Fitbit Just Pulled Several Miracles Out of Its Arse With Its New Wearable Lineup

Image: Fitbit, Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo
Image: Fitbit, Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Fitbit really needed to impress this spring. Not only did Samsung just up the ante in the smartwatch realm with its excellent Galaxy Watch 3, but Apple also has some neat features lined up for the Apple Watch with watchOS 7. And when it comes to budget trackers and smartwatches, players like Xiaomi and Amazfit have been creeping on Fitbit’s turf with their own affordable devices. After some lacklustre product launches last year and a pending acquisition by Google, Fitbit needed a Hail Mary if it was going to stay relevant in the wearables game.

Was I somewhat sceptical based on leaks? You bet. Did Fitbit somehow manage to totally upend expectations with the Fitbit Sense, Versa 3, and Inspire 2? Surprisingly, yes! Here’s everything you need to know about all three wearables, and a little bit of what Fitbit’s got planned for the future.

The Fitbit Sense Is Actually Pretty Cool

Image: Fitbit

The big smartwatch of the day is the Fitbit Sense, the company’s new high-end flagship wearable. The watch adds stress-tracking via a new electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, a skin temperature sensor, and the ability to take electrocardiograms via the stainless steel ring around the display. Clearance from health authorities is still pending for ECG, but stress-tracking is intriguing as it’s a feature other companies haven’t quite nailed down yet.

The additional sensors, plus the fact Fitbit is introducing new Pure Pulse 2.0 heart rate-monitoring algorithm, indicate that Fitbit is expanding its advanced health features. In a press briefing, the company noted that while it’s tracked heart rate variability for a while now, the metric will take a more central role in updated fitness-tracking features. Pure Pulse 2.0 will also enable the Sense to deliver notifications when your heart rate is abnormally low or high.

The Sense also has staples like built-in GPS, NFC payments, and an always-on display. It also adds Google Assistant on top of Alexa (probably thanks to that pending merger), the ability for Android users to take calls from the wrist, and the Active Zone Minutes tracking Fitbit introduced with the Charge 4. This is a lot! And it will retail for $499, which is cheaper than both the Galaxy Watch 3 and the Bluetooth version of Apple Watch. It’ll also come with six months of Fitbit’s Premium subscription service for free (if you’re a new Premium user.) We’ll have to test to see how it performs, but on paper, this thing is what we all wanted a Fitbit smartwatch to be.

The Versa 3 Is What the Versa 2 Should’ve Been

Image: Fitbit

Last year’s Versa 2 was a solid update to Fitbit’s most popular smartwatch, but it was also lacking in several areas: There was no built-in GPS, the always-on display was meh, and while adding Alexa was cool, it was also kind of limited. The Versa 3, however, is a much more meaningful update.

Built-in GPS with new pace and distance heat maps? Check. Google Assistant plus Alexa? Check. The ability to take Bluetooth calls from the wrist for Android? Yup. Six-day battery life with the ability to quickly charge a day’s worth of battery in 12 minutes? Double yup. The Versa 3 also adds Active Zone Minutes and, like the Sense, will feature Fitbit’s Pure Pulse 2.0 tech.

In terms of design, what can I say? It’s a Versa smartwatch. That said, it does do away with buttons entirely for Fitbit’s induction buttons. Plus, in a briefing, Fitbit noted that it had completely reworked the UX for its devices to be more intuitive, finally adding widgets to its smartwatches. The Versa 3 is, however, slightly more expensive than the Versa 2 — it’ll cost $399. I confess to being a little tired of the Versa line in general, the Versa 3 delivers some real updates instead of smashing us over the head with a new Versa just for the sake of having a new Versa.

The Inspire 2…Is Also Here…For Some Reason…with Really Long Battery Life!

Image: Fitbit

Look, not everything Fitbit has on deck was going to be super-duper exciting. That said, it is a good thing that Fitbit hasn’t forgotten about budget options and its simple fitness tracker roots. Some people just want the basics without the bells and whistles — that’s pretty much the Inspire 2 in a nutshell.

The main thing here is that Fitbit has beefed the battery life up to 10 whole freaking days with continuous heart rate-monitoring. While Fitbits have always had pretty good battery life, that’s a new record for them. And because they really want folks to sign up for Premium, buying a $179 Inspire 2 also gets new users an entire year of Premium free. Again, not the most exciting update of the bunch, but for users who just want the basics, this is actually an alright update. I’ll say it one more time: 10 days of battery life.

Advanced Illness Detection in the Works

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

It’s no secret that Fitbit’s been participating in studies to see whether its wearables can help researchers detect covid-19, and other infectious illnesses, early. During its press briefing, the company gave a quick update on how that was going, and its preliminary results are intriguing.

For starters, 100,000 Fitbit users have volunteered their data, with 900 confirmed to have tested positive for covid-19. From that data, Fitbit said it definitely sees a correlation between heart rate and respiratory rate, noting that it was able to detect nearly 50 per cent of covid-19 cases a day before symptoms appeared with 70 per cent specificity. (Specificity is a term that means correctly identifying the percentage of healthy people who, in this case, do not have covid-19.) Those might seem like not-so-great numbers compared to, say, that study with the Oura Ring claiming 90% accuracy with a tiny sample size of 600 front line workers. However, it’s actually a more realistic result given the large sample size and Fitbit said it’s submitted the study for peer review, which is an encouraging sign.

Lastly, Fitbit said it was working to bring an early detection algorithm to market to help people identify when they might want to isolate if they are potentially falling ill. That could mean a myriad of things — is it something that will only stay on Fitbit devices? Will it be licensed to other vendors? Only time will tell, but all this indicates that Fitbit is putting its data expertise to use in an innovative way — something we haven’t seen in a hot second.

Availability

So when can you throw wads of cash at Fitbit for these gadgets? Preorders for all three devices begin tomorrow in select regions, and Fitbit says they company expects them to ship at the end of September.

As a refresher, the Sense costs $499, the Versa 3 is $399, and the Inspire 2 is $179. The Sense comes with 6 months of Fitbit Premium free (for new users), while the Inspire 2 comes with a year-long free trial. Accessories for the Sense and Versa 3 start at $45, while accessories for the Inspire 2 start at $30.