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.