Here’s the thing. I’ve tested a whole bunch of smartwatches and never really fell in love with one. A lot of it has to do with the simple fact that I’ve never been a watch guy. I didn’t wear one growing up. My father never wore one. And my grandfather passed down a 1967 Omega Constellation to me — it’s spent most of its life ticking away in some drawer.
If I had to pick a favorite smartwatch, it’d be Apple Watch Series 3 since I usually carry an iPhone. When I was testing one, it was great for running since I could stream Apple Music, sans iPhone, and it was a terrific ski tracker, too. But ultimately I felt I wasn’t getting the most out of it. I didn’t use many of its apps (in recent months, a number of popular apps have gotten rid of their Apple Watch support, including Slack, Instagram, Twitter, Google Maps and Amazon) which led me to think that I kind of just I didn’t need a smartwatch.
I haven’t pulled a complete 360, but after wearing it for two weeks, I’m inclined to think that, unexpectedly, the Fitbit Versa ($200) might be the perfect smartwatch for me. It aligns itself with how I use a smartwatch: very casually. And it doesn’t look like some hefty gadget. It kind of looked like something I’d wear.
What Is It?: The Fitbit Versa is the company’s new entry-level smartwatch. It costs $200 and is probably a much better value proposition for most people, compared to the Fitbit Ionic ($300), which is a more capable fitness tracker or the Apple Watch Series 3 ($329). The Versa is the lightest metal smartwatch in the U.S., according to Fitbit.
The Good: The Versa sits on the fence between being a smartwatch and fitness tracker — that really works for me. It can track steps, calories burned, sleep and heart rate, along with specific workouts and exercises. Its smartwatch features include displaying notifications and access to some third-party apps, like Strava and The New York Times app. The battery life is incredible; it can last up to four days if you wear it constantly, but since I took it off when I slept and showered, it lasted much longer (almost a week). The slim design makes it really comfortable and the all-black design of the model I tested, with the black metal mesh strap, looks pretty pristine in my opinion.
Who It’s For: The Fitbit Versa is for anybody who wants a slim, lightweight smartwatch that’s good (not great) at most things and doesn’t cost a ton. It works with both iPhone and Android devices, although Android devices can quick-reply texts directly from the Versa. Fitbit also announced the Fitbit Ace, if you’re looking for a cheaper ($99) and kid-specific fitness tracker.
Watch Out For: The Versa isn’t as capable a fitness tracker as other smartwatches for the simple fact that it doesn’t have a built-in GPS — if you go for a run or hike or swim without your smartphone, the Versa won’t be able to trace pace or distance as accurately. The only music services that let you download playlists to the Versa are Deezer and Pandora; since I don’t subscribe to either, I’m out of luck. (The Versa does have enough internal storage for mp3 files, so you can upload songs directly from an iTunes library, for example, but that process is kind of a pain and updating playlists can be arduous.) You can only reply to text messages from the smartwatch if you have an Android device. Since I use an iPhone, I couldn’t text from the Versa. The Versa doesn’t have a speaker or microphone, so you can’t answer calls or talk to a virtual assistant.
Alternatives: The Fitbit Versa, being $200, fills somewhat of a void in the smartwatch market. It’s not as high-end as an Apple Watch Series 3 or Samsung Gear S3.
Verdict: Again, I’ve never really been head-over-heels with a smartwatch before — and that remains true after testing the Fitbit Versa. But if there was such thing as a perfect smartwatch for me — I think this would be it. It’s pretty good at tracking metrics and I’m pretty good at caring about my fitness; I
exercise run a few times a week (if I’m lucky), but not with specific goals in mind; I basically run until I’m tired. As far as smartwatch features, the Versa shows notifications and allows you to scroll through things like texts and missed calls, but nothing is actionable — you can’t call or text somebody back directly on the smartwatch. There are a lot of third-party apps (complete list, here, but I find it so much easier to just get out my phone to use them. Point is, the Fitbit Versa is an OK smartwatch just like I’m an OK smartwatch wearer. That’s why I like it. It’s brilliantly thin device, not a brick like the Apple Watch, and boasts tremendous battery life, so my using it doesn’t revolve around its charger. Affordable, lightweight and stylish, I think it’s probably the best entry-level smartwatch you can buy right now.
What Others Are Saying:
• “If you aren’t an Apple devotee, Versa is a no-brainer, but iPhone users who don’t want to spend $350 to $400 on an Apple Watch Series 3 should take a hard look at Fitbit’s new smartwatch. And since it works across multiple platforms (iOS, Android, and any remaining Windows Phone users) you won’t be stuck with a piece of costume jewelry if you switch.” — Michael Simon, Macworld
• “I did notice, however, that notifications don’t look quite as polished on the Versa compared to the Apple Watch. Notifications for certain apps on the Apple Watch, like text messages, are more consistent with how they look on the iPhone, which gives them a cleaner appearance. News notifications on Apple’s smartwatch usually include a photo to accompany the story, making Fitbit’s alerts look plain in comparison. My biggest hangup as an iPhone user, though, is that I won’t be able to reply to text messages on my watch, since that feature will only be available for Android when it launches next month. Android phone owners will be able to send up to five custom or pre-populated quick replies from the Versa when receiving a text message. I reply to texts from my Apple Watch far more frequently than I expected, particularly when I’m commuting or have left my phone in another room. I’m not sure it’s a feature I’d be willing to give up to switch to Fitbit.” — Lisa Eadicicco, TIME
• “Its stunning battery life, stylish and lightweight design, and low price make it my new favorite smartwatch. (Sorry, Apple.)” — Avery Hartmans, Business Insider
Display: 1.34-inch screen (300 x 300 pixel resolution)
Sensors: accelerometer, gyroscope, Altimeter, heart rate,
Battery: 4+ day (continuous)
Charge time: two hours
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0. wi-fi