Fitbit Versa hands-on: Fitbit's finally getting serious about smartwatches

I've been wearing a Fitbit Ionic since January, and it's quickly become one of my favorite smartwatches. I like the way it looks, it keeps me motivated to stay active, and its feature-set works great for what I want in a wearable. Unfortunately, most everyone else doesn't feel the same way.

Fitbit reported less-than-favorable sales for the Ionic during its latest earnings call, and along with this, promised investors it was working on a new "mass appeal" smartwatch that would draw in more customers. A couple leaks gave us a good idea as to what this gadget would bring to the table, but now we officially know what's going on.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Fitbit Versa.

The Fitbit Versa is a very different-looking watch compared to the Ionic, and I think most people will agree that all of the changes here have been made for the better. Fitbit says the Versa is the "lightest metal smartwatch you can buy in the U.S.", and while I never had a problem with the weight of my Ionic, the Versa is noticeably lighter.

You'll find three buttons on the Versa (one on the left and two on the right), and the screen is taller and less wide compared to the Ionic. Fitbit's going for a "squircle" design and one that's not so masculine, and it hopes this will help put an impact on the smartwatch market that males currently dominate by 60%.

However, don't let the Versa's smaller size fool you. The watch still tracks your steps, calories burned, your quality of sleep, distance walked, heart-rate, has 50M of water-proofing, can store 300 songs for offline listening, offers 4+ days of battery life, and plenty more.

The Versa looks and feels great in person, and it'll be available in three main colors — black, silver, and rose gold.

The Versa is lighter and more attractive compared to the Ionic.

Just like the Ionic, FitbitOS is what powers the Versa. However, you'll find a lot more features and polish thanks to the 2.0 update that's live on the Versa out of the box. The Ionic will receive a free update that brings all of the new software features found on the Versa, and there's a lot of great stuff to be found.

First and foremost, Fitbit's finally letting you reply to texts. You'll be able to choose from five pre-made responses, and you can customize these to say whatever you'd like (up to 60 characters per response). The inability to interact with text messages is one of my biggest annoyances on the Ionic, so it's great to see Fitbit adding it. This feature is currently limited to just Android users, but Fitbit notes it's working on a way to bring it over to iOS, too.

FitbitOS 2.0 also ushers in a refined user interface. As it stands with FitbitOS 1.2, gestures work as follows:

  • Swipe up to see notifications
  • Swipe down to see music controls
  • Hold left button to open Fitbit Pay

With FitbitOS 2.0, things now work like this:

  • Swipe up to see health stats (steps, heart-rate, past workouts, personalized health tips, etc.)
  • Swipe down to see notifications
  • Hold left button to open quick settings, music controls, and Fitbit Pay

Fitbit Ionic (left) and Fitbit Versa (right)

Fitbit Ionic (left) and Fitbit Versa (right)

Also new is the ability to save songs for offline listening on the Versa and Ionic using Deezer. Fitbit announced Deezer support back in December, and just like the Pandora app, you'll need to pay for Deezer Premium+ in order to take advantage of this feature. If you're not currently a Deezer subscriber and want to check it out, the streaming service is offering a free 3-month trial just for Fitbit users.

FitbitOS 2.0 address all of my complaints with the Ionic's software.

Fitbit Coach is gaining the ability to rate your workouts and edit which ones are on your Versa/Ionic, the Today app will offer health insights and reminders to drink more water, take more steps to complete a challenge, etc., and the whole user experience of FitbitOS 2.0 feels smoother, more polished, and is what should have been on the Ionic from day one.

Pre-orders for the Fitbit Versa begin today for just $199.95. That's an entire $100 less than the Ionic, and it should make it a much easier sell. Fitbit's also selling a special edition Versa for $229.95 that comes with your choice of two fabric bands, and in the U.S., this is the only model that has NFC for Fitbit Pay. The base version of the Versa will come equipped with NFC in Asia and Europe, and Fitbit says this is due to greater adoption of the tech in those markets.

The Ionic will live on as Fitbit's flagship smartwatch, but it really is commendable just how much the Versa brings to the table. Whether you're already invested in Fitbit's ecosystem or are simply looking to finally replace your Pebble Time, the Versa offers tremendous value at either of its two price tags.

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  • I am truly amazed by Fitbit's ability to churn out terrible looking product after terrible looking product. Guess I'm not their target demo, I've yet to see a Fitbit I'd actually wear.
  • Guess not 🤷🏻‍♂️. I've never had an issue with how they look.
  • I would really like to get one of these, but I think nothing comes close to my MS Band2 as far as complete features.
  • Your band still works?...  lucky.  
  • Lol..that was funny.  The travesty is even my MS Band first generation has most of the features that the really nice wearables have now.   The MS Band 3 would've been amazing.
  • After 3 ms bands 2, I was refunded the cost. Ended up splerging and buying the Garmin Fenix 5x, Garmin has a wm10 app and notifications works great! Best decision ever.
  • My wife just got a Garmin Vivoactive 3, after loving the MS Band 2, and being very disappointed with a fitbit. The Vivoactive 3 does pretty much everything the band did and more. The custom workouts (intervals, HIIT, custom gym routines etc) still aren't quite as flexible as they were on the Band 2, but pretty good.
  • They bought out Vector. When are they going to make a nice looking watch now?
  • Still masculine looking somewhat...The watch aesthetic would attract more female athletes if the buttons were shorter in length...
  • A little confused about you comment. Are you saying longer buttons are more masculine looking? Or are you implying there's a functional issue regarding longer buttons and why females may not prefer that?
  • If buttons are meant to be single pushed or hold (2 physical functions), then they don't need to be this long...If however, each end of a button can be pushed or hold (4 physical functions), the current or longer length makes sense....
  • Ok but I'm still confused how it relates to whether females would like that?
  • Oh hey, there's that Pebble Time Steel 2 I Kickstarted a couple years ago.
  • Are we going to let it slide that they're calling it a smart watch? My understanding is that despite calling the firmware an "OS", I'm not seeing any mention of this thing having any option to run apps. MS band was more capable for the same price and still didn't claim to be a smart watch.
  • Missed the bit about Pandora. Leaving the original post, if just as demonstration that they may have challenges getting consumers to accept them as a competitor to Android Wear or apple watch.
  • There are more apps in the market and the sdk is open so everyone could write their own app free if you know javascript.
  • "Are we going to let it slide that they're calling it a smart watch?"
    We'll let it slide that you don't know that it DOES run apps like Yelp, Hue Lights, Starbucks Card, Pandora, 2048, United Airlines, CVS Card, Bill splitr, E*trade, NYT, Flipboard, Calculator, Stocks, etc. and that there's an SDK for devs to make apps. These have been on the Ionic for a while now.
  • Tracking a run with GPS is the primary function for my fitness tracker. I've been using a Garmin Vivoactive HR since Microsoft discontinued the Band. The Ionic was too expensive, and I wouldn't have any use for the Versa if it doesn't have GPS built-in. In my experience, phones are not very reliable for GPS accuracy in regards to run tracking, so "connected GPS" is a no-go for me.
  • I bought the Vector Luna for two main reasons. Worked great (from my experience) with W10M, and the 30 day battery life. I didn't need to order a pizza from my watch (though now that I say that, I probably would love it!), nor did I need to listen to music on it, since I prefer my music to sound good. Is anyone going to make a watch that gives me basic smartwatch features, and not make me tether myself near some USB port? Sure, 4 days might not seem so bad, but when you realize that a regular watch lasts years, and this is a minor convenience, it sucks just a bit.
  • I had the Iconic and it was great... Except, I had battery issues with the original purchase and the replacement. I like the look and feel of it. I may try my luck again soon. If I have battery issues with the new one, I will likely go Gear S3.
  • It is ok to look at but just get the  Surface watches.   When it is launch with surface Tablet and surface note is this Spring. 
  • Loving my Fitbit Surge 2.0, had Garmin...something before because of Windows Central's review 🙄 Fitbit really nails the experience on a phone. They just need to get better at cross device communication. Maybe it will work with FitbitOS, I have not tried the Ionic, but it looks beautiful :3
    I will still wait for the next iteration of the device though, since my Surge is good enuf' for now ^_^ "The base version of the Versa will come equipped with NFC in Asia and Europe, and Fitbit says this is due to greater adoption of the tech in those markets." This is the kind of global planning, that makes me love a company :3