Let me start out this review by saying I love my Fitbit Versa. There’s a reason it’s Fitbit’s most popular smartwatch. It’s stylish, affordable, the fitness features are solid, and the 5+ days of battery life are a godsend. I’m just tired of every new announcement from Fitbit being a different flavor of Versa – even if the latest Versa 2 is an excellent smartwatch.
When I got my Versa 2 review unit, my soul was tired. Unboxing it, the watch looked nearly identical to the original Versa I had on my wrist – save for a few minor design differences. For starters, there’s no more Fitbit logo on the screen. Like the Lite Edition released six months ago, it narrows the buttons down from three to one. The case’s edges aren’t quite as angular; everything’s been softened. If you flip the device over, the sensors are more prominent. That’s about it. You’d have to be pretty sharp-eyed to notice, or a wearable reviewer. (That said, you don’t need eagle eyes to notice how those godawful bezels are still chunky.)
I suppose you could say Fitbit’s logic with the Versa is the time-old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most of the upgrades this time around are software related, with minor hardware tweaks. There’s a Spotify app now – though it only works if you have a premium account – and a microphone for Amazon Alexa integration as well. You’ve got a new always-on display option, and in the app, Fitbit’s added a new Sleep Score feature to determine how well you slept at a glance. The screen quality is better – brighter and less pixelated though still not as good as the Apple Watch.
These are all good updates. They’re not great ones. Fitbit essentially made an excellent smartwatch a teensy weensy bit more competitive with other smartwatches by adding a virtual assistant and more apps. Thing is, a virtual assistant on a smartwatch isn’t suddenly going to make the Versa 2 more popular than its predecessor.
During the week and a half I spent testing the Versa 2, I used Alexa a handful of times. Mostly to set laundry timers or alarms to take my medications. A couple of times I used it to check the weather in Berlin while covering IFA. I tried using it to remotely turn on my smart lights on and off while abroad, just to see if I could freak my partner out. It did. It was also prone to connectivity issues if I left my phone behind, as it needs the phone’s internet to work. Most of the time, if I use a digital assistant on my watch, it’s because I’ve left my phone behind – so the Versa’s need to be tethered was limiting. (Fitbit also told me if I want Alexa to work, I should keep the Fitbit app running in the background on the phone.) Other times, Alexa couldn’t make out what I was saying.
Alexa works well, if your phone is nearby. That said, talking into your wrist is still incredibly dorky.
That’s not the Versa 2's fault; it’s just that digital assistants on the wrist aren’t super reliable or intuitive yet. Sure, I had a better experience with Alexa on the Versa 2 than Bixby on Samsung watches or Siri on the Apple Watch. But that’s because Bixby and Siri both suck. There’s also the weirdness of being out in public, say at your apartment’s laundry room, and speaking into your wrist. Possibly multiple times because it didn’t get what you were saying the first time. It either invites conversation you might not want, strange looks, or friends rolling their eyes and asking why you just can’t be normal for a goddamn second and use your phone. There might be a day where everyone’s okay talking into their wrist, regardless of location. That day isn’t today.
As for Spotify, I was initially ecstatic. For a second, it felt like Fitbit was really digging the knife in on Apple. Alexa was the obvious and better alternative to Siri, and Spotify on the Versa 2 could’ve been the answer to Apple Music on the Apple Watch. Except my excitement deflated when I realised I couldn’t load offline playlists. You can control playback, favourite songs, and switch playlists on your wrist – but your phone needs to be nearby. Granted, the Versa 2 relies on connected GPS so it was never going to be the best phone-free fitness companion. But on a test run on a treadmill, I couldn’t control my music directly from the exercise app screen. That’s something you can easily do on an Apple Watch – you just swipe to a secondary screen – so it felt like a missed opportunity on a good idea.
The new Sleep Score feature was also less informative than I’d have liked. It accurately gave me poor marks for all the nights I was jet lagged in Berlin, though I’d argue I deserved a score of 50 or less for the one night I got less than four hours of sleep. Instead, it gave me a generous 66 “Fair” score. (To me, it felt pretty goddamn awful.) My issue is it gave zero context for why I was getting the scores I was. Possibly because those details will get rolled into Fitbit’s premium service rolling out later this month – I’ll have to pay if I want to know why it considers 4 hours of sleep “Fair.”
I genuinely would’ve loved to try Fitbit’s upcoming Smart Wake alarm, which will purportedly wake you when you’re in a lighter phase of sleep so you feel more refreshed. However, that’s not rolling out until later this fall.
Which one is the Versa 2 and which one is the Apple Watch? From a distance, you could easily mistake one for the other.
As for accuracy, the Fitbit Versa 2 is just as good as its predecessor. It tends to slightly overreport distance and steps compared to an Apple Watch, but that’s true of almost every Fitbit I’ve ever tested. It logged 22,687 steps to the Apple Watch Series 4's 21,520 steps on a full day of intense activity. Likewise, it reported 2.1 miles of running to a treadmill’s 2 miles. Heart rate was on par with a Polar H10 chest strap. In other words, no egregiously inaccurate results.
The best thing about the Versa 2 was the new battery. It’s estimated at the same 5-plus days as the original Versa, but unless you’re a GPS-using fiend you should get more. I recently took the Versa on a 5-day trip and left the charger at home; it was a close call but I got home with 6-percent battery. With the Versa 2, I got about 7 days of intense walking around Berlin, all-day notifications, and a short 2 mile run before I needed to charge. I’m four days into my second charge and I still have 48 percent of my battery left – and that’s with the always-on display, multiple Alexa attempts, and way too many smart notifications enabled.
But that’s the best thing about the Versa 2.
At the end of the day, it didn’t feel all that different from wearing the regular Versa or even the Versa Lite Edition. It feels nitpicky to complain that I didn’t get something that blew my mind, considering how solid these devices are. But if you already have a Versa product, there’s little reason to upgrade. The new software features you can already get via Fitbit app updates, and again, adding Alexa just really isn’t enough of a reason for me to get excited.
What I would have liked to see was a new and improved Fitbit Ionic. That was a hideous smartwatch, but allow me to make the case for an Ionic 2. It would likely have built-in GPS, LTE connectivity, nix the Fitbit logo on the screen to increase size, 7-plus days battery life (you could already get a week on the Ionic), and just maybe a Versa-inspired design so it wouldn’t be so fugly. That would’ve been a killer update from Fitbit – especially if you added Spotify and Alexa. Even if you just added LTE to the Ionic, you’d open the possibility to music streaming on the device and make the Alexa integration more useful by not needing your phone nearby. Maybe then Fitbit would have two competitive smartwatch lines instead of dunking all its eggs into the Versa basket.
The new screen is nicer than the original, but not by a huge degree. You do get some nice fashion accessories though, like this Kim Shui wrap bracelet.
I may be the sole wearables nerd rooting for an Ionic 2 – Fitbit usually demurs when I ask about the possibility for one at events because it’s obvious which device is the moneymaker. But where the Versa Lite Edition sort of made sense given its affordable $160 price tag, and the Versa 2 is obviously meant to replace the original. So many updates in such a short time frame make you wonder if Fitbit’s running out of ideas.
Again, the Versa 2 is a great alternative to an Apple Watch. Heck, I had multiple people this week compliment me on my “Apple Watch”. (One person was shocked it was a Versa 2, even as I was standing right in front of a giant photo of it at Fitbit’s IFA booth.) Fitbit’s also kept it at £200 for the regular Fitbit Versa 2 and £230 for the Special Edition. That all means I will continue to recommend it and the other Versas when friends and readers ask what smartwatch or fitness tracker they should buy.
I just wish I had more to be excited about.
- Adds Alexa integration, Spotify app, and Sleep Score. Fitbit Premium and Smart Wake alarms launch later this fall.
- You probably won’t use Alexa that often. It requires your phone nearby and in that case, just use your phone.
- Better screen, phenomenal battery life.
- £200 for the regular Versa 2, £230 for the Special Edition.
- Good watch, just not terribly exciting when you update the same line twice in less than two years.