Fitbit Versa 3 review: A happy medium of health features and fitness tracking
- Up to six days’ battery life
- Bright, always-on AMOLED display
- Advanced sleep tracking
- Onboard GPS
- Mic and speaker for text dictation
- Relies heavily on mobile app
- Slow to sync
- Health metrics are hard to find
- Notification replies are Android-only
The Fitbit Versa 3 is Fitbit’s best smartwatch for most people. With an always-on display, built-in GPS, blood oxygen and temperature tracking during sleep, and a battery that lasts six days, the Versa 3 holds its own against some of its pricier competitors like the Apple Watch SE and even the Fitbit Sense. While you don’t get the stress tracker and FDA-cleared electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) like the Sense, the rest of the Versa 3’s smartwatch and fitness features are similar. As an added bonus, the Versa 3 costs $100 less than the Sense.
Better design all-around
The Versa 3 still has the same square-ish watch body and metal frame as its predecessor the Versa 2, but it now has a larger 1.58-inch AMOLED screen with slimmer bezels. It’s bright, crisp and easy to see in direct sunlight. It can stay always-on (as a toned-down version with fewer metrics displayed) to give you a quick glance at the time without moving your wrist. And since Fitbit supports third-party watch faces, you have hundreds of different options to choose from.
Despite its aesthetic improvements, the touchscreen and Fitbit interface still aren’t as responsive as what you’d get on an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, which also have AMOLED screens. The Versa 3 lags a bit between swipes and takes a while to load apps and display information.
Instead of a physical button on the side of the watch like its predecessors, the Versa 3 now has an indented haptic side button. In theory, this works exactly like a real button, but the haptic feedback is nowhere near as satisfying as pressing a real button and it takes some getting used to.
Fortunately, not all the design changes have a learning curve. Fitbit has also overhauled the strap mechanism on the Versa 3 and now all you have to do to swap out bands is press a button. It’s so much easier than previous models, which had a tiny, fiddly clasp.
Better training tools for fitness tracking
At this point it’s safe to assume most Fitbit devices can handle your basic fitness-tracking needs, measuring steps, distance, calories burned and heart rate. The Versa 3 covers the basics well and has the same fitness features as the more expensive Sense. It tracks 20 different activities including indoor and outdoor swimming and has automatic workout detection for some exercise types like running if you forget to start a session.
It’s also the first Versa smartwatch to have built-in GPS, although not the first Fitbit, as the Charge 4 and Sense also have built-in GPS. As a runner, not having GPS on earlier Versa models was a big pain point for me as I would have to take my phone to get a map of my run (or bike ride). With the Versa 3, I can leave my phone behind and still get the distance and route information of my outdoor workouts. The one downside is that the watch can take a few minutes to lock on to a GPS signal. You’re supposed to stand still while it does this, but I would forget and take off immediately after pressing start, then it would take about four minutes before receiving the confirmation.
The Versa 3 can also give you heart rate zone notifications during workouts. These use your heart rate to determine your effort level, so the watch buzzes to notify you as you enter different zones such as fat burn, cardio or peak for example. This can help you have a sense of when to push yourself a bit harder, or ease up a bit during training. Instead of using steps taken as the sole measure of success during your day, the Versa 3 has a metric called Active Zone Minutes which uses heart rate data to determine how long you’ve engaged in some sort of physical activity, even the ones that don’t require walking around much. So rather than aiming for 10,000 steps, you can aim for something like 20 or more Active Zone Minutes, depending on your goals. According to Fitbit, Active Zone Minutes are a more accurate representation of your fitness level than steps alone.
I like that the Versa 3, as well as other Fitbit devices, sets weekly activity goals rather than judging you on a daily basis. As a parent of two small kids, working from home and trying to squeeze in workouts during a pandemic is tough. I definitely have my off days, so weekly goals were much more realistic and encouraging. I’d look at my daily stats on the watch as a work in progress rather than as a complete failure. The Versa 3 notifies you (and celebrates with an on-screen animation) when you reach your goal before the end of the week. You’ll continue to accumulate points until the end of the week and can see a detailed breakdown of your activity in the Fitbit mobile app.
You can even find out how fit you are if you’re willing to dig deep enough into the settings. The Versa 3 uses your heart rate to estimate your Vo2 max (maximum oxygen consumption during exercise) and plots it on a graph to tell you how you compare to your demographic. On the Fitbit mobile app it’s called Cardio Fitness levels and you can find it by pressing the heart rate tile on the Today summary and swiping left on the graph.
Fitbit Premium subscribers also have access to guided workout programs and videos. A premium subscription costs $10 a month, but you get three months free with the Versa 3. You follow along on your phone with classes from brands such as Popsugar and Daily Burn, or you can download an entire workout to your watch using the Fitbit Coach app. Downloading a workout was more practical for me, as I could usually squeeze in a 10-minute ab workout right after a run without having to look at my phone for instructions.
Plenty of health data if you want it
But the Versa 3 is much more than a fitness tracker. It also monitors other aspects about your health, including SpO2 (blood oxygen levels), breathing rate and variations in skin temperature while you sleep, which can collectively help paint a broader picture of your overall health.
It’s important to note, however, that this is not a medical device, and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Always consult with a physician or other qualified health provider about any health-related issues you may have about a medical condition or health objectives. Only the ECG on the Fitbit Sense has received FDA clearance.
Fitbit shines when it comes to sleep tracking and the Versa 3 provides one of the most comprehensive looks at your sleep compared to any other smartwatch. Whether that’s actually helpful to you is another thing.
It takes into account duration as well as the different stages of sleep (deep, light and REM), which is standard when it comes to sleep tracking. But then it also breaks out your breathing rate, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and variations in skin temperature while you sleep, and you can review all these stats in the Fitbit app in the morning.
Fitbit also offers advanced sleep analytics for Premium subscribers which put some of this information into context by telling you how you compare to the average person, which was helpful for an amateur sleep tracker like myself. It also gives you tips on how to improve your sleep. For me, that includes getting to bed earlier, which I was already well aware of. Sadly it can’t force me into bed at 10 p.m. — yet.
But one of the biggest pain points for me was that you can’t get this information at a glance on your watch face when you wake up. There’s a summary of your sleep and your SpO2 range (as long as you use a specific watch face), but you’ll have to switch to the Fitbit app for more insights. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose of having a smartwatch. I’d often go days or sometimes even weeks without checking the app. When I did go in and check, though, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the data I found. For skin temperature variability for example, I noticed the dips in the chart coincided with some of the changes in my menstrual cycle (note that the Fitbit Sense also monitors skin temperature too) and I can see how you could start to make correlations between some of these data points over time. Temperature tracking is not something you’ll probably use on a daily basis, but it’s nice to have so much data about yourself to look back on if you ever need it.
The Versa 3 gets smarter, but still can’t catch the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch
Fitbit’s previous smartwatches lagged behind competitors such as the more expensive Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch as they lacked a wide selection of third-party apps and LTE connectivity. The Versa 3 has the same drawbacks and relies heavily on the phone, but it’s at least starting to catch up to the pack, especially when paired with an Android phone.
The Versa 3 now has a built-in microphone and speaker so you can take quick calls on your wrist if you have an Android phone or iPhone. You can also pair the Versa 3 with Bluetooth earbuds. Incoming call notifications will be displayed on the watch regardless of which phone you have, but only Android users will be able to respond to messages from their wrist with quick replies, or by dictating a response.
You can also bark orders at your wrist with two choices of voice assistant on the Versa 3: Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. And while I haven’t had a chance to fully compare them yet (Google Assistant launched while I was already well into my review) for now Alexa is the only one that can read your responses out loud rather than just displaying them on the screen.
You can also make contactless payments with the Versa 3 with Fitbit Pay and listen to music from Pandora or Deezer. There is no onboard music storage for songs you own, like MP3 files. Instead, you’ll need a Pandora or Deezer subscription to save and store songs for offline listening. While the Versa 3 does have a Spotify app, you can only use it as a remote to control playback on your phone.
Battery life is second to none
The Versa 3 may not be the smartest watch, but it destroys the competition on battery life. Even firing on all cylinders with the always-on display active, a couple GPS workouts and sleep tracking, I was still able to get almost three days of battery out of the watch. You can extend this up to six days with more moderate use and by disabling the always-on display. The Versa 3 also charges faster than previous Versa watches: Fitbit says 12 minutes on the charger will get you a full 24 hours of battery, and 30 minutes on the charger gets you to 100%. But if you’re updating from a previous model, note that the Versa 3 uses a new, proprietary charger so it’s not compatible with your previous one. It’s magnetic and must be positioned at just the right angle to charge, which takes some getting used to.
A happy medium of health features and fitness tracking
The Versa 3 has enough health metrics for people looking to learn more about their bodies without having to spend extra on the Fitbit Sense. It offers practical fitness tools for training and can finally be regarded as a viable option for outdoor running and cycling thanks to its built-in GPS. And it does sleep tracking better than any smartwatch I’ve tested so far.
While the Versa 3 is a solid smartwatch option for Android owners, the Charge 4 may be a better bet for iPhone users wanting a a Fitbit device. For about $100 less, you get a lot of the same great health and fitness features. You lose the some of the added smart features like voice to text replies, but many of them aren’t iPhone-compatible anyway.
Fitbit Sense vs Fitbit Versa 3
|Fitbit Sense||Fitbit Versa 3|
|Materials||Aluminum and stainless steel|
|Display size, resolution||AMOLED||AMOLED|
|Automatic workout detection||Yes||Yes|
|Water resistance||Yes, up to 50m||Yes, up to 50m|
|Notifications||Text replies (Android)||Text replies (Android)|
|Voice assistant||Alexa and Google Assistant||Alexa and Google Assistant|
|Music||Onboard (Deezer, Pandora), playback control (Spotify)||Onboard (Deezer, Pandora), playback control (Spotify)|
|Mobile Payments||Fitbit Pay||Fitbit Pay|
|Special features||Stress tracking and SpO2, ECG and skin temperature||SpO2 and skin temperature|
|Compatibility||Android and iOS||Android and iOS|
|Battery life||6 days||6 days|
First published Dec. 1
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.