The R4,500 Fitbit Versa is the best smartwatch I've ever used — yes, even better than the Apple Watch
With the Fitbit Versa, Fitbit has created a near-perfect smartwatch.
The Versa — available in South Africa from around R4,485 to R4 975 — is Fitbit's second "true smartwatch." It has Fitbit's fitness tracking built in, along with a touchscreen that provides on-watch workouts, call, and text alerts, and in-depth fitness stats.
I tried Fitbit Versa for a little under a week, testing whether it held up to Fitbit's claims of four-day battery life (it did!) and whether it could be a more accessible, lower-cost option than the Apple Watch.
After several days of wearing Fitbit Versa nearly nonstop, I can say it's Fitbit's best wearable yet, and one of my favorite smartwatches I've ever tried.Take a look at the Fitbit Versa, and why I like it more than the Apple Watch:
Fitbit says the Versa was designed with smaller wrists in mind, and it shows.
Typically, after wearing a watch on my wrist for long periods, it starts to feel constricting. When I come home at the end of the day, I can't wait to take it off. But I never felt that way while wearing Fitbit Versa. I slept with the watch on one night — something I never, ever do — and it was perfectly comfortable.
And while you can't really tell from the photos, Fitbit Versa is smaller and better designed for thin wrists. I never felt like the watch overwhelmed my wrist or looked like I was wearing a man's watch. On the flip side, it's not overly feminine. I tried the black version of the Versa, and it would work just as well for men.
The overall design does look ... familiar.
One thing that has to be said about the Fitbit Versa's design: It looks just like an Apple Watch at first glance. I know this because more than once while testing it, someone said, "Oh, you're using an Apple Watch?"
I feel conflicted about that similarity. On the one hand, it's smart thinking. Analysts estimate that Apple is the biggest watchmaker in the world, outselling Rolex, Omega, and Swatch combined. Why wouldn't Fitbit want a piece of that? (Plus, Fitbit's first watch — Fitbit Ionic — wasn't exactly great-looking, so the Versa is a welcome change.)On the other hand, the design feels lazy. I've never loved the design of the Apple Watch to begin with, and Fitbit's version is only marginally better.
The band went a long way toward making Fitbit Versa feel more high end than its R4 000 price tag.
I tried the Fitbit Versa in black with a metal mesh band for everyday wear and a white classic band for working out.
The metal mesh band instantly elevated the watch. It didn't look so much like a fitness tracker, but rather a fashionable watch that I was happy to wear every day.I was worried that Fitbit Versa would feel cheap, especially since it's so lightweight and reasonably priced. But the watch is sturdy and well made, and the stylish accessories helped it look and feel high end.
Fitbit says the Versa's battery life lasts for four days — I got even more than that.
I received my Fitbit Versa on a Tuesday afternoon and charged it up for an hour or so after unboxing it. But I unplugged it at about 90% because I didn't have time to fully charge it up.
I wore the watch until the following Monday morning without charging it. It finally died around 11 a.m., but it even lasted almost another hour after getting to dangerously low levels and blinking at me repeatedly. It meant I got a full five days of battery life off a single charge, and not even a full charge at that. I don't expect that will be the case for everyone, or that I'll even get that same kind of battery life from the Fitbit Versa going forward. But not having to charge the watch every night was an incredible perk, and a game changer compared to other smartwatches on the market.One thing to note: I was surprised when I first took the Versa's charging dock out of box. Compared to chargers for other smartwatches, it's downright enormous. Since you don't have to charge the watch very often, I suppose it's not a big deal, but the charger isn't as portable as others out there.
Fitbit Versa doesn't have many apps — and that's a good thing.
I often find that smartwatches duplicate the efforts of my smartphone. My watch will send me all the same notifications I'm getting on my phone without adding any value. As someone who sits at a desk all day, I don't really need that functionality.
But Fitbit Versa keeps it simple. The watch has only a handful of apps preloaded, and none of them are messaging, email, or traditional social apps. Instead, it's apps like the weather, and meditation. You don't even have the option to load on Gmail or Twitter, which means you're not constantly being pelted with notifications or distracted by frequent buzzes on your wrist. Fitbit Versa will alert you to phone calls and text messages, but doesn't allow you to respond to messages on the watch, at least for iPhone users. (Android users will get quick replies soon, which means you'll be able to reply with short, preloaded messages.) That was fine by me, since I was alerted to urgent things like calls and texts, but able to ignore other irritating notifications or the resist to check my email late at night.By the end of five days with Fitbit Versa, I felt like that watch did just enough to keep me connected, but not too much to make me feel overwhelmed.
It wouldn't be Fitbit if fitness tracking weren't front and center, and the Versa is no exception.
Much like Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit Versa has on-watch workouts and the ability to track activity like swimming, interval training, and weight-lifting. The watch can also automatically detect activity, or you can cue it up when you're ready to go on a jog.
I didn't find anything groundbreaking with the Versa's fitness tracking abilities. The watch seemed to accurately track things like pace and distance during workouts, and logged things like active minutes without me having to alert my watch that I was going for a long walk.I can't vouch for Fitbit Versa's heart-rate tracking because I didn't compare it with another device, but during the five days I used it, the watch gave me readings on par with what I expected.
One fitness tracking capability unique to Fitbit's smartwatches is an app called Coach, which provides guided workouts like 10-minute abs or 7-minute workouts.
Coach is a paid service — it costs $40 (R470) a year — but I got to try it out free during the course of my review. From my limited sampling of it, Coach is the only part of the Fitbit experience I didn't enjoy. Fitbit says Coach is a personalised service, which is one advantage, but using it didn't feel all that different from workouts I find on YouTube or Pinterest. Having those workouts loaded onto your wrist isn't necessarily easier, either. Ultimately, I'm not sure Coach is worth the annual fee.
So, should you buy Fitbit Versa?
Fitbit Versa is easily the best smartwatch I've used recently. It has every feature I wanted (a heart-rate sensor! and automatic activity tracking! and text-message notifications!) without a confusing interface or crowded app drawer.
On top of that, Fitbit Versa is good-looking, dead simple to set up, lightweight, and, best of all, reasonably priced.
And it's not just the watch that makes Fitbit's newest wearable so pleasant to use. Fitbit has an excellent smartphone app that quickly becomes addicting. You can log your meals, weight, and water intake, keep track of how much you're exercising over time, and compare your overall fitness day to day. The app is quite possibly my favorite Fitbit product — and best of all, you don't need to have a Fitbit device to use it.There was only one thing that disappointed me when it came to the Fitbit Versa: Fitbit announced a new female health-tracking feature when it launched its new products earlier this month, but it's not available on the Versa just yet. Fitbit says it'll be coming in May. Female health tracking is the most exciting and innovative feature of the new watch, and I wish it had been available at launch.
Otherwise, I have virtually no complaints about the Fitbit Versa. Its stunning battery life, stylish and lightweight design, and low price make it my new favorite smartwatch. (Sorry, Apple.)
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