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Fitbit Versa review: Fitbit's $199 answer to the Apple Watch is mostly great

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The Good The Fitbit Versa is a compact, lightweight smartwatch and fitness tracker with an improved interface for easier fitness stat readouts. It’s water-resistant to 50 meters, and works with iOS and Android. Many of the apps and watch faces are useful and fun. Multiday battery life beats the Apple Watch.

The Bad Its battery life falls short of other Fitbit fitness trackers. The apps and watch faces aren’t always easy to load. Music transfer to the watch is complicated and limited. There's no on-board GPS and the charger is bulky. Tap-to-pay model costs a bit more in the US.

The Bottom Line The Fitbit Versa is the best fusion of smartwatch and general fitness tracker under $200, if you can live with its limitations.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Battery 7
  • Performance 7
  • Software 8
  • Features 8

I wake up to a buzzing on my wrist, in gentle pulses. It's my Fitbit Versa's alarm clock. I'm able to use the silent alarm because I'm wearing my Fitbit smartwatch to bed. I'm able to wear it to bed because Fitbit's new watch lasts several days on a charge. I love that. It's a nice flashback to my days of wearing watches by Pebble -- the upstart smartwatch pioneer that Fitbit acquired in the closing days of 2016. In fact, the Versa is literally, as a coworker said, like the Apple Watch and Pebble had a little baby.

I wore the Fitbit Versa while paired to an iPhone X during a week I spent in San Francisco, running around all day at meetings, getting tons of messages and doing three workouts. It's been comfortable, low-key and useful. It gets messages from my phone -- iPhone or Android. The Versa is fully water-resistant for swimming, and it's easy to track my steps, heart rate or start a workout. It's pretty great! And so far, when using the Versa, I miss absolutely none of the features of the more expensive Fitbit Ionic

And it's affordable, too: It starts at $199 in the US, with a $229 Special Edition that adds an NFC tap-to-pay option and an extra woven wristband. That latter model is also available internationally for £199 or AU$299.

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Josh Miller/CNET

The earlier version of this review was based on a week of living with the Versa. Since then, I've spent more than a month living with the Versa on my wrist, including a vacation with my family in the UK and back at work in New York. It's stayed on my wrist past the review, and I've left the Apple Watch I was wearing behind. The Versa has continued to be a really good daily watch.

Mostly, it's been great from a comfort, notifications and daily fitness tracking standpoint. The improved music remote has come in handy, too. I average two watch charges a week, which is a lot better than the daily Apple Watch charging (or every other day) I was doing.

I also got addicted to using the Versa to track my sleep, something I like doing (and my new daily fitness challenge app I'm using with my wife counts sleep logging as one of its goals, so it's helpful). And the silent alarms on-wrist are great, with good, solid vibrational haptics.

While the Versa lacks the Apple Watch's deep hook-ins to your phone -- and built-in GPS and cellular options -- it's far more affordable, too. Ultimately, I love how Fitbit has chopped away all of the Ionic's unnecessary extras, and focused on the basics. If you can embrace its limitations -- and the Apple Watch Series 1 isn't on sale -- the Versa is the best fitness-friendly casual smartwatch in its price range.

Editors' note: This review has been updated since its original publication on March 26 to add additional thoughts after living with the Versa for several weeks. Ratings are unchanged, but are now final. The review was previously updated on April 4 to correct US pricing and availability of the Special Edition model with tap-to-pay.

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Left to right: Apple Watch Series 3, Fitbit Ionic, Pebble Time Steel, Fitbit Versa. The Versa feels the most compact.

Josh Miller/CNET

What's great

The Versa feels small to me. But that compactness is a positive. It feels less bulky than the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3. But it's also wide -- wider than the Apple Watch -- and the square screen has a lot of bezel around it. Still, I like the design a lot.

It's also thinner than the Apple Watch. The included rubber band feels great. Extra bands, like Horween leather and a metal mesh band, look really nice, but were a little difficult to attach. The mesh band needs manual adjustment, unlike Apple Watch's magnetic strap.

The touchscreen is also much more responsive than the Ionic's. Three buttons handle shortcuts for music controls, notifications, exercise start times and alarms. Clicks and click-and-holds can be customized to do other things. You'll have options.

I can get what I need pretty quickly on the Versa, as a smartwatch and as a fitness tracker, and that's what matters most.

The battery life is enough that I can wear the watch to bed. I like wearing watches to bed: I can check the time, I can set alarms, I can track sleep -- all of which Fitbit does a decent job of. It keeps me aware of my terrible bedtime habits.

This Fitbit is also waterproof to 50 meters, like the Ionic and the tiny Flex 2. I wore it in the shower all week, but didn't get a chance to swim with it.

Fitbit's updated on-watch OS has a better design in small ways. (Ionic users are getting the same update, too.) The remote for controlling phone-connected music actually makes sense now, with controls all on one screen. A swipe-up dashboard for fitness tracking stats includes more data. Not as much as I'd like, but the best it's been on a Fitbit: I can scan weekly progress, see recent workouts and look at my resting heart rate.

I compared steps and heartrate tracking against an Apple Watch Series 3 on my other wrist, and against handgrip heart-rate readings on hotel gym elliptical machines. It offered similar readings and accuracy.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

A little world of apps

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The charger: nice for bedside charging, but it's big (and once again different from other Fitbits).

Josh Miller/CNET

Watch faces: The good, the bad, the ugly

Fitbit has an app store now, called the App Gallery, that launches from within the Fitbit app. Last year's Fitbit Ionic got these apps back in December, though there will be fewer Versa-compatible apps until they're optimized for the newer watch.

Still, there are more than 50 to try already, including some quirky offerings and watch faces that recall the glory days of the classic Pebble Watch -- everything from tip calculators, apps for Nest and Philips Hue light controls, a Starbucks pay-by-barcode app, Flipboard news headlines and Strava. Others include Yelp, the NY Times and E-Trade.

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