A few weeks ago, Wednesday afternoon was winding down. I changed into a pair of shorts, put on a pair of smart running shoes, and smugly informed my co-workers that I was going on a run.
But one thing led to another. I had to write photo captions; I answered a couple emails. By the time I had resolved these very pressing issues, I had been sitting at my desk for 45 minutes in running clothes, with only fifteen minutes of paid childcare left on the clock.
It wasn’t enough time to run, but it was enough time for me to kick off my shoes, unroll a yoga mat, and fire up the Coach app on the Fitbit Versa for quick 7-minute workout.
That’s what Fitbit is all about—making your life healthier, one tiny, incremental change at a time. After a few weeks of using the Relax app to do two-minute deep breathing exercises while my children acted like a pair of human whoopee cushions in the backseat of my car, I can definitely say that the Versa is an easy, accessible way to do just that.
At $200, the Versa is relatively affordable—certainly much more affordable than its close competitor, the Apple Watch Series 3, which it very closely resembles. Several people actually asked me if it was the new Apple Watch. I just shrugged.
It’s one of the most unobtrusive fitness watches that I’ve tried. I opted for a standard black watch with the rubber classic band, although, this being Fitbit, both the unit and the band came in a considerable number of colors and materials.
It does have a not insignificant bezel, which reduces the usable screen size, but it was small enough to lie flat on my wrist. But in the black version, it’s hard to see the bezel anyway, and I also changed the clock face to Fitbit’s proprietary “Simple” face, which is mostly blank. With daily workouts, it took three to four days for me to wear the battery down to 21 or 25 percent, and around 1.5 hours to charge it back up again.
Some of the features that the app can display include your step counter, a sleep tracker, a heart rate monitor, and an exercise log. The sleep tracker was more accurate than the sleep sensing pad that I have under my bed. My ten-month-old son still wakes up several times a night. The Versa detected each time he roused me, even as the sleep sensing pad only detected the times I shifted my weight.
The heart rate monitor did show some crazy spikes on my outdoor runs—there’s just no way that I can possibly go from a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute to 195 in just a few minutes, without collapsing on the floor—but it seemed fairly accurate on the treadmill and while swimming. And while the watch itself does not have GPS, it does have connected GPS and can map routes and graph your pace per mile, mooching location data from your phone. I was surprised by the quality of the data that the Versa collected on the runs using this tracking method, even if it means you need to carry your phone with you.
It’s safe to assume that if you are looking at a Fitbit and are doing things like parking at the back of the parking lot to sneak in a few more steps on your pedometer, you’re not paragliding or ducking out of work early for a quick snowboarding sesh. I did find the default activities to be pretty limited—no rock climbing, no skiing—and the automatic activity tracker was a little wonky. I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what I was doing last week, but I definitely wasn’t on a bike. And a half-hour of skateboarding has to have been worth more than the recorded 63 steps.
One of the new features that I was most excited to try was Fitbit’s new female health app, which will help women track their ovulation and menstrual cycles. While there are some very great female health apps already available for both iOS and Android, there’s nothing worse than having your period sneak up on you unawares. I would love to be able to quickly log data, get reminders, and correlate data points between my menstrual cycle, sleep cycle, and other pieces of health-related data. However, that feature won’t be available until May. Whomp whomp.
Fitbit also provided me with a trial subscription of the Coach app, which, to my surprise, I ended up liking a lot. I didn’t strictly adhere to my coach’s suggestions, but whenever I had a string of busy days, it was nice to sneak in a quick workout in twenty or thirty minutes of downtime. And I liked how easy it was to follow the instructions of the tiny person jumping and squatting on the Versa’s screen.
The Versa has a lot of features that I didn’t end up using. I know a lot of people find support in online workout communities. But personally, I always set my account settings to private. I can’t see that anything good has ever come from being quite that vulnerable on social media.
I don’t have a Starbucks card and don’t plan on getting one, so that partnership and app were useless to me. You can add music to the Versa from your computer, but there’s no Spotify app and to use Pandora, you have to pay for an upgraded account. They do have a partnership with another streaming service, Deezer, but I just…no. No more subscriptions!
Those weren’t the only shortcomings, either. There’s no medical alert if your heart rate goes bonkers, like the Apple Watch. And the notifications are kind of a doozy. While quick replies to messages will be available for Android users in May, iOS users are stuck with unable to respond to tantalizingly obtuse half-texts, complete with maddening ellipses. The worst one came while I was walking my dogs, and a friend texted, “Breaking news!…” What is it, Mark? Mark! What is it?
Still, the Versa is so simple and easy to use that as the weeks passed, I found myself relying on it more and more. With two swipes, I started using the timer to bake. I have a tendency to wander away from the kitchen timer, so it was helpful to have a buzzer strapped to my wrist.
I started using the weather app to quickly check the forecast while dressing my toddler. I started using the Relax app to get my head on straight when my worlds of work, kids, dogs, and friends all converged at the most inconvenient times.
And finally, I started using Fitbit’s original feature. At ten minutes to the hour, every hour, my wrist buzzed to remind me to get up and move around. Yes, it’s disorienting and annoying to be jolted out of whatever you were doing. But it’s also necessary. No one is so busy and important that they can’t get up and walk around their kitchen table a couple times every now and again.
Sure, you could disparage this product as being a fitness tracker that also feeds you the occasional notification. But what if that’s all you want from a watch? If you don’t expect your watch to replace your phone entirely, and you just want an affordable, convenient device that also makes your life a little easier, the Fitbit Versa hits the sweet spot.