Heads up – Garmin Vivoactive 4 Sale! There’s a pretty solid deal on the Garmin Vivoactive 4 (which includes music/Spotify offline support) right now for $239, which is about $60 lower than the lowest price I’ve seen it, and $110 below official MSRP. I don’t expect this sale to last long, and I also don’t see it as a sign of anything replacing the unit (Garmin just announced the Venu SQ last week, and that’s when they typically announce new Vivo series watches – so I suspect that’s it for this year).
Today Fitbit launched their least expensive smartwatch to date – the Fitbit Versa Lite. This newish watch essentially takes the existing Fitbit Versa smartwatch and removes the music playback, along with a handful of smaller features like stair counting (and two of the three buttons). In doing so they’ve dropped the price from $199 down to $159. The company also launched the Inspire & Inspire HR activity trackers ($69/$99) to replace a slew of existing trackers including the Fitbit Zip, Alta, and Alta HR. And finally, they announced their 2nd generation kids activity tracker – the ACE2. I’ve got a separate post coming up very shortly on those. Hang tight!
But this post is all about the Fitbit Versa Lite, so we’ll stick to the details on that, and there’s no better way to do that then diving into how exactly it differs from its older and more capable sibling, the Versa. And, perhaps no better way than a simple video detailing it all:
Oh – and before we go too far, note that this is not a review. This is just a dive into all the details of things. For a full in-depth review, check back…in a while. Once I’ve had time to figure out the full good/bad/ugly after some weeks or so.
The Versa Lite (above in blue) retains the vast majority of the features of the full Versa (above in black), including the touch screen and the ability to install/download 3rd party apps on it. It also retains core features like activity tracking, the optical heart rate sensor, female health tracking, sleep tracking, smartphone notifications, and even Fitbit’s ‘connected GPS’ capabilities.
Still, there are a handful of features that were removed from the full Versa to cut the price down on the Versa Lite. They are as follows:
– Stairs/Floor Tracking removed (the barometric altimeter was removed)
– Swim Lap Counting removed (it’s still waterproof though)
– Music storage/streaming capabilities removed (but it can still control music on your phone)
– WiFi removed (given it was used primarily for music transfer)
– On-screen structured workouts removed
– Fitbit Pay not available (it was only on the even more expensive Fitbit Versa Special Edition)
– Two buttons removed (because one-button is the cool kids club)
And that’s it in a nutshell.
To recap, all of the following features are still there. In fact, Fitbit has a fancy little slide deck that shows this outlined with plenty of dots to keep everyone clear on all the nuances.
In talking with Fitbit, there’s a few other minor technical things that are notable:
– The removal of the buttons may impact some apps that might have assumed the buttons would be there. Remember that up until now, the FitbitOS (loosely built atop the Pebble OS learnings), only supported the Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Ionic. With the Versa being a slimmed down Ionic, it retained the three physical button layout (plus the touch screen). With that gone, I suspect we might see a few bumps in the road on apps. Though frankly, despite having some 500+ apps in the Fitbit store, many of them are kinda shruggable.
– The optical HR sensor remains exactly the same as before. This means you’ll get the same performance as you saw with the Fitbit Versa (it was OK), but more importantly you’ll get their SPO2 readings. Whereas the lower end Fitbit Inspire/Inspire HR doesn’t get the SPO2 readings.
– Like the Versa there’s no built-in GPS, it still leverages your phone. The only product in Fitbit’s current lineup that has onboard GPS is the Fitbit Ionic (prior to that there was the Fitbit Surge). Note that for running/walking activities you don’t need your phone to get distance/pace though, it’ll do that using the accelerometer. However, if you want a GPS track (such as to upload to Strava), then you’ll need your phone within Bluetooth range.
And finally, on the straps side of the house – all straps remain completely compatible between all Versa units. So if you find an accessory Fitbit Versa strap from a higher end unit that you like, you can slap it on the Versa Lite as well. Fitbit also introduced a pile of new woven ones and other swankier bands, plus a slate of colored silicon straps.
So now that we’ve covered what’s different – let’s step back a bit and just talk about the basics of the device itself.
Starting off with the box, the unit comes in a variety of base colors, but more importantly it comes with both a large and small strap. You’ll find the small strap already affixed to the watch, and then the larger strap sitting in the box. It uses the same USB charger as the original Versa did (in all its non-standard oversized ugliness). Three’s also a quick start guide in there as well.
Starting off at the basics, you’ve got your touch screen, which is an always-off display unless you raise your wrist or tap it. You can however set it to be always-on during workout modes, though it will impact battery. On the left side you’ll find a single button, which acts like a ‘back’ button.
You can swipe from the right to access apps, including the exercise app, breathing app, and timer/alarm apps. This is also where you’ll find settings too:
Meanwhile, if you swipe up from the bottom you’ll get a look at today’s stats, including metrics like steps, distance, and calories.
You’ll also get your current heart rate and resting heart rate, as well as sleep metrics.
Meanwhile, if you swipe down from the top you’ll get any smartphone notifications that you’ve configured.
These are configured within the Fitbit smartphone app, and by default allow texts/calls/calendar notifications. But for other apps you’ll need to enable them using a separate settings page.
Speaking of the smartphone app, this is where you’ll download apps and configure the watch faces:
While there are a number of apps, they generally still seem fairly limited compared to the Apple Watch. Take for example the Nest app, it just controls the thermostat, whereas the Nest app on the Apple Watch also shows you your Nest Cam’s at a quick glance, including a simple shot when motion is detected. Meanwhile, the NYT app only shows a couple lines of the article, barely more than a typical smartphone notification would show.
For workout shortcuts, you can add those within the app as well, though only up to a maximum of 7 shortcuts, after which you’ll need to give something the boot to make room for it:
The watch will constantly sync your stats in the background to your phone, though you could turn that off if you want to save a tiny bit of battery (it’s so small it really doesn’t matter). Meanwhile, the dashboard will show your current activity stats for the day, including steps, distance, calories, and active minutes:
You can tap into any of the given categories to get more reports about it, including trending over time. None of this has changed from past Fitbit products, though Fitbit will be shortly rolling out some user interface tweaks to the Fitbit companion app that surfaces forward a bit more of the social elements.
First Run Test:
While not everyone that picks up the Versa Lite will be using it for workouts, there’s a reasonably good chance that at some point you will. So a few hours ago I went out for a quick 5KM run with it. I’d typically go longer, but I just stepped off a transatlantic redeye flight this morning and…well…it’s gonna be a long day. Also, it’s raining cold water sideways again. So yeah.
First up is starting the run. To do so you’ll swipe over to the Exercise option and then select Run (seen above). Note that this is pretty much the same across all of the sports on the Fitbit Versa series. After selecting a sport you can configure options within the run. For example, you can choose which data fields will be shown by default, and which fields will enumerate when you press the button.
You can also change automatic lap settings here. In my case I changed it to automatically lap every mile. Additionally, I validated that ‘Connected GPS’ was on, so that it would use my phone for GPS, thus allowing me to see a track afterwards.
There’s no option to connect to any sensors (be it HR straps or cycling sensors).
At that point you’ll head back to the main run screen and wait for it to connect to your phone and get the GPS signal. Once done, go ahead and tap that play button to start the workout. That said, I’ve never understood why Fitbit shows ‘Let’s Go!’, when it’s clearly not ready to go.
At this point the unit is now recording the workout and you can go about your business, which in my case was running. You can tap the screen, or the button, to iterate through the display fields that you’ve setup.
Additionally, if you’ve configured automatic laps you’ll get lap alerts each time you hit the threshold you’ve setup. And if you’ve setup a specific threshold, you’ll see stats related to that as well. The touchscreen meanwhile seems to work just fine in the rain – I didn’t have any problems with today’s run there.
Once at the conclusion of your run you’ll get summary stats that you can glance at, including the individual lap times and totals like distance, average pace, and calories.
All of this is then transmitted to your smartphone via Bluetooth and then available within the Fitbit app. Additionally, it’ll forward the data on to partners like Strava, if you’ve set those up:
From a HR accuracy standpoint, things actually looked reasonably good this time when I tossed it into the DCR Analyzer. We saw a bit of a fumble in the first 45 seconds on the heart rate, but it recovered super quick and it was good to go for a while. And frankly it’s pretty common to see HR sensors of all types stumble in the first 1-2 minutes.
Then there was one more oddity for a few seconds around the 7:20ish marker, but that’s it. Not sure what happened there. This was compared against a Garmin chest strap and the Apple Watch Series 4 optical HR sensor. I did do a bit of a sprint towards the end, and it tracked well there.
From a GPS standpoint it’s going to use the iPhone’s GPS, and in fact – so would have the Apple Watch since it’ll always use your iPhone when in range. So it’s really only compared against the Garmin Forerunner 935 here. But no matter, all of the units tracked the same. Despite using the iPhone GPS, one should remember that apps can still do good (or bad) things to the GPS tracks, and everything looks pretty clean here.
Again – from a first quick 5KM run standpoint, things seem pretty good.
I’ve added the Fitbit Versa Lite into the product comparison database, allowing you to mix and match it against any products I’ve reviewed or had appreciable hands-on time with. You can hit it up and make your own product comparison charts here with ease.
For the purposes of this chart, I’ve compared it against the previous Fitbit Versa. But at that point it gets a bit tricky as to who to compare it against, to be honest. Typically I aim for things in the same price bucket, but in this case – there’s actually not much there yet. Garmin’s lowest priced apps-capable offering is the Vivoactive 3, which sits some $80 higher at $249. The Apple Watch Series Series 3 does also frequently slip down into the $199 price bucket here and there on sale too. But that’s not an everyday price. Then there’s the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Active at $199, but that isn’t available yet either (fear not, I’ve ordered one).
The Samsung Galaxy Active is probably the best comparison point, especially since it does include GPS (and music no less), but I’ll have to wait until my unit comes in to get hands-on time and get it into the database.
Until then, I’ve gone with the below lineup as a starting point, but will update this over time:
Everything we’ve seen here seems to point to a bit of simplification of the Fitbit line, as well as offering more capable units at lower prices than the company has historically. While it’s easy to knock on some of Fitbit’s recent financial growth – the hard reality is they’re still the #2 smartwatch vendor in the US and still selling around 15 million units a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
People have been predicting Fitbit’s demise since the first Apple Watch was announced – but in reality all that’s done is increase interest in not just Fitbit’s offerings, but also Garmin, Samsung, and others. Not everyone can have an Apple Watch (be it price, or because it only works with an iOS device), nor does everyone want one. Companies like Fitbit and Garmin are offering battery life that goes upwards of a week (or many weeks in some cases) – which again, is what some folks rightfully want.
As for the Versa Lite, I think it does strike a reasonable balance in feature reduction compared to the full Versa edition. I’m a little bit hesitant on how well the firmware backfill bits will work. Sure, Fitbit has done that in the past for other watches – but that was when the Fitbit operating system was smaller and when there weren’t 3rd party apps to contend with. We’ll have to see over time how well this works out in reality.
Still, for those that want an introduction into the smartwatch realm (with the definition du jour there being a watch that accepts 3rd party apps in some form of a marketplace), this is pretty much the most accessible mainstream option out there. I’ve got no doubt it’ll put pressure on the likes of Garmin especially to find ways to offer a Vivoactive Lite style product.
With that – thanks for reading!
Update: The Fitbit Versa Lite is now available to order. You can pick it up on either Amazon or Clever Training, both of which support the site. If buying through Clever Training you can also get back 10% of the price in points via their VIP program. Oh, plus free US shipping. Thanks for the support!
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