The Fitbit Versa 2 Chases Apple's Dominance

By Alex Cranz on at

The new Fitbit Versa 2 seems awfully aware of the issues Fitbit has had with its smartwatches for the last few cycles. The product, announced today, seems to address many of the previous issues with the line while also keeping some of the things that we love about the predecessors. It’s also offering a smartwatch that looks like an Apple device, but at a much lower price, and best of all, it’s offering Alexa integration that gives you a nice break from Apple and Google.

The Versa, which was Fitbit’s first very affordable and not absolutely hideous foray into smartwatches, was a lot cheaper than the Apple Watch, with exceptional battery life and a far better fitness tracking experience. Only it lacked Apple’s ecosystem as well as a few key features that made Apple’s smartwatch the smarter buy. The Versa Lite cut the budget and the features even further, but it still couldn’t quite nail the “the smartwatch for people who don’t want an Apple device.” The Fitbit 2 is clearly mindful of these problems.

The device, which is available September 15 of this year for £200, looks an awful lot like the previous versions (and the Apple Watch). It’s more refined with an upgraded always-on display. That means you shouldn’t have to press a button to see the display, just turn it to your face and it flickers on. While this will probably mean less impressive battery life than the previous Versa, Fitbit claims it should still last multiple days on a charge. My Apple Watch Series 4, for reference, lasts a day.

Fitbit has had a problem with displays versus its competitors. The company opts for big bezels, tiny watch faces, and ultimately battery performance over minuscule pixels and high resolution. That’s welcome in a fitness tracker, but smartwatches are expected to fill a more luxurious niche and those choices made previous Versas feel cheaper than they are. Although at £200 or less, they’ve always been on the cheap end of the smartwatch spectrum.

The display on the Versa 2 is a major upgrade. The new AMOLED display is very bright and easy to read, with rich colours and a nice sharpness to fonts. However, as with the previous Versa, there’s a big and unsightly bezel. A big bezel on a watch that otherwise looks like an Apple device marks this as a pretender to the Apple Watch’s throne. Yet it might not be a pretender. It could very well be the smartwatch to buy.

The Versa 2 has things going for it that the Apple Watch does not. It uses Fitbit’s app which means it automatically does a significantly better job relaying all the data it’s collecting back to you. Apple’s Watch my collect a similar amount of data, but the Health app is notoriously bad at delivering that data to you in a really useful way.

This year, Fitbit also made improvements to sleep tracking and introduced a sleep score, which rates your sleep on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being some high grade (and hopefully restorative) snoozes. There’s also a new smart wake feature, which attempts to wake you up when you’re already sleeping lightly. Both features are pretty standard among the array of sleep apps available on Android and iOS, but many people prefer a one-stop-shop for all their wellness needs, and having a robust sleep tracking element added to an already robust fitness app is extremely welcome.

Fitbit also has added an Estimated Oxygen Variation Graph, which it’s planning to launch at a later date on the Versa 2. The Idea is it will measure the oxygen levels in your bloodstream and note variances that you should possibly see a doctor about. That could be great for sufferers of sleep apnea – if it works as described.

The most contentious addition to the Versa 2 is Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Instead of tapping into Siri or Google Assistant, the Versa will allow you to activate Alexa. Press and hold the single button the Versa and Alexa will prompt you to engage. It feels like a punchline right? Oh, a non-Apple or Google product just tossing in Alexa. Yet on a smartwatch, a voice assistant can be useful. While we might have concerns about Amazon’s business and privacy practices. it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of Alexa. Particularly versus Apple’s much dumber Siri.

The Versa 2 also ends the Versa’s practice of saving features for the special edition. $200 will get you a Versa 2 in either carbon (black), copper rose (rose gold), or mist grey (grey). A special edition version, offered in copper rose or mist grey, will cost a little more and include an additional wrist band as well as 90 days of Fitbit Premium (more on that in a second).

Those are the only differences. Crucial features like NFC support will be available on all models. (GPS will be available, but only when tethered to a phone).

But let’s got back to talking about Fitbit Premium, the new service Fitbit announced today. A pilot program will launch later this year and give subscribers more in-depth data from workouts and sleep sessions, as well as guidance. For a monthly fee, Fitbit Premium promises to give you better guidance on sleep and workouts (adjusting reps when you’re fatigued or reminding you that a jog at a certain time of day seems to help you sleep better). Fitbit also promises to expand the guidance to include challenges, health coaching, and health reports that can be printed out and shared with a physician.

The pilot program will launch in English in the U.S. in October 2019. More languages and locations will be available as the service is fully released in 2020.

Besides a new watch and new service Fitbit has also introduced a new smart scale for the home. The Fitbit Aria Air is the cheapest smart scale Fitbit has released at just $50 (UK price TBA, but likely £50). A cheaper device will mean fewer metrics though. While the Aria Air will measure your weight and BMI and sync via Bluetooth, it lacks quicker wifi, or the ability to measure body fat percentage or lean mass.

The Aria Air will ship later this September. The Versa 2 will ship September 15. Fitbit’s new service, Premium, will begin its pilot program in October. So stay tuned for more in-depth looks at all three.