Two weeks ago, I finally switched from a Fitbit Charge 3 tracker to a Fitbit Versa 3 smartwatch. I do not know why I waited so long.
That this is the right fitness laptop for me is certain: Versa 3 delivers years of Fitbit health and fitness data and offers a superior screen and several new features compared to my previous laptop. And unlike the more expensive and locked Apple Watch, it provides several days of battery life.
About Versa 3 is the right laptop for you, yes, that’s a question I can not really answer. Unlike most of the hardware products I review, where it’s pretty easy to understand how others can use them, even when this use varies from my own, wearables are about as personal as technology products become. All I can really do is explain how I use such a device, what my expectations and experiences are, and how it meets or does not meet my needs. Hopefully this will be useful for at least some.
I use a laptop for three basic and interconnected tasks: Exercise / activity tracking, heart rate tracking and sleep tracking. Some of this is automated: Fitbit and other wearables can automatically tag certain activities, such as walking and sleeping, while other activities require the user to manually start and stop tracking.
In my case, I go every morning and that activity is tracked automatically. But when I use an elliptical trainer for cardio or lifting weights, I need to start and end tracking interactively with the device. My night’s sleep is also tracked automatically. (As a side note, my wife uses a previous generation Versa 2 to track her runs and bike rides, both manually, in addition to walking and sleep tracking, so I also have some information on that.)
Charge 3 worked well for my needs with one major exception: The screen was so dim, outdoors or under bright lights as in the gym, that it was almost useless at the times when I needed to see it the most. So I’ve spent a lot of this year researching upgrades with the idea that I prefer a tracker over a smartwatch because they are smaller and tend to have better battery life. In addition, I do not need non-health / fitness tracking smartwatch features. I do not want to use a watch to listen to music or make mobile payments in stores.
As I wrote earlier, I eventually chose the Fitbit Versa 3 over its slightly more capable new sibling, the Sense 3, and over the Apple Watch. And it was immediately obvious that I was making the right choice, a fact that has only been driven home in the subsequent two weeks of use.
Problems with the Apple Watch are obvious, but the biggest problem for me, apart from the Apple ecosystem lock-in, is battery life: I sleep poorly, and sleep tracking is important to me, and Apple Watch’s ridiculously poor battery life makes these devices a non-starter for me. I just can not get over it.
Compared to Sense 3, however, the decision came down to a careful examination of its additional features – EDA scanning for stress assessment, skin temperature recording and an upcoming ECG feature – and the realization that I did not need any of them. So I saved $ 100 by going with the otherwise identical Versa 3.
In short, with the Versa 3, my daily use has not changed at all, but now I can see the screen better. And not just “better”: I really can see the display, in any mode, clear and light. I find myself constantly in control of it, in the gym or out in bright sunlight, with my polarized sunglasses on or whatever, and this screen is always clear, bright and easily seen. It’s transformative.
The daily use begins with a morning walk with my wife and dog, which almost always lands exactly 26 minutes, and I would characterize as “healthy”; seriously, my dog is the dog version of Terminator. 6 days a week I visit the gym where I currently have about 25 minutes of cardio on the ellipse and anywhere from 22 to 35 minutes of weight lifting on machines depending on the day. And then I track my sleep every night.
There are two things related to each exercise: minutes in the active zone and heart rate monitoring, each of which is automatic.
Active minute minutes are new to me as this was not tracked by my Fitbit Charge 3. This measurement is mapped to the 150 minute minimum of activity in a week that the American Heart Association recommends today. Yes, it is purposefully low because most people are so sedentary. But I’m glad it’s available in Versa 3, as it’s already improved how I do cardio: It turns out I did not work hard enough before.
In terms of accuracy, I’ve been able to compare Fitbit’s real-time heart rate monitor functionality with the Amazon Halo Band and the elliptical hand switches, and I’ve compared notes with my wife’s. We describe our results a little differently, but I think we experience the same thing: She thinks that Fitbit devices “lag behind” when it comes to heart rate measurement, but I think it’s fairer to say that they start inaccurately and then become more accurate over time. What I mean by that is that the laptop often registers a lower heart rate at the beginning of a session, but that it matches (often identically) what the elliptical trainer and Halo Band report in the last two-thirds of the exercise.
I’m generally OK with this, but it affects my active zone-minute score, which I do not like. I also find that Fitbit’s measurement of minutes in the active zone is turned off, regardless of heart rate measurement. I do basically the same activities every day, but I’ve seen my active zone minutes vary from 24 to 53 over the last seven days, and I can not quite understand that. And of course, I do not get many active zone minutes from weightlifting, just from cardio. My 30 minute weightlifting this morning was described as “moderate activity” with 2 cardiozone minutes and 2 minutes with fat burning zone, but my elliptical work got 21 of 25 minutes in the zone. My sore arms and shoulders disagree.
Speaking of accuracy, I do not need or use Fitbit’s GPS, but my wife does. And she let me look at her several recent rides and bike rides in the app, and they seem to be reported very accurately based on the map view. If that’s important to you, I suppose Versa 3 (and Sense) work the same way.
Sleep tracking is interesting if it is depressing. I sleep poorly and have had it for many years and I am a little obsessed with just this metric. What I understand from myself is that I almost never get 8 hours of sleep, good or bad, despite having been told that such a thing is normal. Instead, 7 hours is what I shoot at and I have honestly done pretty well in this regard the last few weeks after a scary two week period where I kept waking up for an hour or more in the middle of every night . (These events coincide well with the periods before my daughter went to college, and since she has been successful, she moved in, and I suppose they are related.)
In any case, I have on average the last week on average just under 7 hours of sleep, but have hit that mark or better twice. In the good news department, my sleep score has averaged 82 – “Good”, in Fitbit’s words – and I even hit 90 last night, which may be a personal record. (This is probably related to the long hike we went outdoors yesterday, followed by a short nap, both unusual for me.)
My wife, who is much healthier than me and has a lower average heart rate, has less successful results: When we watch TV at night, her Versa 2 records some of that time as (poor) sleep, so she has unusually long sleep times as tracked by the app with similarly unusually poor sleep results. She actually sleeps better than I do.
From a form factor perspective, I was worried that the Versa 3’s larger screen would be awkward, as the Charge 3’s body was not much larger than its band. But it has not gotten in the way. The only problem I’ve seen is that sometimes I want to look at the screen and it will be on a screen that asks me to configure a long press command on the side button, which is really just a capacitive area (and similar to what I was already used to with Charge 3). So I have to press it when my hand is angled towards the wrist, which triggers a false long press. No biggie.
Speaking of that screen, the Versa 3 user interface couldn’t be simpler: You can configure dials in the phone app and then swipe right to get to apps (including Motion, the only one I really use).
You swipe down from the main clock screen to see your core stats. Up to get to messages. And back to seeing fast actions and battery life. Simple.
All in all, I’m really happy with the Versa 3. I can easily see the screen, which is great, and I like that it has already improved my cardio workout. And everything else is the same as before, which is great because I already liked how Charge 3 had worked for automatic and manual activity tracking, sleep tracking and so on.
Tagged with Fitbit Versa 3