Fitbit Versa Lite - A safe bet for varied tracking but few standout features - Stuff

Fitbit Versa Lite – A safe bet for varied tracking but few standout features

We’ve used Fitbit’s Versa for some time, but the company’s since gone and released a stripped-back version of the smartwatch/fitness tracker — that’s the Fitbit Versa Lite Edition to you. The new wearable loses a fair few functions but that means that the price is right. On paper, at least. The RRP for the Versa Lite Edition is lower than the Versa’s RRP — not that it matters all that much (see below).

The Versa Lite Edition loses onboard storage, on-screen workouts, and swim tracking, in order to make enough financial space for you to open your wallet and buy one. What’s stuck around are water resistance, sleep, movement, and heart tracking, as well as app support. Will that be enough to make you buy one? Well, in theory. But the thing about theories is you have to test them and this one… may need a little more research. Makes for a decent smartwatch, though.

Not-so-heavy metal

The Versa Light isn’t just loftily named. It’s also practically titled. The Lite tips the scales at a mere 38 grams, which means that you’ll rely on its size to tell that you’re wearing it. The heft sure isn’t going to be a giveaway at all. And it’s available in several colour/strap options, even if we were using the vanilla-looking white-and-metal combo for the review. Mix it up, is what we’re saying.

There’s very little weight and there’s also not much bulk. The metal body is smooth, with neatly bevelled edges, and sits atop your wrist in just the right way to keep the heartbeat sensor pressed firmly against your skin. You know, where it does the most good? Obviously, you’ll have to tighten the straps enough to make sure there’s no daylight between your wrist and the sensor.

There’s only one physical button on the Versa Lite, which simplifies your usage. Mostly you’ll use it to light up the face and little else but it has its place. Most of your interactions will be by way of the touchscreen panel that lives on the front. The Versa’s strap (remember, we had the white one) was a worry when we first put it on but the silicone strap has weathered a considerable amount of time without picking up any stains or grime. Point: Fitbit.

If you do need to swap out the band, that’s thankfully very easy to do. And, like most new Fitbits, there are two band sizes to choose from. In case you’re the sort with a smaller-than-usual wrist, we suppose. Or perhaps you’re just young. That’s fine too, you’ll grow out of it. Taken as a whole, the Versa Lite Edition feels better than it looks. And it doesn’t look that bad at all.

Screen test

Most wearables have opted for OLED displays these days, besides the more basic options on the lot. The Versa Lite is one of the latter, so don’t expect any inky blackness on your wrist. The Lite’s LCD display is still plenty bright enough for visibility, even in direct sunlight. That’s not something every LCD screen can claim.

The face itself is a breeze to navigate. The whole display is a smooth, clear touch interface. We didn’t actually try to scratch the display but still managed to during review. Once. The Lite shrugs off daily abuse fairly well.

In this age of minimal bezels, though, the Versa’s thick borders look a little out of date. You won’t notice much unless the screen’s lit up, but screen selection can help minimise the embarrassment. Just pick one with a lot of black in the background and nobody will know the bezels left your phone and turned up on your wrist. The horror…

Bezels aside, navigation is a breeze. You can swipe in four directions (sometimes more than once), while a tap on the display will activate various software keys. Want to get that run tracked? Swipe over to Exercise, select Run, and then hit the Play button. Done. Bonk the chequered flag when you’re finished. And, pretty much all the apps and features are this simple to execute. If you can use a smartphone, the Versa Lite won’t give you any hassles. There’s only one physical button, after all, and that you’ll mostly be using to fire up the screen on the odd occasion a wrist-lift doesn’t do the job.

Tracker or smartwatch? Why not both?

If you’re looking for some smartwatch features as well as basic tracking functions, the Versa Lite Edition could have been made specifically for you. Gone is the (limited-in-SA) option to pay for items using your wrist — it lacks the NFC bits to do that. You’re also losing offline music playback sans smartphone, since there’s no on-device storage, and you won’t get swimming or stairs tracking either. Those sensors have been stripped out too.

Fitbit’s also declined to include Fitbit Coach, the feature that teaches you workouts as you go. Like its fuller-featured sibling, the Versa, there’s no GPS on-device either. If you want that, your phone will have to step in and handle location tracking. Heart rate, sleep, steps, and calories? Yeah, those are natively tracked — just like just about every other current Fitbit you care to name.

Despite not being able to track a damned thing in the water, you can swim and even surf with the Versa Lite Edition on. It just won’t do anything about your strokes, no matter how many of them you do. It does have a female health feature, though, and you can install extra apps for on-wrist workouts — though the available options are paid-for.

What is tracked, that being steps and heart-rate, is accurate. Heart-rate was nigh spot-on, provided the strap is tight enough and step tracking was even more accurate than the Huawei we used as a comparative device. That’s always fun. As for sleep? Highly accurate, but that’s nothing special. Most of Fitbit’s gear can do that.

The price is where things get a little hairy. If you’re only concerning yourself with the recommended pricing, the Versa Lite Edition is a bargain. But the better-spec Versa (the one with the on-wrist payments) can frequently be found for cheaper than the Lite. That’s… not an ideal situation, folks. If you’re torn between the two and you find a Versa cheaper than a Lite… go for the Versa. Don’t be silly.

And on the fourth day… 

Should you decide to pay for one, the setup’s going to take you a little while. Out of the box, you’ll need it connected to the charger (proprietary, of course) and the battery level will have to be at least 50%. It didn’t take us long to get there, but it’s a pain having to wait. Initial setup includes a long-winded update that’ll restrict your phone’s movement till it’s all done. When was the last time you willingly left your phone somewhere?

Once you’re up and running, what you’ve got coming depends on your device. There are varying levels of usefulness for the Versa Lite Edition. Connect it to one of Samsung’s recent flagships and things work great. A Huawei flagship? Less useful, since notifications just don’t turn up. And if you’re rocking an iPhone, you’ll get notifications but you won’t be able to respond to them the way you can with a fully-supported device.

If you’re keen on your notifications, and you should be, then it helps to check what exactly you’ll get from your device. Don’t forget to check the Versa Lite Edition specifically — the box for that is in the upper right once you’ve selected your device. If you’ve got full support, like we did from the Galaxy S9+, then you can start looking at third-party apps. We installed a couple, including one that offers a surf report from your chosen beach. Yes, SA has a couple of entries in that one. If you want Strava on your wrist or something else that isn’t made by Fitbit, a poke through the store on the app should yield a few results.

And the battery? It lasts around four days on a charge, but that total can be stretched or compressed by how often you work out. Keep it away from your phone too long and it’ll keep trying to locate it, leading to us running it down on a single hike. Turns out the Versa Lite’s a little needy at times. Still, four-day uptime is a nice-to-have.

Fitbit Versa Lite Edition: Verdict

The Versa Lite Edition is a bit of a weird one. Fitbit’s usual style, flair, and quality are present and mighty pleasant to have but the Lite Edition depends a whole lot on the phone you’ve got it paired with. It’s a device that revolves on the idea of YMMV, which makes it difficult to recommend outright. But if you’re the owner of a recommended device (again, you can head here to check out device-to-wearable functionality) and aren’t too concerned with massive amounts of metrics, the Versa Lite is for you.

The interface is neat and simple, what is tracked is tracked well, and the battery life is fantastic. It’s not up there with Huawei’s sometimes-a-fortnight uptime but four or so days on a charge for a basic tracker/smartwatch combo is far better than a poke in the eye with a blunt proprietary charging unit.

Pricing is more of a mixed bag. The full-fat Versa should cost you R1,000 more than the Lite Edition does. But… if you shop around you can get the more feature-filled Versa for less than the Lite’s R3,200. Unless you’re actually trying to pay more for fewer features, that’s not an ideal situation. It comes down to individual users — if you’ve already got a compatible phone, only need basic tracking, and can find the Versa Lite Edition at a sub-RRP price, go for it. Otherwise, just get a Fitbit Versa. A real one.

Good

  • Bright, clear display
  • Battery life for (literal) days
  • Sturdy build without much heft

Bad

  • Sacrifices were made
  • App support can be sketchy
  • Check Fitbit's compatibility list first
7

Good

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