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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Fitbit Drops 3 New Fitness Trackers—and None Have Wear OS 3

Were you impatiently awaiting the arrival of a premium Fitbit smartwatch with Wear OS 3?

If yes, you’ll have to wait a little longer. Today, Fitbit released updates to three of its most popular fitness wearables: the Inspire 3, the Versa 4, and the Sense 2. All three are available for preorder starting today. Each is slimmer and smarter than before, but all of the new watches still use Fitbit’s own operating system and not the latest iteration of parent company Google’s wearable OS.

This is fine by us. Fitbit’s software is attractive, popular, and easy to use—all things that Wear OS historically has not been—and it's one of the reasons we recommend Fitbits as the best fitness trackers for most people. Since Google completed its acquisition of Fitbit, we have been anticipating the coming switch to Wear OS with mild trepidation. It would be interesting to see a Wear-powered Fitbit, but maybe not necessarily as useful or all that fun. 

Fitbit has at least updated the operating system of the Versa and Sense to more closely mimic competitors like the Apple Watch. And so far, the Google feature-creep seems to be minimal, such as the ability to easily access Google Maps and Google Wallet on your wrist. If you’re curious to see Google's thinking about how a Wear OS device should behave, maybe October’s Pixel Watch debut will be a better forecast of things to come.

Light and Easy

The Inspire 3 is an update to Fitbit’s entry-level wearable. At $100, it’s the company's most affordable tracker and a clear competitor to Garmin’s Vivosmart line. There’s a host of features that you really don’t see that often in a tracker at this price, like an always-on, colored AMOLED display and “10-day battery life” (which will probably be closer to a week, based on my experience with other Inspire models).

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Along with the ability to track classic Fitbit stats like step count and distance covered, the Inspire 3 also has newer health-monitoring features. It has always-on tracking for blood oxygen (SpO2) and skin temperature, as well as irregular heartbeat rhythms that could be indicative of atrial fibrillation (Afib). Fitbit says that Afib monitoring has received both FDA clearance and CE marking.

It also includes features that were previously available only on higher-end trackers, like Active Zone Minutes, which pings you whenever your heart rate goes up into cardio, fat burning, or peak zones.

As always, the most advanced algorithms are locked behind the Fitbit Premium subscription paywall and cost $10 per month or $80 per year to access. These include the Daily Readiness score, which helps you decide whether you need to recover or work out hard that day, and a new Sleep Profile feature that tracks 10 different sleep metrics to spot patterns and categorize you as a particular type of sleeper. (Are you a fitfully snoozing dolphin or a well-rested bear?)

The Inspire 3 is also thinner than previous iterations. It comes in three peppy colors with a host of new bands and accessories, like a translucent silicone band and a clip.

Apple Mania

The Apple Watch is one of the best fitness trackers and smartwatches on the market, but you have to own an iPhone to use it. The $230 Versa 4 and $300 Sense 2 work with just about any phone—iOS or Android—and both are getting new features that will make them much more equal competitors to the Apple Watch.

Both trackers have all-new operating systems that have been subtly tweaked to offer a more Apple-like experience. Rather than swiping over to Fitbit’s workout tab to start an exercise, you now click on a customizable tile to start exercises or see the weather. These go along with changes like last year’s Fast Pair: When you turn on your Fitbit, a pop-up on your phone makes pairing it a much more seamless (and again, iPhone-inspired) experience.

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In other ways, the Fitbits are even an improvement over the Apple Watch. For example, both trackers tout a full week of battery life and a day’s worth of battery in 12 minutes of charging, as compared to barely a day with the Apple Watch Series 7.

Some Google-driven feature changes, like turn-by-turn directions with Google Maps and Google Pay with Google Wallet, are expected to arrive on these wearables, but at launch they have yet to make an appearance.

The Versa 4 is optimized more for working out, with built-in GPS and 40 different exercise modes. However, the Sense 2 now has a new Body Response sensor. When you measured stress on the first Sense, you held your hand on the watch’s metal bezel. Rather than spot-testing, the Sense 2 now continuously monitors your electrodermal activity, along with your heart rate, heart rate variability, and skin temperature, to help you identify your stress triggers. A Check-In button prompts you to decompress with stress management tools like guided breathing.

Both watches are also much lighter and thinner than previous iterations. The Versa and Sense lines include accessories designed by the Black-owned fashion brand Brother Vellies. There are infinity band options as well—certainly a take on the Apple Solo Loop. As with the Inspire 3, the Daily Readiness score, sleep profiles, and advanced stress management metrics are accessible with a Fitbit Premium subscription. At least Fitbit offers six months of Fitbit Premium for free with the purchase of any of its trackers.

Even though the Apple Watch continues to dominate the smartwatch market, I'm still fond of the attractiveness and simplicity of Fitbit's designs. Google’s acquisition of Fitbit placed Google in a better position to compete with Apple, but it wasn’t entirely clear whether that meant Fitbit wearables themselves were going to become better and smarter. It just meant that maybe, thanks to an injection of Fitbit DNA, Wear OS fitness trackers might become marginally less clunky and annoying to use.

But small, significant improvements that marry the respective expertise of both companies, like better battery life and thinner displays with Fitbit's advanced health features? That’s something we can get behind. Now if only something could be done about that annoying Fitbit Premium subscription.

Update, August 26 at 12:30 EDT: This story has been corrected to say that only afib monitoring has received FDA clearance and CE marking. 

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