Fitbit Versa undercuts Apple Watch on size, price

The new $200 smartwatch will debut in April alongside the Ace, a $100 fitness tracker for kids.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
5 min read
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Fitbit Versa is the company's third attempt at a full-on smartwatch, and the company may have finally nailed a good design at a really good price. It's fully compatible with all of the apps designed for its more expensive predecessor, the Fitbit Ionic, which debuted just five months ago. The Versa arrives in April for $200 (£200, AU$300) -- that's $50 less than the entry-level Apple Watch. 

The Versa will release alongside the Fitbit Ace, a new $100 (£80, AU$130) fitness tracker that's designed for kids.

Fitbit Versa is just as gorgeous as the Apple Watch, but way cheaper

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It's the Versa, however, that Fitbit is pinning its hopes on. The company, which made its name on fitness trackers and step counters, has been struggling with a sagging stock price after a soft holiday sales quarter. Apple, meanwhile, continues to gobble up market share as consumers turn to smartwatches.

Correcting the mistakes of the Ionic

I had two thoughts after reviewing Fitbit's first smartwatch, the Ionic, that launched last year: It would be better if it were less expensive and wasn't quite so bulky.  

That's exactly what the Fitbit Versa is: A thinner, less expensive Ionic. It's also Fitbit's strongest counterpunch to the aforementioned Apple Watch. And it happens to look almost exactly like the late, great Pebble Time smartwatch I reviewed a few years ago -- the startup darling that Fitbit purchased in December 2016

Watch this: Fitbit Versa is the Apple Watch's strongest competition, but Fitbit Ace is going for your kids

That's not a bad thing: In fact, maybe it's the best thing. The four-day battery life of the Versa, and its solid list of features -- heart rate monitoring, 50 meter water resistance, on-board music storage, compatibility with hundreds of watchfaces and apps -- make it sound like the best all-around Fitbit to date. 

It lacks the GPS of the Ionic, but in my brief time with the watch it also seems more comfortable and easier to use. The Ionic felt fine on my wrist, but was angular and much larger than the Apple Watch. The Versa is smaller and slimmer. 


Apple Watch Series 3 (left) next to Fitbit Versa (right).

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I couldn't tell how it feels with different bands, but the whole watch is a lot more low-key than the Ionic, in a good way. On my large wrist, it felt great. But Fitbit is clearly looking at the Versa as a way of addressing the design shortcomings of the Ionic.

Its "squircle" design is reminiscent of the Apple Watch (and even moreso, the Pebble Time). The aluminum design comes in several colors (black, silver, and rose gold), and will work with a variety of new silicone, leather, steel link, Milanese mesh-style, woven and knit bands.

Versa replaces the Fitbit Blaze in the company's line-up. That first-generation Fitbit watch, which had few fans, is now being discontinued.

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A renewed focus on women's health

The Versa is part of what Fitbit CEO James Park details as a mission to reach out to a larger audience -- and more women in particular. To that end, the company is introducing new tools, in coming app updates, to track women's menstrual cycles.

Today, many women track their cycles in dedicated apps (like Kindara). But by folding the feature into the main Fitbit app, the hope is that women will find it easier to do all their health tracking in one place. (Apple Health added reproductive health tracking back in 2015.) The expanded feature will come in an upcoming software update which will work across older Fitbits, too. 

With this update, women might be able to find correlations between their fitness routines and menstrual health. Fitbit's also planning to learn from the data collected, as the company shifts more towards integration with health care platforms. The hope, according to Fitbit, is to study relationships between activity, sleep and menstrual cycles on a larger scale.


The Fitbit Versa is like a thinner, less expensive Ionic.

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New software

Last year's Fitbit Ionic and the new Versa will get a revamped OS, with added on-wrist fitness data and, eventually, a promise of more coaching and daily encouragement. The new software I saw on-wrist with the Versa included a swipe-out fitness-at-a-glance rundown that has stats like resting heart rate, recent workouts, and more info in general than what I saw on the Ionic. The touchscreen felt a little more responsive, too: The Ionic's sluggish interface was one of its downsides.

The next Fitbit 2.0 OS will also add quick replies to messages, but for Android users only. The quick replies are a canned list of responses that can be customized in the Fitbit phone app. The Fitbit Ionic currently can only receive messages.

FItbit Pay, which makes NFC on-wrist payments, will only available on a step-up Special Edition model in the US ($230, with an extra woven band). In Europe and Asia, all Versa watches will have Fitbit Pay. I was let down with how few banks are supported on Fitbit Pay at the moment versus Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, which is why I don't tend to use it.


The Fitbit Ace. Which looks like...the Fitbit Alta.

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There's a kid Fitbit, too

Fitbit's also making a kid's fitness tracker, if you're ready for it. The Fitbit Ace is basically a rebranded Fitbit Alta, a small tracker with a narrow screen released several years ago. The Ace will come in blue or purple bands, cost $100, and will have goals and challenges for kids, plus be tuned for different daily activity and sleep goals (60 minutes a day, and 9-12 hours of sleep a night, more than adults). Unfortunately, though, the Fitbit Ace won't be water resistant for swimming, and it doesn't track heart rate, either.

The idea of Fitbit Ace is to help kids track sleep, activity and fitness goals, plus join challenges with the family. But it's also a way for families to keep an eye on kid activities... and for Fitbit to study kid fitness data trends, too.

Fitbit's technically late to the kid fitness tracker game: Garmin's already on the second generation of its Vivofit Junior.

Fitbit Ace is designed for kids eight and up. It'll be up to parents to decide whether it's necessary or not. I'm really not wild about kid wearables, but I'm curious to see what my kid thinks of it. It's a little unclear how Fitbit will customize its software for kids, or whether the idea of the Ace is to simply help track and motivate like every other Fitbit.