Is Fitbit's New Smartwatch Worth The Hype & Your $$$?

Even though it isn't being specifically marketed as a "smartwatch for women," Fitbit's newest smartwatch, Fitbit Versa, has components that appeal to a female-centric audience: When Fitbit announced the device two weeks ago, it emphasized new female health tracking (i.e. period tracking) tools, which it believes will help set it apart from its competitors. Then there's the cost factor: At $200, Versa is much more affordable than its competitors, making it more appealing to a wider audience.
I should preface my review of Fitbit's newest smartwatch, Fitbit Versa, by clarifying that I've never been the target smartwatch consumer. For one, my exercise of choice is rock climbing, a sport that isn't ideal for wearing a watch on your wrist; it's also not as suited for tracking as running or swimming laps. Second, I'm on my computer and iPhone so much that I don't usually feel the need, or desire, to get notifications for incoming texts and calls on my wrist.
Still, these factors aside, I was excited to test Versa to see if it lived up to the early hype. Ahead, a look at where the Fitbit Versa wins, and where it falls short. If you're torn between the Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit's latest, consider this your decision-making guide.
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The Look

The comment I heard most often while wearing Versa is that it looks similar to the Apple Watch. Both are slim and square in shape, with buttons on the sides.

Turns out, this similarity is not a bad thing: Versa is sleek, feels comfortable and lightweight, and, depending on which interchangeable strap you choose, looks as good in the gym as it does at the office. I wore my rose gold review unit with the classic silicone strap while working out and the leather version for the nine-to-five and nights out, and consistently got compliments on both.
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The Set-Up

Compared to other wearables I've tested, Versa is remarkably user friendly. After quickly pairing and syncing the Fitbit app on my phone with Versa (a process that took less than five minutes in total), I was up and running. You can use the app on your phone to change up the watch face, but I preferred the preset option, which shows the date, time, and three metrics: Heartrate, step count, and calories burned.

I only found myself referencing my step count, but it was nice to have the others available. Swiping up from that main screen gives you a breakdown of your day with steps by the hour, your heart rate, and a summary of your most recent workouts. Swiping from right to left across the home screen shows you all of your apps, and controls for everything from exercise and breathing techniques, to a timer and your music.

There are a few useful shortcuts built into the watch. Holding down the button on the left side of the watch allows you to control your music, turn on and off notifications, and set the screen to turn on automatically or manually. Holding down the button on the upper right pulls up recent text notifications. A single click on that button offers a quicker way to get to your exercise options, while a single click on the button on the lower right lets you set an alarm (this is the default setting, but you can change it if you want to connect to another app or utility, such as the timer, instead).
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The Trade-offs

The big bonus of the Versa compared to its most direct competitor, the Apple Watch, is the price: Versa costs $200; Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS starts at $329. However, with that lower price tag come a few tradeoffs.

Right now, there are not as many third party apps available for Versa as there are for the Apple Watch, although Fitbit says that more will be available in the coming months. The only ones I downloaded and used regularly were Pandora, my Starbucks card, and a New York Times update app. There's no Spotify option right now, and those using Pandora or the other music option, Deezer, will need a subscription. You can, however, store 300 songs from your personal library on the watch, allowing you to listen on the go with wireless headphones and no phone in tow.

I wasn't able to test Versa's period tracking capabilities, one of the smartwatch's most promising features, since it is not available until May.

As for text and calls, I didn't mind Versa's more limited capabilities in this area as I'm not the kind of person who wants to constantly text and answer calls from my wrist. However, I could see this being a pain point for others: You can see incoming texts and calls but there is no way to respond to them. (Fitbit says Android users will be able to respond to text messages and messages from WhatsApp and Messenger with quick replies starting this May; there's no word on whether Apple will give iOS users the same capability.)

Versa also only has "connected GPS" rather than built-in GPS, meaning that if you want to track your run using GPS, you'll need your phone nearby.
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The Sweat Sesh

The preset exercise options on Versa include Run, Bike, Treadmill, Weights, Interval Timer, and a catch-all Workout. Because the watch is water-resistant for up to 50 meters, there's also a swim option.

I took my Versa review unit to the pool to put it to the test: I hopped in the water, pressed the button on the upper right-hand side, and swiped through the exercises to select "Swim." A single tap started my workout, which tracked the number of yards and pool lengths I swam, as well as my calories burned and lengths in the pool. It was so effortless that I could see myself using this function every time I go swimming.
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The Battery Life

Versa's battery life is arguably its most impressive asset. I put my Versa review unit on my wrist Thursday afternoon and still have not taken it off to charge it, despite wearing it 24/7 to track my sleep at night and all of my activities during the day. The battery still says it's at "medium." Fitbit says the watch has a four day-plus battery life, and it's living up to that claim.

When I do need to eventually charge it, I know it will be speedy. I charged the watch before putting it on and it took just an hour for the battery to go from a 0% to 100% charge.
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The Takeaway

The Fitbit Versa is the most promising competitor to the Apple Watch that I've tried yet. That being said, it isn't for everyone.

If you want a mini smartphone on your wrist, you're better off with the Apple Watch, which will let you respond to any texts and access GPS directly. However, For those who want to spend a little less and get a solid fitness tracker with smartwatch capabilities, Versa is worth the money.

The best news of this release is that, at last, there is a very good, reasonably priced smartwatch option available.

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