Three years ago, Fitbit purchased smartwatch maker, Pebble, in a push to gain a foothold in the market. A short while later, the company launched its first attempt at a Fitbit-branded smartwatch, the Ionic. But things didn’t go to plan for the fitness device manufacturer, as they were unable to compete with the likes of Apple, Samsung and other smartwatches of the era. Back to the drawing board they went and created the lighter and more affordable Fitbit Versa. Having offered consumers a smartwatch with the basic features at the right price point hit the mark, after which Fitbit doubled down on its findings with an even more affordable Versa Lite. With the success of both units and the ever-changing technological landscape of fitness devices, Fitbit launched the updated Versa 2.
While many smartwatches include features that are aimed at replacing the need to remove your smartphone from your pocket when on the go, the Versa 2 (and the rest of the range) offers users a more basic feature set, focused rather on fitness tracking first, before any smartwatch capabilities. Having reviewed and owned the original Versa, I take a closer look at the Versa 2 and whether it’s worth an update.
Build and Design
In terms of its build, Fitbit designers have kept the rounded-square design, otherwise known as the ‘squircle’. The original rounded-square design was made popular with Apple’s Watch, something that was extended to the original Versa and Versa Lite units. The Versa 2 has a 12mm thickness, which is fractionally larger than the Apple Watch. Thanks to its tapered edges, which is thin on the edges and thicker in the middle closer to the heart-rate monitor, unit actually appears as thinner to the eye. This slight design change has made quite a difference, creating a much sleeker unit. In addition to this, Fitbit also removed their logo from the face of the unit, adding a more premium look as well.
The bezels on the unit are quite thick, however, but are hidden against the black background of the AMOLED screen. From certain angles in the right light, you can see these, but it doesn’t affect the look too much. The addition of the AMOLED, while looking great (more on that later), also allows for an ‘always-on’ option, a huge bonus for many users easily irritated by having to twist your arm in a specific manner to turn on the screen. The screen is also protected by means of Gorilla Glass 3, making it more durable, scratch-resistant and lightweight at the same time.
As with the Versa Lite, Fitbit has stuck to its single-button approach, which adds to the design, while also making it easier to use overall. The button is used to turn on the screen when its off, as well as turn it off from the main screen. From all the other screens, however, it acts as the ‘back’ button. The rest of the operation of the device is done by means of the touch interface.
The standard Fitbit Versa 2 unit is available in five different colour options. The Special Edition variant is available in two colours, with a more premium look and feel, especially when it comes to the straps.
Fitness and Features
While the screen has seen a visual improvement over previous Versa units, it wouldn’t be much to look at if not for additional clock faces and customisable settings. Thankfully, there’s quite a lot of that for the Fitbit Versa 2. What I’ve found in many previously reviewed smartwatches and trackers, there’s very little in the way of watch faces other than the defaults available from the manufacturer. The Versa 2 has an extensive number of options available, both from the Fitbit themselves, as well as from third-party developers. There’s a wide variety to choose from across a number of categories as well, the most I’ve seen for any smartwatch. What is annoying about the different clock faces, however, is that users will need to download each and sync to the device from the app. This becomes a small frustration if you’re in the habit of regularly making such changes, as they cannot be downloaded to the device and swapped out on the fly.
In the settings, you can adjust the screen brightness to three settings: dim, normal and max. At the lowest setting, the brightness is sufficient in most lighting environments, although could be a tad brighter when in direct sunlight. This makes the ‘normal’ setting the best in all environments. I would suspect that ‘max’ setting is for users with poorer eyesight, as it’s unnecessarily bright, worse when indoors. The quality is great as well, with menus looking a lot crisper than its predecessors, even though the images and icons are the same. Users can view all their latest history from the two types of menus, one being the drop-down menu, the other being the opposite, slide-up option. The drop-down menu is more of a shortcut while the swipe-up options provide stats on your activities, sleep and the likes.
One of the biggest additions to the Fitbit Versa 2 in terms of its feature set is the inclusion of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. While users are able to customise the long-press option on the button, the default is to run Alexa. Here you can give voice prompts directly to your watch and have the information provided back to you as required. To enable the feature, you’ll first have to setup Alexa on the Fitbit app, as well as the Alexa app on your smartphone in order to get the most out of the experience. It’s also worth pointing out that you will have to have your smartphone nearby at all times when using Alexa, even when asking it to provide weather updates.
The range of questions you can ask is also quite broad, as the integration to the Alexa app means you have access to most of its voice commands. There is also a limitation on the Versa 2 in that users aren’t able to wake watch by means of a voice prompt, with Alexa activated solely via the button or drop-down menu. While I found the feature impressive, it’s still a bit of an odd task for me to ask my watch (verbally) to perform any kind of task, whether in public or when I’m alone. It just doesn’t feel natural to me as yet. It also didn’t help much that the integration on the Versa 2 seemed a tad slow, with a few hits and misses when it comes to responses, which are also limited to just text-based answers.
Other useful additions to the Versa 2 is being able to reply to messages directly from the device, although this is limited to just five default responses currently. Perhaps being able to narrate a message via Alexa would be a great integration feature, as typing on the small screen will be impractical.
One of the caveats of offering a more streamlined smartwatch at a reduced price is that some features would have to be sacrificed. One of the biggest omissions for me, personally, is that the unit doesn’t include a built-in GPS. Instead, users are still required to have their smartphones along for the run if they wish to track accurate distances and locations. I’m not one for add-on pouches and the likes when I run, preferring to run with as little additional accessories on my person as possible. As such, not having the GPS tracker is big one for me not to have been included, especially since it is available in the more affordable Fitbit Charge 3.
While the Fitbit fitness community has grown somewhat in recent years, as well as a number of goals, tasks and tracking options, the eco-system is still missing adequate 3rd-party presence to make this a true smartwatch. Not being able to download custom apps to the device does take away from the overall experience, where we rely heavily on Fitbit itself to provide all the apps and features we’ll need off the bat, rather than it being able to be developed and uploaded as and when someone spots a gap.
Performance and Battery Life
With every Fitbit device that has gone before, the focus has always been about managing your fitness. The Versa 2 does all that with relative ease. Users can customise their favourite workouts, as well as how the information is displayed onscreen during those workouts. Tracking distance is accurate, even when not using the paired GPS feature, with steps around 95% of that measured during a GPS-tracked run.
One of the noticeable improvements on the Versa 2 is the speed of interaction when scrolling through the various menus. While there wasn’t an issue on the original Versa to speak of, with no lag or jitter either, using the two devices side by side is an indication of the small improvements being made with each iteration. Fitbit has bolted on a new CPU under the hood, which allows for more performance gains, as well as efficiency when it comes to the battery life. Swiping through the menus are a breeze with smooth animations and transitions.
On the battery, Fitbit has kept the indicated battery life at five days as with the original. During my testing, however, the results averaged between six and seven days, never less than the former. This is quite useful to be able to extend the battery life across the entire workweek without having to worry about needing a recharge. Having switched to the Dim light setting for the interface, I was able to extract another day of use from the unit during the week, which is something to consider when in use. I wasn’t fond of the always-on option available on the unit nor did I use the music feature on a regular basis. When I tested these daily, as many would, the battery life halved more or less to three to four days. Still, it’s quite a good result in terms of longevity.
As always, with many of the most recent Fitbit units, it does a great job at tracking sleep, providing great stats on your type of sleep, the various stages, your overall sleep score and quite a bit more. Being able to view your quick stats from the watch itself is also very handy.
While the music feature has been available on a few other Fitbit devices previously, users have a few options to choose from. The first of these is Spotify, which comes as a default app within the menu. That said, the app on the watch acts as an interface or remote to control music playing from your phone, which is needed when in use. While the unit does have 2.5GB worth of storage available, you won’t be able to store any offline music from Spotify. On the other hand, you can do so for Deezer as well as the native Music app. Users can transfer music from their laptops to the Versa 2 by means of the desktop app over WiFi. These two options are better suited for running as the unit is able to pair directly to your Bluetooth audio device to play music from the watch.
With the smartphone being such a ubiquitous part of everyday life, the less intuitive smartwatch isn’t always the ideal replacement for most users. As such, the price of these units isn’t always justified. This is exactly where the Fitbit Versa 2 comes in, offering great features that are useful to the user, while not costing an arm and a leg to own one. There’s also a great deal of features available on the device, from fitness and sleep tracking to having your music on the go.
When it comes to fitness capabilities, the Fitbit Versa 2 won’t let you down, offering a host of features and tracking options. It also provides quite a bit of sleep and health tracking to greater insights into your daily activities. There are few additional features available on the unit, but many of these are locked behind a subscription, which is frustrating to the average user. That said, if you’re serious about improving your fitness, weight loss and the likes, it may be something worth investing in.
The Fitbit Versa 2
The Fitbit Versa 2 offers great value, cutting out the bloat of the common smartwatch and focusing on what's important for the user instead. The unit provides great fitness and sleep tracking, along with onboard storage for music and direct Bluetooth audio device playback. There are sufficient upgrades to make it a worthwhile upgrade for owners of the original.