Fitbit OS needs work
Fitbit also continues to update its OS, which debuted after the company bought smartwatch pioneer Pebble three years ago. This time around, the company updated the interface to feature a tidied-up Quick Settings panel. When you swipe down from the home screen, you'll see all your collected notifications, and a panel that slides down, displaying icons for music controls, Fitbit Pay and more settings. Tap that last one, and another page appears with toggles for Do Not Disturb, Night Mode, Always On Display, brightness and Screen Wake (when you flip your wrist).
I'm all for some Marie Kondo-esque tidying up, but I'm perplexed by Fitbit's decision here. The settings shade is like a pop-up ad when it slides down, blocking a third of the notifications screen. The fact that you need to tap one more time to get to more switches is even more frustrating. Plus, there's an entire wasted section to the left of the home screen that doesn't display any information. This could be used for notifications, freeing up room from the quick settings shade for more buttons.
The sheer number of steps needed to, say, toggle Do Not Disturb mode or adjust the brightness is annoying, but the process is straightforward. What is befuddling is that Fitbit uses ambiguous icons for its quick settings control panel. I asked my Apple Watch-wearing colleague Mat Smith to guess what the five icons on the Versa 2 were for and he guessed only one of the five correctly. Do Not Disturb, with its "no-entry" symbol, is obvious enough.
But Mat guessed the crescent moon was for Sleep mode to activate sleep-tracking; the clock-face graphic was for stopwatch, and a watch silhouette with action lines behind it was for vibration. They were actually for Sleep Mode (silence notification and lock screen, not tracking your slumber), Always On Display and Wrist Wake, respectively. The only reason I knew what these were for is that an explainer appears after you tap each button. Before I touched any of them, though, my only option was to hazard a guess as to what they meant. Sure, Mat may have made some dumb guesses (he had no idea that the sun icon was for brightness), but I'm a seasoned Fitbit user and I was still confused.
In its attempt to clean up the Versa 2's design, Fitbit also got rid of two physical buttons on the watch's right side, leaving behind a single one on the left. Press this once, and you go back one page. Long press it, and you can either summon Alexa or enable Fitbit Pay (which then makes the dedicated button in the settings shade redundant). I appreciate Fitbit simplifying its navigation system, but I really hate that reaching across the screen to push this physical button is the only way to go back a page. In Wear OS or Tizen, you can swipe right to go to the previous page, which is a more intuitive way to interact with a swipe-heavy OS.
Performance, battery and again, connectivity
The good news is, thanks to the upgraded processor, the Versa 2 felt more responsive than its predecessor. Apps like Relax and Weather loaded faster this time around, but anything reliant on a phone connection, like GPS or Alexa, still had a tendency to crawl.
It may sound like I'm nit-picking about connectivity, but if you're considering upgrading from an old Fitbit or travel frequently enough that you activate your phone's airplane mode a lot, this will be an issue for you too. You'll have to keep re-trying to connect your devices when you disable the Bluetooth connection. Plus, the failure to sync happened multiple times during my testing. For no real reason, the Versa 2 would be unable to sync with my phone. Worse, notifications from my Pixel 3 stopped showing up on the watch, which lulled me into a false belief that no one was looking for me when I stepped away from my phone.
I'm pretty annoyed at Fitbit for its bad connectivity, but at least the company delivers on its battery life promises. I unplugged the Versa 2 on Sunday before I left for Germany, and by Friday evening it was still showing a respectable 23 percent of juice remaining. I've mostly had the display set to medium brightness and have only tracked one workout, plus my notifications sometimes stopped showing up, so that might explain the long runtime. When I enabled Always On Display, the Versa 2's battery life plummeted to barely two days. I preferred not having to charge the Versa 2 every other day so I left the feature disabled.
If not for its connectivity problems, the Versa 2 would be an excellent smartwatch. It offers accurate, comprehensive fitness features and a nice design for a reasonable price. It's also one of the longest-lasting smartwatches around, while the Alexa integration makes it more useful than its predecessor. I just wish Fitbit would get its Bluetooth act together already, and give me a better OS.