WEARABLE GIANT Fitbit unveiled its latest smartwatch, the Versa, late last week, touting some new welcome new features and a completely new design, all with over four days battery life.
The new device builds on the success of the Fitbit Ionic which was released late last year, positioned not as a replacement but a cheaper alternative with slightly fewer tricks, such as lack of inbuilt GPS.
We were invited over to the sunny Costa Dorada in Spain to put the fresh device through its paces ahead of official release in the UK. Here are some of our initial thoughts.
Design and display
In terms of looks, Fitbit has not retained any of the design features seen in its previous wrist-worn gadgets, apart from what you see on screen - but we'll talk about that later. It's a fresh look completely; a square with soft edges, which is being called, er, "Squircle" because it's square with rounded edges, if you didn't get it already.
Despite the awful shape name, we like the look of the Fitbit Versa. It's neither this nor that, but it's pretty nondescript and thus harmless on the eye, leaving you to concentrate more on what's on the display than what's going on around it.
The Versa isn't only aesthetically pleasing, but it's probably one of the most comfortable smartwatches Fitbit has made thanks to its super lightweight design. In fact, it's Fitbit's lightest smartwatch yet. Fitbit said it boasts an ultra-thin, anodised aluminium case and is slightly tapered and angled in its design to fit small or large wrists, so this is probably why.
There are also lots of different strap alternatives to choose from if you feel the need, including leather and metal alternatives.
As for the display, it's a vibrant, colourful touchscreen with a brightness level of up to 1,000 nits. We tested this out while in the sunny beaches of western Spain and can confirm it's easily visible in direct sunlight even when not turned up to the maximum brightness capacity.
Whether it's to try and stay relevant in the age of the Apple Watch, Fitbit has ensured the Versa is brimming with features, just like it did with the Ionic.
An especially exciting one is its waterproofing, which not only means you can get it wet, but you can use it to track your water activities with a dedicated swimming mode. Fitbit claims this is more accurate than its competitors in accurately tracking your laps of the pool or performance in open waters, too.
During thrashing in both these types of swimming exercises, the Versa was able to work perfectly underwater and gave us on-screen recordings in with its brightly-lit display as we swam, updating the display with the number of lengths completed each time we stopped to take the next length.
This is thanks to the device's new Run Detect feature, the Versa is clever enough to know when you're taking a break, and automatically stops and starts tracking a run, swim or cycle by sensing the status of your movement.
The other good news is that this feature doesn't come into play if you don't want it to. Choose a standard "workout" exercise from the list before beginning circuit training, for example, and it'll track your heart rate continuously until you tell it to stop. Speaking of which, we are big fans of the heart rate sensor, which displays the corresponding measurements on the screen clearly whether you're exercising or not. That's one thing Fitbit do very well. On-screen icons are displayed beautifully and in a clean way so not to confuse you, too.
And thanks to new customisation options, you can also design your own watch faces to make the Versa look how you want it.
Firing up the Running app to ensure your run is tracked is easy enough. Simply select Running from the Exercise app by swiping left from the home screen, tap 'Go' and you can get your ass into gear. It seemed to track our run very well, pausing distance tracking right on time when we stopped to rest. Fitbit knows how to do fitness tracking better than most, so we had no doubts the Versa would impress us here.
Debuted on the Ionic, the Fitbit Pay platform is available to use on the Versa, too, meaning you can use the watch to buy stuff without your phone or wallet and will include major credit card companies like AMEX, MasterCard and Visa. The feature works well and just requires you to input a four-digit pin before bringing up the contactless payment screen, so if your Versa gets into the wrong hands, no-one can steal your money, too. At the moment though it doesn't work with every bank in the UK, but Fitbit is working to rectify this.
Later in the year, Fitbit said it will add a mode to Versa that will monitor specific women's health issues, including menstruation. It'll spot problems and identify patterns, which is definitely a USP compared to most watches (aside from Apple, of course) and the sleep apnoea detection algorithms are back too.
There's also a new Deezer music integration which allows you to listen to music stored on the watch downloaded from your Deezer account via connected Bluetooth earphones. However, due to the limited time we had with the watch, we are yet to try this function. But hit us up in a week's time or so when we will have tested it in a full review.
So, the big question: battery life. How long will the Versa last before you need to charge it again? We haven't had sufficient time with the watch as of yet to test it fully, but let's go off use after one full day.
For a start, Fitbit claims the Versa's battery life is not quite on par with the Ionic, cited at four days instead of five. And after using the watch for a good solid 24 hours, we were rather impressed with its stamina. Obviously, this is dependent on how much you use it for measuring workouts throughout the day, but after a full charge and using it for a full 24 hours, including three workouts and sleep, it was at a rather impressive 60 per cent capacity.
While its features set isn't quite on par with that of the Ionic, the Fitbit Versa feels very much the same watch in a different, lighter and friendlier design. And it's also worth noting it's not supposed to be replacing the Ionic, it'll be on offer alongside it, as a cheaper, "lite" alternative, so to speak. As you'd therefore expect, there's also a significant price dip - it's £199, compared to £299.
The Versa is available for presale from now, with global retail availability coming in April. Check back soon for our full Versa review once we've had some proper time with it. µ