Fitbit Versa 3 First Impressions

Posted on October 5, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Fitbit, Wearables with 15 Comments

After a lot of back and forth, I decided to upgrade from my two-year-old Fitbit Charge 3 to a Fitbit Versa 3. Here are some initial thoughts.

First, if you haven’t seen it already and enjoy a little schadenfreude, you can enjoy the write-up about my tortured decision-making process: I had previously preordered Fitbit Sense and Apple Watch Series 6 smartwatches, twice each, before canceling each order, twice each, and then settling on the Versa 3. Well, maybe settle isn’t the right word. I feel like this particular smartwatch is a better, ahem, fit for my needs.

We’ll see. But here’s the quick rundown for those not familiar with Fitbit’s smartwatch lineup. Today, the firm sells two different smartwatches, the Versa 3, which is obviously the latest version of the Versa family, and the Sense, which is new and has some additional sensors but is physically identical to Versa 3. This means that Fitbit and third parties can provide bands that work with both, but because they attach differently (and better) than before, bands that are compatible with Sense/Versa 3 are not compatible with Versa 1/2 and vice-versa.

What are those additional sensors that I’m missing out on by choosing the cheaper Versa 3? According to Fitbit, there are two: The Sense includes an EDA sensor and a skin temperature sensor. The EDA sensor is used to help measure stress, and to use it, you have to place the palm of your hand over the device’s display for several seconds. And the skin temperature sensor is used to detect changes that could be a sign of a fever, illness, or, for women, the start of a new menstrual phase. I understand the value of these sensors, but given how I’ve been using various Fitbits and other trackers for years, they’re not necessary for me: I just want to track activity and sleep. So I saved $100 by choosing Versa 3 over Sense.

Compared to the Versa 2, the Versa 3 includes a built-in speaker and microphone for phone calls and Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, neither of which I’ll never use, a much smaller and magnetic charger (which is a huge improvement) with quick charging support, a larger, rounded display, and a new button-less design that utilizes a capacitive area similar to that on my Charge 3 instead. But the biggest change, perhaps is its operating system: The Versa 3 and Sense utilize Fitbit OS 5.0, which will allegedly never be backported to Versa 2 or any other previous devices.

I’ll need to wait and see what that all means in day-to-day usage, but my initial impression of the Versa 3 is overwhelming positive. First, I can actually see the display, meaning not just the time on the default watch face, but also my steps, heart rate, and calories burned data. That was difficult to impossible on the dim Charge 3 display.

I’m also impressed and surprised that the bundled large band fits my wrist with no issues at all. In fact, there’s room to spare. This means I won’t have to scrounge around online looking for dubious third-party bands that are longer, as I’ve had to do in the past.

The onboarding process was simple but took a long time: Fitbit recommends charging the Versa 3 during this process, so I did so, and it detected the Versa 3 without any prompting and asked me if I was switching to it, which is smart.

But it needed me to hover over the Fitbit app on the phone as it stepped through an incredible number of steps in the setup wizard, during which it tried to upsell me on an extended warranty and needed a software update, because of course it did.

The Versa 3 includes some features I don’t care about, like Alexa integration (with Google Assistant coming soon), so I skipped that, but the wizard did at least do a decent job of describing all of the gestures (you can swiped in all four directions to do different things) and button press functionality (there are different single- and double-press actions) you can perform.

It also added an Active Zone Minutes feature to my Fitbit app that was absent with my tracker; this maps to the same 150 minutes of weekly activity minimum that the Amazon Halo band recommends, and is based on American Heart Association minimums that my wife tells me doctors have told her are woefully inadequate and aimed at sedentary Americans. (I walk each day and workout 6 days per week and hit 441 active minutes the week before last, for example.)

I’ve not customized anything yet, but I’ll do so before my next workout; the Versa 3 arrived after my trip to the gym this morning, so I didn’t get any active minutes credit for today. I’m interested in looking at the available watch faces and customizing it so that the activities I do most often—weights and elliptical trainer—are up front and center.

But I’m already happy with how it looks and, as important, how it feels: I was worried that the larger Versa 3 would be uncomfortable or awkward on my wrist, but it’s surprisingly light and it hasn’t really gotten in the way, even while typing this review. I love that I can see the display. Seriously, this was killing me with the Charge 3.

More soon. This is a device I’ll use every day, and I should know very quickly whether it will work for me. So far, I see no reason to believe it won’t.

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