Fitbit is in the midst of a transformation, with the company pushing into healthcare and software services to buoy device sales. It’s a transition that is very much reflected in its latest smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa 2.
The original Versa was a huge success for Fitbit, but the the Versa Lite – its pared down, cheaper model – was less so. The Versa 2 has elements of both of those predecessors with some notable new features, the biggest being Alexa.
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Yes, Amazon’s smart voice assistant is at your beck and call on the Versa 2. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Alexa on the wrist, but it is the first time on a Fitbit device. How does it work? How does the Versa 2 compare to what came before it? Here’s our verdict.
Fitbit Versa 2: Design
From a distance, the Versa 2 is the same as it ever was, with the same recognizable square face doing its best job of imitating the Apple Watch while being just different enough. Look more closely and you’ll see several subtle improvements. First of all, the Fitbit logo is gone.
Second is the new new curved glass display, which gives the Versa 2 a much more stylish – and yes, Apple Watch-ier, look. It’s a step away from the angular design of Fitbit’s last few devices, and CEO James Park tells me the Versa 2 is a halfway point of a larger transition to rounder shapes, so expect the Versa 3 to evolve accordingly, when it comes.
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Speaking of the screen, there’s 0.05 more inches of it on the Versa 2, and Fitbit has swapped out the LCD for an AMOLED display. It’s a 300 x 300 pixel resolution and 1,000 nits in brightness, and by all these powers combined the Versa 2 screen is easier to see under sunlight. The Versa 2 is also the first Fitbit smartwatch to offer an always-on display mode that shows you the time, date, battery life and a couple of performance stats – but be warned, this will impede battery life.
But while Fitbit has added, it’s also taken away. The Versa 2 now has just one physical button, on its left side, which means two have vanished. It’s actually the same layout as the Versa Lite, and, while Fitbit didn’t find much success with that smartwatch, it believes the simplified input system was better. That button can be used to turn the screen on or off (you can also activate it by turning your wrist, if you enable it) and to go back a screen when flicking through the menu.
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Flip the Versa 2 over and the sensors and charging port on the back both sit in a more unified, curved square that’s more comfortable against the wrist. Front and back the Fitbit Versa 2 is simpler, cleaner, tidier. It also comes in a different lineup of colors and materials: black with a carbon case, petal (pinkish) with a copper rose aluminum case, and stone (grey) with a grey case; plus a couple of special edition models with funky bands. Remember, bands will work across all Versa models, too, so those upgrading rom the original or Lite model won’t need to start their collection of straps from scratch.
Fitbit Versa 2: Fitness and features
We’ll get onto Alexa shortly, but health and fitness are still front and center of the Fitbit experience. The Versa 2 is set up to track running, biking, swimming and gym workouts. I’ve tested it with a handful of these and the Versa 2 has mostly performed as hoped, and all the better thanks to the faster chip that’s now running the Versa 2.
During a couple of outdoor runs, I was pleased to see the sensor keeping up with me for the most part, but – and if you’ve read any of our earlier Fitbit review, you’ll know this one – it still falters at higher-intensity exercises.
An outdoor run tracked by Fitbit Versa 2 (left) and Polar chest strap (right)
During intervals, I could see the Versa 2 lagging behind my Polar H10 chest-strap in the live readings – sometimes as much as 10bpm, although the final graphs and peaks weren’t terribly off. Now, how much does this matter? It depends on what you’re looking for here. Are you looking for a running watch that can handle interval training and those more intensive workouts? Get a Garmin or use a chest strap. Otherwise, the Versa 2 does just fine.
Weight training (left) and cycling (right) on the Versa 2
But on top of exercise the watch also tracks your heart rate 24/7, and sleep during the night. I’ve tracked my sleep with the Versa 2 every night of the testing process, and I’ve observed two things: It’s really good at knowing when I fall asleep and less good at knowing when I wake up. I think this is because it relies on a lot of movement to tell when I’m fully awake, and so on a few occasions it’s told me I woke up around 15 minutes later than I know I did (because I pressed the button on the watch to check the time). That aside, Fitbit still has the most accurate sleep tracking, and its Sleep Insights, giving you tips based on your sleep ‘performance’, are a nice extra, though I sometimes wish these dug a little deeper.
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At some point in the near future, Fitbit will roll out a graph in the app that shows estimated blood oxygen levels, so long as you have one of the more recent devices with an SpO2 sensor on it, but this will be a basic graph that will simply show trends over time. Fitbit is still in the process of obtaining FDA approval to use its SpO2 technology to track atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea. It’s now completed clinical studies on the latter, but there’s still no timeline on when these feature may arrive.
One thing it does lack is built-in GPS. Instead, the Versa 2 tethers the GPS connection from your phone, and this has worked perfectly fine during my outside runs and bike rides. Really, so long as your phone’s GPS is tracking, the Versa 2 can as well. Built-in GPS is the only reason you would opt for the Fitbit Ionic over the Versa 2, but the Ionic has not been a big success for Fitbit, and I wonder if it would be smarter to put GPS in the Versa 2 and get rid of the Ionic entirely, while offering the Versa Lite for anyone who wanted something cheaper. Or maybe I’m wrong, and actually not that many people care about having built-in GPS. Most of us still run with our phones anyway, and until Fitbit has better options for offline music, it may be a moot point.
Yes, music. The Versa 2 once again has a native music player that can hold up to around 300 tracks, but you’ll need to literally upload the digital files from a computer. One brand new feature of the Versa 2 is the Spotify app, but unlike its integrations on Garmin’s and Samsung’s watches, you can’t sync music offline. Instead, you can start a playlist or a “Made for” mix (IE Discover Weekly, Release Radar etc). It’s fine, and handy so long as I don’t want to search for a specific album or artist.
Another nice change on the Versa 2 is that Fitbit Pay is on board all Versa 2 watches, whereas it had been limited to the special editions in the past. That means you’ll be able to link a bank card (so long as it’s supported) and pay from your wrist, no matter which Versa 2 edition you go for.
Later this month, Fitbit will also roll out its Premium service in the app, which offers up guided health programs for targeting areas like exercise, sleep and stress. It will also eventually offer personal health coaching, connecting you with a (human and certified) wellness advisor to offer personalized advice – but this won’t launch until 2020. It’s Fitbit’s first major paid-for service, something it’s betting big on for its longevity as a company. Premium is perhaps the biggest signifier of that transition I talked about, as Fitbit bets its future on software services alongside its devices. Premium will cost $9.99 a month (or $79.99 a year) when it rolls out this month.
Fitbit Versa 2: Alexa on the wrist
A few have tried (and failed) to put Alexa in a smartwatch, but the Versa 2 demonstrates the best execution I’ve seen of it so far, even if it’s not perfect. Here’s how it works: You hold down the side button, wait for the Alexa symbol to appear, ask it a question and wait for it to (hopefully) display the answer on the screen.
There’s no speaker on the Versa 2, so all of Alexa’s responses are text-based. And if you’re an Alexa user already, the good news is that Alexa on Fitbit can also control your smart home devices as it would when commanded through an Echo speaker. I’ve asked it to dim lights, adjust speaker volume, and even play specific radio stations on certain speaker groups in my home. You can also use it to set alarms, or get it to display your day’s fitness goals (if you’re too lazy to swipe down to the dashboard).
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When it works, it’s great. The problem is that it often doesn’t. Sometimes this is because Alexa hears me and chooses to straight-up blank me, but more commonly it’s because Alexa returns a message informing me the connection with the phone has stopped. This kept happening during testing so I asked Fitbit about it, and it told me it’s a “known issue” due to the mechanism by the phone to manage background applications. It told me it’s working on a fix and that the performance should improve with future updates.
I hope so, because it’s a real let-down, and there’s a risk that users will find it inconsistent, switch it off and not bother with Alexa at all.
Fitbit 2: Battery life
Battery life is where Fitbit has the upper hand on Apple, and it’s the same story on the Versa 2. Fitbit says you can get up to five days of battery life on this thing, and I managed to get exactly that during my first week. But if you do use exercise modes and Alexa more intensively, you won’t make it that far – as I discovered in my second week. Using the always-on display also brought the battery life down to around three days, and I suspect if I had been tracking more exercises in that time, it would have been closer to two.
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Fitbit Versa 2
Alexa is the star of the show here, but it’s the small improvements in the design and software that really make the Versa 2 feel like a leap ahead. There are bugs that need fixing, and some people will simply want something more stylish, but this is without a doubt Fitbit’s best smartwatch yet.
- Rounder, curved design
- Alexa’s handy (when it works)
- Fitbit Pay on all models
- Alexa bug needs fixing
- Still not good for HIIT workouts
- No built-in GPS