Fitbit Versa Is the Cheap Apple Watch I Really Want

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Fitbit isn’t known for its fashion sense, despite past efforts to slim down its fitness trackers and introduce more high-end band materials. Its first smartwatch, last year’s Ionic, boldly took aim at Apple, but that device’s chunky, square aesthetic failed to impress.

So Fitbit went back to the drawing board, and its new smartwatch — the $200 Versa — is designed for everyone, not just dudes with giant wrists. I used the watch during a brief but intense workout, and I was impressed with its new design. But I’m eager to try the new health-tracking features that will really set the Versa apart.

Fitbit's Versa feels much more comfortable on my wrist than the Ionic did.Fitbit's Versa feels much more comfortable on my wrist than the Ionic did.

A Fresh Face

The Fitbit Versa resembles an Apple Watch, but that’s not a bad thing. The 39mm device is slightly wider than the smallest 36mm Apple Watch, and Fitbit could still stand to slim down the bezels surrounding the touchscreen (while ditching the Fitbit logo on the chin). But the Versa is the thinnest, lightest aluminum smartwatch I’ve ever tried on, which should make it more comfortable to wear all day and night.

The Versa will be available in black, light gray, and rose gold with a classic band; a Versa Special Edition comes in graphite and rose gold with a woven band.

I strapped a Versa to my wrist to log a dodgeball workout at Fitbit’s Versa press event in Manhattan, and I didn’t even notice that I was wearing it (although perhaps that’s because I was performing damn near acrobatic moves to avoid getting beaned in the leg).

Versa shares many of the Ionic’s features, including an app store, swim-tracking workouts, on-board music storage and 4-day battery life, so you can log sleep as well as steps. Fitbit’s sleep-tracking dashboard is the most accurate and insightful of any fitness tracker I’ve tested, and putting that tech in a stylish device that only needs to be charged twice a week could make Versa more competitive with Apple Watch than the Ionic was. Android users will get a new text message feature that allows them to send quick replies from their watches.

However, to get all of those features into a super-slim package, Fitbit sacrificed GPS. That’s an omission serious athletes will have to consider. The $230 Versa Special Edition includes an NFC chip for mobile payments, but the $200 base model does not. I don’t make payments from my wrist all that often, but for some buyers, the $30 premium for the special edition may be worth it.


A Focus on Women’s Health

Fitbit will fold data about your cycle into the watch's Today app.Fitbit will fold data about your cycle into the watch's Today app.

Melanie Chase, Fitbit’s vice president of marketing, said the Versa is a “great opportunity to bring more women into the smartwatch category,” which is about 60 percent male.

But it will take more than a rose gold redesign to convince women to splurge on a smartwatch. That’s why Fitbit is rolling out female health-tracking features. Many women already use period-tracking apps, but Fitbit is building period-tracking into the Versa, so women can see how their periods affect their sleep and activity.

Fitbit users who identify as women will see a new tab in the Fitbit app for logging periods and symptoms. The dashboard will then forecast future cycles, including ovulation windows, and eventually offer insight into trends, such as how your cycle affects your weight. You'll be able to take all of that data to your doctor if you notice that your cycles and symptoms swing wildly from month to month.

“Most technology products aren’t designed with women in mind first,” Chase said. “We wanted to be the first to give women a complete picture of their health.”

The Versa will display period-related information in the daily overview of the Today app if you want to be notified when your period is about to start. Fitbit promises it won’t send you an obvious, embarrassing notification about it.

All women who already use the Fitbit app will have access to these new health-tracking features, so you don’t need to buy a Versa. But Fitbit is obviously hoping that you will.

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Fitbit for Kids

Fitbit is also rolling out a new device just for children, the $100 Fitbit Ace, which is designed to encourage kids 8 and older to stay active. A new Family Account mode in the Fitbit app gives parents control over their child’s device, including who can follow them. Fitbit Ace will track kids’ sleep and activity, but will not show information such as calorie burn or body fat percentage. The Ace is available to preorder now in blue or purple and will ship in the second quarter of this year.

Looking Ahead

Fitbit's redesigned smartwatch dives deeper into health data with female-focused features.Fitbit's redesigned smartwatch dives deeper into health data with female-focused features.

When I saw Fitbit CEO James Park wearing the Versa, I did a double take — I thought he was wearing an Apple Watch at first glance. The redesigned smartwatch is a far cry from the Ionic’s angular aesthetic, which I intensely disliked. After trying the Versa on, I noticed stark differences between Fitbit’s new watch and Apple’s offering. The navigation is completely different, with three buttons to Apple Watch’s button-crown combo. The Versa is much slimmer and more lightweight than my Series 3. I don’t like that Fitbit sacrificed GPS to trim down the watch, though GPS isn’t a must-have for most people.

But in the long run, I think Fitbit’s female-focused software features will be more meaningful than the Versa’s Apple-inspired design. While you can install period-tracking apps on the Apple Watch, there is no app that combines and analyzes all the information women need to understand their overall health. The Fitbit app logs your weight, sleep, workouts, heart rate, food intake and, now, your periods; it then gives you insights based on analyzing all of that data. This is a huge deal, because all of those metrics are so deeply intertwined.

The Versa is available to preorder now and will ship in April. Stay tuned for a full review of the device before it launches.