential friends. Not being able to track a run or bike ride without a phone in your pocket just won’t cut it for everyone. If that doesn’t bother you, though, then there’s a lot to like here – and the Versa could be the training partner you’ve been looking for.