The Fitbit Versa Lite Hands-On: Everything you ever wanted to know

FitbitVersaLite-Overview

Today Fitbit launched their least expensive smartwatch to date – the Fitbit Versa Lite. This newish watch essentially takes the existing Fitbit Versa smartwatch and removes the music playback, along with a handful of smaller features like stair counting (and two of the three buttons). In doing so they’ve dropped the price from $199 down to $159.  The company also launched the Inspire & Inspire HR activity trackers ($69/$99) to replace a slew of existing trackers including the Fitbit Zip, Alta, and Alta HR. And finally, they announced their 2nd generation kids activity tracker – the ACE2. I’ve got a separate post coming up very shortly on those. Hang tight!

But this post is all about the Fitbit Versa Lite, so we’ll stick to the details on that, and there’s no better way to do that then diving into how exactly it differs from it’s older and more capable sibling, the Versa.

Oh – and before we go too far, note that this is not a review. This is just a dive into all the details of things. For a full in-depth review, check back…in a while. Once I’ve had time to figure out the full good/bad/ugly after some weeks or so.

What’s different:

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-vs-Regular

The Versa Lite (above in blue) retains the vast majority of the features of the full Versa (above in black), including the touch screen and the ability to install/download 3rd party apps on it.  It also retains core features like activity tracking, the optical heart rate sensor, female health tracking, sleep tracking, smartphone notifications, and even Fitbit’s ‘connected GPS’ capabilities.

Still, there are a handful of features that were removed from the full Versa to cut the price down on the Versa Lite.  They are as follows:

– Stairs/Floor Tracking removed (the barometric altimeter was removed)
– Swim Lap Counting removed (it’s still waterproof though)
– Music storage/streaming capabilities removed (but it can still control music on your phone)
– WiFi Removed (given it was used primarily for music transfer)
– On-screen structured workouts removed
– Fitbit Pay not available (it was only on the even more expensive Fitbit Versa Special Edition)
– Two buttons removed (because one-button is the cool kids club)

And that’s it in a nutshell.

To recap, all of the following features are still there. In fact, Fitbit has a fancy little slide deck that shows this outlined with plenty of dots to keep everyone clear on all the nuances.

image

In talking with Fitbit, there’s a few other minor technical things that are notable:

The removal of the buttons may impact some apps that might have assumed the buttons would be there. Remember that up until now, the FitbitOS (loosely built atop the Pebble OS learnings), only supported the Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Ionic. With the Versa being a slimmed down Ionic, it retained the three physical button layout (plus the touch screen). With that gone, I suspect we might see a few bumps in the road on apps.  Though frankly, despite having some 500+ apps in the Fitbit store, many of them are kinda shruggable.

The optical HR sensor remains exactly the same as before. This means you’ll get the same performance as you saw with the Fitbit Versa (it was OK), but more importantly you’ll get their SPO2 readings. Whereas the lower end Fitbit Inspire/Inspire HR doesn’t get the SPO2 readings.

– Like the Versa there’s no built-in GPS, it still leverages your phone. The only product in Fitbit’s current lineup that has onboard GPS is the Fitbit Ionic (prior to that there was the Fitbit Surge). Note that for running/walking activities you don’t need your phone to get distance/pace though, it’ll do that using the accelerometer. However, if you want a GPS track (such as to upload to Strava), then you’ll need your phone within Bluetooth range.

And finally, on the straps side of the house – all straps remain completely compatible between all Versa units. So if you find an accessory Fitbit Versa strap from a higher end unit that you like, you can slap it on the Versa Lite as well. Fitbit also introduced a pile of new woven ones and other swankier bands, plus a slate of colored silicon straps.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Straps

So now that we’ve covered what’s different – let’s step back a bit and just talk about the basics of the device itself.

Hands-on Overview:

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Overview-Hands-On

Starting off with the box, the unit comes in a variety of base colors, but more importantly it comes with both a large and small strap. You’ll find the small strap already affixed to the watch, and then the larger strap sitting in the box. It uses the same USB charger as the original Versa did (in all its non-standard oversized ugliness). Three’s also a quick start guide in there as well.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Box-Contents

Starting off at the basics you’ve got your touch screen, which is an always-off display unless you raise your wrist or tap it. You can however set it to be always-on during workout modes, though it will impact battery.  On the left side you’ll find a single button, which acts like a ‘back’ button.

You can swipe from the right to access apps, including the exercise app, breathing app, and timer/alarm apps. This is also where you’ll find settings too:

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Main-ClockFace

 

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Apps-Page1

 

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Apps-Page2

Meanwhile, if you swipe up from the bottom you’ll get a look at today’s stats, including metrics like steps, distance, and calories.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Today-Steps

 

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Today-Calories-Distance

You’ll also get your current heart rate and resting heart rate, as well as sleep metrics.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Today-HR

Meanwhile, if you swipe down from the top you’ll get any smartphone notifications that you’ve configured.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Notifications

These are configured within the Fitbit smartphone app, and by default allow texts/calls/calendar notifications. But for other apps you’ll need to enable them using a separate settings page.

Versa Lite Notifications Main Menu

 

Versa Lite Notifications Apps Menu

Speaking of the smartphone app, this is where you’ll download apps and configure the watch faces:

Fitbit Versa App Store - watch faces

 

Fitbit Versa App Store - Apps Listing

While there are a number of apps, they generally still seem fairly limited compared to the Apple Watch. Take for example the Nest app, it just controls the thermostat, whereas the Nest app on the Apple Watch also shows you your Nest Cam’s at a quick glance, including a simple shot when motion is detected. Meanwhile the NYT app only shows a couple lines of the article, barely more than a typical smartphone notification would show.

2019-03-06 15.19.03

 

2019-03-06 15.19.10

For workout shortcuts, you can add those within the app as well, though only up to a maximum of 7 shortcuts, after which you’ll need to give something the boot to make room for it:

2019-03-06 14.50.44

 

2019-03-06 14.51.01

The watch will constantly sync your stats in the background to your phone, though you could turn that off if you want to save a tiny bit of battery (it’s so small it really doesn’t matter). Meanwhile, the dashboard will show your current activity stats for the day, including steps, distance, calories, and active minutes:

2019-03-06 14.52.15

 

2019-03-06 14.52.37

You can tap into any of the given categories to get more reports about it, including trending over time.  None of this has changed from past Fitbit products, though Fitbit will be shortly rolling out some user interface tweaks to the Fitbit companion app that surfaces forward a bit more of the social elements.

First Run Test:

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Running-Mode

While not everyone that picks up the Versa Lite will be using it for workouts, there’s a reasonably good chance that at some point you will. So a few hours ago I went out for a quick 5KM run with it. I’d typically go longer, but I just stepped off a transatlantic redeye flight this morning and…well…it’s gonna be a long day. Also, it’s raining cold water sideways again. So yeah.

First up is starting the run. To do so you’ll swipe over to the Exercise option and then select Run (seen above). Note that this is pretty much the same across all of the sports on the Fitbit Versa series. After selecting a sport you can configure options within the run. For example you can choose which data fields will be shown by default, and which fields will enumerate when you press the button.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Data-Fields-Selected

 

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Data-Fields-Options

You can also change automatic lap settings here. In my case I changed it to automatically lap every mile. Additionally, I validated that ‘Connected GPS’ was on, so that it would use my phone for GPS, thus allowing me to see a track afterwards.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-AutomaticLap-ConnectedGPS

There’s no option to connect to any sensors (be it HR straps or cycling sensors).

At that point you’ll head back to the main run screen and wait for it to connect to your phone and get the GPS signal. Once done, go ahead and tap that play button to start the workout. That said, I’ve never understood why Fitbit shows ‘Let’s Go!’, when it’s clearly not ready to go.

Fitbit-Versa-Lite-Connected-Start-Run

At this point the unit is now recording the workout and you can go about your business, which in my case was running. You can tap the screen, or the button, to iterate through the display fields that you’ve setup.

GOPR0288

Additionally, if you’ve configured automatic laps you’ll get lap alerts each time you hit the threshold you’ve setup.  And if you’ve setup a specific threshold, you’ll see stats related to that as well.  The touchscreen meanwhile seems to work just fine in the rain – I didn’t have any problems with today’s run there.

Once at the conclusion of your run you’ll get summary stats that you can glance at, including the individual lap times and totals like distance, average pace, and calories.

2019-03-06 15.37.39

 

2019-03-06 15.37.44

 

2019-03-06 15.37.54

All of this is then transmitted to your smartphone via Bluetooth and then available within the Fitbit app. Additionally, it’ll forward on the data to partners like Strava, if you’ve set those up:

image

And you can see my run here on Strava as well.

From a HR accuracy standpoint, things actually looked reasonably good this time when I tossed it into the DCR Analyzer. We saw a bit of a fumble in the first 45 seconds on the heart rate, but it recovered super quick and it was good to go for a while. And frankly it’s pretty common to see HR sensors of all types stumble in the first 1-2 minutes.

image

Then there was one more oddity for a few seconds around the 7:20ish marker, but that’s it. Not sure what happened there. This was compared against a Garmin chest strap and the Apple Watch Series 4 optical HR sensor. I did do a bit of a sprint towards the end, and it tracked well there.

From a GPS standpoint it’s going to use the iPhone’s GPS, and in fact – so would have the Apple Watch since it’ll always use your iPhone when in range. So it’s really only compared against the Garmin Forerunner 935 here. But no matter, all of the units tracked the same. Despite using the iPhone GPS, one should remember that apps can still do good (or bad) things to the GPS tracks, and everything looks pretty clean here.

image

Again – from a first quick 5KM run standpoint, things seem pretty good.

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the Fitbit Versa Lite into the product comparison database, allowing you to mix and match it against any products I’ve reviewed or had appreciable hands-on time with.  You can hit it up and make your own product comparison charts here with ease.

For the purposes of this chart, I’ve compared it against the previous Fitbit Versa. But at that point it gets a bit tricky as to who to compare it against to be honest. Typically I aim for things in the same price bucket, but in this case – there’s actually not much there yet. Garmin’s lowest priced apps-capable offering is the Vivoactive 3, which sits some $80 higher at $249. The Apple Watch Series Series 3 does also frequently slip down into the $199 price bucket here and there on sale too. But that’s not an everyday price. Then there’s the just announced Samsung Galaxy Active at $199, but that isn’t available yet either (fear not, I’ve ordered one).

The Samsung Galaxy Active is probably the best comparison point, especially since it does include GPS (and music no less), but I’ll have to wait until my unit comes in to get hands-on time and get it into the database.

Until then, I’ve gone with the below lineup as a starting point, but will update this over time:

Function/Feature Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated March 6th, 2019 @ 11:01 amNew Window
Price $169 $279/$379 (cellular) $199-$229 $269
Product Announcement Date March 6th, 2019 Sept 12th, 2017 March 2018 Aug 31st, 2017
Actual Availability/Shipping Date March 2019 Sept 22nd, 2017 April 2018 September 2017
GPS Recording Functionality via phone Yes via phone Yes
Data Transfer Bluetooth Smart Bluetooth Smart Bluetooth Smart USB, BLUETOOTH SMART
Waterproofing 50m 50m 50m 50 meters
Battery Life (GPS) N/A 5hrs GPS on time (24-48hrs standby) N/A Up to 13 hours GPS
Recording Interval 1-second Varies 1-second 1s or Smart Recording
Satellite Pre-Loading via Computer N/A Yes (but seems questionable) N/A Yes
Quick Satellite Reception N/A Not generally N/A Great
Alerts Visual/Vibrate Vibration/Audio/Visual Visual/Vibrate Vibrate/Visual
Backlight Greatness Great Great Great Great
Ability to download custom apps to unit/device Yes Yes Yes Yes
Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc…) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Music Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Can control phone music Yes Yes Yes Yes
Has music storage and playback No Yes Yes No
Streaming Services N/A Pandora, Deezer
Payments Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Contactless-NFC Payments No Yes (with certain editions)
Connectivity Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Bluetooth Legacy (pre-4.0) to Phone No No No No
Bluetooth Smart (4.0+) to Phone Uploading Yes Yes Yes Yes
Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc…) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Live Tracking (streaming location to website) No With 3rd party apps No Yes
Group tracking No No No No
Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts) No Yes No No
Built-in cellular chip (no phone required) No Yes (with cellular version) No No
Cycling Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for cycling Yes Yes Yes Yes
Power Meter Capable No No No With some Connect IQ apps
Speed/Cadence Sensor Capable No No No Yes
Strava segments live on device No No No No
Crash detection No No No No
Running Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for running Yes Yes Yes Yes
Footpod Capable (For treadmills) No (but has treadmill functionality) With 3rd party apps No (but has treadmill functionality) Yes
Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc…) No No No No
VO2Max Estimation Yes, via app Yes Yes, via app Yes
Race Predictor No No No No
Recovery Advisor No No No No
Run/Walk Mode No With 3rd party apps No Yes
Swimming Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for swimming Sorta (waterproof) Yes Yes Yes
Openwater swimming mode No YEs No No
Lap/Indoor Distance Tracking No Yes Yes Yes
Record HR underwater N/A Yes No No
Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.) N/A Basic stroke type only No No
Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.) N/A Basic stroke type only Yes Yes
Indoor Drill Mode N/A No No No
Indoor auto-pause feature N/A Yes No No
Change pool size N/A Yes Yes Yes
Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths N/A 1y/m to 1,500y/m+ 10m/y-100m/y 17M/18Y TO 150Y/M
Ability to customize data fields N/A Very limited Yes Yes
Can change yards to meters N/A Yes Yes Yes
Captures per length data – indoors N/A Yes Yes
Indoor Alerts N/A Yes (goals) Yes (distance) Yes
Triathlon Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for triathlon No Not really No No
Multisport mode No Yes No No
Workouts Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Create/Follow custom workouts No With 3rd party apps No (Premium Coached only) Yes
On-unit interval Feature No With 3rd party apps No Sorta (2 preloaded ones, but no customization)
Training Calendar Functionality No With 3rd party apps No Yes
Functions Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Auto Start/Stop Yes Yes Yes Yes
Virtual Partner Feature No No No No
Virtual Racer Feature no No no No
Records PR’s – Personal Records (diff than history) No No No Yes
Day to day watch ability Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hunting/Fishing/Ocean Data No No No No
Tidal Tables (Tide Information) No No No No
Jumpmaster mode (Parachuting) No No No No
Geocaching No No No No
Weather Display (live data) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Navigate Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints) No With 3rd party apps No No (but some 3rd party apps can)
Markers/Waypoint Direction No With 3rd party apps No Yes (to pre-saved spots)
Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS) No With 3rd party apps No No
Back to start No With 3rd party apps No YEs
Impromptu Round Trip Route Creation No With 3rd party apps No No
Download courses/routes from phone to unit No With 3rd party apps No NO
Sensors Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Altimeter Type None Barometric Barometric Barometric
Compass Type N/A N/A N/A Magnetic
Optical Heart Rate Sensor internally Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pulse Oximetry (aka Pulse Ox) No
Heart Rate Strap Compatible No Yes No Yes
ANT+ Heart Rate Strap Capable No No No YEs
ANT+ Speed/Cadence Capable No no No Yes
ANT+ Footpod Capable No No No Yes
ANT+ Power Meter Capable nO No nO No
ANT+ Weight Scale Capable nO No nO No
ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym) nO No nO No
ANT+ Lighting Control nO No nO Yes
ANT+ Bike Radar Integration No No No No
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C) No No No No
ANT+ Remote Control No No No No (Yes for VIRB camera control)
ANT+ eBike Compatibility No No No No
ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX) No No No no
ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP) No No No No
Shimano Di2 Shifting No No No No
Bluetooth Smart HR Strap Capable No Yes No YEs
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Capable No No No Yes
Bluetooth Smart Footpod Capable No No No Yes
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Capable No No No No
Temp Recording (internal sensor) No No No No
Temp Recording (external sensor) no No no Yes
Compatible with Firstbeat HR tools No No No
Software Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
PC Application PC/Mac None PC/Mac Garmin Express
Web Application YEs None YEs Garmin Connect
Phone App iOS/Android/Windows iOS only iOS/Android/Windows iOS/Android/Windows
Ability to Export Settings No No No No
Purchase Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Amazon Link Link Link Link
Clever Training – Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program N/A Link Link
Clever Training – Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program N/A Link
DCRainmaker Fitbit Versa Lite Apple Watch Series 3 Fitbit Versa Garmin Vivoactive 3
Review Link Link Link Link Link

Again – don’t forget you can compare any product you’d like within the product comparison tool here.

Wrap-Up:

Fitbit-Versa-Strap-Lineup

Everything we’ve seen here seems to point to a bit of simplification of the Fitbit line, as well as offering more capable units at lower prices than the company has historically.  While it’s easy to knock on some of Fitbit’s recent financial growth – the hard reality is they’re still the #2 smartwatch vendor in the US and still selling around 15 million units a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

People have been predicting Fitbit’s demise since the first Apple Watch was announced – but in reality all that’s done is increase interest in not just Fitbit’s offerings, but also Garmin, Samsung, and others. Not everyone can have an Apple Watch (be it price, or because it only works with an iOS device), nor does everyone want one. Companies like Fitbit and Garmin are offering battery life that goes upwards of a week (or many weeks in some cases) – which again, is what some folks rightfully want.

As for the Versa Lite, I think it does strike a reasonable balance in feature reduction compared to the full Versa edition. I’m a little bit hesitant on how well the firmware backfill bits will work. Sure, Fitbit has done that in the past for other watches – but that was when the Fitbit operating system was smaller and when there wasn’t 3rd party apps to contend with. We’ll have to see over time how well this works out in reality.

Still, for those that want an introduction into the smartwatch realm (with the definition du jour there being a watch that accepts 3rd party apps in some form of a marketplace), this is pretty much the most accessible mainstream option out there. I’ve got no doubt it’ll put pressure on the likes of Garmin especially to find ways to offer a Vivoactive Lite style product.

With that – thanks for reading!