Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Fitbit Versa 2 review: Just short of greatness

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
200
inc. VAT

The Fitbit Versa 2 is a worthy upgrade but the lack of GPS holds it back

Pros 
Looks fantastic
Balanced set of features
The Fitbit app is great
Cons 
No built-in GPS
No offline Spotify playback
Advertisement

At the time of its launch, the Fitbit Versa proved to be a big money-spinner for a company that was struggling to keep up with the modern world of wearables. Fitbit was a company being squeezed from three directions: the expensive Apple Watch, cheap Chinese fitness bands like the Xiaomi Mi Band, and by dedicated running watches from Garmin and Polar.

It pretty much single-handedly turned around the company’s fortunes, giving it its first quarter of profit in ages. It’s perhaps no wonder that it’s hoping to repeat the trick with a sequel: the Fitbit Versa 2.

Fitbit Versa 2 review: What you need to know

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be Fitbit’s main mantra with the Versa 2, as the company tries hard to make modest improvements that won’t upset the device’s popularity.

That means you’re still looking at a device that attempts to bridge the gap between smartwatch and fitness tracker. Steps and activities take front and centre, and it all ties in nicely with the excellent Fitbit app, but it also has notifications and acts as a bridge from phone to wrist.

So what’s new? Three things stand out. Firstly, the screen is now OLED, rather than the LCD of old. This means deeper black and more vibrant colours but also likely contributes to the second improvement: improved battery life. Fitbit says the new model will last at least five days, rather than the four days plus of the older model.

Finally, the Fitbit Versa 2 has a built-in microphone for chatting with Alexa. Yes, Amazon’s virtual assistant is now part of the package, letting you find out things with the power of your voice.

Still missing in action: GPS. Instead, the Fitbit Versa 2 piggybacks off your phone. If you want a Fitbit with a GPS, you need the Ionic or the long-discontinued, and chunky, Surge.

Fitbit Versa 2 review: Price and competition

The Fitbit Versa 2 retails for £200. That’s £100 less than the GPS-toting Fitbit Ionic, although realistically it can usually be found for less. Here it is for £211 at Amazon. Elsewhere, there’s the Fitbit Versa Lite: a modestly cut-down version of the original Versa which retails for £150 but, again, can usually be bought cheaper.

The £200 price point of the Fitbit Versa 2 does give it some stiff competition, though – chiefly from running watches, which usually manage to bundle GPS for the price. There’s the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, which is a great buy at £180. The Polar Ignite chases after the Versa experience, too, but narrowly misses the mark. Nonetheless, it’s yours for £180.Finally, there’s the Apple Watch, the third generation of which can behad for the bargain price of £200.

Fitbit Versa 2 review: Design

The Fitbit Versa’s design was one of its strongest suits, and the new one is every bit as attractive – in fact, I think it’s as stylish as the Apple Watch, with its sleek square face, gentle rounded edges and single, unobtrusive button.

It’s actually quite remarkable how stylish it looks on the wrist, because to some extent its good looks are an optical illusion. First of all, it’s 12mm thick, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s actually about 50% more than your average smartphone. Because of the way it tapers inwards, though, it looks a lot thinner than it is and you’d be none the wiser if you didn’t take a tape measure to it.

Second, if you look closely you’ll see the Versa 2 has a pretty thick bezel all the way around the screen – but because the background is black on every menu, you only really spot this in bright sunlight. In short, Fitbit has done a masterful job of hiding aesthetic imperfections in such a way that only a killjoy like me will go out of his way to find. Bravo, Fitbit.

It’s comfortable, too, with straps that can be replaced should you want to mix things up a bit. I’ve been wearing the salmon pink and rose gold number Fitbit sent us, which has raised a few eyebrows from friends and family as it’s somewhat out of step with my usual colour palette, but I could have swapped things out easily enough.

Finally, it’s worth saying something about the new screen technology. The move to OLED is a masterstroke as it adds two important things. First is an always-on display which means you don’t need to move your wrist to read the time or see your steps at a glance. It’s not on by default, because Fitbit says it reduces battery life by a day but that brings me to the second point: OLED means the battery lasts longer anyway, going from ‘four days and up’ on the previous model to ‘five days plus’ on this version.

And it’s a good screen, too. The 300 x 300 resolution is more than sharp enough to show off the watch’s bright and breezy array of icons and you can always see what’s on the screen at a glance.

Fitbit Versa 2 review: Performance

Those good vibes continue into performance, with the Versa 2 diligently tracking your activity as you go along. Steps are counted, notifications buzz through and if you want to interact more with it, then music, exercises, breathing and other apps are just a swipe away. The Fitbit Versa 2 is generally seen and not heard, and that’s absolutely fine.

It even finds room to bundle Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa in this time, too, with a microphone on the side of the watch. Hold down the button and the Alexa logo will pop up to show it’s listening. Ask a question and then, after a short “thinking…” message, the answer to your question will be written on the screen for you to read.

There are limitations to this. You can’t ask it to play music on Spotify, for example, even though the app is there on the watch. But you can get it to set timers and control smart home stuff – I managed to turn on and off some lights from the wrist. Silly, but it worked.

Overall, it works pretty well, although I’m not sure it’s a game changer, as the gap between asking a question and getting a very basic answer is long enough that most people would probably dig out their phones by preference anyway. But it’s there, and as extra features go, it’s a nice freebie I suppose.

You actually have the choice of making the button trigger Alexa or Fitbit Pay – whichever one you choose not to use gets relegated to some awkward swiping when you want to use it. But the truth is neither is a killer feature. While the idea of paying for things from the wrist is tried and tested, Fitbit Pay has such weak support in the UK that the chances are you won’t be using it (unless of course you bank with Santander).

App support is growing and it’s good to see Fitbit bundling both Strava and Spotify alongside its own first-party apps, although the latter is a remote control for phone playback, rather than a fully built-in music player. Yes, you can add MP3s of your own, but in this streaming-first era, that’s still a bit of a drawback. Though actually, given the lack of GPS you’ll need to take your phone with you when you run or cycle anyway, so it’s not a deal-breaker as such.

That said, built-in GPS is a must for some and I’m completely sympathetic to this viewpoint, especially after the experience of piggybacking off my own Huawei P20 Pro. To be clear, Huawei’s aggressive battery-saving tech has known issues with various wearables (pro tip: put the Fitbit widget on your Android home screen to keep it alive) but it’s worth remembering that you’re at the mercy of your phone here and if you know it has weak GPS then this may not be the watch for you.

A couple of cases in point. At Sutton Coldfield parkrun, where I found myself this weekend, the Versa 2 measured the course as 5.15km. Weirdly it said 5.25km on the watch, but revised things to 5.15km when it synced to Fitbit’s app. Both were wrong, anyway, and obviously this will cause problems if you use mid-run stats to adjust your pace.

As a second test, I took it out running on a regular route around my neighbourhood that Mapometre measures as exactly 5km. Fitbit said I did 4.74km this time, giving me an average pace that was slower than I actually achieved. The reason for this is pretty clear when you dig into the mapping data:

Suffice it to say I was strictly sticking to the pavement, yet the data has me cutting huge corners, running through houses and gardens.

Again, this isn’t necessarily Fitbit’s fault but it does underline the perils of relying on phone data rather than bundling a dedicated GPS chip. If you can’t trust your phone’s GPS and you’re a serious runner, then the Fitbit Versa 2 simply isn’t for you.

Fitbit Versa 2 review: Fitbit Premium

Finally, a little word on Fitbit Premium: an optional service that unlocks a bunch of additional goodies within the excellent Fitbit app, for £7.99 per month or £79.99 for a year if you pay in one go. This might sound like a lot, but it does make the app considerably more compelling, giving you: guided video and audio workouts; personalised insights into your lifestyle picked up from the watch; and better insights into how each night's sleep breaks down.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the guided workouts, which provide a personal trainer showing you how to do various exercises and guiding you through them. There are a dizzying number of these, each one showing how long it'll take and how many calories you can expect to burn. The gym and home-based ones offer video (which can be cast to a big screen) while running and walking ones provide music and words to keep you motivated and guide you through the experience. It really is pretty impressive.

It's not just exercise, though. Fitbit Premium also offers guided programs to help you sleep better, and even to kick salt or sugar with advice on what to eat at home and outside the house to meet your goals.

That's all very welcome, but is it worth £79.99? Much of the experience seems disconnected from the watch itself, so it's difficult to say. You may decide that other apps can offer the parts you like at a more competitive price, but there's certainly nothing to lose in signing up for the seven-day free trial. Just make sure you remember to cancel before you're charged if it's not for you

Fitbit Versa 2: Verdict

For me, the Fitbit Versa is frustratingly close to being amazing, but I couldn’t make it my main watch without a GPS chip. It’s a shame the company doesn’t make a Versa 2 Pro with GPS built in, because it’s far nicer to look at and use than the Fitbit Ionic.

As it stands, it may still be perfect for you. If your phone’s GPS is up to the task, then this is a wonderfully sporty smartwatch. It looks great, it lasts for days and it benefits from the superb Fitbit app. Although I question the need for Alexa on your wrist, the OLED screen makes it a worthy successor to the smartwatch that put Fitbit back on the map.