When it comes to smartwatches, Apple Watch is king. It offers the best combination of useful features and a tight integration with iPhone. Problem is, it excludes a lot of Android users out there and might be overkill for many people who don’t need so many features.
I’ve been wearing the Fitbit Versa for a few weeks now and it is easily the best alternative to the Apple Watch for many reasons. You get a lot of the useful features you need without a lot of fuss. Let’s take a look at why I’m loving this smartwatch so much.
For starters, it looks and feels great. The Fitbit Versa is lightweight and has a super slim profile. The color screen is super bright and vivid and way better than it’s predecessor, the Fitbit Blaze. On that watch you could see individual pixels on screen – that’s no longer the case.
Setup was a little rough – it took longer than I expected and the process failed once at the end, but overall, once you take the half hour or so to connect the Versa to your phone and download the latest software, you really don’t have to worry about this process much again. The nice thing here is that the Versa works equally well with iPhones and Android devices.
Wearing the Versa is comfortable and the battery lasts just as long as advertised: about 4 days. This alone is fantastic. It’s so nice to not have to charge it every day and you can even go on a short weekend trip without taking an additional charger.
Fitbit Versa has lots of great stats to report back to you. For starters, you get your steps, floors climbed and your heart rate all day long. I’m a big fan of the active minutes, which is a good indication of good physical activity you’re getting throughout the day and when you workout.
I took the Versa on several runs and was very happy with the results. The big thing the Versa doesn’t have is GPS. This sounds bad but in reality, it isn’t much of a downside except to the most devout athletes who need super exact stats and maps of their runs.
The Versa does have something called “connected GPS,” which means if your phone is nearby when you’re working out, it will simply use GPS data from sensors on your phone to fill in the blanks. I ran without my phone and found the stats collected by the Fitbit on its own to be just fine. It can still use onboard sensors like its accelerometer and algorithms to figure out how far you’re running and your pace and all of that. I’m a very big runner and I had no issues with the no-GPS feature on the Versa.
Another feature I was excited to try out on the Versa is the ability to store music on the device. This is the holy grail for runners since you can run without your phone nearby – just connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones to your Versa and you’re free to run. Unfortunately, I found that you can’t easily transfer your own music files without connecting the Versa to your computer. That’s sort of a bummer and I hope that they change this in a future software update. When I tapped the option to transfer music files it said to connect the Versa to my computer, which would require downloading more software to accomplish this.
I wasn’t ready for that reality, so I skipped my own files and decided to go the easier route – signing up for Pandora. If you pay $5 a month to subscribe to Pandora, your Versa will wirelessly download a selection of workout playlists for you everytime you charge your device. This process was much easier, and it works well. I’m not thrilled at the aspect of paying $5 for an additional music service every month when I already pay $15 a month for a Spotify family plan, but I can always cancel and upload my own music files in the future.
Versa does have an ever-growing selection of onboard apps – like Starbucks, Hue, Nest, United Airlines and Yelp – but I don’t really see myself using these on the Versa’s tiny screen. Perhaps the Starbucks app to link my card and pay for coffee from my wrist, but in many cases, it’s just easier to reach for your phone.
Software on the Versa is good but still not great. There’s a bit of lag at times and it’s just not as slick as I’d like. With that said, it’s totally fine for everyday use. You can get notifications from your phone like texts and others, as well as little reminders to move and breathing exercises. There are also built-in presets for tracking various types of workouts including Run, Bike, Swim, Treadmill, Weights, Interval Timer and the catch-all “Workout.” You can also set “silent alarms” which gently vibrate the Fitbit Versa on your wrist and are a nice way to wake up from a nap (I still don’t trust a silent alarm to wake me up in the morning!). There is also a selection of guided mini workouts you can do right from your wrist, weather reports, a stopwatch and timer.
Some of my favorite stats on the Versa are the active minutes and sleep insights. Active minutes are awarded after 10 minutes of “continuous moderate to intense activity” according to the Fitbit website. I aim for 30 active minutes a day. You might even earn these throughout your day depending on what line of work you’re in. I’ve even earned them after a long day of travel with my son. It’s a lot of work huffing through an airport with a 6-year-old! These are my favorite stat on the Versa, and something I’ve gotten really used to checking. It helps me understand if I’m getting enough physical activity in my life. If you actually work out, like at an Orangetheory class, you’ll earn many, many more active minutes.
Sleep stats are my other favorite. I love seeing how much sleep I’m getting each night and the quality of that sleep. Versa shows you how long you spent Awake, in REM, Light and Deep sleep. You can also see your 30-day average and benchmark yourself against others in your similar age and sex. For reference, Apple Watch can track sleep but only with third party apps and I can’t speak to the quality of their information. At some point, Apple will build this functionality into Apple Watch but I don’t think the battery on that device can support the feature right now in a high-quality way.
Fitbit Versa is water resistant, so you can leave it on in the shower or even take a swim with it. This is really nice since you don’t have to worry about ruining your device in the pool or when you’re being active. I have left it on in the shower but normally would recommend taking it off. That’s a good time to charge it up!
Speaking of charging, the charging cradle for the Versa is new and improved. Unlike the Blaze, you no longer have to pop out a portion of the watch to charge it. With Versa, the entire watch sits in an expanding cradle, band and all. It’s much more convenient. The bands also easily come off so you can replace them. I don’t think Versa band is as nice with what comes with the Apple Watch, but you do have the option to swap out at a later time if you find something nicer.
Overall, I can’t recommend the Fitbit Versa enough. It’s best for daily health tracking for the average person. If you’re a big-time athlete or runner who needs specific stats, you’d probably be better served with a more niche device or the Apple Watch. If you have an iPhone and are trying to decide between Apple Watch and Versa, it really comes down to how much you want to spend (Versa is $130 less than the entry-level Apple Watch) and if you will use all the additional features available on Apple Watch like onboard GPS, tight integration with iPhone and Apple Music, and on-screen apps. If you have an Android device, the Versa is a no-brainer. It’s just smart enough to feed you useful stats about your health but without notification or information overload.
Fitbit Versa is $200 and available now. There is a version with mobile payment built in for $230.