Automated fitness tracking
About the Fitbit Versa 3
Here are the specs of the smartwatch we tested:
- Display: 1.6-inch 336 x 336 AMOLED
- Processor: TK
- Navigation: GPS, GLONASS
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Sensors: Accelerometer, altimeter, light, gyro, heart rate, SpO2
- Dust/Water resistance: 50-meter water resistant
- Audio: Microphone and speaker
- Battery: 6+ days depending on usage
- Memory and storage: 2.5GB
The Fitbit Versa 3 ($230) comes in one size and your choice of two finishes: black aluminum and soft gold aluminum. There are four wristband-color options available with the latter.
What we like
Automated fitness tracking
Fitness is, of course, the Fitbit’s raison d’etre, so it’s no surprise the Versa 3 excels in that department. It will automatically log the steps you take daily and can track all manner of exercise—everything from hiking and biking to kickboxing and tennis. Built-in GPS adds real-time route- and pace-tracking as well.
It’s the simplicity and automation of all this tracking that I like most. Many fitness devices require manual intervention: Start the clock when you climb aboard the treadmill or head out on the bike, stop it again when you’re done. It’s all too easy to forget one or both of those actions, resulting in skewed or non-existent results. But the Versa 3 silently and efficiently detects when you’re doing an activity and records all of it for you—no intervention required.
You can manually track an exercise if you want real-time, at-a-glance stats as you go, but most of the time I found it more convenient to let the Versa do the heavy lifting. I was happy to check stats after the fact and even happier I didn’t have to remember to start/stop the tracking.
In addition to its optical heart-rate sensor (which can notify you if your heart is beating especially fast or slow), the Versa 3 employs both red and infrared sensors for oxygen-saturation (SpO2) monitoring. The latter seemed particularly important in the early days of COVID-19 detection, but it can still be helpful for those with certain blood-oxygen conditions. As noted above, the Sense adds EDA and ECG sensors, along with an upgraded heart-rate sensor.
Fitbit promises at least six days’ worth of wear before it needs a recharger—an estimate my tests bore out. In fact, after six days of “normal” use (which didn’t include a lot of outdoor, GPS-heavy activity, because winter...), I still had about 15% charge remaining.
When I toggled the always-on watch face option, however, battery life dropped to about four days. That’s still pretty decent, especially compared with the likes of the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch, which typically give you about two days, maximum. If you’re heading out for, say, a three-day weekend, you can almost certainly leave the charging cord at home.
That cord has a magnetic plug on the end, and it’s not reversible. It fits the Versa 3 in only one orientation, so it’s kind of a hassle because there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll line it up wrong. And the plug is curved at the back, so the watch can’t lay flat while charging. Thankfully, there are third-party docks that offer an easier, more convenient charging solution.
As a smartwatch, the Versa 3 ticks nearly all the important boxes. You can adorn its large, bright screen with a wide selection of fun, functional, colorful faces, though not all of them are free. There’s an always-on option, a find-my-phone feature, a Starbucks app (one of a few dozen you can install), contactless payments in the form of Fitbit Pay, and, of course, notifications.
This last is admirably granular: You can individually toggle notifications from any number of apps, like Gmail, Facebook Messenger, Slack, and so on. If you have an Android phone and you receive a text message, you can voice-dictate a reply.
As for calls, thanks to the Versa’s built-in microphone and speaker, you can answer them on the watch (assuming your phone is nearby). You can’t place outgoing ones, though, so this is only a partial Dick Tracy solution. And in my tests, the audio volume on the watch was on the low side, even when set to maximum. But at least iPhone owners aren’t left out of this particular feature.
Speaking of voice, the Versa 3 also supports both Alexa and Google Assistant (again, if your phone is nearby). This isn’t an always-on feature, however—you have to trigger it by way of presses or taps.
The Versa has 2.5GB of onboard storage, too, allowing for offline listening of Deezer and Pandora Plus playlists. Unfortunately, although there’s also a Spotify app, it can only control playback on your phone. For the moment, it can’t download playlists.
What we don’t like
Bad button design
There’s only one button on the Versa 3, and it’s annoying: a left-side indentation that must be pressed firmly and in exactly the right spot. More often than not, I didn’t get it on my first try—or even the second or third. The benefit here is that it’s almost impossible to trigger the button by accident, like when you’re sleeping or you bend your wrist a certain way. But when you do need it, you basically have to squeeze the watch from both sides to register a press.
A few usability quirks and limitations
Comfort should be priority one for any wearable, but I had a hard time getting comfortable with the Versa 3’s sticky plastic band. (The less said about the “pink clay” color, the better.) At night in particular, I think it may have awakened me a few times, an odd Catch-22 for a sleep-tracker. As with the aforementioned charging dock, though, there are lots of third-party alternatives, including breathable woven bands.
The watch’s touchscreen seemed a little off at times. Swipes would occasionally take a few attempts to register, and while the watch OS was easy enough to learn, I didn’t like the little pop-ups that appear when selecting a given app or feature; Tap Exercise, for example, and an “Exercise” splash-screen appears for a couple seconds before actually taking you to the list of exercises. Why?
Another little glitch: When I tried to choose a different watch face on the Versa, several of the previews were just empty squares. And although I selected Fahrenheit as my preferred temperature setting, the Versa 3 continued to show the weather in Celsius.
Finally, exercise tracking didn’t always work properly. After snow-blowing my driveway for 15 minutes, the Fitbit app reported that I’d been biking. It also indicated I spent half that time in the “fat burn” zone, despite the fact that I’d merely been walking behind the machine the whole time.
Yay, another subscription service. For $10/month or $80/year, Fitbit Premium offers various app-powered upgrades: deep-dive health data analysis and sleep insights, meditations from Calm, workout videos from Fitbit and other sources, and so on.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Premium offers a decent value. A Calm subscription by itself would cost you $70 annually, for example. But I also find it annoying that Fitbit charges extra to unlock things like sleep recommendations and wellness plans.
Is it worth it? Read our Fitbit Premium review to learn more.
Should you buy it?
Yes, especially if you’re an Android user
The Fitbit Versa 3 offers an impressive mix of fitness and smartwatch features, all for a lower price than most Apple and Samsung wearables. And speaking of those two companies, I think the Versa’s appeal may differ a bit depending on whether you’re an Android or iPhone user.
Make no mistake, it’s a solid device for both platforms, with excellent automated activity tracking and above-average battery life. Fitbit’s diverse library of watch faces adds to the fun of using the Versa 3.
If you’re an Android user, I have almost no qualms about recommending it. But as an iPhone owner, I’d be reluctant to give up my Apple Watch for it, because I’d lose out on several key features: text replies, phone unlocking, Spotify storage, etc. On the other hand, the Fitbit is the superior health-and-fitness device, so if that’s your biggest priority, the Versa 3 definitely deserves a look.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Rick Broida has been writing about consumer technology since the days of the Commodore Amiga, meaning he’s not only incredibly old, but also the undisputed champion of Defender of the Crown.
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