Fitbit Versa Lite review: A pretty good value if exercise is the goal

With the Fitbit Versa Lite smartwatch, you get pretty decent bang for your buck, but only if you’re looking for specific abilities.

Fitbit Inc. FIT, -1.10% is trying to make its watches more affordable, and you certainly face some trade-offs when you choose the new Versa Lite. For $40 less than what you’d pay for the traditional $199.95 Versa, you lose a few features, such as the ability to track swim laps on your wrist or view the number of stairs you climbed, and Fitbit wearables on the whole don’t have nearly the same messaging or general-use capabilities as those made by Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.77% .

But you don’t sacrifice the essentials of a good fitness watch, including heart-rate tracking and solid battery life. Most users interested in a smart-enough activity tracker won’t miss what isn’t there.

Don’t miss: Fitbit launches cheaper Versa smartwatch, tracker for kids as young as 6 to broaden appeal

Fitbit’s strengths are in tracking your health, and that’s clear when you use the Versa Lite. It does a good job of tracking various types of exercise, monitoring your heart rate and motivating you to be more active. While I didn’t do too much strenuous exercise during my three days of testing, I was satisfied with how the Versa Lite tracked my activity. The device is useful for moderately active people who want decent exercise statistics or a little extra motivation to work out, but more hardcore exercise buffs might opt for a more expensive model.

The non-health aspects of the Versa Lite are passable but certainly not a strength. It’s frustrating for iPhone users to see texts stream in that they can’t actually reply to on the watch, though you can turn off these notifications. The weather app is pretty rudimentary, there’s no native calendar app, and you can’t store music on-device if you opt for the Lite model.

Sleep tracking is a nice feature to have on the Versa Lite: Fitbit gives you statistics about your sleep stages on the device, and you get even more when you check your phone app. It’s actually feasible to use the sleep features on the Versa Lite because the device gets more than four days of battery life. An Apple Watch may not make it through the day.

See also: The Fitbit Versa is better at sports than smarts

I was excited to try sleep tracking on the Versa Lite, but you might need to put in a bit of extra effort to ensure you aren’t kept up by the buzz of late-night text notifications or the watch face lighting up when you flip over your wrist in the middle of the night. Fitbit suggested that I turn off the watch’s text notifications altogether before bed, switch my phone to Do Not Disturb mode, or dim the screen’s brightness if I was concerned about these things, which worked well enough, but dealing with all of this is much easier on an Apple Watch.

It really all comes down to price with the Versa Lite. Unless you love swimming, want to track your stair climbing or need on-wrist music, you’re not losing much when you buy the Versa Lite for 20% less than the traditional Versa.

Whether you should splurge on an Apple Watch, which starts at $279 for the prior-generation model and $399 for the newest version, depends on how much you care about engaging with texts and emails on your wrist, or other non-exercise functions. The Fitbit suite is certainly less robust than Apple when it comes to these features, but if tracking activity is your main goal, you might be willing to do without.

Read: Fitbit CEO wants to move from tracking steps to extending lives

Fitbit offers a collection of clock faces for the Versa Lite, which are generally lighter in mood and in information than what you’d find on the Apple Watch. One fun feature: an “On Time” app that makes the time constantly visible on the watch face, even if you lower your wrist. It’s a bit of a drain on the battery but potentially useful if you miss the always-on nature of traditional watches.

The watch faces are bright, with fun fonts and a slightly more amateur look than the Apple Watch options. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A friend recently showed off an Apple Watch face that had a live chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.11% , along with various health and weather indicators. It was technologically impressive, but also a lot to look at. The casual smartwatch user is probably fine just seeing a step count or heart-rate measure along with the time and date.

Design-wise, the Versa is fairly attractive, and friends mistook it for an Apple Watch when I was trying it out over the past few days. It has essentially the same look at the original Versa but with some livelier color options, including the “mulberry,” or bright purple, which I tried out. The vivid “marina blue” is also attractive, but those who want a more neutral look can opt for a silver watch face with either a white or lilac band. Fitbit makes a host of other bands, sold separately, and they’re compatible across the whole Versa line.

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