Fitbit Versa 4: minor upgrade and subscription blues

If you were hoping Fitbit would make significant adjustments to its popular Versa line-up with its latest smartwatch, that’s regrettably not the case here, but at least the button is back. With a price of R4 999, is it really worth it?

The Fitbit Versa 4 can’t compete with the best for fitness-tracking accuracy and is less of a smartwatch than some older Fitbits, at least at launch. However, it boasts good battery life, making it a good choice for those who are content with basic smartwatch features.

We half anticipated the top Fitbits, including watches like the Versa 4, to use Google’s WearOS software. This is after Google acquired Fitbit back in 2020, but nothing has changed – although Google has released new Pixel watches that were co-developed with Fitbit.

The new Versa 4 resembles the Fitbit Versa 3, its immediate predecessor, so there’s no overhaul of the look and feel of the device. It has the same 40.5mm, square aluminium-encased body with nicely rounded corners, and includes a small- and large-sized silicone band. It stays waterproof up to a depth of 50m, making it suitable for swimming. The only change is the return of a physical button on the side of the watch.

Since it lacks several essential capabilities, like the ability to allow third-party apps and music playback when not connected to Wi-Fi, this isn’t really a major upgrade to the Versa 3. Although it is a watch for beginners, it lacks many of the smart capabilities of competitors like the Apple Watch models.

Reviews suggest the Fitbit Versa 4 is slightly less precise for runners than, for example, an Apple Watch Series 8 or a Garmin Venu 2. But the device is still a pleasure to live with, even though it doesn’t offer anything amazing to brag about. If you don’t use the always-on display option, battery life is excellent, giving you at least six days of use between charges. Fitbit’s usage of the Pixel Watch’s user interface design makes its smarter functions, particularly notifications, easier to use compared to older models.

Odd decision

The Fitbit companion phone app is still required to set up the Versa 4, as it was previously. Setting it up immediately reveals some significant missing functionality. For example, the Fitbit Gallery app store offers only Fitbit-made apps. Third-party apps are no longer available, but watch faces, both free and paid for, still exist.

Fitbit Pay is still available, and Google has added its own Wallet to the watch. Curiously, you can access Amazon’s Alexa, but not the Google Assistant. Given that Fitbit is now a part of Google, and is introducing other Google apps like Maps to the smartwatch, it’s an odd decision.

Questions to Alexa are answered both verbally through the Versa 4’s tiny speaker utilising voice synthesis as well as in text form on-screen. Although the speaker is of inferior quality – it distorts, sometimes even as relatively low volumes – this is still pretty neat.

It loses all the nifty health stuff, though. That means that there isn’t an ECG to evaluate your heart health or an EDA sensor, which monitors your skin and sweat, as a stress indicator.

A collection of additional tracking modes, which goes from “20-plus” in the Versa 3 to 41 here, seems like a significant upgrade on the previous model. But given that many of the new modes just name the same stats they display and record, this is ultimately not a particularly significant improvement.

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Additionally, without a subscription to Fitbit’s “Premium” service, which costs US$10/month or $80/year, you lose access to insights from your sleep tracking, snoring detection and Daily Readiness, which tells you whether your body is prepared for exercise. The Versa 4’s GPS tracking is fine for more casual workout tracking.

Without Premium, you can only view your blood oxygenation and the different stages of sleep you experience each night, not your heart rate or restlessness. We don’t believe smartwatch manufacturers should be crippling their watches in this way, expecting users to cough up to unlock standard features and this, on its own, makes it difficult to recommend this device.

The only remaining features on the Fitbit Versa 4 are GPS, an optical heart rate sensor, and an altimeter for tracking daily stair climbs.

In conclusion if you’re just looking for a pure fitness watch without the “smarts” you’d find in a Garmin watch or an Apple watch, then there are cheaper options for the exact same features that don’t necessarily require a subscription.  – © 2023 NewsCentral Media

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