Gears & Gadgets

Mini-review: Fitbit’s Versa Lite favors affordability over unnecessary features

Mini-review: Fitbit’s Versa Lite favors affordability over unnecessary features
Valentina Palladino

The Versa Lite confused me at first. When Fitbit announced the new Inspire and Inspire HR fitness trackers, the company also debuted the new Versa Lite. This smartwatch looks identical to the original Versa, which came out last year, but it lacks a few features and costs $ 40 less. Considering the Versa was meant to be a cheaper, more accessible version of the $ 300 Fitbit Ionic, it was strange to see Fitbit come up with an even more affordable version of its already affordable smartwatch.

But Fitbit is positioning itself as the company with smartwatches for all kinds of people. Instead of making one flagship device with a bunch of features like Apple has done with the Apple Watch, Fitbit is investing in numerous devices with different feature sets at various price points. Now, the Versa family has three devices: the $ 159 Versa Lite, the $ 199 Versa, and the $ 229 Versa Special Edition. Choice provides more accessibility, but it can also breed confusion.

We tested out the Versa Lite to see how different it really is compared to the original Versa and if it’s worth pocketing that extra $ 40.

What’s the difference?

Specs compared: Fitbit Versa models
Device Versa Lite Versa Versa Special Edition
Price $ 159 $ 199 $ 229
Sensors 3-axis accelerometer, vibration motor, optical heart-rate monitor, SpO2 monitor, ambient light sensor 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, vibration motor, optical heart-rate monitor, altimeter, SpO2 monitor, Wi-Fi antenna, ambient light sensor 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, vibration motor, optical heart-rate monitor, altimeter, SpO2 monitor, Wi-Fi antenna, ambient light sensor, NFC
Navigation buttons 1 3 3
Water resistance Up to 50 meters Up to 50 meters Up to 50 meters
Floors climbed No Yes Yes
Swim lap tracking No Yes Yes
GPS Connected GPS Connected GPS Connected GPS
Music storage/playback No Yes Yes
On-screen Fitbit Coach workouts No Yes Yes
Fitbit Pay (NFC) No No Yes
Battery life At least 4 days At least 4 days At least 4 days

It’s best if we discuss what the Versa Lite cannot do, because that’s what differentiates it most from its siblings. First and foremost, the Versa Lite doesn’t have an altimeter, so it cannot track floors climbed. As I mentioned in my Inspire HR review, this is arguably the most confusing feature to omit in the Versa Lite. Many companies put altimeters in wearables that cost between $ 120 to $ 200 (any fitness wearable that’s more expensive should definitely have one). An altimeter isn’t present in the $ 99 Inspire HR or in the $ 160 Versa Lite. But, Fitbit did put one in the $ 149 Charge 3.

The biggest difference between the Charge 3 and the Versa Lite is design—one will appeal to those who like fitness bands, while the other will appeal to smartwatch lovers. But since the Versa Lite is being pushed as a fitness-capable smartwatch that’s on par with the Charge 3 in almost every way, it should include an altimeter. Those who take the stairs in their office buildings to get more exercise in daily life will be frustrated to see this sensor omitted from the Versa Lite.

The Versa Lite also cannot track laps while swimming, because it doesn’t have a gyroscope. But it can track swimming as an exercise thanks to its water resistance up to 50 meters. It will primarily rely on Fitbit’s SmartTrack auto-tracking feature to record length, duration, calories, and active minutes of a swimming session. That information will be enough for most users, but serious swimmers will want a device with lap-tracking capabilities.

While music controls exist on the Versa Lite, the smartwatch doesn’t have the ability to store music itself. The regular Versa, Versa Special Edition, and the Ionic smartwatches can all use Fitbit’s desktop program to download and play music when connected to a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

Supported file types are limited, though. Pandora and Deezer subscribers can link their accounts so they can download and play tracks and playlists. As far as local files go, devices support MP3, MP4 with ACC audio, and WMA files transferred from Windows and macOS systems.

Onboard music, much like swim lap tracking, isn’t as universal of a feature as tracking floors climbed is. Only a portion of users hate bringing their smartphones (which likely hold all of their music) with them on a run or bike ride. The Versa Lite can control smartphone music playback with on-screen controls, and that will be more than enough for those who keep their phones with them while they exercise.

Unsurprisingly, NFC payments aren’t possible with the Versa Lite. Fitbit only put the necessary technology in its special-edition Versa smartwatch, which costs $ 229. Fitbit Pay only comes standard on the Ionic, which is Fitbit’s most premium smartwatch. That device also has an onboard GPS, and those two features tend to go hand in hand. With a GPS and NFC device, users can more easily leave their smartphones and wallets behind while they track and map exercise and still pay for groceries or coffee on the way home.

Finally, the Versa Lite cannot show on-screen workouts downloaded from Fitbit Coach. These are separate from the workout profiles available on all Versa devices in the Exercise app. Fitbit Coach is the company’s subscription fitness program that gives you access to guided workouts and training sessions. On Versa and Versa Special Edition devices, users can follow along with any of these paid workouts, using the screen to see their next moves, rest periods, and more.

At $ 39 per year, Fitbit Coach isn’t incredibly expensive, and, in the short time I tested the service, I was impressed with the variety of cardio routines. Coach can also give you audio cues when you’re connected to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, putting a trainer in your ear as well as on your wrist. Fitbit Coach could be worth the money for those who need more structure to their fitness routines, but if you want workouts on your wrist, you’ll need a regular Versa, Versa Special Edition, or an Ionic. Others who know exactly how they want to train, or just prefer to wing it, don’t need such a program.

The only physical difference between the Versa Lite and the other models is that the Lite has just one side button, which sits on its left edge. The others have three side buttons. I didn’t miss the two right-side buttons while testing the Versa Lite, because its single button worked fine, and its touchscreen is quite responsive.

What it can do

That may seem like a lot of missing pieces, but the Versa Lite is a capable fitness watch. It tracks daily steps, calories, and distance as adequately as any other Fitbit device, and since it has a heart-rate monitor, it will track sleep and sleep stages as well. The heart-rate monitor got the job done during workouts, measuring my pulse within 5BPM of the Polar H10 chest strap. I also have to commend Fitbit on the Versa’s screen—the 0.94-inch, full-color LCD touchscreen is lovely to look at and use, even during workouts. Sweat on my hands and fingers never prevented me from using the touchscreen, and I like how I could tap on the display to switch between real-time heart rate, duration, calories, and other stats.

As I mentioned before, I did not miss the extra two buttons, but I did miss the altimeter. Spending $ 160 on a smartwatch and not getting a sensor as ubiquitous as that is frustrating. I work from home, so I don’t have tiers and tiers of office stairwells to take when I want to get more steps in. However, I do live on the second floor of my building, and I missed having my tracker count up how many times I took those stairs on my busiest days.

Like the original Versa, the Versa Lite doesn’t have onboard GPS, but it does have Fitbit’s connected GPS feature. That means you can map an outdoor run, walk, or bike ride by going out with the Versa Lite on your wrist and your smartphone together. The wearable will automatically connect to your smartphone’s GPS before you start recording the workout via the Exercise app. When finished, the data collected by the Versa Lite and the smartphone’s GPS will be combined in that workout’s data pages in the Fitbit mobile app.

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Tech – Ars Technica

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