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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Fitbit smartwatches: how do the Versa and the Ionic stack up? 

We test-drive two smartwatches launched by Fitbit to see how the gadgets adapt to their lifestyles

The Fitbit Versa offers the features of a high-end smartwatch without the high price tag, while the Ionic is ideal for those with an active lifestyle. Courtesy Fitbit 
The Fitbit Versa offers the features of a high-end smartwatch without the high price tag, while the Ionic is ideal for those with an active lifestyle. Courtesy Fitbit 

In an effort to be fitter, healthier and more active, watch manufacturers have come up with more ways in which to track and log activities with an abundance of smart (and sports) watches on the market. Fitbit recently launched their new Versa smartwatch, and their Ionic watch is creating quite a stir too. We tasked our writers with putting the watches to the test, and here's what they thought:

She says: the Versa is a good-looking and well-priced option that does the job

For fans of wearable tech and walking around in circles until you’ve hit your hourly step count, Fitbit has just launched an affordable smartwatch: the Versa. It’s less fancy than the Ionic, but also cheaper, and for those who already have a Fitbit, this can take over your life in exciting ways – message notifications, for example, now bring a whole stream of nothing much from friends bored at work straight to your wrist.

We’ve all heard, be it true or not, that we should be getting at least 10,000 steps a day. But in the UAE, where life revolves almost entirely around sitting down, getting people moving is a vital countrywide health goal. The global average is about 5,000 steps a day, and the UAE ranks under that with people racking up on average of 4,516 a day.

As well as standard Fitbit features, such as step, sleep and exercise trackers that can help you monitor and improve your health, the Versa as a smartwatch offers a range of apps and notifications that take it one step further. At Dh899, the Versa is the cheap Apple watch you kind of, sort of, maybe wanted.

Most importantly, how does it look?

Pretty good. It’s not especially pretty, but the design is inoffensive and unobtrusive. Unlike my Fitbit Charge 2 that sticks out ­awkwardly like something made at home from a YouTube tutorial, it sits flat on the wrist and is so light, you forget it’s there most of the time. It has a touchscreen face that is vibrant and crisp, and there is a range of downloadable faces with ­customisable colour, text and ­display settings.

Is it easy to use?

The interface is clean with the main face sliding over to pages of apps. I had a little trouble setting it up using the Wi-Fi at work, as the app only allows you to add a Wi-Fi ­password and our connection ­requires a username too. But you can also set it up via Bluetooth, which took ages, but worked fine. I had no success at all trying to set up the desktop app so I could add music to the watch, it just said “mobile download available” for this model, which is presumably just a teething problem.

The watch connects to a simple-to-use phone app where you can collect, view and store all the data it tracks. If you already have a Fitbit, the ­mobile app just adds a separate device and your dashboard remains the same with your steps syncing, so you don’t lose anything.

Feature check

As well as the usual Fitbit stuff, such as tracking your sleep cycles and activity levels, a menstrual cycle tracker has just launched and there is Fitbit Pay, which is yet to launch in this region.

Coach talks you through a selection of home workouts and the exercise tracker is more sophisticated than on a Fitbit, displaying all your stats while you sweat. There are run, treadmill, bike and swim (it’s waterproof up to 50 metres) settings, and a new yoga tracker that is buried in an unmarked list. It can be added by deleting another activity in the "exercise shortcuts" menu, but you would be forgiven for missing this option entirely.

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Apps include a range of extra health and diet trackers, and reminders including a drink counter. There is also Deezer (personally I am not going to pay $9.99 a month to listen to some tunes on my watch) and, more strangely, The New York Times – if you didn’t find their highbrow web design unergonomic enough, try reading it on a tiny screen on your wrist.

The phone, text and selected social media notifications keep you up to date with who’s seeking attention from you, but with no reply option as of yet on iOS and no breaking news alert, they are a little bit pointless.

The silent alarm wakes you by vibrating, and therefore makes sure no one else is disturbed. Yet, for a piece of ­equipment that is recording so much data about you, it feels undeveloped – why is it not linked to your sleep cycles? Why does it not keep hassling you until you ­actually get out of bed?

The verdict

This is for someone looking for an everyday lifestyle companion, rather than a hardcore fitness fanatic. It’s easy to wear and use, integrates into your life seamlessly, and at least three people asked me if I had an Apple watch. Yet, it costs almost Dh500 less.

He says: the GPS in the Ionic helps more serious athletes to track their progress

When it comes to watches, you could say I’m a bit of a horophile. I have a collection of Fossil watches from the 5th Avenue store in New York City. I have a custom-made watch that I was gifted for my 21st birthday, and, dare I say it, I even have a special “collector’s item” from good old Dubai Creek. While those are my swankier options, it’s my sports watches that I’m ­particularly fond of.

I started my collection in 2011, when I swapped out the late nights for early mornings and lots of exercising. It’s easy to get a watch that maps your progress on the bike and when you’re running, but for someone who enjoys swimming and triathlons, it’s difficult to find the perfect watch. Nike was my choice for the running bit, and Suunto was good for triathlons. Then came Garmin’s Fenix 3 HR. So I made the big switch and went with that one because of its focus on and the advancements in the triathlon space.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing Fitbit’s Ionic sports watch. I prefer the look of Fitbit’s other offering, Versa, but because this one has GPS, and because of my sporting interests, I went with this one. Admittedly, it will take a lot to steer me away from Garmin, but it is a good one if you’re looking to invest in a smart (and sports) watch. Unlike the other watches in the market, this one is a lot lighter. When you open the box, you’ll find two straps – handy for those with smaller- or bigger- than-average wrist sizes. I did find it pretty difficult to put it on properly, and on the odd occasion, I’ve felt if I tug it a little too firmly, it might snap.

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He says: the GPS in the Ionic helps more serious athletes to track their progress

When it comes to watches, you could say I’m a bit of a horophile. I have a collection of Fossil watches from the 5th Avenue store in New York City. I have a custom-made watch that I was gifted for my 21st birthday, and, dare I say it, I even have a special “collector’s item” from good old Dubai Creek. While those are my swankier options, it’s my sports watches that I’m ­particularly fond of.

I started my collection in 2011, when I swapped out the late nights for early mornings and lots of exercising. It’s easy to get a watch that maps your progress on the bike and when you’re running, but for someone who enjoys swimming and triathlons, it’s difficult to find the perfect watch. Nike was my choice for the running bit, and Suunto was good for triathlons. Then came Garmin’s Fenix 3 HR. So I made the big switch and went with that one because of its focus on and the advancements in the triathlon space.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing Fitbit’s Ionic sports watch. I prefer the look of Fitbit’s other offering, Versa, but because this one has GPS, and because of my sporting interests, I went with this one. Admittedly, it will take a lot to steer me away from Garmin, but it is a good one if you’re looking to invest in a smart (and sports) watch. Unlike the other watches in the market, this one is a lot lighter. When you open the box, you’ll find two straps – handy for those with smaller- or bigger- than-average wrist sizes. I did find it pretty difficult to put it on properly, and on the odd occasion, I’ve felt if I tug it a little too firmly, it might snap.

Setting up

Setting the device up is quite ­straightforward. There are two buttons on the right and one on the left, and the face itself is touchscreen. The full-colour resolution makes the screen particularly crisp, and this is really good when the device is in full sunlight, too. Swiping through the preloaded options on the device, you’ll see everything from alarms to the Fitbit Coach (good for workout suggestions from the brand), weather, music and more. Once you’re done with your exercise, it’ll sync to your profile online, but use the app – it’s a goodie. Online, the dashboard is nice and you can insert your sleep patterns, your meals, and your steps and exercise activities will sync to your profile, too.

Click to below to play:

A post shared by fitbit (@fitbit) on

Initially, on the device itself, my step counter worked well, but after running it flat and recharging the watch, I wasn’t able to track those steps again. I even tried rebooting the device, but to no avail. What is strange is that my steps were still logged, so it’s a little buggy. If you’re a Strava user, you’ll be happy to know that it works perfectly too.

The surprises

We know the watch is good for running and cycling. The treadmill distance-tracker is surprisingly ­accurate, but how does it fare in the pool? The Ionic is water-­resistant for up to 50 metres. When I first swam with the watch, I was a bit hesitant, but I have no ­complaints other than I should be charging my device before getting active in the pool, ­indoors or out and about. ­Changing the distance of the pool size is simple and the lap-tracker is also good.

When I purchased my Garmin, I opted for the heart rate belt option. I find those to be more accurate, rather than relying on the inbuilt sensors. So this was another area I wasn’t completely sold on when I first got my device. I performed a test to see how the two compared, and the accuracy of the sensors was slightly off from the Garmin. It wasn’t major enough to draw a conclusion, so the jury is still out.

GPS performance

It took a good five minutes for the GPS to connect, so I lost one kilometre on one of my runs. The GPS is generally pretty good, though.

Charging and battery life

I’m not a fan of the charger. It’s flimsy, so if you knock the device, unbeknownst to you, it might disconnect. The battery life is good, though. They claim it can run for up to five days, and as someone who uses it, I can attest it does.

The verdict

Fitbit’s Ionic, which starts from Dh1,419, is good for those who are sportier than average, but not exactly professional or taking it too seriously. I enjoyed how light it was, and there were a few surprises in there that I appreciated. I do like it, but I need a bit more ­convincing if I’m to switch over again.

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Read more:

Keeping tabs on your work wellbeing still has a way to go

Wrapped up in fitness trackers: 4 gadgets to try

Five ways to save time and enhance your productivity

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