Heads up – April 8th, 2019! The Fitbit Alta HR (the one with the optical HR sensor) is currently $40 off – down to $89 (or Amazon here)! This is the best price we’ve ever seen for this unit, and the lowest price we’ve ever seen for a HR enabled mainstream activity tracker.
This is more of a closeout deal, due to the new Inspire HR lineup Fitbit released a month ago, but the Alta HR has virtually all the same features….so…yeah. It’s a steal. Full review here.
Do you know what happens when you remove GPS and style from the Fitbit Ionic? You end up with a Fitbit Versa. Which is probably the easiest way to describe the two watches. Certainly, the Fitbit Versa can be stylish in the right hands (or wrists), but ultimately the main differentiator is the lack of GPS compared to it’s more expensive sibling. Both have music storage onboard as well as 3rd party apps, and both can have contactless payments. And you can even swap the bands on both. So why have two units?
Well, the $199 Versa aims to fill the gap between the higher end $299 (but often $249) Ionic and the companies lower end activity trackers which lack apps and fancy displays. It also aims squarely at the Apple Watch Series 1, which is often found in the same price neighborhood. But does Fitbit pull that off?
See, that’s a more complex question to answer. Obviously the sales numbers probably say ‘Yes’, but the reality depends a bit on how you’ll use the watch – and what type of person you are. Hopefully, I’ll be be able to help you decide within this review.
In this case Fitbit sent over a media loaner Versa to try out – which I’ve been wearing for about a month and a half now. That’ll be returned shortly along with the handful of bands they put in the box. After which I’ll go out and get my own via normal retail channels. If you found this review useful, hit up the links at the end of the post to help support the site.
Perhaps the most nifty thing about what Fitbit has done with recent products is to include two straps in the box itself. Rather than have two SKU’s, such as a large and small band – they just included both sizes in there. That also eliminates the problem for small-wristed folks of getting a watch with a clunky-big band.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, here’s the box from the outside:
Obviously, if you’ve got a different color variant, you’d see that color on the box. Cracking it open, here’s what you’re looking at inside:
Below the gray bit is a small pile of accessories, that once taken all out look like the below. Except, probably not as organized as the below – since you’ll have better things to do than make them perfectly aligned and centered.
But here’s the full contents on the table:
Briefly looking at the various items in there we’ve first got the manual. It covers stuff like not actually wearing it 24×7 unless you’re washing it occasionally (to ensure that Fitbit doesn’t get back in some lawsuits over rashes):
Then of course there’s the watch itself – but fear not,we’ll cover that a bunch:
And finally, the charging dock. It’s kinda beastly and clunky. I can’t think of a worse charger in terms of either portability or ease of replacement (you can’t remove the cable connecting to it).
I’m also not sure why Fitbit needs a new charger for every…single…device…they’ve ever made. Seriously, not one has shared the same charger to my knowledge.
In any case, it is what it is. With that, let’s take a quick look at size as compared to the Suunto 3 Fitness and the Apple Watch (this is a 42mm variant, but you can also get the smaller 38mm variant).
And here ya go from a thickness standpoint:
The Fitbit Versa is the thinnest of the bunch, just barely edging out the Apple Watch. With that, let’s go onto using it.
The Fitbit Versa follows the exact same button layout and user interface of the Fitbit Ionic. This includes three physical buttons as well as a touch screen. Two on the right side and one on the left. Like most other highly colorful screen watches, the display is off unless you press a button or raise your wrist.
Once you do that, you’ll get the home page displayed with the time/date and overall activity metrics for the day. This includes your steps, calories, and current heart rate.
You can customize this watch/clock face though via the app store/gallery. There’s a crap-ton of them, both from Fitbit as well as 3rd parties.
If you swipe from the top, you’ll get access to past smartphone notifications. This allows you to dig into past notifications and access the details of them in the event you missed them. Note that this past Monday Fitbit announced the ability for Android users to reply to messages with short responses from their Versa and Ionic watches. Unfortunately, there’s nothing yet for Apple folk (likely due to restrictions within the iOS platform) – other wearable companies have been in the same boat.
With a semi-recent change, you can now enable/disable any app to display smartphone notifications on the Fitbit Versa (and Ionic). It used to be that only Android users could do this, but now iOS users can as well. Previously iOS users were limited to just text messages, phone calls, and calendar notifications. Now however you can use the Fitbit smartphone app to set these up. This is a bit different than most watches though in that they override the notification center on your phone, where these are normally setup. So if you install a new app with notifications you’ll need to remember change it in the Fitbit app as well:
Back on the home screen, you can swipe to the right to access the apps you’ve installed, as well as default apps. In the case of Fitbit, like most wearable OS’s, apps include functions like workout modes as well as alarms. Though, in the case of alarms you can access that quickly via pressing the lower right button.
Apps do include the pre-loaded apps as well. Examples include Pandora, Strava, and the Starbucks app. Some of these apps are fairly full featured, like the Pandora app. Whereas others like the Starbucks app are basically just ways to load your Starbucks card for scanning at their stores. And in the case of Strava, it’s not going to show you Strava Live Segments or such, it’s just for reviewing past workouts.
Meanwhile, if you swipe from the bottom you’ll get your Fitbit ‘Today’ page, which is somewhat a combination of what you’d done today, as well as what you’ve done recently. It’s effectively a mini reporting page. I like it, and it’s a much cleaner way of showing the recent metrics around heart rate, sleep and steps than most other units on the market.
All of these metrics can also be seen via the phone app, where you can dig into them in far more detail. And ultimately, it’s really the phone app and the community around it that drive and retain people into the Fitbit ecosystem. It runs circles around Apple, and is the main reason why Fitbit continues to sell tens of millions of devices per quarter. I often say that you should choose your activity tracker based primarily on which platform your friends are on. After all, it’s aspects like challenges and such that drive most people to walk those extra steps. That’s no truer than on Fitbit’s platform.
Within the app you can easily view the current day’s overview, as well as the steps for the day by the hour as well as past days and months
This is true of most other metrics too. Be it stairs, distance, or heart rate.
Another metric is sleep. The Versa tracks sleep without you needing to do anything special. It just happens in the background. The unit records the time you fell asleep, as well as when you woke up. It’ll also record how often you were awake in the middle of the night to sort out why either one of your two small children were screaming and throwing stuffed animals across the room from their cribs.
I’ve found these numbers pretty darn close, though sometimes it doesn’t always capture me going back to sleep in the morning (for example, after giving a bottle to a baby and then going back to sleep at 6AM). Still, overall it’s pretty darn close, and I get that trying to figure out the wonky sleeping patterns of a newish baby is tricky. And for the most part is captures naps as well, which a number of watches don’t.
Along those same lines, we’ve got the 24×7 heart rate metrics. These are recorded using the optical heart rate sensor on the bottom of the unit, which is illuminated and recording constantly.
You can view your heart rate at any time on the watch face itself, but also within the app you’ll get tons more detail on how it trends 24×7. It’s with these trends that you can start to determine your heart rate patterns.
The most interesting aspect of these metrics is is resting heart rate (RHR), which can generally be used to spot excessive fatigue or incoming sickness. For example, I know that my daily low resting HR is generally below 50bpm (often in the 40-42bpm range), but if I see it spiking to 61bpm, then that tells I’m probably incredibly tired or about to get sick. I dive into this in a bit more detail in this post here.
That said, Fitbit has long overestimated resting HR values compared to every other device I have. They’re usually on the order of 5-7bpm higher than most other devices, sometimes more. I’ve gone back and forth with Fitbit about this in the past on almost every review, and how they define resting HR values, and ultimately I don’t think we’ll see a lot of progress there. They did one major shift about a year ago in their calculations, but looking at the Versa, it (still) seems to have regressed a bit in this specific area where it appears to still have my resting HR about 10-15bpm higher than it should actually be. For example there are many times where I’m awake and my minimum HR recorded by Fitbit that day is in the 40’s, yet the resting HR value is in the upper 50’s.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, from a social standpoint there’s a boatload of feature assuming you have some friends on the platform. This includes everything from setting up challenges with friends, to specific groups of people in a challenge (such as coworkers or your soccer buddies), as well as taunting people. I like taunting Long, because, why not?
Back last fall Fitbit shared some pretty interesting numbers around social engagement within both their presentation to media, but also then to investors. The gist of it was that the more friends people had on Fitbit, the more active they were, and the more engagement they had, the more they walked.
So basically, just like real life – having friends is healthy. Simple, right?
Sport & Fitness:
To begin a workout you’ve got two options. The first is to swipe left into the apps and open up exercise. The second is to simply hit the upper right button, once the watch screen is powered on. That’ll take you directly to the workout screen. It’s here (above) that you can decide which sport to select.
By default this is run, then bike, and so on. However, you can customize which sports show up on the Versa via the mobile app (up to 7 of the at a time). There’s a boatload to choose from. Here’s the full listing:
Like the Ionic, note that openwater swimming isn’t one of those sports. Swim refers to pool swimming, not lake/pond/ocean/river swimming. In that mode the GPS doesn’t have an openwater mode to be able to compensate for the GPS signal dropping out each time you bring your wrist under the water, so the tracks or distance wouldn’t be too useful.
For each sport you swipe to within the watch, you can tweak settings via the little ‘gear’ icon in the upper left corner. This includes bits like auto-lap settings, as well as which metrics are shown. From a data metric/page standpoint the way Fitbit works is that you can customize two portions of data on the screen: Upper and lower.
However, the middle stat you can also change mid-workout at any time by simply tapping the screen, which rotates through a boatload of other metrics (technically you can customize which metrics it scrolls through, effectively keeping it to a single metric). This definitely isn’t anywhere near as customizable as Garmin/Suunto/Polar devices, but is roughly inline with Apple’s approach (stock workout app anyway, 3rd party Apple workout apps have far more customization).
Next, if we were to choose run as an example, you’ll notice it says ‘Connecting’. This is connecting to your phone to access GPS from your phone. This is the core difference between the Fitbit Ionic and the Versa, the Versa lacks GPS in the watch itself and instead uses what Fitbit calls ‘Connected GPS’. This simply means it depends on your phone’s GPS for distance.
However, there are some exceptions to this. For example, when running it can also use the accelerometers internally to determine distance/pace. So if you don’t have your phone on you, you’ll generally get fairly accurate distance/pace (not perfect, but usually pretty good). Inversely, if you’re out for a bike ride, you’ll get zilch for distance/speed without your phone. That’s because the Versa doesn’t connect to any external sensors (not cycling sensors, not heart rate), so it 100% needs that phone connection for determining where it’s going.
Once connected to your phone, it’ll show that it’s ready (usually happens within a few seconds):
Once that’s done you can press the lower right button to begin, at which point it’s tracking your workout. By default the screen will be off, however, you actually can change that for workout mode to have the display always-on. Just beware it burns through battery pretty significantly. I’ve mostly done this for runs (not rides), because I find that the Versa wrist-raise doesn’t work as well as the Ionic one (or anywhere near as well as the Apple Watch does).
As you run (or ride or whatever), you’ll have all your stats available to you. You can iterate through the different metrics by simply tapping the screen.
If you’ve got automatic lap configured, you’ll get those lap banners shown as well. Now I’ll discuss GPS accuracy and related down below briefly, so I’ll dive into those pieces there (which, is definitely worth understanding). Same goes for heart rate metrics.
By and large though all of this works fairly well, and isn’t complex either. One of the main benefits of going the route of the Fitbit or Apple Watch is that things are simplified. There’s just less opportunity to end up in some bizarre menu mid-run like you would have on some other more full-featured sports watches.
Once complete, you’ll hit to pause and then end your run:
After which you’ll get a workout summary. It’s fairly basic compared to the advanced metrics you’d see on a Garmin/Suunto/Polar unit, but it does the job.
At this point, everything is synced to your smartphone app via Bluetooth Smart, and then onwards to any 3rd party sites you might have, like Strava (that would also make it visible within the Strava app on the Versa).
If it’s an outdoor workout and you used GPS from your phone, you can look at the tracks of it using the companion smartphone app.
Alternatively, you can see these same stats on the Fitbit website in a bigger screen format:
Now everything I’ve discussed above is mainly related to free-form workouts. Ones where you just danced to your own beat and ran or worked out as you saw fit. However, Fitbit also has coached workouts, which you can find via the ‘Coach’ option:
These are guided workouts that include step by step instructions for each piece. Do note that you’ll want to ensure to update the Fitbit Coach app separately, since oddly updating the Fitbit itself doesn’t actually update their built-in app. In any event, once opened, you’ve got three workouts you can use:
These workouts show little videos of what you’re supposed to be doing and then a timer for each:
It works well, but the default app only contains three workouts. Instead, you need to buy-up to the paid variant, which is $39/year. Now oddly, Fitbit does a super-poor job of promoting this. At no point when opening the stock Coach app does it say ‘Btw, did you know we have a premium upgrade’? Or at least, I never remember seeing it. Nor does it have a dashboard tile on the default Fitbit mobile app that would lead you off to the paid offerings. They’ve got an entire website page for it, but if I’d never had seen the feature mentioned in media briefings, I’m not sure I’d know to go off and find it (specifically the paid version).
Once you purchase it, it’s actually fairly extensive (yes, I purchased it). You’ll start by selecting the workout track that you want to suffer through:
From there it’ll have you select your athletic level, after which it’ll give you a fitness test. At this point my fitness tests were all based around core workouts, rather than something straight cardio-driven such as a run.
For all the workouts you’ll whack that pink button to load them up. This includes selecting music to go along with it:
But here’s where it may surprise you: These are loaded not from your watch, but rather, from another device (such as a tablet or a computer).
At least by default. Once you complete a personalized workout, then they’ll start syncing to your watch, where you can execute them from the ‘Coach’ Versa app like the three sample workouts. Do note that the Fitbit Coach app is actually a separate app too on your smartphone that you need to download.
I’m not actually opposed to that, because in some ways the phone is a better way to view these workouts than the watch. Sure, the watch is on your wrist, but if you’re trying to get in a specific position that involves your wrists it’s tough to do that and still look at the (not-always-on) screen.
In any event, the depth of Fitbit’s Coach platform is pretty strong. They appear to have learned their lessons from the Fitstar acquisition a couple years back, specifically in relation to Fitbit Blaze and how useless the implementation was there. One can quibble about whether or not Fitbit Coach should be a separate app or part of the main Fitbit smartphone app, but ultimately the implementation itself is good.
The Fitbit Versa follows in the footsteps of the Fitbit Ionic in having 2.5GB of space for internal music storage. This allows you to connect any sort of Bluetooth audio device, such as headphones or a speaker, and playback from your wrist. Fitbit has their own headphones as well, which have some minor advantages when paired to a Fitbit Versa or Ionic watch (I dive into those more here). But in short, the main benefit is that it can concurrently connect to your watch as well as your phone, enabling you to take calls seamlessly while still being connected to your watch. Most other headphones have a single-connection limit.
The Versa supports two categories of music playback – offline storage of your own music, and two streaming services: Deezer and Pandora. In the case of the streaming services, you aren’t streaming the music live, but rather an offline/cached copy. You can configure these streaming services via the settings on the mobile app inside the media portion:
In the case of Pandora, for example, you can specify up to three stations from a predetermined list of stations that are considered most popular. Once selected these will cache on your watch via WiFi, however, the sync will only occur when you’re plugged into the charging port.
In terms of getting your own music onto the watch, that’s a bit more complicated. For that, you’ll need a desktop computer (PC or Mac). From there, you’ll download the Fitbit app and get all logged in. You’ll also need to be on the same WiFi network as your watch (a hotel network won’t do, it can’t have any sort of ‘I agree’ type prompt).
From there you’ll need to put your watch into music transfer mode, which allows it to receive music via WiFi. Once that’s done you’ll add folders of music that the Fitbit App can oversee, to do that simply tap the ‘Add Folder’ option:
All of which gets you whatever slim bit of music that you’ve actually recently bought and have files for:
You can easily create playlists as well, which are generally speaking a better way to manage music on a wearable, where your ability to navigate is reduced. To transfer music over you’ll tap the little circle shown next to the album or playlist, and then eventually it’ll finish ‘Preparing to transfer’ and actually transfer it. No part of any Fitbit music transfer experience is an instant gratification type thing, it seems like a lot of hurry up and wait.
Eventually you’ll get it over there though, and then on the watch itself you can crack open the music app. This is where you can play the music, as well as pair to headphones. It is cool that the Versa can manage multiple saved Bluetooth devices. This way you can save pairings to a variety of devices you might have (car, headphones, Bluetooth speaker, etc…).
Finally, regarding Spotify – many have wondered about that. Thus I refer back to a conversation I had with Fitbit’s CEO last summer. I asked why they shifted from what was previously some relationship with Spotify to Pandora. You’ll remember Pebble had tied the knot on a Spotify streaming deal for their planned Core device. Once Pebble was acquired by Fitbit, they killed off the Core – but I had hoped we’d see the Spotify relationship surface down the road.
The very diplomatic answer from CEO James Park at the time was that the music industry is ‘challenging’ at best. Though his eyes said to me ‘I want to punch myself in the balls over the music industry’. I suspect he probably still does, almost 9 months later.
Apps & Fitbit Pay:
Likely the most significant aspect of the Fitbit Ionic release last summer was the 3rd party apps platform. Second to that was inclusion of contactless payments, called Fitbit Pay. Both of which are available on the Fitbit Versa, though only the higher level Versa ($229) includes Fitbit Pay. The base model doesn’t have contactless payment (NFC) technology inside of it. In my case, my unit was a non-Fitbit Pay one, though you can basically just read my Ionic review section on it to see how it works (or watch my Ionic video on using it). Do remember that you’ll need your card’s issuing bank on the list to make it work. Also, keep in mind that the Fitbit Ionic is routinely on sale at $249 (including right now), usually every other month or so at worst. So at only $20 more than the Versa with contactless payments, you’ll get full-blown GPS too.
On the app front, everything here mirrors that of the Fitbit Ionic. To that end you end up with a pile of both Fitbit developed apps and 3rd party developed apps. Functions like ‘weather’ on the Fitbit watches are technically standalone apps. Same goes for the Strava integration, also an app. Both of which are default/stock apps. Whereas you can dive into the app store and download other apps.
Like most wearables, you’ll see a blend of pointless apps and mildly useful apps. As is usually the case, many of these apps just don’t work all that well on the small screens. Their purpose in life not yet sorted. Still, there are some promising ones, mostly aiming to avoid having to crack open the phone. For example, the newish Yelp app can find walkable spots to eat around you, and then give you hours and location information and a mini map:
Whereas the New York Times app isn’t terribly useful since it just gives headlines…the same headlines you’re likely getting smartphone notifications to your wrist on anyway. Not to mention that all the app does is give you a single line about the article. Of course, reading a full article on your wrist isn’t practical, but a paragraph summary certainly would have been.
I’m not so much picking on Fitbit here, as the vast majority of wearables have this challenge (Garmin, Apple, and Samsung included). Wearable apps have to do something to either best what you can do on your phone (such as being useful during a workout where a phone is less ideal), or they have to do something the phone can’t do itself. For example, we see some apps leveraging movement on your wrist for different exercise recognition. Or others pulling 3rd party sensor data that makes sense during a workout. All of which are great uses.
But when I look at apps like the United Airlines and Nest apps (of which I’m frequent phone app users of both), I don’t see any real value in their wearables apps. It takes less time for me to get to the same information on my phone than it does clumsily swiping through the menus and waiting on my wrist.
Still, apps on wearables are without question the future, it’s just that they need to continue getting better at not poorly duplicating what the phone is already telling me (and faster than the wearable). And again, this isn’t so much a Fitbit issue as it’s just as applicable to Apple, Garmin, and Wear OS apps.
Heart Rate Accuracy:
Heart rate accuracy is both highly objective and highly subjective at the same time. On one hand it’s actually relatively easy for me to compare against other sensors (chest and optical) concurrently (as I’ll show you). But at the same time, some of that is luck. It’ll depend very heavily on factors like placement on your wrist (seriously, this is huge), as well as skin tone, hair, and wrist ‘thickness’. No different than other optical HR sensors really.
In general, Fitbit has come a fair ways over the years in their optical HR sensors. They used to be acceptable for steady-state efforts, but would have significant delays for intervals (if they picked it up at all). And riding a bike in the past? Pointless when it came to their sensors. But things have changed, and like most players in the space they’ve had years to fine tune algorithms.
Which is really why things are getting better. Certainly sensors are improving, but ultimately it comes down to companies finding the edge cases where the algorithms fail and fixing them. And eventually after you fix enough edge cases you gain critical mass.
In any event, let’s get on with the data. In my case, I was always using 2-3 additional devices to capture heart rate data. Generally this consisted of another optical HR sensor on the other wrist, plus a chest heart rate strap, and then occasionally an upper-arm optical HR sensor like the Wahoo TICKR-FIT or Scosche Rhythm 24.
First, we’ll take a look at yesterday’s run, since that’s the freshest run I have. Now, in this unfortunate case the Fitbit Versa battery unexpectedly died 20 minutes into the run, so I didn’t capture the full 10K run. Fear not, plenty other data to look at though. In case you’re wondering why the battery died, I started off the run with battery level at ‘Medium’, but had set it for ‘Always On Display’, which means the screen is always visible for my run, since I find the wrist-raising detection on the Versa sucks. Regrettably, I neglected to remember that having a fully charged battery is basically required.
In any case, here’s the data comparing to the Scosche 24 (Optical arm band), the Suunto 3 Fitness (optical wrist sensor), and the Wahoo TICKR-X chest strap.
As you can see, the first 60 seconds are a bit of a mix as the various sensors ramp up. This isn’t all that uncommon and usually I don’t worry too much as long as they are roughly trending together – as we see here. It’s when a given sensor entirely lags behind that’s more concerning (such as stays constant at 80BPM while others are at 140BPM). But again, that didn’t happen here.
After that point, things stabilized and the rest of the run, insofar as the Fitbit was concerned, was actually rather boring: It was spot-on.
Then we’ve got another run, this one in beautiful Kansas. It was actually a rather cold morning, just about the freezing point. I froze my ass off as all I packed was a t-shirt and shorts for running. All in the name of science…or something.
On the run, I had a Wahoo chest strap, the Fitbit Versa, and a beta Suunto 3 Fitness unit. For whatever reason, the Suunto 3 Fitness had a rough go of things that morning, so much so that the graph was distracting, so since it was beta at the time, I’ve removed it from the below chart (you can still find it here though). Once that was taken out, here’s what’s left:
This was actually a rather hilly run, and thus the HR has some solid ups and downs. As you can see above though, it tracks perfectly. That one random dip of the TICKR-X chest strap was some sort of drop, not sure whether it was connectivity related or not. Clearly it wasn’t measurement related though given the way it shows up.
Looking at some of the rollers on the course, the heart rates match quite nicely as I go up and down the hills. You see here this from 140bpm up to 171bpm for example.
Overall things are looking much better than past Fitbit devices have for me.
Next, let’s take a look at a ride. After all, everyone loves riding their bikes. Here’s a comparison between a Fitbit Versa, Wahoo TICKR-X chest strap, and a Suunto 3 Fitness over the course of a 2.5 hours ride:
That’s a giant dumpster fire from all involved.
You can see the TICKR-X is the most logical of the bunch, roughly floating steadily in the middle. There was virtually no point on this ride where my HR should be above about 160bpm (as the TICKR-X confirms). Whereas the Suunto 3 Fitness was lost in space, and the Fitbit was lost underground.
I could analyze the above, but there’s really no point whatsoever. It’s a complete cluster with both the Fitbit and the Suunto being totally wrong the vast majority of the time (like 80-90% of the time). And not a little wrong, a lot wrong.
The moral of the story here is stick to running with the Versa, not so much cycling. Which, is honestly the case with many watches out there from an optical HR sensor standpoint, outdoor cycling continues to be very difficult for them.
Now you may be wondering – ‘GPS Accuracy? How’s that possible? The unit doesn’t include GPS!”. And that’s true. But what’s also true is that ultimately it’s not entirely your make/model of phone that dictates whether or not your tracks on the Fitbit Versa are accurate.
Like most companies and apps, Fitbit takes the GPS signal from the phone and make some decisions based on that. And in fact, it was these very decisions that delayed this review (significantly). Most frankly put: I’ve had a hell of a time getting accurate distance from the Fitbit Versa. Not because the phone was giving inaccurate tracks – in fact, it was giving astoundingly perfect tracks.
Rather, Fitbit was overriding that data with empty/useless data. Now I say ‘was’, because between a combination of recent Fitbit Versa firmware updates, Fitbit iOS App updates, and iOS updates, the problems seem to have gone away. Still, I want to briefly outline them in case they surface again. Note that I spent considerable time with Fitbit’s engineering group tracking down these issues.
In short, the challenge was that when the Versa would lose Bluetooth connectivity to the phone it would stop accumulating distance on the watch depending on the sport. In the case of cycling, this was logical because the Versa doesn’t pair to any sensors. So it needed that GPS data to know where it was. But what happens when it reconnected? Well, instead of using the distance from the phone (which was tracking the entire time), it just gapped that section. Thus I had some rides that were 34 miles in length, and due to dropouts would only be a few miles long recorded in the app. But the kicker? The track was flawless. Check out this ride and note the distance (only 10 miles listed), despite actually being about 29.50 miles of distance.
In running/walking the effect is slightly less visible because the Versa (like all Fitbit units) will fail-back to wrist-based accelerometer pacing. Thus it can get pretty close to your actual pace/distance using accelerometers. So you’d notice a slight variance from the actual GPS distance, but probably not enough that most people would be upset.
In any case, I think all of that is solved now. Or at least it hasn’t happened in the last few weeks (whereby it happened to me almost every ride previously.)
So, here’s where things stand now from a recent ride using an iPhone X in my back jersey pocket (cycling). Without having to pull open the analyzer, I can tell you the distance was within 1% of the Edge 520 Plus (dedicate GPS). This is also now plainly visible on the Fitbit site, showing the track where I went as well as correct distance value.
If we do indeed open up the Analyzer, we’ll look briefly at the first part of the ride leaving the city. Here things look virtually perfect between the various units. Once out in the farms, it remains the same.
As you can see, things are pretty good. Of course again, the GPS data is largely driven by the phone you have, and in general the iPhone X gives very good GPS data.
For example this run in Kansas. It’s rather straight-edged (the route, perhaps Kansas too), you can see the three device tracks overlay perfectly.
Even as we zoom in, there’s no meaningful variance on the corners. One unit might go a few meters one direction, then the other a few meters in a different direction, but overall things look very nice.
Looking at another activity, here’s yesterday in that park run, at least until the Fitbit Versa’s battery died mid-run, we’ll see more of the same. You can see the tracks overlays very closely. There’s a bit more variance in the GPS here, because I had the phone in a Spibelt, which doesn’t have as good a GPS location as an armband. I did think it was mildly interesting that the Fitbit Versa and Suunto 3 Fitness units gave different GPS tracks, despite having the exact same GPS source (they both use ‘Connected GPS’). Again illustrating that companies can tweak the data coming off the phone to achieve what they believe is the most accurate result.
At a high level things are roughly the same, but as you dive down into the park, you’ll notice the differences:
I wouldn’t say that any unit did exceptionally well on the northern side of the park, they all seemed to have some rough spots in there through one of the two passes. The Suunto Spartan Trainer probably laid the closest track down, but only did so on one of the two passes, the other pass it was off in the bushes. No idea why everyone was so weird there. And you’ll see that the Fitbit track (in green) along the bottom is reasonably close like the others, though it loses the plot once the battery on the Versa died.
As with other phone-based ‘Connected GPS’ solutions, I’m not going to dive super deeply in a GPS section, since ultimately you’re paying less for not having a GPS sensor. Thus trying to evaluate the device based entirely on that is a bit misguided. But of course, if it was doing as I noted earlier, then it also makes the device useless – which is a big problem. At this point though, I’m good with where it’s at, so no complaints there.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
I’ve loaded the Fitbit Versa into the product comparison database, which allows you to compare it against other products I’ve reviewed. For the purposes of the below chart, I’ve compared it against the Apple Watch Series 1, the Garmin Vivoactive 3, and the Fitbit Ionic. But you can make your own comparison charts easily using the full product comparison database here.
Overall the Fitbit Versa seems to do a relatively good job at taking the vast majority of the Ionic and simply placing it in a less expensive offering. It lacks the GPS of course, and the base model also lacks Fitbit Pay. But depending on your bank, that may not matter anyway. In terms of apps, music, and overall fitness features – it continues to be a solid bet. And this week’s announcement soon to be enabled of female-focused health metrics leads the way in an area that nobody else is doing natively (without 3rd party apps).
Of course, the device is hardly perfect. From a price standpoint, it sits in a weird spot where you’re only the occasional Apple sale away from being priced equal to the Apple Watch Series 1 units, which certainly out-app Fitbit by a huge margin, as well as generally being more stylish. Which gets to the second point – the band on the Fitbit Versa is as cheap as bands get. Sure, I thought the Ionic band felt cheap and stiff, but this beats that somehow. And while the unit is certainly durable, no element of it says trendy/sexy/fashionable. While some disagree about the Ionic design, at least it had a design. The design of the Versa just says…shrug.
But if we set my lack of fashion preferences and sales aside, for today’s money, there aren’t really any better options. At $199 you won’t find another mainstream option with music, GPS (connected or otherwise), as well as the host of fitness features behind it. Nor will you find the greater Fitbit platform, which is ultimately why tens of millions of people buy Fitbit devices each year, and why despite many people saying Apple would spell the death of Fitbit – it simply hasn’t happened. Fitbit’s blend of fitness/health/social apps and platform is very good, by and large market leading.
Simply put: You won’t go wrong with the Fitbit Versa, even if it means you need to pick up a more stylish band for it.
Wanna Save 10%? Or found this review useful? Read on!
Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.
I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items). You can pick up the Fitbit Versa (or any accessories) from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well.
Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount on Amazon). Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top. Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.
You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.
I travel a fair bit, both for work and for fun. Here’s a bunch of random trip reports and daily trip-logs that I’ve put together and posted. I’ve sorted it all by world geography, in an attempt to make it easy to figure out where I’ve been.
The most common question I receive outside of the “what’s the best GPS watch for me” variant, are photography-esq based. So in efforts to combat the amount of emails I need to sort through on a daily basis, I’ve complied this “My Photography Gear” post for your curious minds! It’s a nice break from the day to day sports-tech talk, and I hope you get something out of it!
Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2018 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s 2018 Gear Guide too.