Fitbit Versa Lite
Photo: FitBit

The Fitbit Versa Lite Edition’s most noticeable feature isn’t a fancy new display or fitness-tracking software—it’s the $160 price.

In terms of hardware and features, the Lite Edition has the same basic look and feel as last year’s original Versa, but it costs $40 less. And to make that price cut happen, Fitbit has pared down and simplified this version of the smartwatch.

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Recently, we rented a Versa Lite from Fitbit for an early evaluation. (Consumer Reports pays companies a rental fee for press samples, but we don’t use those samples for our ratings. We buy all products we test and rate at retail, once they become available to consumers.) 

I compared it with the original version and the latest Apple Watch, which currently sits atop Consumer Reports’ smartwatch ratings. I wore them all through average days as I counted my steps, tracked my heart rate, and went through my usual workout routines.

What I found was that I didn’t really miss most of the features that Fitbit eliminated to, well, lighten the Lite Edition’s impact on my wallet. The company touts the Versa Lite as an entry-level device geared toward young, first-time smartwatch buyers who like the idea of a smartwatch but don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on one.

I think it delivers. It does all the basic things a fitness tracker would plus adds in the look, and some of the functionality, of a smartwatch. It’s really not fair to compare this watch with the likes of the Apple Watch—the two products are just not in the same league, and they’re not meant to be.

From a technical standpoint, it’s not clear yet how the Versa Lite measures up when it comes to heart rate tracking and step counting. We’ll be testing those capabilities once we can buy a watch and get it into the lab.

In the meantime, here’s a look at what the Versa Lite has to offer. Consumer Reports members also can check out our full smartwatch ratings

Simplified Design

Aside from the Versa Lite’s new eye-popping colors, which include mulberry and marina blue, the main design difference you’ll notice is that there’s just one button, reduced from the original Versa’s three.

I think it’s an improvement.

The Lite’s one button is on the left side of the watch. It is basically a Home button that takes you back to your smartwatch face screen, and it is present on the original Versa, too. With that model, especially, it is a handy way to escape if you get lost in one of the device’s many menus or an app.

One of the other two buttons on the original Versa takes you straight to the watch’s workout mode, where you can select a particular kind of activity, such as a run, bike, or swim, then start your timer and tracking.

The Versa Lite has workout modes, too, but instead of hitting a button to use it, you have to swipe left on the watch face, then touch the Exercise app to activate it. (This series of actions also works on the original Versa.) Everything else is the same from there.

The other button on the original watch is largely used to navigate the Versa’s Fitbit Coach app, a collection of onscreen workouts. The Versa Lite doesn’t include those workouts.

I was never a fan of the Fitbit Coach app and did an onscreen workout only a couple of times. And I certainly didn’t pay for a $40 annual subscription to the app, which adds more workouts and personalized coaching.

My guess is that most people considering buying a Versa Lite will think the same way. And like me, they’ll probably like the one-button design. Having three is kind of confusing, especially because two of the buttons don’t really do much. 

What's Missing

Like your mom probably says, it’s what’s inside that really counts. And while the Versa Lite may look a lot like the original version of the smartwatch, there are some important differences to note when it comes to the hardware inside.

First of all, there’s no altimeter to sense changes in altitude or gyroscope to help track movement. That means the Versa Lite can’t record how many stairs you climb. Like Fitbit’s other smartwatches, it’s designed to be swimproof, but it won’t track how many laps you take in the pool.

The cheaper model also doesn’t have a WiFi antenna, so it’s totally dependent on a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone. And that can be rough if you’re downloading new apps or software updates to your Versa. Both of those tasks are a lot faster when you do them over WiFi.

And music lovers beware: While you can download up to 300 songs to the original Versa for playback later over wireless headphones without the help of your smartphone, the Versa Lite doesn’t have this capability. Streaming your favorite Deezer or Pandora stations, as you can with last year’s model, also isn’t an option.

And remember, even the original Fitbit Versa is a simple smartwatch in comparison with some of its competitors. It is recommended by CR, but it’s not one of the highest-rated models.

Neither the Versa nor the Versa Lite has a built-in GPS, and there’s no option to add LTE service, which would allow you to leave your smartphone behind and make calls from your watch. There’s no microphone or speaker, which means you can’t dictate a reply to a text message, and the watch can’t beep when you have a notification.

If you want features like those, you’re going to have to pay more than what the Versa Lite costs. 

Is it Worth Buying?

There are a lot of good things about the Versa Lite. Fitbit makes the same four-day battery-life promise for this model as it does for its more expensive ones. And you get the same automatic workout-tracking abilities, so no worries if you set off on a spontaneous run without firing up the exercise app.

As mentioned before, Fitbit says this watch is water-resistant to 50 meters, making it safe to swim with, and you get the same supersharp LCD touchscreen that’s protected with Corning Gorilla Glass 3.

And you get many of the productivity features we’ve come to expect from any smartwatch. The Fitbit Versa Lite will let you know when you have a call or a text. While there still aren’t a ton of apps for Fitbit devices, you can get the local weather, pay for coffee with the Starbucks app, and catch up on the latest headlines from the New York Times.

While Fitbit is pushing the Versa Lite as a device for budget-conscious 20-somethings, I can see how its smaller price tag and easier-to-use design could make it appeal to lots of other people as well.

In particular, I think of my baby boomer mother, who bought a Versa last year, mainly because the clock face on her fitness tracker was too small for her to read without her glasses.

As far as I know, she has never tried one of her watch’s built-in workouts or attempted to download music to it. But she loves to count her steps and appreciates getting a buzz on her wrist when she has a call or text.

And I know my mom’s not alone in thinking that way. So no matter what demographic you identify with, the Versa Lite is an affordable, entry-level device that might be worth taking a look at.