Fitness giant Fitbit first tested the smart wearable waters with 2016’s Blaze before releasing its first true smartwatch in 2017 dubbed the Ionic. A fitness-oriented device complete with smartwatch functionality, including music storage, contactless payments, message and call notifications, and various applications, the Ionic also carried the first iteration of Fitbit OS.
Expectedly, there were improvements to be made: Enter the Versa.
But is the Versa truly a step up from the Ionic? Its lower price point may suggest otherwise and its lack of built-in GPS capability has some fitness buffs scratching their heads. Furthermore, the Ionic did score highly in our own in-house review. Aside from the on-paper differences, Fitbit made definite design improvements with the Versa, which is sleeker and lighter than the Ionic, but with the Ionic soon to receive the same OS updates as the Versa, are these improvements worth the switch? We put Fitbit’s two latest smartwatch models in a head-to-head spec showdown to find out.
Fitbit continues to keep its internal specs under wraps, focusing instead on marketing its fitness features. Our own time with the Versa revealed speedy load times with just a touch of a lag while scrolling. Although the Ionic features the original Fitbit OS, software updates will carry over, making both operating systems essentially the same and compatible with all applications on the platform. This is great news for women who are Ionic wearers as they’ll no doubt appreciate the female health tracking features introduced with the Versa.
Both smartwatches are loaded with critical sensors including a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, and an ambient light sensor. Although Fitbit has not yet announced an actual use for this yet, we can mention the relative SPO2 sensor here, capable of detecting blood oxygen levels.
The biggest leg up the Ionic has over the Versa is its built-in GPS, allowing you to accurately track distances.
One edge the Ionic has over the Versa is NFC built into its base model, allowing for contactless payments. You can still get this with the Versa Special Edition — however, it does cost $30 more. Both let you view alerts from your phone including text messages, app notifications, phone calls, and calendar events. As of now, response options are currently limited to Android users but developers are working on alternatives.
The biggest leg up the Ionic has over the Versa is its built-in GPS, allowing you to accurately track distances. Fitbit left this feature off the Versa entirely, which could be a deal-breaker for hardcore fitness enthusiasts who want to leave their phones at home. To be clear, the Versa still performs well without a smartphone but GPS unquestionably improves distance-tracking accuracy.
Both fitness-oriented smartwatches are chock-full of functional workout features and although the Versa is bringing more to the table, the fact Ionic users will soon utilize the same features leaves the Versa without much clout here — ultimately, built-in GPS gives the Ionic an edge.
The Ionic features a blocky, rectangular shape that while separating it from antiquated circular timepieces, gives it more of a masculine appearance. While many love the design, some women find it to be rather large on their wrists, complimented by a wristband that appears too big to wear with additional jewelry. Fitbit countered this with the design of the Versa, featuring a shape it dubs the “squircle” with curved edges and more aggressive corners — designed specifically to look better on those with slimmer wrists, including a smaller wristband.
The Versa is also slimmer than the Ionic, with Fitbit touting it as the lightest smartwatch in the U.S. — this also makes it incredibly comfortable to wear. The Versa offers band choices of black, pink, or gray and special edition options that include a lavender woven band or a charcoal woven band. There are plenty of accessory bands to choose from, as well including silicone, metal, Horween leather, and designer options.
If you like the look of the Pebble, you’ll find the Versa appealing.
The Fitbit Ionic offers the same number of options, however, it does have a unique band changing mechanism which has proven appealing to many users. Both products include small and large wristband sizes which can be adjusted as necessary.
The Versa and Ionic have impressive screens that are easy to see in direct sunlight, equal resolutions, and feature 1,000 nits of brightness. You’ll find three buttons on each watch, one on the right and two on the left. In the design category, it comes down to personal preference. If you like the look of the Apple Watch and the Pebble, you’re going to find the Versa equally appealing, whereas the Ionic has more of a sporty aesthetic and is less sleek overall.
Although it’s a close call, it’s clear Fitbit made the greatest design improvements with the Versa.
It’s been a close race in every category so far, and battery life is no exception. The company claims that both the Versa and the Ionic offer four-plus days of battery life which is a huge step above competitors — looking at you, Apple Watch Series 3. The primary difference is when you utilize the GPS function on the Ionic, it cuts the battery life down to just 10 hours.
Our review of the Versa showed it to last three and a half days but this was while we consistently utilized all its functions. Although the 145mAh battery is smaller than the Ionic’s, early reviews show that both watches offer roughly the same battery life — and they only take a couple hours to charge.
Pricing and availability
The Fitbit Versa is currently available for $200 while the Fitbit Versa Special Edition — including Fitbit Pay compatibility — is priced at $230 via the company’s website. The Ionic is listed for $300 on Fitbit’s website but with the release of the Versa, you can find it on sale through third-party retailers, such as Amazon.
Even with sales, it’s hard to account for the $100 difference between the base models of the two, when the only real technical difference is the integrated GPS. You just can’t ignore the Versa’s stand-out fitness features, smart capabilities, and stunning design for $100 less than the Ionic.
Overall winner: Fitbit Versa
Fitbit continues to rival Apple with its newest addition to the smartwatch ranks but the question is how much better is the Versa than the Ionic? The Versa’s design has been dramatically improved, attributing to equal appeal by both genders. However, it lacks the built-in GPS offered by the Ionic, which could be a deal breaker for fitness enthusiasts who desire accurate distance tracking.
Due to the design improvements and its exceedingly lower price point, it’s hard not to crown the Versa as an overall winner. It will likely appeal more to the average smartwatch wearer, fitness enthusiast, and women in general while the Ionic is best for hardcore athletes requiring distance tracking capacity.