Fitbit Versa Activity Tracker Review

I’ve been a Fitbit user for a few years now. I started with the simple but effective Fitbit Charge, before migrating to the Fitbit HR, Fitbit Blaze, and finally the Fitbit Versa. So how does the Versa measure up to those devices and the likes of the Apple Watch?

Initial Impressions

At first sight, the Ionic looks pretty cool. It’s round corners and beveled edges give it a sleek look, and the way the angled base appears to slide away, makes it disappear into your wrist when it is worn.

Fitbit Versa being worn
The Versa whilst being worn.

The Versa has the same three function buttons as the Blaze, one on the left and two on the right, but their functions are different. The left hand button just turns on or off the screen display, and if you hold the button opens up the music, screen wake, and notification settings. The upper right button allows you to select an activity, or if held displays any notifications you’ve not seen. The lower left button allows you to configure alarms. The right hand buttons can also be used to start, pause, and finish an exercise.

Functionality

User of the Blaze will be familiar with the Versa’s workings. It is pretty much the same, except for some additions like the ability to:

  • Auto recognise activity
  • Turn on the GPS for specific activities
  • Access a clock face store

One major addition to the Versa is Fitbit Pay. This is like Apple Pay or Paypal, and allows you to associate your credit / debit card with the device. However it is currently only available on a limited number of financial providers. More are promised, but for now this limitation means most users won’t be able to benefit from this.

Another is the ability to download music to the device. This uses a Deezer subscription, although you can also add your own music via the Fitbit phone app. However the cost of a Deezer Premium subscription in addition to the Spotify subscription I have on my phone makes this a non-starter for me.

Additionally the Versa is water resistant, meaning that it can be used whilst exercising in water borne activities.

Build Quality

This is an area where Fitbit fails compared to other fitness trackers, and especially the Apple Watch. It seems like the majority of the R&D effort has gone into the tracker itself, with precious little spent on it’s accessories.

The Versa's charger doesn't sit well with the device attached.
The Versa’s charger doesn’t sit well with the device attached.

One such gripe is the charger that comes with the tracker. It just feels cheap. It works slightly differently from previous Fitbit chargers, as it uses a vice type hold. You have to pinch both sides and place the device inside before releasing. It may seem a little fiddly at first, but you soon get the hang of it. However the major beef I have is that the charger doesn’t automatically sit properly, unless you either remove the strap or take the trouble to flatten the strap. You shouldn’t have to do either.

Talking of Straps

The Versa comes with two straps. They are both the same black colour, but come in small and large sizes. This negates the need to work out what wrist size you have before buying, but is slightly wasteful. However it does have the advantage of having a spare strap if, like me, the small size fits you.

The straps are fiddly to fit, just like the Blaze, but are fairly cheaply made. It certainly doesn’t say “quality”. This has been an area in other Fitbit watches that I’ve been disappointed with. I’ve been lucky if they’ve lasted nine months.

There are a wealth of online providers that provide replacement straps and accessories, in addition to Fitbit’s own store. These other providers have the advantage of offering a wide range of styles and colours. In the past I’ve even purchased a high end leather strap for everyday wear, only to change it to the bog standard strap when exercising.

Just a word of warning here. The quality of some online Fitbit accessories not purchased through the Fitbit store is very questionable. For example you may find a cheap watch strap that is almost impossible to fit because the straps pins are incorrectly aligned.

Battery Life

The battery life of any Fitbit device is where it wins big time over an Apple Watch. The Versa’s marketing suggests you get 4+ days life from each charge. This all depends on the device’s configuration and how active you are.

For example, using the All Day Sync option decreases the battery life compared to synchronising the device manually once a day. Likewise someone training for a triathlon is likely to find their battery life is significantly less than someone who just walks their dog once a day.

When all is said and done, the battery life is considerably better than the Apple Watch. One major reason I didn’t invest in the Apple Watch was the 18 hour battery life. Even though users I’ve spoken to say they regularly get up to two days from each charge, this is significantly less than a Fitbit device.

Just one more note about Fitbit batteries. With all the devices I’ve owned, there has been a marked reduction in the length of time between charges over time. I’ve noticed the difference from about nine months on. On some devices, after a year the device has become unusable unless you’ve a collection of chargers at various locations. It all reinforces my previous thoughts on the general build quality. Either that or it’s a clever ploy to get us to purchase a newer device!

Developer Community

One nice addition is the number of developers willing to devote time to produce applications for the Versa. One example of this is the number of watch faces available. There are hundreds to choose from, with many of them free. There is one for everyone.

The plethora of Versa’s watch faces available from the Fitbit app.

Some extend the functionality of Fitbit by using other services like weather updates. Some of these additional services, like some of the more sophisticated watch faces require a payment. However all of the ones I tried had a trial period of anything from one to three days before any payment was taken.

Summary

In my opinion Fitbit devices should not be compared to an Apple Watch. They are two different beasts. In the world of exercise trackers, Fitbit is the one to beat. Their devices may not have the same functionality as Apple devices, but then they are looking at a different market.

The price of the Fitbit Versa is significantly less than an Apple Watch. Throw in the additional battery life, and for me it was a no brainer to continue purchasing a Fitbit device. It may not be for everyone though. You need to think hard about what you want your device to do for you.

The look and feel of the Versa is a big improvement, as it the functionality. The only down sides are the build quality, particularly of the accessories, and the potential loss of battery charge over time. I’ve only had my Versa for about two months, but if past devices are anything to go by, I’ll have to learn to love another device this time next year.

All things considered, I’m very pleased with my Versa, and long live Fitbit so they can keep Apple on their toes.

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