Fitbit is synonymous with being active, and since it entered the smartwatch arena years ago, it was on track to be among the best brands available. That seemed to get a boost when Google acquired the brand in 2019, but things took a turn in 2022 and the future seems uncertain. Reviewing the Fitbit Versa 4 wasn’t just about exercise, it was an exercise unto itself in where the brand is headed. In this review we’ll take a look at what’s new with this model, how well the features work as well as a few things I think are missing. I’ll wrap things up by letting you know if I think you should invest in one, since there’s some big factors about that future to consider.
Fitbit Versa 4
It’s hard to recommend the Fitbit Versa 4 because it’s not clear Google cares as much about it as a smartwatch. In truth you’re probably better off getting one of Fitbit’s trackers if you’re loyal to the brand (not a full smart watch) since the Versa doesn’t really function as a full service smart watch.
The Fitbit Versa 4 is something of a mystery, not so much because it’s unclear what it is, but more that it’s unclear where it’s going. It’s a smartwatch that functions a lot more like a simple activity tracker due in large part to decisions Google has made since acquiring Fitbit a few years ago.
It retains many of the tracking features that made Fitbit so popular, so strapping this on your wrist means you can keep tabs on all your activity. The catch is that you give up a lot of the “smart” in this smartwatch by way of the missing third-party apps and other integrations that ultimately put a stop to the progress Fitbit was making as a serious player in this category.
The results leave you with a choice to make. Does the Versa 4 offer enough on the activity tracking side to trump any concerns over other omissions?
As is the case with Fitbit smartwatches, the watch itself comes in the box with small and large straps to accommodate as many wrists as possible. Along with the charger, there’s a manual, where it’s suggested you fully charge the Versa 4 before setting it up.
You need the Fitbit app (iOS or Android) where you can add the watch to get things started. It bears a strong resemblance to both the Versa 3 and Sense 2, except for a few differences in that it’s lighter and has a physical button instead of a haptic one. It lacks the same sensors the Sense 2 has, like the ECG (electrocardiogram), EDA (electrodermal skin temperature) or Body Response stress sensor, positioning the Versa 4 as more of a fitness watch than a health one.
What Fitbit Versa 4 will track
What you do get here includes the heart rate monitor, SpO2 sensor (for blood oxygen) and GPS for location tracking. The 5ATM protection ensures you can take the watch swimming, including in saltwater, covering pretty much all activity on the ground and in the water. You can easily swap the straps out for whatever material you want to wear at any given time. Straps for the previous Versa 3 and Sense 1 and 2 also fit, in case you’re moving on from one of those to this watch. With silicone, leather, metal and fabric options, it’s not hard to find a new strap for the Versa 4.
What’s missing from the Versa 4?
Since Google launched its own Pixel Watch, Fitbit’s smartwatches have paid a price. It cut off all third-party apps from the Versa 4, removing some of the great functionality previous models offered. No more integrating Spotify to listen to tunes phone-free, no Starbucks app to pay card-free, and no other apps to make things otherwise easier. Despite Google’s presence, you won’t get Google Assistant, leaving only Alexa as your voice assistant. The watch’s Wi-Fi connection is dormant, leaving only Bluetooth as a way to connect. That’s normal for smartwatches, only without Wi-Fi, it takes much longer to download and apply the latest updates.
Instead, the only thing resembling an app experience falls to Google’s own products. Google Maps and Wallet are on board here, which is great for navigating as you walk and paying for stuff pretty much anywhere. All told, it’s a pretty barebones experience outside of Fitbit’s core features.
Hands-on with exercise and health tracking
That basically leaves exercise tracking as the main draw here. The Versa 4 gives you over 40 workouts to choose from, and will automatically track specific ones, like running, walking, hiking and cycling after 10 minutes of activity. For all the others, you would need to manually select and start them on the watch to keep track. Built-in GPS also lets you track distance and pace for outdoor activity, which works fairly well.
Fitbit tracks Active Zone Minutes, which keep tabs on how much you’re in fat burn, cardio or peak heart rate zones while active, using a point system to earn a score for optimal fitness and health. Sleep tracking tells you how good your slumber was, including the SpO2 sensor tracking blood oxygen to give you a number every morning. You can track it any other time if you wish.
All the activity, sleep and heart rate variability data funnels into what’s called a Daily Readiness Score to indicate how prepared you may be for the next day. It’s one way to know whether you can handle a tough workout or if you need to rest.
While the overall tracking is good, you need to pay to get the full picture. Fitbit Premium unlocks features like the Readiness Score and more detailed sleep tracking, among other things. It’s also where you’ll find a big selection of guided workouts, meditation practices and recipes to complement your fitness goals and the smartwatch itself. Without the subscription, I’m not sure the watch is really worth it unless you’re on a different exercise routine and just want to track your activity with a Fitbit watch.
Using Fitbit with your phone
Given the lack of third-party apps, you have rely more on your phone, which kind of flies in the face of what a smartwatch is supposed to do. That’s especially obvious when paired with an iPhone, which limits integration to make it practically non-existent. For instance, you can’t make or take phone calls, talk through the speaker, access Siri as a voice assistant, or respond to any incoming notifications. You can see notifications, mind you, but can’t act upon them.
That’s not the case with an Android phone, where you can use the Versa 4 for calls, access Alexa and use Google Wallet. Fitbit Premium is no different between iOS and Android, so the tracking features and content availability are agnostic to your mobile platform of choice. But when it comes to the extras, the gap is significant.
Battery life is no different, either, lasting up to a week per charge if you leave the always-on display off and only seldomly use GPS. Use GPS more often and you shave it down to about four or five days, depending on your usage. That’s quite good by smartwatch standards, though you’ll need to keep the charger handy, since it’s a proprietary one.
Overall review: Fitbit Versa 4
It’s hard to recommend the Fitbit Versa 4 because it’s not clear Google cares as much about it as a smartwatch. The company already announced that all Fitbit users will need to migrate to Google accounts by 2025, essentially absorbing the whole Fitbit ecosystem into Google’s own. That could also spell the end of Fitbit’s smartwatch business, leaving the brand to focus on fitness trackers, while the Pixel Watch takes over on the smartwatch front.
There is no way Google will bring back third-party apps to this device, nor will all the other missing features suddenly make a comeback. The smartwatch category is simply too competitive, so if you want the Fitbit experience, you’re better off paying less for a Charge 5 tracker.
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