The name of Fitbit has been synonymous with fitness trackers since its establishment. But in recent years, the company has also branched out to the smartwatch world to compete with, for example, the Apple Watch and Samsung's portable line-ups. Fitbit has even purchased the remains of Pebble to facilitate this.
Last year's Versa was the company's best attempt to make a competent smartwatch. It was comfortable to wear, had a long battery life and includes all advanced fitbit and sleep registration functions. But at the same time, it lagged far behind other smartwatches on the market, with poor support for notifications and lack of productivity features.
The new $ 199.99 Versa 2, available in stores on September 15, is the company's latest smartwatch effort. As you can see from the name, it is an evolution of the Versa, with a few design changes, a handful of new functions and the same price. It is a better Versa and an excellent fitness tracker. But in general it's not a better smartwatch.
The original Versa was one of the most comfortable smart watches that you could wear and the Versa 2 is just as comfortable on the wrist. It is not too big, not too small and should be good on a wide range of wrist sizes. It is also very light and the tapered design conceals most of the watch well. The Versa 2 is one of the few wearables that I have been able to comfortably wear 24/7, even while sleeping.
The overall design of the Versa 2 is the same as before, but Fitbit has simplified the interactions of the previous multibutton installation into a single button on the left and the touchscreen. However, the watch does not lose any functionality – you can still do the same things with the Versa 2 as with the first Versa.
I wish Fitbit had made it easier to swap the straps on this model – the Versa straps have quick-release pins, but the holder is sunk into the watch case that it is hard to put the pins in place clicks, especially with the rubber belt that is in the box. My review set included a very comfortable perforated leather strap that was much easier to install, but that costs you $ 50 extra.
Fitbit has exchanged the LCD panel of the Versa for an OLED screen and this is the best upgrade that the Versa 2 brings. It is clear, colorful and easy to see both inside and out. I was able to easily view the screen in direct sunlight and with polarized sunglasses. The OLED panel also enables the new always active display function, so you can always see the time or your training progress. But the always-on function has very limited adaptability (you can choose between digital or analog clocks and that's it) and it disables the wake up function, so you have to double-tap the screen or press the side button to to wake up the watch.
Unfortunately, the display is still surrounded by a thick, thick bezel, making it look even smaller than the stamp size it is. On the plus side, the Versa 2 closed the tasteless "Fitbit" branding that was under the screen on the first-gen model.
Just like the Versa, the Versa 2 has an excellent battery life; it easily reached the five-day mark for me during testing. If you use the Always-on display function, you can expect that figure to fall by approximately half. Two to three days between recharging is still an excellent battery life for a smart watch and more than I have received from another smart watch that I have worn.
Fitbit has also added a microphone to the Versa 2, which gives it some limited options for voice control. There is no speaker, so you cannot use it as a speaker, but if you have connected it to an Android device, you can pronounce responses to messages and it will convert them to text. (Sorry iPhone users, you still can't answer messages at all with the Versa 2.) This worked well in my tests, with fast and accurate transcripts of my voice. It takes two or three taps on the screen to record a spoken answer, which is a bit annoying, and you can't really initiate a new message by voice – you can only answer incoming messages, so there's room for this improvement.
The microphone also plays a role with the new Alexa functions. Long press on the side button and Alexa will open, from which you can ask questions or tell it to perform Alexa related tasks such as operating smart home gadgets, setting timers or showing you again. Because the Versa 2 has no speaker, all of Alexa's answers are displayed on the screen and cannot do things such as play music or other audio-related tasks. Alexa also can't really control the watch – everything you ask Alexa to do is in the Alexa interface, including timers, alarms and other functions. You can't ask Alexa to send a text message or call from your phone like you might do with Siri on an Apple Watch. You can't even start training with Alexa. You also can't activate Alexa with a voice command – the only way to start Alexa is by long pressing the side button or tapping the icon in the quick settings panel, making Alexa a slow two-handed process is becoming.
Fitbit says these restrictions apply to extend battery life and prevent erroneous activation of Alexa, but the effect is often that it is more irritating to use Alexa on the Versa 2 than it is worth. There just isn't much sense.
The watch transmits all fitness functions of the first Versa, including intelligent training detection, continuous heart rate measurement and sleep registration functions. New this year is a sleep score, which attempts to merge your sleep registration data into an "X out of 100" score and assesses how well you slept. In my time testing the Versa 2, I had an average sleep score of 76, which the app rated as & # 39; reasonable & # 39; assesses. Fitbit says this feature will be available for all devices with heart rate monitors.
There is also a new sleep mode for the watch that turns off the display or notifications while sleeping that looks like something that should probably have been available on last year's model, but I'm glad it's here now. You can activate the sleep mode from the quick settings screen on the watch or via the smartphone app, where you can also set it to turn on and off automatically based on a schedule. Finally, Fitbit says it is working on a Smart Wake alarm function that tries to wake you up at the optimum point in your sleep cycle, but it will not arrive until later this year and I could not test it.
In general, the fitness tracking features of the Versa 2 are the best and most comprehensive you'll find on any smartwatch, even though it doesn't have a dedicated GPS radio and it depends on your phone for GPS tracking.
Of course you can get all those same fitness tracking functions in one of the other Fitbit products for less money, so the main reason why you would jump for the Versa for a Charge 3 or Inspire HR is because of the smartwatch functions. And that is where the Versa 2 encounters many of the similar problems as its predecessor.
The Versa contains a number of Spartan apps out of the box and you will not find any productivity items such as a calendar or reminders. Fitbit has more than 3,000 watchwatches and third-party apps that are available to install via the smartphone app, but apart from a few exceptions such as Uber and New York times, there are not many popular names in the collection. If you come across a paid app, of which there are many, you must pay the developer directly through the payment system that they choose, because the Fitbit store does not have its own payment system for apps or watchfaces.
Spotify has become a member of Pandora and Deezer as a music option on the watch, but with the Versa app you can only control Spotify playback on other devices – you cannot download or stream Spotify to the watch itself, making it mostly useless.
Dials are a particularly painful point. The Versa 2 can only store one watch face at a time, so if you want to try a different look, replace the watch face with the mobile app and send it to the watch. If you want to switch back to the watch face you just used, you have to go through the whole process to search for it in Fitbit & # 39; s app and download it again to the watch – there is no way to even have a set of favorites in the app For quick access, save fewer multiple looks on the watch at any given time. In addition, the vast majority of available watch faces look second-class and do not match the sleek hardware of the Versa 2. The whole process just feels terribly clumsy compared to how easy it is to attach watch faces to other smartwatch platforms. to fit .
Although it's great that Fitbit's mobile payment system, Fitbit Pay, is available on all versions of the Versa 2, I couldn't test it because it doesn't support my local credit union and has a much smaller number of supported banks and financial institutions than Apple Pay , Google Pay or Samsung Pay (all of which support my credit union).
Fitbit tells me that it has refrained from adding too many smartwatch functions because its customers don't want to be burdened with too many things that they don't necessarily use. But if that's the case, they probably just have to buy a Charge 3 instead of a Versa 2, which has the same set of fitness tracking features, costs less and is smaller to boot. If the company is seriously competing at the smartwatch level, it should do better on smartwatch functions.
The Versa 2 is indeed a better product than the Versa, and design changes and new features are usually welcome. But it's no more compelling from a device than before: it's an excellent fitness tracker, but if you're looking for a smartwatch, you'd better be served by an Apple Watch or a range of Samsung for Android devices.
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