Wearable News: Fitbit Versa reviews are in, Pebble’s design ethos lives on

Fitbit Versa review roundup
Photo: The Verge

Versa is designed and marketed to bring Fitbit’s take on the smartwatch to the masses. Translation: the company wants to sell a lot of them.

Based on the initial wave of reviews for the Fitbit Versa ($199 base, $229 with NFC for Fitbit Pay), I’d say things are off to a strong start. Most tech writers are effusive in their praise. That’s good news. Fitbit’s previous attempt at a smartwatch, the slightly clunky Ionic, while not bad by any means, left many wanting more. With Versa, it looks like the design team has opted for style and functionality reminiscent of a long lost friend… Pebble.

Fitbit versa colors and straps
Fitbit Versa. Stylish and raking in positive press. Good news for those of us looking for an alternative to Wear OS or Apple Watch.

A lot of us Pebblers were hoping Fitbit would intro something like the Pebble (especially something like the Pebble Time 2, a larger, color Pebble watch that sadly never made it to market). After all, the darling of Kickstarter smartwatch makers gained a loyal following for its easy-to-use, low cost, and even charming line-up of e-ink-based watches. Money eventually dried up for the Pebble team — I believe Kickstarter or any crowd-funding or donation model is not a viable long-term strategy as it puts too much risk on external factors. Fortunately, Fitbit swooped in and bought up some of Pebble’s assets. I suspect we’re seeing some of that ethos finally make it to market in the Versa.

Here’s some of the Fitbit Versa reviews that caught my attention over the past few days.

The Verge has one of the most positive Versa reviews, calling it Fitbit’s “best smartwatch yet” (then again, that might not be the highest bar ever). I particularly like that this review is written by a woman and includes a perspective distinctly different than that of a typical male blogger. Ultimately Lauren Goode awarded the Versa a score of 7/10 and cited “poor notification support” as a negative point; which is a bit of a worry given notifications is one of, if not, the selling points of a smartwatch.

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Side note:

Versa? Versa?? Versa!!???

Who came up with that name? Oh right. Nissan did. In 2008. For a budget car. The name means “versatile space” according to Nissan. Now when you Google “Versa” you get an either compelling or off-putting mix of economy car and smartwatch news.

Business Insider is stoked too, saying that the Versa is even better than the Apple Watch (heady praise as I’ve found nothing beats Apple’s design, functionality in this space). I particularly like that the lack of apps is spun as a positive. I agree. Why the incessant focus among tech bloggers on apps. Apps, apps, apps! For me, I just want my watch to give me reliable notifications, decent fitness tracking, music control, and, well, okay, the time.

David Pogue gets straight to the point and calls the Versa “small, cheap and sweet.”

And here’s an interesting one. MacWorld declares that the Versa is the “first non-Apple smartwatch that’s worth your time.” Coming from an Apple-centric publication I would propose that really must mean Fitbit is doing something right.

Sure, not everything is perfect.

For instance the display isn’t e-ink, and therefore will drain battery life faster and not be always-on. In exchange, however, we get a bright and vibrant screen. Plus, four day battery life is nothing to sneeze at, and far better than what’s on offer from the Apple Watch, Wear OS watches such as the Huawei Watch 2 and LG Watch Style, and also Tizen-based watches from Samsung such as the Gear S3. While most of those watches will make it to a second day, they typically require overnight (or mid-day) charging.

As for Fitbit Pay, it has some catching up to do. Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay all support more banks at this point. Unfortunately, my bank isn’t yet supported on the Fitbit payment platform which means I may need to continue to use an Apple Watch; which also means I may have to keep using an Apple iPhone, something this longtime Android guy is reluctant to do.

BTW, it seems to me that some of the best watchfaces ever designed were available on the Pebble. Now it looks like a lot of them are being ported to the Fitbit Ionic and Versa. Great news. For some reason, aside from Apple, it seems most faces are made by engineers and not designers. Consequently many discard aesthetics in favor of nerd-ism (for lack of a better word). I’m happy to see many of my favorite faces from yesteryear make their way over to the Fitbit platform — many have the perfect mix of useful information such as weather and steps and sunrise/sunset — with plenty of pretty style and color.

So, good for Fitbit. The company took a lot of heat when they acquired Pebble. I have not idea why. After all, without the acquisition Pebble would be dead and buried, with no chance to rise from the ashes in any form whatsoever. That we have the Fitbit Versa — a low cost, simple and well-designed smartwatch running on a non-Apple and non-Google and non-Samsung platform — seems like a welcome addition to the marketplace. Competition is good. Choice is good. And so is low cost. At least in my books!

Soon enough I’ll be able to put a Fitbit Versa through the paces. I’ll share my thoughts here on Stark Insider, and plan to focus my experience as a former Pebbler, and wanna-be Apple Watch migrater. Can Versa do the job? Hopefully my pre-order arrives soon enough I can put it to the test.

You can pre-order the Fitbit Versa smartwatch on Amazon where it’s available in 5 colors and 2 models — base and NFC — for $199 and $229 USD respectively. All Versa watches come with both a small and large band that will fit wrists from 5.5″ to 8.7″ in circumference.

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