Fitbit Versa 2 hands-on: Alexa, OLED, and an always-on display make a compelling upgrade

Besides on-board Amazon Alexa, the new smartwatch boasts an AMOLED display and Fit Pay functionality.

Credit: Ben Patterson/IDG

Fitbit has taken the wraps off its follow-up to the Versa smartwatch, and with on-board Amazon Alexa, an AMOLED display, and Fit Pay for the base model, the Versa 2 looks like it’s ready to go toe-to-toe with the Apple Watch.

Slated to land in stores on September 15 for $200 (the same price as its predecessor), the Versa 2 marks the first Fitbit tracker with a digital assistant, checking off a key feature that it will need to compete with Apple’s dominant wearable. 

Just push and hold the side button (more about the single side button in a moment), and up comes Alexa, perfect for asking about the weather, getting the calorie count for that pickle you’re about to eat, or launching an exercise program. Summoning Alexa only seems to take a moment or so (note that your phone needs to be in range for Alexa to work), but we'll hold off on any conclusions until we've posted our review. 

fitbit versa 2 alexa Ben Patterson/IDG

Just press and hold the side button of Fitbit’s new Versa 2 smartwatch to call up Alexa.

 

Also new is an AMOLED display with always-on capabilities and a cleaner aesthetic that’s thankfully free of the space-hogging Fitbit logo on the face on the watch. The base model of the Versa 2 also comes with NFC support for Fit Pay mobile payment functionality, an upgrade from last year’s model, which required an upgrade to the $230 Special Edition to make payments. Still missing in action is on-board GPS, however.

fitbit versa 2 face Ben Patterson/IDG

You can still get “multiple” days of battery life with the Versa 2’s always-on display enabled, Fitbit claims.

Also new to the Versa 2 is Spotify support, a welcome addition to anyone who used the clunky Manage My Music tab in the Fitbit app. Spotify Connect will let you take charge of your Spotify tunes, radio stations, and playlists on your nearby devices, with 2.5GB of the watch’s 5GB of storage reserved for local music playback.

The overall design of the water-resistant Versa 2 looks extremely similar to the previous version, albeit with slightly more rounded corners. Look closely at the side of the watch, however, and you’ll notice that the Versa 2 has taken a page from the Versa Lite, paring down its trio of navigational buttons to just a single one. In our review of the original Versa, we complained about the confusion created by the three side buttons, so we’re eager to give this new one-button configuration a thorough test.

fitbit versa 2 button Ben Patterson/IDG

There’s only one side button on the Versa 2, versus (confusingly) three on the original.

Fitbit promises more than five hours of battery life out of the Versa 2, though it comes with a catch. Enabling one of its best new features—the watch’s always-on display—will take a bite out of those five days of battery life, although you can still expect “multiple” days of use, Fitbit claims.

Premium at a premium

Also coming this fall is a new service called Fitbit Premium, an evolution of the Fitbit Coach personal training service. It’s set to cost $10 a month or $80 a year and promises to offer personalized workouts, fitness challenges, sleep tracking, and one-on-one coaching. 

Fitbit premium will offer a variety of fitness programs (a total of nine at launch, with more to come) that are personalized based on your Fitbit data and goals, as well as notification-style “insights” that let you know how your activity is affecting (for example) your heart rate or your weight. You’ll also get workouts that are geared toward your current fitness level, along with various games and “challenges,” and you can even generate a “wellness report” for your doctor that’s based on your Fitbit health data, or (for an extra fee) pair up with an online personal coach who can review your Fitbit results and offer workout tips and encouragement.

Fitbit was careful to note that its premium offerings won’t replace the free workouts and notifications offered through the mobile fitness. Instead, the service will add a “layer” of personalization to those features.

Along with the watches will be a couple of new software features are coming to the Fitbit App in September, including a revamped sleep tracker that gives you a “Sleep Score” from one (little sleep) to 100 (a full night’s rest) that was previously in beta. Your Sleep Score is based on factors such as your total time asleep, the amount of deep sleep you got, and your total REM sleep.

Meanwhile, the new “Smart Wake” feature is a new smart alarm designed to wake you only when you’re in light or REM sleep, rather than jolting you out of a deep sleep. For example, if you’re set your alarm for 6:30 a.m. and your watch senses that you’re in REM sleep at 6:15, Smart Wake will go ahead and wake you up rather than risk letting you slip into a deep sleep 10 or 15 minutes later.

The $199 base version of the Versa 2 will come with a one-month free trial of Fitbit Premium and is available in three colors: black with a carbon case, petal with a copper rose aluminum case, and stone with a mist grey case. The $230 special edition Versa 2 features three months of Fitbit Premium and is available with premium jacquard woven bands in either navy and pink with a copper rose aluminum case, or smoke with a mist grey case. Special Edition models also include a second color-matched silicone band in navy and olive.

We’ll have an in-depth review of the Fitbit Versa 2 once we’ve spent quality time with our review unit, so stay tuned.

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Ben Patterson

Macworld.com
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