Arriving Sept. 15, Fitbit’s new fitness watch is faster with more battery life
September is going to be a great time for smartwatches. On Wednesday, Fitbit announced its new Versa 2, which will be available in stores on Sept. 15. Samsung’s new smartwatch will be arriving two days before on Sept. 13 and a new Apple Watch is on the horizon. However, the new features of the $200 Fitbit Versa 2 could stay ahead in the competition. The next generation of Fitbit’s smartwatch adds Amazon Alexa connectivity with a faster processor, better display and longer battery life.
Fitbit is also introducing a subscription service called Fitbit Premium which will provide coaching and fitness guidance. The cost will be $10 a month or $80 a year and is not limited to the Versa 2. Fitbit Premium will provide guided plans and workouts including exercise regimens, weight loss and calorie-counting guides, along with a customized mix of suggestions depending on collected fitness data.
You may ask if Fitbit Premium will be worth the subscription cost over it’s already helpful free app. Though I haven’t tested it yet but it could offer practical lifestyle coaching apart from just tracking your information, something I have been searching for a long time.
At an event in New York, Fitbit announced the launch of its new watch and service, together with a new $50 basic smart scale called the Fitbit Aria Air which measures weight and BMI.
What you can and cannot do with Alexa
On the previous fitness trackers of Fitbit, there never was a microphone or any voice assistant functions. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant can be easily activated on the new Versa 2. Ask something and wait for the action or answer to show on the screen. However, you won’t hear Alexa’s voice as the watch doesn’t have a speaker. Answers are delivered in text.
Alexa is going to work on Android or iPhones and can look for general information, find local businesses, control smart home devices, start or stop timers and do other stuff. On Android phones, it can also transcribe voice to text. However, it won’t control music on the Versa 2 and you won’t be able to control the fitness tracker until later in the year.
Still, Alexa’s addition is a big step from previous Fitbits.
Spotify really onboard?
There was music support on Fitbit’s previous Ionic and Versa watches, however it could only side-load MP3s from a PC or work with Pandora premium and Deezer. Spotify Premium is an app that will also come to Fitbit’s other Versa watches later in the year. Initially I thought it would allow Spotify downloads to the watch just like you can on Samsung smartwatches and Garmin watches. But later realized it is a only a remote Spotify Connect app that lets you control songs from the Spotify phone app, so this isn’t much of a feature. Versa 2 can store music only by side-loads, Deezer and Pandora’s premium service.
Versa 2 brings some upgrades but no GPS or ECG
Another advantage of the Versa 2 over its predecessors is battery life. Now the battery lasts five days rather than four. Its AMOLED display work in a always-on mode for several days. Thanks to the new processor, the apps load quicker and the watch is more responsive. You will find the same 50-meter water resistance as the previous models and will work with the same Versa chargers and watch bands. Fitbit Pay, also onboard, is a competitor to Apple Pay and Samsung Pay and it is not just available on the premium edition like before.
However, the Versa 2 lacks some features too. It doesn’t include GPS, so the Fitbit Ionic remains the only GPS-enabled Fitbit device. Also, Fitbit didn’t include any FDA-cleared health features. On the other hand, the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 both incorporate electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) technology to sense atrial fibrillation although Samsung’s is yet to be FDA-cleared.
You don’t need a new watch for Fitbit’s new health addition, Sleep Score
Fitbit’s major new health features are sleep-related and could make inroads to sleep tracking not seen previously. The new Sleep Score function which was in beta early in the year, will offer more complete sleep results and evaluates your sleep depending on your REM, resting heart rate and deep sleep measurements and time you spend sleeping. The Sleep Score feature is going to work with any Fitbit which tracks heart rate, however you can get more complete results and guidance with a Premium subscription. According to the company, Fitbit is also incorporating a “smart wake” function which will time an alarm to a window in your sleep cycle which will be less disruptive.
Fitbit Premium will offer customized health care guidance eventually
When it launches in September, Fitbit’s subscription service will prioritize exercises, weight loss and general fitness insights. It will give a Wellness Report that you can show to a doctor, who can summarize plans based on Fitbit’s collected fitness data. So you will get a summarized chart of sleep, exercise, heart rate and weight over time.
Additional health reports with a focus on other chronic conditions, will be added later on. This is supposed to merge with an extra add-on service arriving in 2020 and being pilot-tested later this year. It will also incorporate personalized health coaching, with one-on-one guidance which sounds like a digital trainer. Sounds like this will be a bigger step from Fitbit towards becoming a digital health services provider but the jury is still doubtful on how much these services will help with conditions like weight loss or diabetes.
Is Fitbit Premium going to be a service that will feel like an at-home trainer? Will its extras be essential? For its Premium service, Fit is offering a 90-day trial period. This is only for the $230 Special Edition of the Versa 2, that comes with an attractive woven nylon band. Otherwise, the cost will be $10 a month, or $80 a year.
Fitbit’s Versa 2 seems to be the best Fitbit device till now. However, Fitbit’s subscription service is a fascinating new direction where software might ultimately be more important than hardware.