The Fitbit Versa Lite doesn’t cut much, except the price
- 25% cheaper than the Versa
- Stylish and likeable
- Fitbit app
- Heart-rate tracking is poor
- No built-in GPS
How do you trim 25% off the cost of a device without gutting its functionality? Well, if everyone knew the answer to that, everything would be a lot cheaper, but Fitbit seems to have the formula if the Versa Lite is representative.
There are differences, and they’ll clearly be important to some people. For most though, the Fitbit Versa Lite takes a very well made and popular product and makes it cheaper. What’s not to like?
Fitbit Versa Lite: What you need to know
The main thing you need to know is that the Fitbit Versa Lite is 25% or £50 cheaper than the regular £200 Versa. And to make that kind of saving, Fitbit has had to make some cuts on a wearable that we have a lot of time for. I’m going to rattle through them in order of significance from least to most important.
First up, it loses support for Deezer. Not bothered by that? No, didn’t think so. Unfortunately, it also loses support for any kind of music, but again I don’t think that’s too big a deal given neither this nor the original Versa had built-in GPS. So you’ll likely always have your phone with you, which has more space for music and more choices of how to play it.
Secondly, it loses support for Fitbit Coach’s onscreen workouts, presumably thanks to the lack of internal space. That’s a shame, but given it was a subscription service anyway, it’s no big loss in my view.
Thirdly, it loses the NFC chip and Fitbit Pay that came with the pricier £220 Special Edition Versa. That’s a big deal if you’re reading this in America, but if you’re reading from the UK, you’re basically missing nothing given the lack of support from British banks.
Now we’re getting significant: it loses the altimetre, meaning it can’t count the number of floors you’ve climbed. It also doesn’t have the three-axis gyroscope, which means it won’t track laps when you’re swimming – although you’re still free to take it in the pool for time-keeping purposes as it maintains the same 50m waterproofing.
Fitbit Versa Lite: Price and competition
If those features are worth £50 to you, then buy the original Fitbit Versa. If they aren’t, then keep reading. The Fitbit Versa Lite retails at £150, which puts it in a very good place in Fitbit’s lineup. That’s only £20 more than the Charge 3, and this has a bigger screen and is generally better as a smartwatch.
Of course, there are alternatives. The Garmin Forerunner 30 and Garmin Forerunner 35 pack in GPS for less, and can be had for around the £100 mark now. But these are dedicated running watches, and don’t come with the friendly competition and less daunting approach to fitness of Fitbit’s products.
Fitbit Versa Lite: Design
Design-wise, the Fitbit Versa Lite is barely any different at a glance. It still has the same slightly rounded square face and chamfered edges surrounding a bright, 300×300 touch screen. As before, display colours are bright and vibrant, and the contrast is excellent.
However, if you were to make the slight downgrade from the original Fitbit Versa to the Versa Lite – perhaps taken in by the new marina blue or mulberry colour schemes – you’d likely be initially a touch confused. That’s because Fitbit has reduced the number of buttons from three to just the one on the left-hand side.
The rest is all controlled by touchscreen. I’m generally a little suspicious of any move to reduce physical buttons on a fitness tracker because rain and sweat tends to make touch screens unreliable at best, but it does at least bring it in line with the Charge 3 and Inspire’s single-button designs.
If the aforementioned blue and pink models look a bit showy to you, you needn’t worry, by the way. Not only is the Versa available in a far more conservative white and lilac variants, but as ever the straps are changeable, and Fitbit has all kinds of alternatives available to buy, from sporty rubber bands to office-chic leather straps. Just remember that the watch bezels match the colour you pick, so you might find that not everything works too well.
Fitbit Versa Lite: Performance
In day-to-day use, the Fitbit Versa Lite is just brilliant. That screen is just the right size to get all the data you need at a glance, without looking bulky or awkward as some smartwatches I could mention. And you don’t really miss the two buttons on the side most of the time either, as the touch screen is responsive enough to be perfectly good at controlling things.
Notifications come through with a reassuring buzz and the built-in apps are easily accessible and sensibly thought through. Like the newly released Fitbit Inspire HR, breathing exercises are right there on the watch, allowing you to take two or five minutes out of your day for some guided meditation: it’s not all about the cardio, after all.
Speaking of cardio, this is a watch that is far better suited to running than the Inspire HR. Although it doesn’t have any more features – both have heart-rate monitors and connected GPS – the screen shows a lot more useful data thanks to the extra size. Indeed, you can see two fixed stats (distance and pace by default) while a third data field lets you cycle through a list of other metrics at the touch of a button.
This is a very sensible design given what I’ve previously said about touch screens and running, and three data fields is probably enough for most people – although the more advanced running watches I’ve used (the Garmin Forerunner 235 and Polar Vantage M, for instance) have space for four.
Piggybacking off the phone’s GPS isn’t as good as a built-in solution, of course, because you’re at the mercy of your phone’s hardware – and I’ve had some abysmal GPS recordings from my phone over the years. Nonetheless, in my test run at Burgess Parkrun, I found the Fitbit Versa Lite only slightly less accurate than the £350 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music on my other wrist, reporting 4.87km rather than the full 5km.
Unfortunately, as I’ve often found with Fitbit devices, the heart-rate tracking is all over the place during exercise. To test it fairly, I had a chest strap hooked up to the Garmin, and while it shows a predictable increase over time, the Fitbit shows no trend at all:
That’s a bit disappointing, though not unheard of with wrist-based optical heart-rate sensors. They still have a long way to go.
Fitbit Versa Lite: Verdict
For me, a heart-rate sensor isn’t the most important feature of a budget running watch, though, so I’m happy enough to give that lapse a pass on the Versa Lite given its low cost of entry.
At £150, it makes sensible cuts on its predecessor to make it a purchase that’s very easy to recommend. That it does that while looking nearly as stylish as the £400 Apple Watch Series 4 is a major achievement.
Combine that with the excellent Fitbit app and the community it brings, and you have a wearable that’s every bit worth its price. At the very least, it’s a cheap and stylish way of testing whether smartwatches are for you. And given the quality of the Versa Lite, I’m confident you’ll become a convert.