Fitbit Versa 2 review: Buy it for its outstanding sleep and health tracking, not for its limited smartwatch functionality

fitbit-versa-2-3.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.7 Outstanding
  • $149.95

Pros

  • Gorgeous high quality design
  • Always-on display option
  • Bright and clear new AMOLED display
  • Lightweight and comfortable for 24/7 wear
  • Detailed sleep and heart rate data

Cons

  • No support for offline Spotify music
  • No integration with Apple Health or Google Fit
  • Bands can be tough to replace
Six new sports watches for the casual athlete to the ultrarunner Wearables today have advanced sensors to help you track your activity 24/7. Matt Miller says that while the Apple Watch is a great smartwatch, there are many other wearables focused on helping you collect data and use it to improve your health and fitness. Read more: https://zd.net/2lobqlP

The Fitbit Versa, see our full review, was a huge hit for Fitbit last year, but the landscape has changed a bit in 2019 with the Apple Watch Series 3 down to $199 and Garmin's Forerunner 45S at the same price. Both of these watches have integrated GPS and other advanced features not present in Fitbit's watches.

For the last 10 days I've been running, biking, walking, sleeping, and more with the new Fitbit Versa 2 and have to say the advanced sleep tracking, extreme comfort, and useful new Fitbit Premium service are compelling me to run with my phone and leave my advanced GPS sports watches, like my new Coros Vertix, behind for at least a few more weeks.

Fitbit labels the Versa 2 a "health and fitness smartwatch" and for these functions it is indeed an excellent choice. However, it doesn't hold a candle to the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch for smartwatch functions such as messaging and apps. As long as you are not looking for something that is an extension of your smartphone, then the Fibit Versa 2 is a wearable to consider.

Also: Fitbit Versa review: Finally, a smartwatch that can make Fitbit proud

Activity tracking and health monitoring are vital uses of a wearable today and Fitbit excels in this area with its new Sleep Score that integrates its previous sleep stages, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, female health tracking, 50m water resistance, and 5+ day battery life. While my banks are still not supported, Fitbit Pay support is now included in the standard model while Amazon Alexa integration is now also part of the feature set.

After testing many wearables over the years I have learned that getting the core experiences right and having a battery that lets you get through at least a weekend are keys to satisfaction. The Fitbit Versa 2 has a perfect mix of health apps, battery life, ease of use, and a growing list of apps; I won't be surprised to see it quickly become Fitbit's most popular wearable after sales start this Sunday, 15 September.

Specifications

  • Display: 300x300 pixel resolution touchscreen AMOLED
  • Materials: Aluminum watch case and buckle with flexible Classic band
  • Wireless: Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • Water resistance: Up to 50 meters and sweat, rain, and splash proof
  • Sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor, alimeter, ambient light sensor, vibration motor, NFC, microphone, and relative SpO2 sensor
  • Battery life: 5+ days of standard smartwatch usage

Hardware

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The Versa 2 has some slight body changes with a significant move from three buttons to a single button on the left side. I like the single button setup for the most part although at times a swipe would be a bit more refined user element than a button press across the display.

The AMOLED screen has the same resolution, but looks great with vibrant colors and dark blacks. It is very visible inside and outside, even in direct sunlight. The front is completely black with no logos or anything on the front. Raise your wrist to look at the watch face or press the button to toggle on the display.

There is also a new Always-On display option and I used that for a few days, but the display is not customizable (only digital or analog clocks), raise-to-wake is disabled, and the Versa 2 battery life is cut in half with this option enabled. I found that the watch face turns on very quickly when I lift my wrist so I have moved to having the always-on display turned off by default.

The heart rate monitor is on the back with the gold pins to charge the Versa 2 on the opposite side of the back from their location on the Versa 1. The same clamp type USB charging dock is used on the Versa 2.

The bands for all three Versa models are interchangeable, but the default silicone band took me and my wife working together to swap it out. It was much easier to use the Horween leather and woven bands as they could lie flatter when installed. Even with the large lever on the pins, the classic band is a real pain to install.

See also: Q&A: Fitbit CEO James Park talks about the company's past, present, and future

Fitbit states a 5+ day battery life for the Versa 2 and that is what I have experienced so far. The always-on display clearly reduces this time so it's not something I'm using any longer.

A microphone is found on the right side of the Versa 2, which may explain why there is no longer two buttons on this side. The mic is used for the Amazon Alexa integration, explained in more detail in the software section below.

Fitbit Versa 2 watch software

The first screen that appears when you rotate your wrist is the watch face. There are hundreds of watch faces available in the Fitbit app store, but unfortunately you cannot save more than the current one on the Versa 2 so you must return to the store and reinstall it to switch it out. I've been very pleased with the default Fitbit options, but there are enough there to satisfy your desire for a custom experience.

Swipes from right to left move to the app launcher with four app shortcuts appearing on each screen. Press and hold your app icons to then drag them around and organize to your liking. A swipe up from the bottom shows you the Fitbit Today data, including steps, times you stood up, heart rate, sleep, water, food, and more. You can choose up to seven items to show on these Today screens from the bottom settings menu on the Fitbit Versa 2.

A swipe down from the top launches the notifications, along with a second single line on top of that so you can tap to go to music controls, Fitbit Pay, or Quick Settings. On the new Quick Settings display you will see five icons to toggle do not disturb, sleep mode (turns off notifications and keeps the display dark for sleeping), always-on display, brightness (dim, normal, max), and screen wake (auto or manual). I like this quick access to some key settings and used it every day to make sure sleep mode was on. In the past, my watch displays have turned on while tracking my sleep, disturbing my wife and me when trying to sleep.

See also: Fitbit releases OS 3.0 for Ionic and Versa: Enhanced smartwatch features and new apps

Pressing the left single button toggles the display on and off or takes you back to the watch face. A press and hold of this button can be setup to launch Amazon Alexa or Fitbit Pay. Since my banks don't support Fitbit Pay I have this action set to Amazon Alexa. If you have this action set to Fitbit Pay, then an Amazon Alexa button will appear in the Quick Settings menu.

Amazon Alexa functionality requires you to install the Amazon Alexa app on your phone and connect it to your Amazon account. There are limits to what Alexa does on the Versa 2, but it has proven handy to show the weather, set alarms, see my upcoming events, and answer search questions. You can use it to control smart home devices, start a Fitbit exercise, and more. It cannot be used for calls, flash briefings, and some other advanced Alexa functionality, but I found it to be much more capable than I had anticipated. Alexa results are provided in text format on the Versa 2 display and are not audible.

There really is no reason to really advertise Spotify functionality at this time since all the app does is allow you to control the Spotify app playing on your phone. There is no support for offline Spotify music like Fitbit has for Deezer and Pandora. The Versa 2 will be much more capable for me when offline Spotify support is enabled.

To use the Fitbit for exercise tracking, tap the exercise app to launch it. Note there is a gear icon in the various exercises that you tap to customize the exercise experience. Three data fields can be customized for the various workouts.

Sleep tracking is performed automatically by the Versa 2 so launch the smartphone app to view all of the collected data after you wake up.

Fitbit Premium service

I wanted to gather more than a week of data before posting my full review of the Versa 2 and also get a chance to start testing out the new Fitbit Premium service. I subscribed to the service, there is a one week free trial, and have used it for the last three days.

Fitbit Premium costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year so I signed up for the better one year deal. After just a few days I am already seeing the value of the service and Fitbit Premium is the primary reason I am committing to using the Fitbit Versa 2 for a longer period of time.

Guided programs, personalized insights, and workouts are all included with Fitbit Premium. There is still a separate Fitbit Coach app to download for step-by-step workouts, but with a Premium subscription you get full access to all of those workouts.

I need to lose about 30 pounds and have a couple of poor habits/issues to resolve. These include my addiction to sugar and my lack of hours spent sleeping. I started two guided programs; Kick Your Sugar Habit and Get More Zzz's. These programs are customized to your data and then appear on the smartphone Today page with daily guidance, checklists, and more to help you actually achieve these goals and finish these programs. There are currently nine programs to choose from in the Fitbit Premium subscription.

There are various workouts that are categorized such as outdoor walks, stair workouts, outdoor runs, elliptical, bodyweight workouts (my favorite), and much more. I performed a couple of these bodyweight workouts in my hotel room earlier this week and loved that animations and timers appeared right on the Versa 2 to guide me to successful completion.

Insights appear on the top of the Today screen in the smartphone app. While Fitbit will include some general insights for all users, the ones that appear with a premium subscription are more personalized to your specific situation.

Sleep is critical to long-term health and one of my major weaknesses that is ripe for improvement. With Fitbit Premium you will not only see your Sleep Score, but have access to a breakdown of the three components of your Sleep Score which includes sleeping heart rate and restlessness. I've been battling a cold the last couple of days and it's clear my Sleep Score is suffering because of it. Caffeine, alcohol, stress, and illness can impact your sleeping heart rate and thus your overall Sleep Score.

PC/Mac Software

While you can use the Fitbit website to view your data, the richer experience is present in the actual Fitbit app found on both Windows and Apple computers. Like the smartphone app, the Fitbit PC app launches with the dashboard. You can customize what appears on the dashboard.

Other tabs in the PC software include challenges, guidance, community, and notifications. You can also access your Fitbit ecosystem settings for your Ionic and other connected gear. Clicking on various elements on the dashboard will also show you more details and then you can even dive down a few more layers to see all of the details of your collected data. There is a rather stunning amount of data available in the Fitbit software, collected by the Ionic and other Fitbit devices. You can also choose to share your data with others in various ways.

Smartphone Software

There are iOS and Android apps for Fitbit. The Fitbit app essentially mirrors what we see in the desktop software with a slightly different user interface.

The smartphone app is needed to change watch faces, add/remove apps, setup the Amazon Alexa connection, manage music downloaded to the Versa 2, and establish all the settings for the watch. It's unfortunate that you cannot change watch faces right on the watch itself, especially now that there are thousands available for Fitbit OS.

Also: How smartwatches can boost productivity for business users TechRepublic

In addition, you can set up your smartphone notifications for the Versa 2. Options include calls, text messages, calendar events, email and app notifications. On Android, you have full control over which apps have notifications appear on the Fitbit Versa 2. The notifications are very basic and just provide you with the information in a few lines. If you have an Android phone connected, then you can reply to messages using the Versa 2's internal microphone, which is a handy option.

Pricing and availability

You can purchase the Fitbit Versa 2 for $199.95 this Sunday. Each pack includes small and large standard bands. You can also pay $39.99 for a two-year accidental damage protection plan.

The $199.95 price includes a silicon band with available watch/band colors that include black/carbon aluminum (the one I tested), stone/mist grey aluminum, petal/copper rose aluminum, bordeaux/copper rose aluminum, and emerald/copper rose aluminum. There are also two special edition options for $229.95 that include special bands. The options include smoke woven/mist grey aluminum and navy & pink woven/copper rose alumimum.

A Fitbit Versa models work with the same Versa line of bands. Sport bands ($29.95), Horween leather bands ($49.95), Kim Shui suede bands ($54.95), and woven reflective bands ($39.95) are available. There is also a special new RECCO woven band for $59.95 that is designed to help rescuers find you if lost.

Conclusions

Fitbit continues to refine the hardware and while the improvements are not too significant, the slight design changes improve the look and feel of the Versa 2. I like the single button to toggle the display and enable Amazon Alexa, but would like to see swipes used to go back rather than button presses.

The Versa 2 is the more comfortable wearable I've worn in a long time and I barely even know I am wearing it 24/7. It's perfect for sleep tracking and fits well in sleeved shirts. While the display is a bit bigger and the AMOLED colors look fantastic, there is still a pretty big bezel in place so the Versa 2 reminds me a bit of an improved Pebble watch.

There is no GPS in the Versa 2 and we haven't seen an update to the Ionic, but as I get older I have started carrying my phone when I run in order to call for help and also to take photos on my runs so I am starting to find onboard GPS less important for my needs. The connected GPS and ability to customize your workout displays a bit is useful, but three data fields is still a bit limiting for more advanced training purposes.

I had the chance to try out the included classic band, a woven reflective band, and a couple Horween perforated leather bands. They are all extremely comfortable and I especially enjoyed wearing the woven reflective band that is made of recycled materials and has a center reflective strip for nighttime visibility.

I've only experienced the Fitbit Premium services for a few days, but I am already finding some useful information there and can't wait to spend more time with the Versa 2 and premium services. Smartwatch functions are limited, but the health aspects, long battery life, and other capabilities outweigh having a few apps that I rarely use on my wrist. The Versa 2 is clearly better than the first generation and the price is reasonable for a very capable wearable device.

Specifications

Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, heart rate
Vibrating Alert Yes
Body Material anodized aluminum
Max Depth of Water Resistance 164 ft
Protection water-resistant
Preloaded Software FitBit Pay
Communications
Wireless Interface Bluetooth
Battery
Run Time (Up To) 4 day(s)
Header
Brand Fitbit
Product Line Fitbit
Packaged Quantity 1
General
Wearing Style watch style
Clock Display Yes
Integrated Components heart rate sensor
Set Goals Yes
Tracking Data activity, calories burned, distance, floors climbed, heart rate, menstrual cycle, pace, sleep activity, sleep stages, steps taken, swim laps
Band
Name band
Features
Sensors accelerometer, heart rate
Dimensions & Weight
Width 1.6 in
Depth 0.5 in
Height 1.6 in
Weight 1.41 oz
System Requirements
Supported Host Device Platform Android, iOS
Internet of Things (IoT)
Intelligent Assistant Compatible Alexa
Case
Case Shape square
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Connectivity
Wireless Interface Bluetooth

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Where To Buy

Fitbit Versa 2 - copper rose - smart watch with band - petal

Part Number: FB507RGPK