For many corporations, the Ionic would have felt like a disappointment. For Fitbit, it was one thing extra. It wasn’t only a totally realized piece of {hardware} working undercooked software program, it was the basket into which the corporate appeared to have positioned all of its eggs.

The corporate’s first official smartwatch was the product of a startup buying spree that included Pebble, Coin and Vector, and CEO James Park exuded confidence that it might be exactly what the corporate wanted to get again on observe after just a few years of monetary fumbling. It was so much to placed on a single product, and maybe the entire thing simply buckled beneath the load.

When the corporate revealed the Versa final week, I known as the gadget “the smartwatch the Ionic ought to have been.” After a number of days and nights of sporting on my wrist, I stand by that remark. It’s nonetheless removed from excellent, and the corporate clearly has some vital mountains to climb earlier than the corporate has any actual shot of difficult the Apple Watch’s throne, however the Versa looks like a welcome do-over, and is strictly the form of watch the corporate must have launched within the first place.

Squircle movement

It by no means ceases to amaze how little thought some corporations seem to place into the wearability of their wearables. I imply, it’s proper there within the title people, product designed to be worn on the human physique all day — and, in lots of circumstances, all night time. That the Ionic was large and ugly was baffling for any variety of causes, not the least of which is the truth that the corporate purchased Pebble.

Certain, Fitbit’s been making its personal {hardware} for years now, and I can completely empathize with the need to place one’s personal stamp on the product, in an try to differentiate it proper out of the gate. However Pebble was some of the vital innovators within the smartwatch house, and the corporate delivered constantly attention-grabbing product design, technology after technology.

Shortly earlier than the Ionic was introduced, Park advised me that the corporate had basically acquired Pebble so Fitbit might construct its personal smartwatch app retailer. The corporate, it appeared, had no real interest in the {hardware} facet of issues — that a lot appeared clear with one take a look at the Ionic. I acknowledge that the Versa has been within the works for a while now, however the watch actually does really feel like a response to all of those that puzzled aloud why the corporate didn’t take design cues from the corporate it required.

From a pure {hardware} design perspective, the Versa actually does really feel just like the smartwatch Pebble would have made in 2018. When the corporate confirmed us the product for the primary time at an occasion in New York, they went into the design philosophy round why the product ended up within the form it did. I’ll spare you the specifics, however the lengthy and in need of it’s that spherical watches are a relic of analog time protecting. The show is sq. extra or the much less for a similar purpose your laptop computer and pill have a sq. (okay, nice, rectangular) show.

The corporate calls the form of case design a “squircle” — which, I used to be truly stunned to seek out, is outwardly a official geometric time period. The case is skinny and lightweight, as marketed — notably when positioned up towards the Apple Watch. It’s manufactured from steel, but it surely’s mild sufficient to idiot you into believing it isn’t, which suggests it doesn’t have fairly as a lot of a premium really feel as Apple’s gadget.

The entrance additionally sports activities some fairly large bezels, seemingly one other holdover from the Pebble days. The case is shorter, however considerably wider than the bigger Apple Watch mannequin. Meaning it’s going to match on much more wrists than its predecessors — a wise transfer on Fitbit’s half, given how the corporate blocked out a large potential consumer base the final time round. Even so, the corporate might wish to contemplate shifting towards two sizes for the subsequent technology product. Selection would go a great distance as the corporate works to attraction to a broader vary of customers.

Software program

The interface is mainly unchanged because the Ionic. No shock there — the Versa arrives about half a yr after the Ionic. Fitbit’s watch OS is fairly bare-bones, from a design perspective, however that’s nice. The icons are large and vibrant, laid out on a grid, 4 per display screen. It’s all very utilitarian — although it does require a variety of swiping or button urgent, provided that there’s no spinning crown or watch bezel for navigation such as you discover on Apple and Samsung choices, respectively.

Whereas the Versa is kind of as fitness-centric because the Ionic, it’s nonetheless a centerpiece. No shock there, after all — even Apple has readily admitted that health is the first driver in buying the corporate’s wearable, and Fitbit actually has the suitable basis to ship on that entrance. The default watch face affords your step depend for the day, together with quick access to your coronary heart charge and energy burned.

A swipe up from there exhibits your day by day numbers in a row, together with some health ideas, whereas a swipe to the left exhibits the primary row of app icons, with Train out entrance. Clicking that little working man will pop up a collection of pre-programmed workouts for extra correct exercise monitoring.

The primary web page additionally options Coach, which affords up a handful of fast (5 to 15 minute) exercises for strengthening your abs and such. The exercises characteristic a easy animation of an individual performing the train, however given the small, low-res display screen, you’re actually higher off utilizing the corporate’s guided teaching in your telephone.

App rating

The most important replace on the software program facet, nevertheless, is the addition of some friggin’ apps. For all of the speak of shopping for Pebble for app retailer and improvement functions, that was a mile-wide blindspot for the Ionic. In spite of everything, the inclusion of third-party apps is the factor that formally made the product a smartwatch. A couple of months after the Ionic’s launch, Fitbit introduced 60 extra apps for the gadget and a boatload of watch faces.

After all, there’s nonetheless a variety of catching as much as do with the competitors, but it surely’s a begin. Some, like Uber/Lyft and The New York Instances, are genuinely helpful. For music, the corporate has Pandora and Deezer — each of which have their consumer base, however they in the end make the dearth of a Spotify providing that rather more obtrusive. On the very least, Fitbit’s confirmed it’s dedicated to rising the choice, going ahead.

The not particular version

And, after all, there’s the Starbucks app — although something that makes use of direct fee is a little bit of a moot level, since there’s no NFC on the usual Versa mannequin right here within the States. That was clearly a cost-cutting measure, but when paying along with your wrist is vital to you, you’ll be able to shell out the extra $30 for the “particular version.”

The opposite key characteristic lacking from the Versa is GPS. You may nonetheless do monitoring when hooked as much as the GPS in your handset, however dropping it from Versa {hardware} means the watch is much less interesting as a standalone tracker. Ditto for NFC.

There’s so storage for music (solely 2.5GB of the on-board 4GB, thoughts), however on an entire, this isn’t the gadget for individuals who wish to go on a run with out their telephone. That, Fitbit, will fortunately inform you, is a job for the Ionic — assuming, after all you wish to pay $100 extra for the privilege.

Good versa

In our interview forward of the Versa announcement, Park was very candid about the truth that the Ionic didn’t promote in addition to the corporate had hoped. Maybe the Versa easy wasn’t prepared in time, however this gadget actually must have been the one Fitbit lead with. It’s imperfect, but it surely addresses quite a lot of the important thing points many, myself included, had with the Ionic. It suits and appears higher, has a extra strong app choice and, at $199, it’s fairly properly priced.

Just like the Ionic, this isn’t the gadget that’s going to show round Fitbit’s fortunes as soon as and for all — a reality the corporate appears keenly conscious of because it pivots an enormous chunk of its enterprise to the skilled well being sector. However it does really feel like exactly the form of smartwatch Fitbit ought to have made all alongside.


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