Price (RRP): $329.95 ($379.95 for the Special Edition)
Okay, I’m just going to say it: the Fitbit Versa 2 is a smart watch. Yes, its lineage is in part that of the fitness tracker, but now that’s just one of its functions. Nowadays it’s quite usable as a smart watch, even if you don’t want it to do the fitness stuff.
The Fitbit Versa 2, though adds functions. Perhaps the biggest one is Alexa.
Fitness Features of the Fitbit Versa 2
I will return to Alexa, since it’s worth discussing on its own. Meanwhile, amongst the features are fitness tracking, including:
- step tracking
- sleep tracking (and assigning a “sleep score”)
- heart-rate tracking
- specific exercise tracking, including swimming (the Fitbit Versa 2 is rated to 50 metres immersion)
- On-screen workouts
- GPS-tracking – but it uses the GPS in a connected phone, it doesn’t have GPS built in
- Female health tracking
- Guided breathing sessions
- Workout reminders
- Integration with the Fitbit app.
On that last point, I return to my on-going complaint about these Fitbit smart watches: you can only have one connected to the app at a time. Linking this one meant unlinking my mainstay: an increasingly beaten-up Fitbit Ionic. I’d prefer to keep using the Ionic for rough stuff while confining the much prettier Fitbit Versa 2 to nicer occasions. Can’t be done.
Which is a pity, because the Fitbit ecosystem is extensive, especially since Fitbit also has smart scales.
You can see our Versa review to learn more about most of those things.
Other Features of the Fitbit Versa 2
So what about the non-fitness smart watch features? They include:
- On-watch notifications from your phone
- That includes includes text from one of your texting applications – but only one of them; you’ll have to choose
- One-button short replies to those messages
- Music playback from Deezer or music tracks loaded into the watch – I think the storage remains the same, about 2.5GB. That’s enough, says Fitbit, for 300 songs. I’ll return to music below (eg. Yes, No)
- Spotify playback control
- Alexa, again below
- Fitbit Pay so you can tap your watch to pay (see the original Versa review for that)
- A huge range of apps including, for example, a flashlight, a calculator, various timers, maps, to-do list, New York Times headlines, Tic Tac Toe, 2048, and altimeter, moon phase, and scores, perhaps hundreds, more
- A choice from more than six hundred watch faces (I got sick of scrolling after a hundred screens)
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The Fitbit Versa 2 weighs 43.6 grams with the larger-sized traditional silicone/rubber band fitted.
The standard Fitbit Versa 2 comes with a single such band, albeit in two sizes. There are plenty of colours to choose from. The review model was the Special Edition. This differs only by including a second band, also in two sizes, made of fabric. On the review one this was finished in a patterned grey while the standard band had colour that was called, back in my Army Reserve days, “green, olive drab”. The standard Fitbit Versa 2 costs $329.95, while the SE costs $379.95.
Switching bands was kind of tricky, then not too hard. I found that the fabric band was a bit too low in friction, so that the Fitbit Versa 2 tended to rotate on my wrist. That wasn’t really a problem, except that when I’d bring the watch up to check the time, the slipperiness meant the watch didn’t snap around properly into position. And that meant that the “wake up the screen” algorithm wasn’t invoked, so I’d have to press the watch’s button to wake up the screen so I could check the time.
I could have tightened it, but then it would have been too tight for the heart rate monitor to work.
I fumbled around trying to get the new band into place and it just wouldn’t fit. A small metal protrusion needs to be pushed back against a spring and out pops the band. But the new one seemed oversized. For a while, I even contemplated using a sharp knife to shave it down. But eventually I stumbled upon the trick. You have to hold the band at just the right angle, and then it goes right in.
The Fitbit Versa 2 is 12mm thick, 40.5mm wide (including the button) and 40mm tall. The display is a touch bigger than the previous models: between 25mm and 26mm square as best as I could measure it, for a diagonal of around 36mm. Many of the hundreds of watch faces are novelty ones or fussy or otherwise unusable, except for a lark. But there are still plenty which are clear for all but those with the most troublesome eyesight.
The screen is colour, of course, and high enough resolution so that the pixel structure is too small to be visible without a strong magnifying glass. It’s covered with Corning Gorilla Glass. And it is a touch screen.
Most of the control is by swiping from an edge with the single button backing you back out of things, or bringing up the watch face.
On the back is a flickering green light and sensor, which are used by the heart rate monitor. Also there are four gold-plated contacts, used by the charger cradle. That plugs into any regular USB-style power supply or a computer.
Measuring yourself with the Fitbit Versa 2
We shouldn’t overlook the Fitbit Versa 2 as a fitness tracker. It uses sensors such as an accelerometer to detect movement and an algorithm to convert those movements into counts of your steps and such things as your sleep status. It’s all very clever.
Previously I relied a fair bit on the heart rate monitor in various Fitbit devices. The usual caveats apply, of course. It isn’t a scientific instrument, nor should it be used for medical monitoring.
But recently I’ve noticed that the measurements were quite a variance with what was actually going on with my heart.
When using a bike or other machine with a heart rate monitor – these require contact with both hands – I’d often see the machine reporting a heart rate of 115 or 120 beats per minute, while the Fitbit Versa 2 was reporting 150 or more. Over the course of ten minutes on the machine the Versa 2’s figure would gradually lower to match that on the machine. When I checked my pulse the old-fashioned way, with a finger on my neck, the rate always matched that shown on the exercise machine rather than the Versa 2.
I’d noticed a similar discrepancy with the Fitbit Ionic in recent months (I hadn’t been going to the gym when I first reviewed it). I tried different levels of tension on the band, but it didn’t seem to make any difference.
I imagine such figures as the reported calorie consumption (Fitbit still doesn’t allow kilojoules to be set as units) are based in part on heart rate data, so presumably that also is overstated.
Like the original Versa, the Fitbit Versa 2 has a few GB of built-in storage which you can load up with music. Said music can be MP3s and so on from your collection, or music downloaded from Deezer. I ran through the Deezer option pretty extensively in my review of the Versa, and since I no longer have a Deezer subscription I’ll simply rest on that. Loading in music does give you the option of untethering from your phone since you can pair Bluetooth earphones and headphones directly with the Versa 2 for playback. I for one always have the phone to hand so it offered me little benefit.
But something new for the Fitbit Versa 2 is Spotify. Let me hasten to describe what that gives you and what it doesn’t. Unlike Deezer, you cannot download Spotify tracks to your smart watch. What it does is act as a remote control. Play something in Spotify (Premium subscription required) on your phone, fire up the Spotify app on the watch and you can see what’s playing, pause it or skip tracks. Or set whatever is playing as a favourite.
Some innovations on smart watches strike me as gimmicky. This one strikes me as very useful. Even with Bluetooth headphones that also allow you to skip tracks, doing so is often tricky. Going backwards usually requires a triple press of a small button. More than half the time I mess that up. So, reliably skipping usually means pulling the phone out of my pocket, unlocking it, bringing up the Spotify app and pressing the button. With the Fitbit Versa 2, it involves bringing up my wrist to invoke the screen, then tapping the on-screen skip button.
Of course, you can press the home button to return to the usual watch display.
But you can also select which device you want Spotify to play to. I was a little startled the first time I fired up the Spotify app on the watch to be presented with, as playback devices, a couple of the Spotify Connect speakers available in my home. I was startled for two reasons. The first was that my phone or its Bluetooth earphones weren’t presented. But my Bluetooth earphones weren’t switched on.
A few seconds after I switched them on my phone’s name appeared on the list. I selected it and could control playback through the earphones. All except volume, which isn’t supported and is the one important addition I’d like to see.
The other startling thing about the list was … I was at an airport. I wasn’t in my home and I hadn’t realised that Spotify would still allow me to send music to my home speakers remotely. Why would I? I’ve never had reason to bring up the speaker list in Spotify when away from home.
Anyway, that means that even in the home you can control playback from your Spotify-enabled speakers, skipping tracks, pausing and so on.
Alexa on the Fitbit Versa 2
Ah, yes, Alexa. That and Spotify control abilities are the two big additions to the Versa 2. I’m sure you know, but others might not: Alexa was the first effective home voice recognition system, introduced some years ago by Amazon. These days it’s competing neck and neck with Google Assistant.
You can ask Alexa pretty much anything, including to control Alexa-controllable stuff. You invoke it by holding down the button on the Fitbit Versa 2 for a couple of seconds, whereupon the Alexa notched-ring logo appears. Then you talk.
“How long does it take to drive to Sydney”, I said. “Thinking” appeared on the screen, then after a few seconds the answer came in the form of text. Fairly small text – I’d estimate about eight lines could appear on the Fitbit Versa 2 screen if required. The text was the kind of answer you’d expect to hear an Alexa device deliver by voice. Above the answer was the Alexa icon. Tap it and you can ask another question.
This whole thing worked as well as Alexa always does, which is to say very well … if you ask the right questions clearly. If you’re already used to using Alexa, you’ll have no problems with this implementation.
It’s not just information. Alexa can control certain things. I could tell a Denon home theatre receiver to change its volume level by speaking to the Versa 2.
Do remember, though, that it depends entirely on having your phone connected. Alexa (and the others) don’t do their interpretation locally but use the enormous computing power of their servers located goodness-knows-where. The Fitbit Versa 2 has to be connected to your phone, and thus to those servers.
Charging and battery life
Fitbit says that the Versa 2 is good for six days “+” of battery life. I figure I would have gotten something like that had I not been the kind of person who insists on recharging the moment the charge dips under 50%. That typically took more than three days.
Charging up from 52% to 62% took 7.5 minutes. To 93% took 32 minutes. To 96% took about 40 minute. To 99% took around 55 minutes. And there it sat for a long time. I guess it goes into trickle mode when nearly full. Eventually though – I checked after about 90 minutes – the readout showed 100%.
The Fitbit Versa 2 is a smart looking, smart acting smart watch. The smart functions are implemented thoughtfully. If you use Alexa or Spotify, you’ll particularly enjoy using this watch.
The Fitbit Versa 2 is available at the usual outlets and directly from Fitbit.