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Fitbit’s Versa is the smartwatch the Ionic should have been

Half a year after launching the Ionic, Fitbit is back with Versa, a “smartwatch for all.” The new wearable builds atop the same foundation as its predecessor, but offers a lower price point and a smaller frame, addressing two of the main complaints around the company’s first smartwatch. It’s the device the Ionic should have been.

As CEO James Park candidly admitted during an interview this week, the Ionic failed to meet the company’s expectations. It was a stumble that might not have seemed so great, had Fitbit not appeared to put as much stock as it did into the device. Park talked up the product months before its announcement as a sign the company was headed in the right direction.

Fitbit invested millions in the device, purchasing Pebble, Vector and Coin, only to have the product fall short both critically and commercially. But Park says the company’s smartwatch strategy was always larger than a single product — and the Versa’s arrival seven months later does allay fears that Fitbit put all of its eggs into a single basket.

The Versa looks exactly like the leaks predicted, with a smaller casing design that has more in common with Pebble’s design language (and, for that matter, the Apple Watch) than the fugly Ionic. It’s a “squircle,” and more to the point it’s thin and light, and will fit a lot more wrists than its last device. That will, hopefully, help broaden the product’s appeal for many among the female user base who may have been put off by the unwieldiness of the Ionic.

In fact, the company’s doubling down with its appeal for a female audience. Version 2.0 of the watch operating system brings targeted tracking for female users that incorporates menstrual cycle data into the overall health tracking picture. The company also, thankfully, began delivering on the promise of more apps a few months back, which means the product will have a stronger foundation than anemic selection Ionic offered over time. The new OS should bring improved, personalized reminders as well, though that’s “coming later in 2018,” according to the company.

The Versa’s screen measures 1.34 inches — which makes it smaller than Apple’s 38mm model. It’s certainly light though, as advertised, and the design language is a major upgrade over the Ionic. It’s actually got most of the Ionic’s features on-board, as well, including both fitness and sleep tracking, heart-rate monitoring and onscreen workouts. The company claims the battery should last around four days on a charge, with normal use — though we’ll be happy to put that claim to the test when we get a review unit.

There’s around 2.5GB of storage for offline music, and the company’s got a new partnership with Deezer that includes a three-month free subscription. I’m sure Deezer has its fans (in fact, I’ve heard an unsubstantiated rumor that we may have one or two on staff), but that’s a notable downgrade from the likes of Spotify, which, unlike Pandora, has yet to launch its own devoted app for the operating system.

Oddly, only “special edition” devices will feature the NFC chip required to make Fitbit Pay work. That’s like a savings measure as the company pushed to keep the cost down from the Ionic. It also points to less of a focus on making the product a standalone for runners. Aside from this and the Ionic’s built-in GPS, the differences between the two products are fairly minimal from the standpoint of feature sets, which honestly makes one question the wisdom of keeping the Ionic around — but Park tells me the company is committed to it.

The Versa — which, the company says, is short for “Versatile”  (a nod to the swappable bands) — is up for pre-order today, priced at $200. That’s $100 cheaper than the Ionic launched at, an important selling point in and of itself. Though that price goes up another $20 for the aforementioned “special edition,” for those who are committed to the idea of paying with their wrists.

It comes in a bunch of different color options, including a black, silver and rose gold with a peach strap, the latter of which the company happily explains is targeted at fans of “millennial pink.” There also will be a bunch of accessories at launch, ranging from $30 to $100. The smartwatch hits retail next month at Amazon, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Target, Verizon and Walmart.

Like the Ionic, the Versa’s got a tough road ahead of it, carving out a space in a smartwatch market currently dominated by Apple. But the category does appear to have much more upward momentum than the fitness band space in which the company has primarily operated. And with a better design, lower price point and a better app selection at launch, it’s certainly a more appealing prospect than the company’s first smartwatch.

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