"Alexa, ask Fitbit to whip me into shape."
OK, so maybe getting toned abs isn't that simple, but Fitbit's latest smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa 2, sports several new features, including Amazon's voice assistant and a premium subscription service aimed at making it easier for you to reach your goals. The Versa 2 ($199) also has new sleep features, but will all these be enough to compete against other fitness trackers coming this fall? I spent a week with Fitbit's newest flagship smartwatch to find out.
Fitbit Versa 2 price and release date
The Fitbit Versa 2 costs $199 (£199) and goes on sale Sept. 15. It's the same price as the original Versa. The Versa 2 comes in three colors: Black, Rose Gold and Gray. Two special editions, both with a copper rose case, cost $229, but come with a 90-day trial of Fitbit Premium.
A simpler, refined design
Apple and Fitbit must be on to something, because consumers don't seem to mind the "squircle" design of those companies' smartwatches. The Versa 2 has the same rounded square look of its predecessor, with a few refinements. The bezel is smaller — Fitbit removed its name from the bottom bezel, so you see a bit more. It's about the same size (1.6 inches square), which means it should fit well on most wrists.
Where the original Versa had three buttons — two on the left, and one on the right — the Versa 2 has just one button on its left side. It serves as both a Select and Back button; all other navigation is done via the Versa 2's touch screen.
This simple setup works pretty well. You're never more than a few presses from where you need to be. However, like any other touch screen, the Versa 2's became erratic when it or my finger was sweaty.
Always-on AMOLED display
Another improvement is the Versa 2's AMOLED touch screen. The display is not only slightly larger, at about 1.4 inches, but now features an always-on option that shows the time, date and battery life. This screen is simply black and white in this mode. You have to wake the Versa 2 to get the full color screen.
Throughout my week of testing the watch, I never had a problem reading the display, even in sunlight.
Fitbit Versa 2 and Alexa
The Versa 2 isn't the first smartwatch to have Alexa built in, but Amazon's Assistant is a nice addition for those who use the service. You need to have an activated Alexa account in order to use it on the Versa 2.
You can use Alexa on the Versa 2 to look up the weather, control smart-home devices, set alarms and timers and start a Fitbit exercise. Other features, such as flash briefings and phone calls, are not supported. Although you don't need to have the Alexa app running on your smartphone, you do need to have the Fitbit app running (it can be in the background) and connected to your Alexa account.
Using Alexa on the Versa 2 was a hit-and-miss affair. It would often take me a few tries to get Alexa to respond to a command; the watch would stay on a screen that said "thinking…." When it worked, though, it was handy for controlling my smart home lights, especially if I was in a room without an Alexa-powered smart speaker. It was also nice not to have to say Alexa all the time.
I wore the Versa 2 for a little more than a week, and took it on several runs and a few walks. The Versa 2 can automatically record activities, such as walking, running and biking, but there are some caveats.
If you don't explicitly start recording one of those activities on the watch, you won't be able to see your statistics (such as distance) in real time. While the watch did record my walks automatically, it did not record a run. That's because the RunDetect feature requires you to have your phone with you as well.
While running, the Versa 2 can display only two metrics, such as elapsed time and heart rate. Without my phone (and its GPS to rely on), the Versa 2 wasn't terribly accurate. It estimated that a 3.8-mile run was 4.2 miles. I'll take the extra credit, though. If you do run with your phone (and use its GPS), the Fitbit app will recalculate your stride length, so that future runs are more accurate.
I did like the Versa 2's auto-pause feature, which pauses your workout if you have to stop for a traffic light or some other reason. However, the slightest movement will start the clock going again.
While not unique to the Versa 2, Fitbit is introducing two new sleep-centric features to its devices with heart rate monitors. The first is a Sleep Score, which looks at all your sleep data from the night before and boils it down to a number from 1 to 100. The higher the number, the better you've slept. It's reductive, but handy.
I wore the Versa 2 to bed for several nights, but because I was tossing and turning too much, the watch didn't recognize that I had gone to sleep until 3 hours after my head hit the pillow. However, you can go back and manually adjust each sleep log after the fact. Perhaps because I have an 11-month-old, my sleep scores weren't great, in the mid-60s and 70s.
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Smart Wake aims to rouse you from bed more gently. Tell the Versa 2 what time you want to wake up, and within a 30-minute window around that time, the watch will look for when you're in a lighter sleep cycle, and wake you up then. I wasn't able to test this feature, because I was always in a lighter sleep cycle around the time I usually wake up. Still, the Versa gently buzzed on my wrist — not too rigorously to startle, but enough to gently prod me awake, or at least press the snooze button on the watch.
Female health tracking
Introduced with the original Versa, the Versa 2 tracks female health, which allows women to monitor their cycles and receive alerts and notifications on the watch itself. When testing this feature on the original Versa, my colleague Caitlin McGarry noted that the female health tracking was "pretty basic." However, that was about a year ago; once she's had a chance to try out the features on the Versa 2, we'll update this review.
Music: Almost there
Like the original Versa, the Versa 2 lets you download up to 300 songs to the watch itself for offline music playback. New for the Versa 2 is a Spotify app (for Spotify Premium subscribers only), which allows you to control playback from that service on the watch, provided you have your phone with you.
That's a step in the right direction, but other smartwatches already have this ability and more. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active ($200) and Garmin's new Vivoactive 4 ($349) let you download Spotify playlists to the watch itself, so you don't need your phone. Yes, you can download MP3s or use Deezer or Pandora, but if you're going to add Spotify, then why not go all the way?
Connected GPS — still
Also like the original Versa, the Versa 2 has to rely on the GPS in your smartphone, rather than it being on board. That means you'll need to run with your phone if you want to get stats like distance and pace.
That's a bit of a bummer; if you want a Fitbit with built-in GPS, the only option is the $279 Ionic. Both the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Active, which are around the same price as the Versa 2, both have GPS built in.
Rolling out to all Fitbit devices is the company's new subscription service, called Fitbit Premium ($9.99/month or $79.99/year). After you set a goal, it will take the data from your Fitbit device, and offer customized training programs, advanced sleep metrics and more personalized insights into your fitness and health. Fitbit Premium is not yet available, but we will update this review once we've had a chance to test it out.
Fitbit Versa 2 battery life
Battery life for the Versa 2 is marginally better than the original: About five days for general use, and about two days if you use Versa 2's always-on display feature. With the screen set to remain on, I was able to get nearly three days out of the Versa 2, even while wearing it overnight.
The Versa 2's charger is on the bulky side. Its base has four contacts, which line up with nubs on the bottom of the watch. Two spring-loaded clamps on either side of the charger's base keep the watch in place. It's less elegant than the Apple Watch's magnetic charger, as well as Garmin's minimalist USB connector.
It's not as full-fledged as the Apple Watch, but Fitbit's nascent app store has around 450 apps and more than 3,700 watch faces. Apps include TRX Training, Starbucks, Spotify, Deezer, Uber, Yelp, The New York Times, Flipboard, Walgreens and Pandora.
The Versa 2 can receive notifications from your smartphone; regardless of your phone's operating system, you can answer or reject phone calls. If you're on iOS, you can view calendar invites and text messages, but you can't respond to them from the watch. If you're on Android, you can use the Versa's microphone to compose replies using your voice.
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Also built into the Versa 2 is Fitbit Pay, which lets you leave your wallet at home and pay for things using the watch's NFC chip. Fitbit Pay works with a large number of credit card companies, including Chase and Capital One, and can be used on the New York City subway and the London Underground.
With the Fitbit Versa 2, all of the things we liked about the original are better: A stylish and lightweight design, female health tracking, good battery life and insightful sleep tracking. I like that Spotify support has been added, but wish I could download songs using that service, as you can with other fitness-focused smartwatches. The addition of Alexa is a nice touch, but it doesn't work as smoothly as it should, and I wish Fitbit would have added onboard GPS.
If you're not wedded to Fitbit's platform, the Versa 2 is a harder sell when you compare it with other $200 smartwatches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3, which both have GPS, onboard music storage and contactless payments. One feature that could set the Versa 2 apart is Fitbit's new subscription service, but it will take a lot to convince me to spend $80 more per year. Still, the Versa 2 is a very good fitness-focused smartwatch that offers plenty of insights into your overall health, subscription or not.