The Fitbit Versa 2 Chases Apple’s Dominance

The Fitbit Versa 2 Chases Apple’s Dominance

The new Fitbit Versa 2 seems awfully aware of the issues Fitbit has had with its smartwatches for the last few cycles. The product, announced today, addresses many of the previous issues with the Versa line while also keeping features that we love about its predecessors. As before, it’s a smartwatch that looks like an Apple Watch, but at a much lower price. And with the addition of Alexa, you get a solid wrist-based alternative to Apple and Google.

The Versa, which was Fitbit’s first very affordable and attractive foray into smartwatches, was a lot cheaper than the Apple Watch, with exceptional battery life and a far better fitness tracking experience. Only it lacked Apple’s ecosystem as well as a few key features that made Apple’s smartwatch the smarter buy. The Versa Lite cut the budget and the features even further, but it still couldn’t quite nail the “the smartwatch for people who don’t want an Apple device.” The Fitbit 2 is clearly mindful of these problems.

The device, which is available September of this year for $330, looks an awful lot like the previous versions (and the Apple Watch). It’s more refined with an upgraded always-on display. That means you shouldn’t have to press a button to see the display, just turn it to your face, and it flickers on. While this will probably mean less impressive battery life than the previous Versa, Fitbit claims it should still last multiple days on a charge. My Apple Watch Series 4, for reference, lasts a day.

Fitbit has had a problem with displays versus its competitors. The company opts for big bezels, tiny watch faces, and ultimately battery performance over minuscule pixels and high resolution. That’s welcome in a fitness tracker, but smartwatches are expected to fill a more luxurious niche, and those choices made previous Versas feel cheaper than they are. Although at $300 or less, they’ve always been on the cheap end of the smartwatch spectrum.

The display on the Versa 2 is a significant upgrade. The new AMOLED display is very bright and easy to read, with rich colours and a nice sharpness to fonts. However, as with the previous Versa, there’s a big and unsightly bezel. A prominent bezel on a watch that otherwise looks like an Apple device marks this as a pretender to the Apple Watch’s throne. It might not be a pretender, though. It could very well be the smartwatch to buy.

The Versa 2 has things going for it that the Apple Watch does not. It uses Fitbit’s app, which means it automatically does a better job relaying all the data it’s collecting back to you. Apple’s Watch my collect a similar amount of data, but the Health app is notoriously bad at delivering that data to you in a useful way.

This year, Fitbit made improvements to sleep tracking and introduced a sleep score, which rates your sleep on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being some high grade (and hopefully restorative) snoozes.

There’s also a new smart wake feature, which attempts to wake you up when you’re already sleeping lightly. Both features are pretty standard among the array of sleep apps available on Android and iOS, but many people prefer a one-stop-shop for their wellness needs. Having robust sleep tracking added to an already robust fitness app is extremely welcome.

Fitbit also added an Estimated Oxygen Variation Graph, which it’s planning to launch at a later date on the Versa 2. The Idea is it will measure the oxygen levels in your bloodstream and note variances that require medical attention. That could be great for sufferers of sleep apnea — if it works as described.

Editor’s Note: Some of the Versa’s features, like this graph, may not be available for Australian customers due to our strict health regulations and approval processes.

The most contentious addition to the Versa 2 is Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Instead of tapping into Siri or Google Assistant, the Versa will allow you to activate Alexa. Press and hold the single button on the Versa, and Alexa will prompt you to engage. It feels like a punchline, right?

Oh, a non-Apple or Google product just tossing in Alexa. But on a smartwatch, where you don’t have a keyboard for typing, a voice assistant can be useful. While we might have concerns about Amazon’s business and privacy practices, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of Alexa. Particularly versus Apple’s much dumber Siri.

The Versa 2 also ends the Versa’s practice of saving features for the special edition. $330 will get you a Versa 2 in either carbon (black), copper rose (rose gold), or mist grey (grey). The special edition version, offered in copper rose or mist grey, will retail for $380 and include an additional wrist band as well as 90 days of Fitbit Premium (more on that in a second).

Those are the only differences. Crucial features like NFC support will be available on all models. (GPS will be available, but only when tethered to a phone).

But let’s go back to talking about Fitbit Premium, the new fitness service the company announced today. A pilot program will launch later this year and give subscribers more in-depth data from workouts and sleep sessions, as well as guidance. For $US10 ($15) a month ($US80 ($119) a year) Fitbit Premium promises to give you better advice about sleep and workouts.

For example, it can adjust reps during a workout when you’re fatigued or remind you that a jog at a certain time of day seems to help you sleep better. Fitbit also promises to expand the guidance to include challenges, health coaching, and health reports that can be printed out and shared with a physician.

Editor’s Note: Australian pricing is currently unavailable for Fitbit Premium, but you can sign up for the waitlist for this service.

The pilot program will launch in English in the U.S. in October 2019. More languages and locations will become available when the service fully releases in 2020.

Besides a new watch and new service, Fitbit also introduced a new smart scale. The Fitbit Aria Air is the cheapest smart scale Fitbit has released at just $US50 ($74). That’s well over half the price of the $US130 ($193) Fitbit Aria 2. A cheaper device means fewer metrics, of course. While the Aria Air will measure your weight and BMI and sync via Bluetooth, it lacks quicker Wi-Fi, or the ability to measure body fat percentage or lean mass.

Editor’s Note: The Fitbit Aria Air has no current Australian release date or pricing.

The Aria Air will ship to the U.S. later this September. The Versa 2 is set to ship to Australia in mid-September. Fitbit’s new service, Premium, will begin its pilot program in October in the U.S. before its global release in 2020. So stay tuned for more in-depth looks at all three.