With the Versa 2, Fitbit has made a smartwatch that does more than its predecessors by adding Alexa, a new screen and extra features.

The Fitbit Versa 2 comes on the heels of the Versa Lite, which came to market six months ago, though is really a successor to the first Versa that came out last year. The smartwatch maintains much of what made the original what it was, adding additional elements to make it more versatile.

For Android users, this is going to be one of the best options to go with, albeit with some caveats to consider.

Familiar design

If you’re already a Versa or Versa Lite user, you will find the form factor here virtually identical. The body is crafted from aluminum, with the same dimensions. What’s missing are two function buttons that were lined up on the right side. The Versa Lite had also removed those, only with the Versa 2, they’ve been replaced with a microphone to talk to Alexa.

Notable as it is, the bigger difference is probably the screen itself. Instead of the LCD in the previous models, there is an AMOLED display here. It has deeper blacks and more vibrant colours, without quite the same level of brightness. It’s not too dull—you should be able to see it in just about any lighting situation.

By going with an AMOLED, Fitbit could also enable an always-on display mode that didn’t drain the battery too quickly. The monochrome and basic display shows the time, date and battery level, along with small indicators related to steps and activity. At the time of this review, there was no way to customize how it looked.

A tap on the screen, wrist twist gesture or pressing the button on the left wakes it up. The menu layout is very similar, save for a few changes. I noted some of these in a previous hands-on, but suffice it to say, they make more functional sense.

The lack of built-in GPS may irk you if you wanted some independence out of the Versa 2. It will track activity, sleep and exercise, only anything related to distance or music streaming will require the phone.

One thing I really liked that is important is that bands from the other watches fit this one. The lugs are the same, so any bands you previously purchased for the Versa or Versa Lite would fit perfectly here.

How built-in Alexa works

Putting Alexa in a watch isn’t going to be a novelty for long. Apple has had Siri in its watches for some time, and Google Assistant is part of Wear OS. It’s about the execution, and in that regard, this marriage needs a little work.

While the watch has a microphone, it has no speaker, so queries and commands appear in text on the watch. Phone calls are definitely not an option because there’s no microphone. While there is a way to respond to text messages via Android phones, you can’t do it when paired with an iPhone.

Phone and texting has nothing to do with Alexa anyway. In this case, Alexa can offer insight into a variety of things, but you first have to get used to how it works. For starters, saying, “Alexa” won’t wake it up. You have to hold the button down until the visual logo appears and active bars indicate that it’s listening.

That can only happen when the watch has an active data connection, via the phone or directly over Wi-Fi. For the most part, it does the same things an Alexa speaker can, though it’s certainly ironic that a voice assistant has no actual voice in this instance. I could see weather forecasts, control smart home devices and ask about a person, place or thing.

I didn’t derive too much use when using it at home unless I wanted to be quiet, but outside of home was different. Controlling a smart home device before arriving home was one example, as was getting a forecast for any location I wanted. I could also start an exercise that way, which I cover further down.

Fitbit Versa 2 music and app integration

Finally, Fitbit integrates Spotify into its smartwatch, but I wish it had gone further. The Versa 2 offers Spotify Connect—an extension of the app that lets you control playback but not much else. You do still need your phone with you to listen to music, as it’s not a full-blown app running on the watch.

While I appreciated the integration, I do feel it would have been more interesting if it ran on the watch itself. Moreover, the Alexa integration doesn’t extend to controlling Spotify, a standard feature of the voice assistant. You can’t tell it to play any music. And since Amazon Music Unlimited isn’t compatible with the Versa 2, there’s no direct music option. Deezer is another streaming music app, except the compatibility is no different than Spotify.

The app side is still thin for the Versa 2, but I did find some that worked well. A barcode app let me add loyalty cards by typing in their barcode numbers, where I could scan them while shopping. I added a calculator app, and even Uber has a solid app that can work to hail a ride.

There are other fitness apps to look into as well. Rather than browse for all the compatible apps on the watch, you do it through the Fitbit app on your phone. There are plenty of watch faces to choose from as well, some of which are free, others requiring payment.

Performance and Fitbit Premium

When it comes to durability, the Versa 2 is no different than its predecessor. You get the same water and sweat-resistance, letting you submerge the watch down 50 metres underwater. Pools and the shower are still fine, whereas saltwater is risky. Either way, rinse and dry after exposure.

I would hesitate to say that actual tracking is better with the Versa 2. It continues what the previous model did, with the same heart rate monitor and tracking abilities. The watch will automatically track a number of exercises, but not all the ones it supports. When I could, I opted to manually start tracking so I can see progress. If it was automatic, it wouldn’t show those details—I’d have to see them on the app after syncing.

There’s great stuff in there, yet more comes from being part of Fitbit Premium, the subscription-based service offering more intricate metrics and features. For example, there are guided programs meant to improve everything from sleep quality to kicking a sugar habit. On top of the extra content is the deeper insight into what you’re doing.

For example, the Sleep Score measures your sleep quality from 0-100. The higher, the better. With exercises, you see how much of a workout was burning fat or cardio, including heart rate and calorie burn. The guided workouts are audio-based, telling you when to ramp up or when to switch exercises.

It’s largely taking what was already in Fitbit Coach and adding more active and customized workouts, tracking and suggestions. It’s early, and clearly a work in progress, but if it works, it can be an interesting way to get more out of the Versa 2. However, I should note that Premium will work on a wide range of Fitbit devices, so is not exclusive to this watch.

Battery life

Fitbit rates battery life at five days, which is based on no always-on display, less brightness and minimal tracking. I would say a more realistic number is two, maybe three days. The always-on display is worth keeping, and if you’re using the watch regularly, you at least know you won’t have to charge it up again for a good 48 hours.

Final thoughts

It’s a shame Fitbit Pay hasn’t taken off in Canada, with only a few financial institutions supporting the feature. While Americans can often pay for things with the Versa 2, Canadians aren’t so lucky yet. The Alexa integration is interesting, and there is potential for it to get better through software updates. If third-party developers support Fitbit’s platform in greater numbers, perhaps the lack of support will start to subside.

Ultimately, the Fitbit Versa 2 is about being active and staying that way. It’s a nice watch that feels comfortable, works in almost any setting, and is one of the best available for Android users. Fitbit Premium adds some intrigue because of what it promises. It just remains to be seen how effective it would be.

The Fitbit Versa 2 is available now in black, stone or petal. There are also Special Edition versions with woven bands in smoke or navy and pink.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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