In December 2016, one of the pioneers of the modern smartwatch ceased to exist. Pebble, once one of the greatest Kickstarter success stories, closed up shop, selling off some of their technology and intellectual property to Fitbit. It made sense for Fitbit — while their fitness trackers and bands have stuck, they haven’t managed to produce a full smartwatch that has caught fire in the market like the Apple Watch has. The Blaze from early 2016 didn’t do it, and despite putting some Pebble tech to work in the Ionic from last year, that smartwatch has also been a sales disappointment. So, third time’s the charm? This week, they announced the Fitbit Versa smartwatch, which mixes a little more Pebble DNA in with a sleeker, more modern look and some new tracking features built around women’s health.
In fact, the style upgrade is probably the most important change made here. The Blaze and the Ionic both looked a bit boxy, with the Blaze looking almost industrial! They were meant to be everyday wear, but neither of those watches were ever going to be accessories that could be worn with many outfits, especially for the most fashion-conscious among us. The Versa still sticks with a square for the face, but now uses rounded corners around the edges. It looks pleasant, but more importantly, it looks like something that can settle into the background comfortably instead of commanding attention. Fitbits are never going to be particularly fashionable accessories, so the move to a plainer, more low-key design is probably a good one.
While there are some design similarities to the later Pebble smartwatches, the comparison is limited. The Fitbit Versa smartwatch has a 1.34″ color LCD, not e-paper, so don’t expect the sort of month-long battery life the Pebble watches were known for. The Versa is said to last about four days, though, which is still pretty solid for a smartwatch.
Most of the Pebble influence can be seen in the operating system. Fitbit uses Fitbit OS, which draws heavily from what Pebble used to use. Of course, going with your own OS instead of, say, Android Wear, is risky because of the lack of apps. Fortunately, the situation has improved since the release of the Ionic smartwatch — Fitbit OS now has apps for Philips Hue Lights, Nest, Starbucks, Strava, AccuWeather, Yelp, and a handful of others. Playlists from Pandora and Flow from Deezer can be used for music, but that key Spotify integration is missing.
The Fitbit Versa smartwatch does the usual fitness tracking things — activity tracking and heart rate monitoring — but they’re making a serious push toward holistic health tracking. Through Fitbit Labs, they’ve developed the New Parent app, an all-in-one place for you to log feedings, diaper changes, and sleep patterns for infants. They’re also introducing a host of women’s health features and built around cycle tracking, with communities for women to discuss periods, birth control, fertility, pregnancy, and perimenopause and menopause.
It’s got the usual smartwatch features, too. You can get smartphone notifications (from both iOS and Android) and can swap in other watch faces. There will be a version of Versa that includes NFC for use with Fitbit Pay, too, although that one costs $30 extra. The one big omission is built-in GPS. That means runners and cyclists won’t be able to leave their phones at home during workouts, which does turn off quite a few people. Then again, with Garmin sinking its hooks deep into the enthusiast market, Fitbit might feel more at home catering to the everyday user — if it ends up making Versa cheaper, leaving GPS off might not be the worst idea.
The Fitbit Versa smartwatch will be available next month online and in stores, coming in black, silver, and rose gold (all made of aluminum). The non-NFC model will be $200, with the NFC model priced at $230. The three colors will come with black, grey, and peach straps, respectively, but there will be tons of other straps in Horween leather, silicone, and stainless steel available as well, with prices ranging from $30 to $100. Fitbit has a long history of working on straps with designers like Tory Burch, too, although those have mostly been for their more popular Flex and Alta trackers — we might not see as much in the way of designer bands unless the Versa sells a lot better than the Fitbit smartwatches that have come before.