Buying the Fitbit Versa, twice

My wife and I are Fitbit converts. She used to wear an Apple Watch, but felt that the fitness aspect was too wooly to really benefit from and I am a (real) watch guy so have been happy to wear a Fitbit Charge 2 on my non-dominant wrist.

Since July last year my weight has moved from 285lbs to 205lbs and my wife’s has moved from 137lbs to 115lbs thanks to eating healthily, exercising every day and regular logging of everything from calorie intake and weight every other day using Fitbit products. In effect, together we have lost almost the equivalent of her entire weight between us in 9 months and we are chuffed with ourselves, we really are which is why I bang on about it… Life is easier when you are lighter and we can do much more than we ever did thanks to the change, and I credit Fitbit for helping us do that. There is something about the data on offer, and especially from the Aria scales, that helps keep the motivation high and so the Versa was always going to be considered.

Anyway, we wandered to the shops this morning. Yes, a real physical shop where you can buy things and see what they are like first. We spied one Fitbit Versa in gold in the cabinet and asked to look at it. The sales guy explained that they had received 10 this morning and that this was the last one left which was quite surprising. The shop opened at 8:30am and we were there at 9:15am which perhaps shows that there is some interest out there for the Versa. Actually, go to the UK Fitbit site and you are greeted with ‘On back-order. Ships in 2-3 weeks’.

We asked the sales guy to open the box so that my wife could try it on and he refused, politely. We asked why and he mumbled something about his manager saying that they could not be opened which was a shame as they had no display models. So I asked about the returns policy if it was opened and he said that they would give a full refund if she did not like it. I then explained that we would buy it, she would try it on in the store and if she did not like it we would ask for a refund. He opened the box.

She loved it immediately. The lightness was a real surprise and it fitted perfectly, the first Fitbit that my wife can wear without the lugs extending past either side of her rather small wrist. It was an instant sell and I really could not blame her. The oh so soft strap only added to the excitement as did the very bright screen with perhaps too large bezels for my liking, but she was happy and when she is happy so am I.

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Strangely, the first thing she said was “this is like the Apple Watch, but I prefer the design and it feels easier to use straight away.” We went for a coffee and she spent some time setting it up while I sipped on my cappuccino and her hot chocolate got cold. The process was not too long actually, much less hassle that when I first tried the Ionic, and her Charge 2 was dropped into her handbag to likely find its way to eBay in the future. Seriously, she was delighter with it and this is the first time I have seen her react to technology in such a way. Fitbit may have done something special here when it comes to females and fitness tracking.

But what about us guys? Surely we need the Ionic with its manly space age looks and angular form. No, actually we don’t because it’s pretty ugly and looks too much like a tracker and not enough like a watch to fit in to many people’s normal days.

I tried her Versa on in the coffee shop, the gold Versa with a pink strap, and I kind of liked it. I really did like it and was surprised at how quickly it felt right on my wrist, even in pink. It is so light and the strap so soft that it feels invisible on the wrist which is an advantage for a watch of any type. Being a watch guy, however, I would have to stick with the Charge 2 on my right wrist and my beloved vintage Bulova on the left.

Ten minutes later I bought a Fitbit Versa special edition from another store that also only had one left. To be continued…

“I have yet to meet anyone who owns an Apple Watch who’s passionate about the product.”

“I have yet to meet anyone who owns an Apple Watch who’s passionate about the product,” Zerella said, adding that Watch sales mainly piggybacked off iPhones sales. Ouch.

Apple doesn’t spill the beans on sales figures of its smartwatch, but there have been plenty of analysts that seem to have the data to suggest the Watch is actually doing pretty well. Fitbit on the other hand recently revealed that its debut smartwatch didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Maybe things will change when the ‘mass appeal’ Fitbit Versa lands in April… More at Wareable.

This is my experience as well. I know a few people who own the Apple Watch, but not one of them enthuses about it. They like it and use it as a watch, but the fitness side does seem to be lacking. Also, I know three women who are looking very closely at the Fitbit Versa because it will give them the fitness tracking they need in a form that will suit them. The Versa looks far from perfect to me, the lack of GPS being one omission, but it could do very well indeed and in particular in the female demographic.

The Apple Watch hardware is decent and there are various options for men and women, but the sheer lack of ambition in the fitness side is maddening. Apple could kill Fitbit in an instant if it wanted to, it really could.

One option for Fitbit’s survival

The fitness-tracker maker has had a good run but has failed in its efforts to innovate soon enough and diversify quickly enough into new, emerging markets. While Fitbit has cobbled together an impressive array of companies that could help change that dynamic, it increasingly looks like the best use of those technologies will be assisting a bigger competitor in exploiting them — through a buyout… More at The Motley Fool.

I had to replace my Charge 2 today because it simply stopped working and this is not the first time. Fitbit hardware has been, in my experience, poor at best and at times shocking in its ability to deal with normal usage.

The software is superb so one option would be to licence the sensor technology and software for use in smartwatches. At this time, most non-Apple smartwatches have poor fitness tracking and Fitbit’s are lacking in quality. This would solve problems, but I’m not convinced there would be enough money in it. It may, however, be the only option if the numbers continue to decline.

Fitness Trackers Don’t Help You Lose Weight

If you love your Fitbit, prepare yourself. This story might bring you down. A study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that fitness trackers don’t help you lose weight. Instead, they may impede your efforts. Researchers monitored the activity and weight loss of participants for 18 months to come to these conclusions… More here.

I kind of agree with this from my experience. I have used various fitness trackers over the past few years and at no point did any of them help me get fitter or lose weight. For some reason it all came together over the past 8 months with exactly the same device I had failed with in the past, and now it is integral to keeping the weight off and helping me to get fitter. Ultimately, it is all down to the individual, but I am also convinced that with the right mindset they can be very helpful for keeping the good behaviours going over long periods of time.

Did the big Fitbit Ionic update fix anything?

I got some time recently to test the big Fitbit Ionic update and must say that the 100 watch faces are useful because they give you as many options as you could possibly need. The fact that they cover a wide range of tastes means that for most people only a few will suit, but you do get enough to change the look and functionality of the Ionic every day if you so choose.

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The new apps are OK I guess and offer some basic functionality, but they do suffer from the inherent problem that the majority of watch apps do very little that works better than on the phone that you likely have with you as well. The problem on the Ionic, however, goes much deeper than that.

This is a fundamentally flawed smart watch which comes with significant faults.

Changing the watch face will cause your phone to pop repeating messages stating that connection has been lost between the phone and the watch. It did this for me anyway and the only other person I know with an Ionic has the same problem. Eventually the face will change, but it literally takes minutes. Minutes!

Opening apps also results in serious delays which feel like forever when trying to do simple things. It’s apparent throughout the product experience and makes me not want to bother using any apps at all.

The Ionic is a decent fitness tracker, no better than the Charge 2, but it is an ugly smart watch that is too big for most women and it is, as I said earlier, flawed in the most important areas. Fitbit’s update added fluff to the experience and completely ignored the flaws. This does not bode well for what is to come next.

vívofit® 4

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Features always-on customizable color display and 1+ year battery life¹; no charging necessary
Tracks steps, distance and calories burned, monitors sleep and provides a personalized daily step goal²
Safe for swimming and showering³
Periodically syncs to Garmin Connect™, where you can save, plan and share your activities, get involved in social challenges and more
Garmin Move IQ™ feature automatically detects activity and classifies activity type on Garmin Connect

1 year of battery without charging, a colour screen and $79.99 sounds like a decent combination. Available here.

Fitbit Ionic review

onic

My recent experiences with the Fitbit Blaze highlighted to me that the company really does struggle to make good quality hardware that is equal to the quality and density of the fitness tracking software every Fitbit device uses.

And so it was with little expectation that I received a Fitbit Ionic for review.

The sense that an Apple product costs more because it is ‘better’ is deep within me and I don’t consider the Apple Watch to be overpriced. For the same reason, I look at the Fitbit Ionic, run it around in my hands, and it appears expensive for what it is. £329 for a series 3 Apple Watch and £299 for the Ionic is not miles apart at all.

Apple’s watch comes in a decent box, looks the part and for many is a decent timepiece that they are more than happy, almost proud, to wear. As you know, I am a watch snob so both products are commodity products to me, but there is no doubt at all that Apple gets the watch industry to an extent whereas Fitbit appears to have released a plastic fitness tracker that just happens to tell the time.

All of the smarts that make a smart watch are either missing in the Ionic or not implemented in a way that makes them worthwhile.

Hardware

There is an immediate problem with the Ionic that rules out at least 50% of potential buyers. I have asked 5 women to try the Ionic on their wrists and it looks ridiculous! It is far too large to look right on a normal woman’s wrist and at 36mm diagonal on the screen with the diagonal lugs and completely square form it looks too long to site properly. The straps do not help at all at this time, but even when a decent selection of mesh straps can be bought the problem will remain.

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Two of the women I asked to try it on wore 38mm Apple Watches and the difference is stark in every way. The Apple Watch appears to be elegant by comparison and certainly fits people of all sizes with the 2 options available. As I said, Apple gets watches more than Fitbit.

The other issue that many have raised is the design which looks like a space age concept from the future. It kind of works, however, and I for one quite like the starkness of the form. It is certainly comfortable on my 7.5” wrist and light enough to not be noticeable when worn throughout the day. Overall I am positive on the form of the Ionic and like it much more than I expected.

There are no complaints with the screen which is bright and visible in all conditions. This is expected with amplified brightness up to 1,000 nits, but I can’t help feeling that it looks better than the Apple Watch display. The slight dome is impressive even with larger than expected bezels in 2017. Where is falls down, however, is the auto-display setting which is not great at all. You have to flick your wrist and not just lift it up to see the time which the Apple Watch never suffered from. This is disappointing for a new release and symptomatic of countless unfinished or poorly implemented features in the Ionic.

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Battery life is very good and you will get 4-5 days of normal use without too much effort which makes it a practical option and the charging time is very short in my experience. The bespoke charger is OK I guess, but it does not really matter as you will not use it often.

Overall I find the Ionic to feel cheap, to be lightweight and comfortable, and designed in a Marmite way that will cause conversation when spotted by others. It’s adequate without doubt, but I can’t shake the sense that it looks and feels like a fitness tracker above all else, and as such does not merit the £300 asking price in an emotional sense.

Software

Now it starts to get more interesting because the software is quite frankly terrible. I’m not being dramatic here either, I shall explain.

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Firstly, you are given the option of using Wi-Fi for the first software update when you use the Ionic, but no matter what I tried it didn’t work and then the software lost the Fitbit altogether. Eventually I used Bluetooth instead and waited (forever) for the update to install.

So, here I was playing around with the newest device from Fitbit and I started to explore the smartness that makes this a smart watch. It took all of 2 minutes. I am not going to go into detail so here is a summary-

Apps: there are hardly any included and those that are remain incredibly basic. You can get the weather in a unit we do not use in the UK and with no way to change it. Timers and alarms are useful I suppose, but Pandora for music seems like a strange choice. I mean, who uses Pandora?

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Payments: at least the Ionic includes the ability to pay for things. Oh no, only if you like in the US or Australia and use a supported bank. So that’s out as well.

Clock Faces: The ones on offer are fine, but I would hope to see many more coming in the near future. They are currently basic at best and in some cases fairly ugly.

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Music: You have to move music to the Ionic fusing extra software and then through Wi-Fi, if you can connect it to Wi-Fi. It did work eventually, but was a bit troublesome at first.

Notifications: One way only sadly. You can read, but not send.

OS: It feels like using an Android phone after an iPhone. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it isn’t buttery smooth and it feels just a little unfinished. Also, there are bugs that mean it freezes now and then and swiping does not always work.

Final Thoughts

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Strangely, despite all of the above I enjoy wearing the Ionic. There is something close to compelling about the design and the comfortable way it wears on my wrist. I much prefer it to the Apple Watch as an object, but of course the finish does not match the pricing. It works extremely well on the fitness side and is peerless in this regard with the Apple Watch offering baby fitness novelties in comparison.

The fact is, however, that this is a fitness tracker and at this time nothing more. A handful of not very useful apps, no payment facility for the majority of users, a design that does not look like a watch at all and just fitness at the centre of everything. If you want the best fitness tracker available this could be it, but when I look at the Charge 2, Blaze and other Fitbit trackers, they offer 95% of what the Ionic does.

This is not a smart watch at all. It is a fitness tracker that may turn into one if Fitbit manage to add some serious functionality, but if you buy one today you will not be buying a smart watch (for £300).

Fitbit Blaze Review (bad timing)

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Reviewing the Fitbit Blaze a day before the Fitbit Ionic is released seems daft, but the Blaze does offer some indications as to the struggles Fitbit may face in building a ‘watch’.

I have only been using it for a couple of days and must say that I am 50% positive and 50% perplexed by the hardware and the software onboard. It feels just right in some areas and lacking in others which is maybe why many are concerned that the Ionic will be a miss when compared to the Apple Watch.

For me, the Fitbit software is the one hook that makes me use the hardware and that feels unlikely to change anytime soon. The good news is that I can buy a simple Fitbit tracker for under £100 or spend £300 on the Ionic from tomorrow so there is choice which is a good thing, but I know deep down that I will settle for a tracker and wear a real watch on the other wrist. For the Blaze, which is described as a watch, it needs to offer something special to take the left wrist space just as the Apple Watch does and any other device designed to help you check the time as well as do smart things.

I have written before about the variety in the Fitbit app and how it has helped me (57lbs lost in 4 months so far) and with this comes the need for hardware of which the Blaze is arguably the only watch Fitbit has released to date.

In use it is an oddity. The design is kind of nice and I personally like the angular nature of the form. It is noticeable and while some look at it and voice their lack of positivity towards it, I still kind of like the science fiction look which has been taken even further by the Ionic. Is the design lazy? Yes it is in terms of originality and the way it will need to be made in a factory, but it does retain some merit.

I am not so convinced by the large bezels which make the screen look smaller than it already is and the feel of the buttons. There is a sense throughout that this has been made to a price and that a lot more could have been done to validate the cost. In actual fact it feels like a Fitbit tracker with a bigger screen and in a different form, nothing more and nothing less.

It is very comfortable to wear thanks to the soft strap and the lightness of the case and the battery life claim of 4 days feels accurate. You could wear this and forget it is there which is the goal of any decent watch or fitness tracker.

Notifications come through without fail and everything works as it should, but the lack of a quality hardware finish remains strong and I do hope that the Ionic changes that because it is priced comparatively to the Apple Watch. Fitbit hardware has historically felt relatively cheap and just maybe it is time to stop that.

If you do not wear a watch and want a reliable and adequately priced fitness tracker the Blaze will suit. If you do not care how your watch looks or have a limited sense of style, the Blaze will suit. If, however, you simply need comprehensive fitness tracking and want to save some money, the Charge 2 may be a better option.