Fitbit Versa 3 Review

Posted on October 18, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Fitbit, Wearables with 22 Comments

Two weeks ago, I finally switched from a Fitbit Charge 3 tracker to a Fitbit Versa 3 smartwatch. I don’t know why I waited so long.

That this is the right fitness wearable for me is certain: The Versa 3 carries forward several years of Fitbit health and fitness data and offers a superior display and several new features when compared to my previous wearable. And unlike the more expensive and locked-in Apple Watch, it provides several days of battery life.

Whether the Versa 3 is the right wearable for you, well, that’s a question I can’t really answer to any degree of accuracy. Unlike most of the hardware products I review, where it’s fairly easy to understand how others might use them, even when that usage varies from my own, wearables are about as personal as technology products get. All I can really do is explain how I use such a device, what my expectations and experiences are, and how it meets or doesn’t meet my needs. Hopefully, this will be useful to at least some.

I use a wearable for three basic and interrelated tasks: Exercise/activity tracking, heart rate tracking, and sleep tracking. Some of this is automated: Fitbit and other wearables can automatically sense certain activities, like walking and sleeping, while other activities require the user to manually start and stop the tracking.

In my case, I walk each morning, and that activity is tracked automatically. But when I use an elliptical trainer for cardio or lift weights, I have to initiate and end tracking interactively with the device. My nighty sleep is likewise tracked automatically. (As an aside, my wife uses a previous generation Versa 2 to track her runs and bike rides, both manually, in addition to walk and sleep tracking, so I have a bit of information about that as well.)

The Charge 3 worked well for my needs with one major exception: The display was so dim, outdoors or under bright lights such as at the gym, that it was almost unusable at those times I needed to see it the most. So I’ve spent much of this year investigating upgrades, with the idea that I’d prefer a tracker to a smartwatch because they’re smaller and tend to get better battery life. Plus, I have no need for non-health/fitness tracking smartwatch features. I’m not going to use a watch to listen to music or make mobile payments in stores.

As I wrote earlier, I eventually chose the Fitbit Versa 3 over its slightly more capable new sibling, the Sense 3, and over the Apple Watch. And it was immediately obvious that I made the right choice, a fact that has only been driven home in the subsequent two weeks of use.

The problems with the Apple Watch are obvious, but the biggest issue to me, aside from the Apple ecosystem lock-in, is the battery life: I sleep poorly, and sleep tracking is important to me, and the Apple Watch’s laughably bad battery life makes these devices a non-starter for me. I just can’t get over that.

Compared to the Sense 3, however, the decision came down to a careful examination of its additional features—EDA scanning for stress assessment, skin temperature sensing, and a coming ECG function—and the realization that I didn’t need any of them. So I saved $100 by going with the otherwise identical Versa 3.

Put simply, with the Versa 3, my day-to-day usage hasn’t changed at all, but now I can see the display better. And not just “better”: I can really see the display, in any condition, clearly and easily. I find myself continually checking it, in the gym, or out in bright sunlight, with my polarized sunglasses on, or whatever, and this display is always clear, bright, and easily seen. It’s transformative.

The main Fitbit dashboard

That day-to-day usage starts with a morning walk with my wife and dog, which almost always lands at exactly 26 minutes and I would characterize as “brisk”; seriously, my dog is the canine version of the Terminator. 6 days a week, I visit the gym, where I am currently at about 25 minutes of cardio on the elliptical and anywhere from 22 to 35 minutes of weightlifting on machines depending on the day. And then I track my sleep each night.

There are two things related to each exercise: Active zone minutes and heart rate rating monitoring, each of which are automatic.

Active zone minutes is new to me, as this wasn’t tracked by my Fitbit Charge 3. This measurement maps to the 150 minutes minimum of activity in a week that the American Heart Association recommends today. Yes, it’s purposefully low because most people are so sedentary. But I’m glad it’s available in the Versa 3, as it’s already improved how I do cardio: It turns out that I wasn’t working hard enough before.

As far as accuracy goes, I’ve been able to compare the Fitbit’s real-time heart rate monitoring functionality against the Amazon Halo Band and the hand contacts on the elliptical, and I’ve compared notes with my wife. We describe our results a bit differently, but I think we’re experiencing the same thing: She believes that Fitbit devices “lag behind” when it comes to heart rate monitoring, but I think it’s fairer to say that they start off inaccurate and then get more accurate over time. What I mean by that is that the wearable often registers a lower heart rate in the beginning of a session but that it matches (often identically) what the elliptical trainer and Halo Band report in the latter two-thirds of the exercise.

I’m generally OK with this, but it does impact my active zone minutes score, which I don’t like. I also find that Fitbit’s measurement of active zone minutes is off, regardless of the heart rate measurement. I basically do the same activities each day, but I’ve seen my active zone minutes vary from 24 to 53 over the past seven days, and I don’t quite get that. And of course I don’t get many active zone minutes from weightlifting, just from cardio. My 30 minutes of weightlifting this morning was described as “moderate activity,” with 2 cardio zone minutes and 2 fat burn zone minutes, but my elliptical work garnered 21 of 25 minutes in the zone. My sore arms and shoulders disagree.

Speaking of accuracy, I don’t need or use the Fitbit’s GPS, but my wife does. And she let me look at her several most recent runs and bike rides in the app, and they seem to be reported very accurately based on the map view. If that’s important to you, I suspect that Versa 3 (and Sense) works identically.

Sleep tracking is interesting, if depressing. I sleep poorly, and have for many years, and I kind of obsess over this particular metric. What I understand of myself is that I will almost never get 8 hours of sleep, good or bad, despite being told that such a thing is normal. Instead, 7 hours is what I’m shooting for, and I’ve honestly done pretty well in this regard for the past few weeks after a scary two week period during which I kept waking up for an hour or more in the middle of each night. (These events match up nicely to the periods of time before my daughter left for college and since she’s been successful moved in, and I suspect those are related.)

Anyway, for the past week, I’ve averaged just under 7 hours of sleep but have hit that mark or better twice. In the good news department, my sleep score has averaged 82—“Good,” in Fitbit’s words—and I even hit 90 last night, which might be a personal record. (This is probably related to the long hike we went on outdoors yesterday, followed by a short nap, both unusual for me.)

My wife, who is much healthier than I am, and has a lower average heart rate, has less successful results: When we watch TV at night, her Versa 2 records some of that time as (poor) sleep, so she has unusually long sleep times as tracked by the app, with correspondingly unusually poor sleep scores. She actually sleeps better than I do.

From a form factor perspective, I was worried that the Versa 3’s larger display would be awkward, given that the Charge 3’s body wasn’t much bigger than its band. But it’s not gotten in the way. The only issue I’ve seen is that I’ll sometimes glance at the display and it will be on a screen asking me to configure a long-press command for the side “button,” which is really just a capacitive area (and similar to what I was already used to with the Charge 3). So I must be pressing it on when my hand is angled at the wrist, triggering a false long-press. No biggie.

Speaking of that display, the Versa 3 user interface couldn’t be simpler: You can configure watch faces in the phone app, and then you swipe to the right to get to apps (including Exercise, the only one I really use).

You swipe down from the main watch face display to see your core stats. Up to get to notifications. And left to see quick actions and battery life. Simple.

Overall, I’m really happy with the Versa 3. I can easily see the screen, which is amazing, and I like that it’s already improved my cardio workouts. And everything else is the same as before, which is great because I already liked how the Charge 3 had worked for automatic and manual activity tracking, sleep tracking, and so on.

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Comments (27)

27 responses to “Fitbit Versa 3 Review”

  1. dspeterson

    Were you a Fitbit premium subscriber before the Versa 3? Has that been valuable for you?

  2. skyczy08

    Paul, try to find your most recent jog on the watch. My point is you can't. As soon as your run (or other tracked activity) is completed, you can't go back on the watch and see what you did 10 minutes ago. You have to dig out your phone, open the app, wait for it to sync, fix sync issues, blah blah I've fallen asleep from these repetitive steps.


    This watch also under-estimates your distance, and over-estimates your calories at the same time.

    It has to do with steps, because it uses steps and heart rate to calculate literally everything under the sun.

    Steps are never accurate on fitbits, and leads me to wonder, how accurate is the heart rate monitor?

  3. veermaharaj

    So i was fumbling thought the face gallery, just found a great one then saw the article. I figured I'd post this here for you to check out.


    Minimalist Clock by Waqas Amjad

  4. orbsitron

    I absolutely love my Apple Watch Series 4 (which I purchased refurbished). Unlike Paul, I don't need sleep tracking so I don't have the battery life issue.


    I workout strenuously pretty regularly (at least a 10K run, 20 mile bike ride and mile-long swim each week, plus several walks, taking my kids to parks and playgrounds, giving my kids swim lessons, occasional hikes, skiing in the winter and waterskiing in the summer, etc.), so fitness is very important to me.


    As a fitness wearable, it's just awesome! I can listen to my playlists while out on a run and also have all my detailed fitness stats recorded in Strava for in-activity motivation or post-workout analysis, all without the need to carry a phone! The same is true on the treadmill, though the music benefit is diminished because I could have my phone with me at the gym.


    I can use it in the pool or for outdoor swims in the lake (and the outdoor swims even track my position via GPS) and get heartrate data on swims (which my previous fitness wearable, a TomTom watch, couldn't do).


    I use it on bike rides and on a stationary bike at the gym (listening to music during the latter example as well).


    I've used it on hikes and of course on walks through the neighborhood or long walks through parks or on a beach.


    Finally on the fitness/activity front, it tracks my basic activities like steps, standing minutes, etc. in the background, prompts me to turn on fitness activity tracking when it detects that I've started an activity like an outdoor walk and suggests that I stand if I've been sitting for a long time.


    Beyond fitness though, is what makes the Apple Watch so remarkable. I joined the iOS ecosystem after two years with a Samsung Galaxy (after many years with various Windows Phones) and there's just nothing like the perfect harmony of the Apple Watch, the Air Pods (non-pro, also refurbished) and the iPhone (in my case, the 11 Pro).


    When I start an app on my phone, the watch UI updates to show me useful controls related to that app (ie: volume and the ability to hang up during a phone call or video-conference (ie: Teams), or play/pause, next/previous track and volume for podcasts or music). It's just so convenient and feels so natural, because I don't have to do anything to make it happen on my watch. The right thing is just there - and I'm one click away from my watch's home screen at any time so I never feel like I'm lost even when taking an action on my phone causes my watch to switch its UI.


    I can also access Siri Shortcuts from my watch even if those shortcuts require apps that are only on my phone (though my phone needs to be on the same WiFi as my watch for those phone-app-only shortcuts to work). So home automation routines and scenes, even for devices that aren't supported by Apple's HomeKit, can still be run by speaking a command to my watch.


    Finally on the companion-to-iPhone front, the Air Pods connectivity is just incredible. There's never an issue with the devices connecting or having both the phone and the watch accessing the Air Pods simultaneously. I can start a podcast on my phone and then start dictating a text on my watch a moment later and there's no handoff issue, none of my speech gets dropped, it's instant and seamless! When I'm playing media and I take an Air Pod out of one ear, it pauses the content automatically and resumes it when I replace the headphone and that's true whether the media was started on my phone or my watch - it doesn't matter, the gesture just always works. Every time. Oh and that's true even when using 3rd party media apps like Pocket Casts or Spotify. If I say, "Hey Siri" with my Air Pods in, it will show the Siri UI on my phone if that's nearby and it will use my watch when my phone isn't nearby. The device ecosystem and the software that ties it together, is just remarkable!


    Even when my phone isn't around, there's a ton the watch can do on its own such as let me read and respond to texts (the dictation is excellent), keep tabs on my Outlook calendar right on the main screen, get notifications from smart home apps like my Nest cams, accept and make phone calls which is even better with the Air Pods, and when paired with the Air Pods, the watch does a great job with podcasts and music as well!


    Without my phone, I can use Siri on my watch for both command and control (ie: to initiate a text message or to play music) and for basic lookup from the web (Cortana is so much more thorough than Siri on that front though) so adding items to my grocery, Costco or other Microsoft To-Do lists quickly with my voice when my hands are full is a great feature as well.


    The Apple Watch can't run every iOS app and it doesn't have a camera, its battery life is too short and there are other limitations that prevent it from being a full time phone replacement, but it is so capable that for many, many tasks, the watch alone or the watch with Air Pods does a fantastic job and I don't need to go to my phone.


    So yes, it's fantastic as a fitness wearable, but it's even better as an all around convenient addition to my phone and headphones. And the three devices compliment each other so well.


    If you own an iPhone and don't need sleep tracking, then the Apple Watch (with a pair of Air Pods) is a spectacular addition.

  5. PanamaVet

    I have been satisfied with my Fitbit Ionic but would appreciate having a more visible display. Thanks for a very interesting Versa 3 review. I need to decide if an oxygen sensor is worth the change and battery life.


  6. skolvikings

    I'm still using the original Versa and it's held up very well. I was once at the doctor for a checkup and he took my pulse. He then asked me what my Fitbit Versa was reporting and it was the same. As for sleep, I'm also an extremely poor sleeper. I found that I slept worse when I wore the Fitbit every night. I dreaded looking at my score. I figured out I just didn't need to track my sleep, because the stress it added made things worse. So now I charge my Fitbit overnight and give the skin on my wrist a break.

  7. dcdevito

    Nice review, Paul. If I ever decide to exile from Apple Island this might be my Apple Watch equivalent. Cheers

  8. matsan

    Buy a Garmin Forerunner 945 and it will solve all of your fitness tracking problems and give you two week battery time (I get at least one week with a 45-60 minute run every day and the watch in smart mode, syncing with my iPhone).

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to matsan:

      It is also $500 and probably overkill for Paul's needs.

      • matsan

        In reply to Chris_Kez:

        Talking about Paul’s needs is risky, but with his obsession with cameras in expensive phones I’d expect him to shell out a couple of $100 every second or third year on a fitness tracker.

        My Garmins I use daily normally last about 24 months with one or two band replacements. Previous one was a 735 and before that a 630, all about $450-500, less than a dollar/day ;-)

  9. gregsedwards

    Nice. I've been getting along with a Fitbit Flex 2 since my Microsoft Band died about 3 years ago. My Fitbit experience has been mostly positive, but I just noticed this weekend that my Flex 2 apparently hasn't been syncing data with the Fitbit app since late September. I really like the minimal design of the Flex 2 - with a phone nearly always in my pocket, I really don't feel I need a full UI on my wrist - but I realize that the vast majority of fitness devices now include some kind of screen. So I suspect I'll bite the bullet and get something like this when my current device dies. That said, I might lean more toward something like a Fossil smart watch with Wear OS depending on where things shake out with Google's Fitbit acquisition.

  10. Greg Green

    I inherited an Apple Watch 5 from my son, and the battery problem is a chore, though not as bad as I initially thought. I’ve partially succeeded in charging the watch as part of my morning routine, but there are times when I’ve forgotten to charge it, or forgotten to put it back on after charging. I think a half hour or hour charge will be enough to get it through the day, but then there’ll have to be another short charge that evening to make it though the night.


    I also have the same poor sleep while watching tv problem. It’s amusing because the watch thinks I’m going to bed around 8:30, but don’t go to sleep til around 10:30.


    for me these problems are easier to work around since I didn’t have to pay for it.

  11. rickeveleigh

    'I use a wearable for three basic and interrelated tasks' -- it also looks like a watch -- do you use it to tell the time?

  12. jtdennis

    My charge 3 recently died on me. The display stopped working, but it was still collecting data. I was fine with that until I purchased a new one, but I called for support to see if anything could be done. They had me do a factory reset, which essentially bricked the device because you need the screen to re-pair it to the app. The support person was unapologetic and unhelpful after that other than offering a small discounf off a future purchase. I had been eyeing this new model, but I'm so soured on Fitbit now that I'm looking elsewhere.

  13. brettscoast

    Good review Paul. I got one for my nephew and he just loves it, the clear display is a big plus on these devices.

  14. Craig Smith

    When they work, the Fitbits are excellent. However, the software is flaky.


    My Versa 2 has for the last few weeks stubbornly displayed a time 30 minutes out of synch with the time on my phone. So, for weeks now, I've been subtracting 30 minutes from the time on my watch to get the real time. Everything else is fine: Steps, sleep, but all out by 30 minutes. Rebooting both devices makes no difference, unpairing and re-pairing makes no difference. Exactly 30 minutes. I've resisted a complete factory reset because the hassle of setting it up again.


    My wife's Versa 2 - as with mine - was fine for over 6 months, but now randomly tracks sleep or doesn't. Sometimes with months between the measures. It'll then track sleep for a few days or maybe weeks, and then just take a break for a few weeks or months. There doesn't seem to be a pattern to it.


    Fit Bit support is less than useless.

  15. nkhughes

    I've got the old Blaze model and was hoping the sleep tracking would help me because I'm a very poor/light sleeper. Unfortunately it's pretty useless - it always thinks I'm sleeping when I watch a movie in the cinema (even an exciting one)! Earlier this year I had possibly the worst night of sleep in my life....an hour max....but the Blaze reckoned I slept for about 5 hours. I suspect that, even with a very light comfortable strap, I'm so aware that I'm tracking my sleep it's preventing me from relaxing.


    The battery life on this thing though, even after 3+ years, is pretty impressive - the last time I really tested it I got 5 days, but usually I just stick it in the cradle for 5-10 minutes every couple of days.

  16. andy72

    I got the device for my wife as a present. She started to hate it already during setup phase. The Bluetooth would not work well with her Samsung Galaxy S7. After something like 5 attempts it finally paired with the phone. It took minutes. Honestly, I am not sure what is going on, it could be the problem with the phone and not the watch. I have Samsung A40 and that one works nicely. Interestingly, it was popping up a little message asking if I want to configure the Versa 3. So my Samsung A40 can sense the Versa 3 really without a problem. So back to my wife. I did the most of the setup for her. There is a nice tutorial present as part of the setup. I stepped through it without my wife. Then I gave her the watch she was immediately furious with swiping. She would swipe from left on the "lock screen" (or how should I call it) and nothing happens. She would try the double tap, that would also not work. After some amount of touching, the screen would come on. I was not clear how that happened. After the screen is on, it behaves OK, the swiping works as expected. But bringing it from locked state is just a pain. In all, the swiping experience was not matching up to whatever expectation she would be having. After using it for 1 hour in the evening and 1 hour in the morning, she told me she cannot use it. Now I am facing the decision to either return it or try it myself. I am actually configuring it in order to give it a shot. Pairing was flawless and quick with my Samsung phone. I must say that I am more than a bit worried about that swiping thing. Using the touch sensitive button on the side if quite uncomfortable since it is located in a weird spot on the watch. But I guess the button is not really essential to using the watch anyway.


    I like the form factor, it is quite nice. Not too big, not too small - but that is probably highly personal opinion :)


    Have you experienced any issues with swiping/unlocking? I suppose it may take a while to get it just right on basically any new device, but the experience of my wife (and myself as well) was just really unpleasant. It maybe the case that I am "doing it wrong", or there is something wrong with the device itself.

    • Paul Thurrott

      The display isn't super-responsive to swiping. But I usually don't have issues performing the couple of swipes I use regularly: Right from the watch face to find the Exercise app. And then up during an exercise to end it. But yeah, sometimes I have to do it two or even three times before it registers.
  17. cwfinn

    Have you used the Spo2 data? The Charge 3 has an Spo2 sensor but Fitbit has chosen to not display the data. It may be a useful metric.

  18. ianbetteridge

    "And unlike the more expensive and locked-in Apple Watch"...


    Paul, I get that you don't like Apple and that's perfectly fair. But calling the Apple Watch "locked in" in a review of Fitbit, when at present you have to use unreliable third part apps to sync Fitbit data with either Apple Health or Google Fit is a little bit silly. Fitbit has long been by far the most locked down system in terms of health and exercise data, particularly if you want to transfer any of it to any other platform. Unless, of course, you want to stay within Fitbit's eco-system.

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