Fitbit Versa Review

The Versa is one of Fitbit’s main competitors to the Apple Watch in the smart activity tracker market. If you only look at it quickly you would be forgiven for mistaking the Versa for an Apple Watch. The question is are the good looks also matched with the same levels of functionality. There’s only one way to find out as we do a review of the Fitbit Versa.

What’s in the box

As you would expect from a major brand trying to compete with Apple the packaging is well done. Your Fitbit Versa comes with

  • The tracker unit (dimension and weight here)
  • 2 x bands (1 large and 1 small)
  • 1 x USB charging cradle
  • Quick start guide

Setting it up

As ever with electronics as soon as I’d taken the Versa out of the box I wanted to put it on my wrist and get it up and running straight away. Not so fast! The model that came to me was equipped with the small band. Way to small for me, I needed to change it to the provided larger band.

Bands

Size of bands

The bands that are in the box are typical of many activity trackers in that they are made of a flexible elastomer material which should survive the stresses and rigours of your workouts. The 2 provided bands are:

  • Small will fit a wrist between 5.5 – 7.1 inches (140 – 180 mm) in circumference
  • Large will fit a wrist between 7.1 – 8.7 inches (180 – 220 mm) in circumference

Changing bands

Changing the band took was more difficult than I expected

If like in my case you need to change the strap it is in theory quite simple but not being the most dexterous person in the world I struggled.

At the top and bottom edge of the tracker there is a metal pin which secures the strap in place and also releases it. It took me a good few minutes of messing around to work out how to do what I wanted which was quite frustrating. On the positive side when I had swapped it and since the strap has felt very secure with no signs it will fall off

App

If you haven’t owned a Fitbit device before you will have to download the Fitbit app to your mobile or tablet. From there you begin the setup which in my view seemed to take a long time. The initial set-up will ask you to enter quite a bit of detail including age, sex, height and weight. This detail is important as it allows your app and tracker to be personalised to you. For example, by choosing Female you would open the Female Health tracking features. Entering the correct height and weight will allow the software in the app and device to calculate the correct stride length and calorie burn for someone of your stature. This in turn will help with the accuracy of your Versa.

At the end of all this set-up you will have a Fitbit account providing you access to their ecosystem where you can join challenges and share achievement and a Fitbit dashboard tied to your device. The dashboard is where you can view all your daily stats like resting heart rate, sleep, weight etc.

Using it

Battery life

In my typical use the battery life is around 4 days. For the level of features it has the battery life is pretty good and definitely an area where it excels over the Apple Watch product line.

Having a long battery life makes it much more useful as a tracker. The Versa is also quite well versed in giving you details about how much battery life you have left. You will be notified of low battery life via notifications in the app, an e-mail and also a message on the device itself. And if that isn’t enough you can also check on the device itself by swiping up from the clock screen. This displays a small battery icon in the top left with an indication of how much juice is left. The display and the tracker make changes accordingly as battery life goes down:-

  • Red battery icon less than 24 hours battery remaining
  • Flashing red battery icon less than 4 hours remaining
  • Battery < 25% charge wifi is disabled

Charging

Charging itself is quite simple as you simply place the device into the provided USB cradle. Typically, you can go from low charge to a high percentage quite quickly so it is a pretty straightforward process. One of the main frustrations I have with the charging is that you have to use the proprietary cradle and there have been occasions when it wasn’t with me and wished I could have charged with a standard USB cable.

Tracker unit

The main screen is an LCD touch screen which most commonly can display a clock face which can be changed from within the app. When it is not in use the touch screen turns off to preserve battery life and it requires a flick of the wrist to reactivate it. I’ve found that flick of the wrist doesn’t always work and requires some vigour to get it response. Your mileage may vary but I have ended up pressing the screen more often than not.

As with most touch screens you navigate around the options by pressing and swiping. From the clock face screen swiping to the left will show you which apps you have installed either default or ones that you have added and it is possible to reorder them. Swiping up from the bottom brings up your stats for the day after a little delay.  These are the stats that are continuously being monitored such as calories burned, steps taken, distance covered and heart rate and your 3 most recently tracked exercises. Within each of the tiles that are displayed you can see some little dots which you can swipe through to see even more details about that particular stat. This works quite well considering the amount of options available to you, although it can be a challenge to remember what is where.

There are 2 button to the right of the tracker and 1 to the left for navigating through the various options. You can configure what these buttons do within the app so that for example pressing the right button will open the exercise app. Long pressing the left hand button will give you access to settings and music controls.

Alarms

You have the ability to set up to 8 different silent alarms with the option to choose it to go off every day or on specific days. This can be quite useful if you get up earlier on a specific day which is how I use it when I go to the gym. Each one of the silent alarms vibrates gently at the time specified. I find it extremely useful and it helps me not wake up my partner but I am not convinced that the vibrations would wake up any deep sleepers. The other thing of note is that on my device the touch screen is slow to respond when the alarm is going off – maybe that is a deliberate choice. Of course you also have the option to snooze which you can do by pressing the zzz button or if you ignore the alarm for one minute. Either of those actions will put the alarm into snooze for 9 minutes.

Stopwatches and timers

The Versa is equipped with both a stopwatch and a timer accessed on the device and they can be used at the same time as each other

Activity Tracking

One of the main reasons to buy a fitness tracker it is to monitor how much activity you are doing. In this regard the Versa is well equipped and has numerous different functions which are going to delve into a bit more.

First things first, the tracker unit has the capability to store 7 days of tracking stats onboard the device between syncs, although Fitbit do recommend you sync at least once a day. These stats will include things such as steps, calories, distance, sleep stages and all the other exercise data that has been collected.

Out of the box your Versa is set-up to check when you are inactive and ask you to move every hour. If you haven’t do 250 steps in an hour it will remind you at ten to the hour to get a wiggle on. If you do meet the target you will get a celebratory message on the device. Personally, I’ve not found this functionality this useful, it’s not practical for my work and it has also continues to be displayed after I’d already done 25000 steps in day. That being said I can see how it would be useful but not for me. Thankfully, it can be turned off in the settings.

Heart rate

To get the most out of the heart rate monitoring be sure to wear the tracker in the place recommended by the manual. The Versa comes equipped with a continuous optical heart rate monitor and Fitbit’s PurePulse technology. This gives you the ability to view your heart rate on your watch in real time. However, if you so wish you can turn if off by going into the settings.

The heart rate metric is available in 2 places:-

  1. In your today stats – swiping up from the clock screen will give your stats which include your current heart rate and also your resting heart rat
  2. When working out – a heart symbol will be shown with different colours for different zones so you can easily view that you are working out at the correct intensity.

All of these metrics are available to view in the Fitbit dashboard where you can further analyze time spent in different zones for each of your days / exercises. By default it uses the American Heart Rate Association recommendations of 220 – current age to get a theoretical maximum heart rate (MHR). Percentages of MHR are then used to identify zones Out of Zone ( <50% of MHR), Fat Burn (>50 & <69% MHR), Cardio (>70 <84% MHR) and Peak (>84% MHR). To train for something specific you are also able to set custom zones in which case the heart icon will display as solid whilst you are in the zone and as an outline when you are not.

Cardio Fitness Score

Fitbit have taken the heart rate monitoring one step further with a metric known as Cardio Fitness Score which gives you the ability to track a metric known as VO2 and also compare your heart rate to your peer group.

Sleep tracking

Many fitness tracker can measure how you sleep and the Versa is no exception. In fact, I would say that overall I have been quite impressed by its sleep tracking capabilities. It is never going to reach the heights of a full on sleep study but I feel that it is broadly representative of how much sleep I feel I have had. My main frustration is that anything to do with sleep is not available on the tracker and you have to go into the app.

To use sleep tracking you have to wear your Versa in be whilst you sleep. If you do so, the Versa will track your time asleep and decipher how much time was spent in each stage of sleep. As the data accumulates you can go into the app and look in more detail as well as set things like reminders to go to bed at a certain time and send you sleep hints. By default the recommended sleep is 8 hours and you can check how well you are doing over periods of 1 month, 3 months and 1 year.

Exercise

If during the course of your day you do any continuous movements of at least 15 minutes the SmartTrack feature will kick in and give you credit for exercise in the Fitbit app. Whilst this is useful, I have found it best to go into the exercise app on the device and start and stop what you are doing manually, The Exercise apps allows you to choose from the following:-

  1. Run – for the best results you can use connected GPS from your phone as the Versa does not have an integrated GPS
  2. Bike
  3. Swim
  4. Treadmill
  5. Weights
  6. Interval Timer
  7. Workout

Notifications

The Versa gives you the option to receive notifications on your device when you receive a call, text, calendar event or what’s app message.  The support varies between ios and android devices so you will need to check what is possible. When I have been using it on my Huawei phone I have found it to be a little inconsistent. When it works well, its great but when it doesn’t it can be frustrating.

Music

In terms of music the Versa offers a few different options. You can:-

  1. Download music / podcasts to the device itself using the Fitbit desktop app. Their is capacity for around 300 songs
  2. Stream music from services like Deezer (you get 3 months free trial from Fitbit)
  3. Remote control the music on your phone via bluetooth

Regardless of which method you choose you will also need a set of bluetooth headphones as you the device does not have a speaker or headphone jack.

Conclusion

Whilst not as fully featured as an Apple Watch the Versa uses Fitbit’s expertise to concentrate much more on fitness tracking aspects. It does have some smart watch functionalities such as onboard music and notifications but I don’t think these have quite reached maturity just yet. That being said I think some of these will be ironed out with firmware updates. Overall. if you are on the lookout for an affordable fitness tracker with smart watch capabilities and you can live with a few niggles the Versa is definitely worth serious consideration.

Fitbit Flex 2 (Review)

Fitbit Flex 2 (Review)

Fitbit are probably the most recognizable brand name in the wearable fitness tracker game and have produced models to meet most needs. However, it seems strange that they have never produced a genuine Fitbit for swimming. Until now. The Fitbit Flex 2 is the successor to the hugely successful Flex, with the added bonus of it being waterproof so that you can swim or shower whilst wearing it.

Design

Fitbit Flex 2 Fitness Tracker

As the Flex 2’s tracking module is 30 percent smaller than their other products, the Flex 2 sits small and thin on the wrist. This is a nice change of pace for people that want to wear their fitness tracker for comfort and purpose rather than as a fashion statement.

However, that extra size was shaved off by removing the display from the device, helping give the Fitbit Flex 2 an extra dimension; waterproofing. Aesthetically, the out of the box design is functional. Luckily, the modular approach allows you to camouflage your fitness tracker in a design that is slightly more appealing, like a bangle.

You will need to spend the extra money to find a band design for the tracker you like and there are plenty of options available including pedants, necklaces and different colors of band via third party sellers or Amazon. Without a screen, you’d never guess it was a fitness tracker at a glance. However, one of the best innovations to the design of the new Flex 2 is the clasp.

In Fitbits, the clasp has always been where the product lost some points because it never felt like the bracelet would stay in place. However, because this is a model for swimmers, they either had to change their clasp style or release a bad product because water rushing under a loose bracelet on the wrist would greatly affect the accuracy of a number of the tracking features while in the water. This time around, they added a clasp that keeps things tight to the wrist. Once it is on, good luck trying to yank it off. It is this innovation that we hope makes it to the bands of other Fitbit models because it is snug, yet comfortable. However, the clasp can make it a bit of a challenge if you want to get it off quickly.

Features of the Fitbit Flex 2

The biggest advance in the Fitbit Flex 2 is full waterproofing and swim tracking capabilities. It is approved for depths up to 50 meters, which includes saltwater use. This also means that even non-swimmers don’t have to worry about hopping in the shower and ruining their expensive fitness tracker.

Whilst there are other swim-tracking fitness trackers available that give you a lot more focused metrics specific to the pool, the Fitbit Flex 2 still does a decent job of measuring your swim. It can give you an overview of how many calories you burned swimming, how long you swam for, distance, pace, and stroke monitoring for freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly swimming. All great stats to monitor if you like to keep track of if your swimming is improving.

On the downside, the SmartTrack feature of the Flex 2 has issues tracking your strokes if like me you are not a strong swimmer. As the tracker requires continuous motion to track effectively you will still get accurate calories burned, time, and distance, but the strokes count maybe a little bit out.

While the new swim functionality is the major selling point of the Fitbit Flex 2, unless you are a mermaid (or merman), you will be using the Flex 2 for more than just tracking your swimming. The lack of a display means you can’t visually see your numbers or even tell the time on the Flex 2. Instead it goes back to the original Fitbit design by showing your progress in a series of LED lights. Each light that is lit up represents a portion of whatever your daily step goal is. A neat simple and effective way of showing your progress.

To communicate to you, the Flex 2 use its lights and a series of vibrations that seem like they would be easily differentiated, but aren’t. However, the fact that it only vibrates when you achieve a goal or receive a phone call or text isn’t really an issue as it is easier to tell the difference by looking at the color of the LEDs.

It’s easier to remember that blue stands for calls or text rather than trying to feel out how long the vibration was.

The LED display model limits the amount of information you can see, but you can easily open the great tracking app on your phone to get more specific numbers and plan the rest of your day accordingly. One of the more awesome new features that come with the app that was included in the release of the Flex 2 as well as the Charge 2 is something called Adventures.

Adventures are basically challenges that can motivate you to go further and do better. For example, if you want to hike a particular trail in your nearby National Park, the app finds out how many steps it takes to walk that. So if the trail takes 15,000 steps and you walked 15,000 steps that day, it feels like you walked that trail just going about your day. You can even challenge multi-day trails like Hadrian’s Wall or the Appalachian Trail for long-term challenges. It is a pretty fun motivational tool if nothing else.

Aside from its new motivational tool, the app comes with all the standard features that you would expect. It tracks your calories, steps, distance, and sleep tracking like other models and provides you a wide array of metrics so you can view and compare your data over the days, weeks, and months however you would like and adjust your goals accordingly.

Finally, let’s discuss the battery. You would think that the lack of a screen and the use of only connect GPS would extend the battery life, but it seems this isn’t the case with only a five-day battery life. If you are used to wearing screened models, this is pretty much the standard. However, with the lack of what are referred to as “power drain” features, that much battery life is a lot less than you would expect.

Waterfi Waterproof Fitbit Alta HR Review

Waterfi Waterproof Fitbit Alta HR Review

There is no question that the Fitbit is the most popular brand of fitness tracker. However, previous models of Fitbits are famously incompatible with water, which is pretty sad considering how they all look like they are waterproof. However, finally Fitbit rolled out a model that you can truly take anywhere with the Waterfi Fitbit Alta Waterproof, a model that combines the functionality of Fitbit with the waterproofing that it so badly needed.

Design

Waterfi Waterproof Fitbit Alta HR Fitness Tracker
When it comes to design, the Fitbit doesn’t change much from model to model. Like other Fitbit models, the Waterfi maintains that same sleek design that makes it look like a Live Strong bracelet to the untrained eye, but more easily distinguished by the little band that marks the display. Its interface is still simple with an OLED that shows the time and date, but it can also integrate with your smart phone to display call, text, and calendar alerts as well as shows how close you are to your goals for the day. However, it doesn’t display alerts from third-party apps.

Of course, with the Waterfi, you still get access to the great Fitbit app that has made the brand so popular. Within you can track your steps and calories burned as well as set personalized goals. The dashboard also lets you log meals, compare workouts, and connect with your other Fitbit wearing friends.

Finally, the biggest innovation in the Waterfi is its waterproofing. Older models of Fitbits flounder in even light water exposure, but this bad boy can survive up to 210 feet of water without missing a step. What’s more is that you can also switch out the bands of the Waterfi to different colors without compromising the waterproofing.

Features

Fitbit has become the popular brand that it is now by proving a wide array of features that people didn’t know they wanted in a fitness tracker. While the Waterfi doesn’t have GPS like some other models, it does have essentially everything else that you could want.

You can track steps and calories burned right from your wrist, but the app lets you get even more in-depth. While the Waterfi doesn’t have any built-in motivation reminders, it does allow you to set personal goals so you can motivate yourself to reach them.

One of the nicest features is that the Waterfi not only knows when you enter periods of exercise, but it knows what type of exercise you are doing without having to do anything. It is mystifying in how it does it, but surprisingly accurate. The Waterfi also excels in tracking your sleep by monitoring how long you sleep and when you go to bed, but also how many times you wake up, even if you don’t realize it.

Finally, while the major selling point of the Waterfi is the waterproofing, it also features a rechargeable battery so you don’t have to worry about finding the right replacement battery down the line. The battery life lasts about five days before it needs to be put on the charger, which is a little less than usual, but still enough to get through the work week.