The Fitbit Versa 4 has moved forwards in some respects but backwards in others
- The button is back!
- The same superb app
- Stylish design
- Some features removed
- Patchy tracking
- Bundled strap is awful
There’s good news and bad news about the Fitbit Versa 4.
The good news is that the button is back, after the awful capacitive sensor on the Fitbit Versa 3.
The bad news is that, as well as removing said sensor, Fitbit has taken away a bunch of other things as well. None serious on their own but they add up to a smartwatch that cuts corners, without cutting the price.
It’s still a delight on the wrist but that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth and a smartwatch that’s ultimately impossible to recommend, despite its many strengths.
Fitbit Versa 4 review: What you need to know
Button aside, there aren’t many improvements from Fitbit Versa 3 to Versa 4. It’s slightly thinner and lighter, the number of sports modes has been doubled and deeper integration with Google services will arrive shortly, including the very welcome addition of Google Wallet over the limited Fitbit Pay. Generally, however, it’s the definition of an incremental update.
Given the Versa 3 was frustratingly close to brilliant, that should be all that’s required. It maintains built-in GPS, stress tracking, sleep monitoring, blood oxygen monitoring and 5ATM waterproofing. While some of the best features are paywalled behind Fitbit Premium, it remains a compelling package for casual fitness fans.
There are, however, a handful of downgrades from past Versas. The new model doesn’t allow owners to use the internal storage for music, which could be a problem if you like to exercise without your phone nearby and need a beat to do so.
Likewise, music controls are bafflingly absent, as is support for third-party apps, and the built-in Wi-Fi is disabled. Weirdly, given Google now owns Fitbit, support for Google Assistant has also been dropped with only Alexa available. Some of these things may arrive with software updates, but there are no guarantees.
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Fitbit Versa 4 review: Price and competition
For this, Fitbit is asking £200. That’s the same price as the Versa 3 when it launched, although it’s now available for around £50 to £60 less.
Fitbit Versa 4 review: Design
Once again, Fitbit adopts an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to design, and it’s a good choice. Despite its enormous bezel, the Fitbit Versa series is one of the nicest-looking smartwatches you can buy, with its gently curved edges and cute, chunky frame.
It’s slightly less chunky this time around – 40.5 x 40.5 x 11.2mm rather than 40.48 x 40.48 x 12.35mm – but it’s not the kind of thing you’d notice unless you had both side by side.
Of course, one thing was very much broken in the eyes of lots of wearers, including yours truly: the capacitive button. Introduced on the Fitbit Versa 3, this required you to squeeze the screen between thumb and forefinger to (sometimes) get a response, which wasn’t ideal for mid-exercise status checks. It’s dead, replaced by a nice, simple button this time around. It doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary but, after the Versa 3’s misfire, it feels amazing.
It’s not all good design news though. In past Fitbit reviews, I’ve been far too kind to the strap, I’ve decided. I’m sorry, but it’s just plain uncomfortable with a design that tries to be too clever by half. Putting on the Fitbit involves threading the plasticky strap through two tight gaps and then securing it via a stud that you have to push unpleasantly near your wrist veins.
Despite this Fort Knox level of security, for me, it doesn’t even fit well. I have the choice of wearing the Versa 4 either comically loose or uncomfortably tight, and I’ve struggled to wear the Fitbit Versa 4 for a full day without a break as a result. While it’s great that Fitbit includes two different lengths of strap in the box, neither works for me personally, and you have to ask whether two bad straps are better than one.
Maybe I’m an anomaly and most people think they’re great. It’s kind of a moot point, really, because there’s no shortage of first- and third-party replacements, but it would be nice if the one in the box was any good.
Fitbit Versa 4 review: Performance
Discomfort from the bundled strap aside, the Fitbit Versa 4 performs very nicely in day-to-day use, and with a battery that goes almost a week without a charge.
The crisp AMOLED screen pops up with notifications, reminders to move and celebration when you hit your step or active minute goal. It’s also pretty good at detecting when you’re moving for an extended time, offering to start tracking a walk for your records.
On the exercise front, one of the headline features is the doubling of the number of tracked exercises from 20 to 40. That sounds impressive on paper but it’s questionable how many you’ll actually use, and the kind of tracking that’s possible varies dramatically between them.
Running, cycling and even kayaking make sense as they involve going from A to B, enabling the GPS sensor to track speed and distance. Something like martial arts or crossfit just provides analysis based on time and heart rate, meaning the post-workout analysis is inevitably less useful. Still, it’s nice to actually be able to segment your workouts if you get through a lot of activities on your average trip to the gym and, for some, that could be worth the cost of entry alone.
For me, though, the purpose of any wearable is how well it tracks runs, and here the Fitbit Versa 4 is, unfortunately, just as flakey as its predecessor.
A case in point: last week’s Clapham parkrun, which is measured at exactly 5km. A Garmin Forerunner 255 on one wrist measured it at 5.03km. The Fitbit? 5.33km.
Look at this bit of the course, where I apparently took two madly twisty and very different routes over the two identical laps — one of them running straight through a pond, according to Fitbit. Suffice it to say, I don’t remember getting wet.
It’s a pity, because early impressions were pretty good. Despite failing to get a GPS lock on on the start line of the previous Wimbledon parkrun (it was under a lot of tree cover, though the Garmin still managed it), it actually gave a pretty close result — 5.32km to Garmin’s 5.27km. The course ran long, the organisers explained, due to a hornet-based diversion. I was hopeful that, all things being equal, it would be a match for the Garmin’s laser accuracy, but that proved not to be the case.
Heart rate measurement between the two was very close indeed, however, with Garmin averaging 167bpm to Fitbit’s 165bpm on this workout. That’s a big improvement on past Fitbit wearables, which have tended to considerably underestimate heart rate in my experience.
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If you’re not obsessed with running metrics, a slight overestimate of distances may not be a problem for you and, in terms of general wellness features, Fitbit is still the go-to for those hoping to live a healthier life.
The relaxation exercises are still there, helping you lower your stress levels by matching your breathing to an on-screen prompt, sleep tracking is good and, for my money, the Fitbit app is still the best of the bunch for those who want a more casual, easy-to-interpret style of fitness tracking without the number nerdery of Garmin Connect.
The slight problem with this is that many of the good insights are locked behind a paywall: Fitbit Premium. Unless you subscribe to it for £7.99 per month or £79.99 per year, you’ll miss out on advanced sleep analytics, snore detection, your sleep profile, wellness reports and a daily readiness score to inform you of how prepared your body is for exercise. As well as the analysis, some features are blocked too: mindfulness sessions, video workouts, challenges and recipes.
In Fitbit’s defence, there is six months’ worth of the Premium service in the box but, without it, it does feel like you’re only getting half the package: like Fitbit is collecting all the data, but leaving you to interpret it yourself. Without this handholding, it’s difficult to answer what Fitbit has over the more hardcore offerings from Garmin, especially with less accurate GPS tracking.
There are also some peculiar omissions from the previous generation. There’s no room for offline music, for a start, but worse than that, music playback controls have vanished completely, meaning you can no longer skip and pause tracks from the wrist.
And while there weren’t many third-party apps to download to the Fitbit Versa before, they’re now completely absent, leaving just Fitbit’s own choices on your watch. Browse the Fitbit Gallery and you’ll see that apps from the likes of Uber, Starbucks and Pandora list all previous Versas as compatible, but not this one.
Perhaps because you won’t be downloading playlists or apps, you can also no longer use the built-in WiFi here, either, which will likely make firmware updates a drag. Fitbit flags this in the official specs, with a note next to WiFi saying “deactivated, cannot be turned on”.
Strangely, given Google now owns Fitbit, Google Assistant has also been removed since it arrived with the Fitbit Versa 3. It’s Alexa or nothing although I’d recommend nothing, given the watch’s speaker is prone to distortion anyway.
Fitbit Versa 4 review: Verdict
None of these are problems in isolation but, added together, they do leave the Versa 4 feeling like an oddly less substantial product than its predecessor, which shouldn’t ever be the case with a numbered upgrade.
Perhaps some features will come back with software updates. We’ve already been promised the integration of Google Maps and Google Wallet soon, after all, and the addition of the latter is great news for those frustrated by how few UK banks support Fitbit Pay.
But for now, even with the return of a physical button, it’s hard to justify buying a Fitbit Versa 4. It’s still a very nice watch with a fabulous app but with patchy activity tracking, plenty of paywalled data and less functionality than its direct predecessor, it’s not a product I can recommend.