Fitbit’s new trackers are cheap and work well, but they’re super basic

Health, Fitness & Food

Fitbit recently released the Inspire HR and Versa Lite, two new wearables for budget-conscious buyers. CNBC tested both and we think Fitbit has a good approach to the market, at least among potential buyers who find the Apple Watch too pricey.

Fitbit sold 13.9 million wearables last year, down 9 percent from the previous year, so it needed to do something different in 2019. That’s where the new Versa Lite and Inspire HR come into play. Both products give up some features in exchange for affordability. The Versa Lite costs $160, while the Inspire HR will run you $100.

The company is wise to go after the sub-$200 market, where it can attract people who don’t want to shell out $400 for the latest Apple Watch but still want a high-quality fitness tracker. There aren’t any bells and whistles here, so for owners of earlier Fitbit devices, these may be too boring.

Here’s what you need to know about the Fitbit Versa Lite and Inspire HR.

Like the name suggests, the Versa Lite is a lightweight smartwatch that’s simple to use. The Versa Lite is a stripped down version of Fitbit’s main smartwatch, the Versa, which costs $230. It can do just about everything its more expensive cousin can do except for a few health options like displaying on-screen workouts or tracking the number of floors climbed.

I wore the Versa Lite on one wrist while wearing my Apple Watch on the other. They both tracked my activity and notified me when I got texts or calls, the two main reasons I use a smartwatch.

The home screen of the Versa Lite shows your heart rate, number of steps walked and calories burned. I liked being able to easily tap and see them. Navigation in general is straightforward.

You can click the side button to illuminate the screen, scroll down for emails, scroll up for your activity data or scroll right to access other apps like weather and exercise tracker. I’ve owned my Apple Watch since June and I still get lost sometimes.

The Versa Lite wants to be so easy to use that it even shows you pictures of the different exercises you can pick from to track, such as an outdoor run, indoor run or lifting weights.

I’m not sure about the accuracy of the calories data. The first morning I wore it, I put on the device and it said I had burned 456 calories. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch I wore while I worked out and walked a mile to work said I had burned 379 calories.

I left the watch at the office over the weekend and even though it says I walked zero steps Saturday and Sunday, it says I burned about 1,100 calories each day (1,127 on Saturday and 1,131 on Sunday). That’s because it displays the calories you burn just being alive, instead of active, and I find the latter more valuable.

The Versa Lite doesn’t include a GPS, which is disappointing because I like to use a smartwatch to track my runs. Steps don’t perfectly translate into distance. They can be a nice gauge, but people running longer distances will want something more precise.

The Versa Lite felt bulky on my small wrists. It also felt more like a toy than a piece of technology that I want to wear during business meetings, because the silicon band felt thick and stiff. Fitbit does sell other bands, so you can swap it out for a different feel.

Yes, if you’re looking for a simple smartwatch. The Versa Lite gives you an idea of how much you’re moving while also delivering the connectivity that consumers want from a smartwatch.

But if you’re looking for a smartwatch that you want to wear at the gym and at the office, the Apple Watch is still your better bet.

The Inspire HR is a very simple $99 fitness band that includes heart rate tracking. There’s a model that’s cheaper and doesn’t include the heart rate sensor, but if you’re working out and want to do more than just track sleep and steps, the heart rate monitor offers a better way to understand how hard you’re pushing yourself.

There’s plenty to like about the Inspire HR, especially for the price. It tracks a lot, from the steps you take during the day, to workouts, your sleep schedule and, as its name implies, your heart rate.

The battery life is pretty stellar. I set my Fitbit Inspire HR up on a Wednesday and didn’t need to charge it again until the following Tuesday morning, when it had 10 percent battery left. I charge my Apple Watch Series 4 every night, though Apple’s device has a bigger, more colorful display and is far more powerful.

I like that the Inspire HR supports notifications from a phone, though this isn’t new. A tiny buzz on my wrist alerted me that a text message had come through, and I was easily able to read it on the screen in all lighting conditions.

Sleep tracking seemed accurate. I tossed and turned all night, and the Fitbit told me I had only gotten about 5 hours and 2 minutes of sleep, with just 1 hour of deep sleep, 38 minutes of REM sleep and 3 hours and 23 minutes of light sleep (I felt quite groggy the next day). Scientists have debated the accuracy of sleep trackers, but Fitbit says it works with sleep labs to make it as precise as possible.

Fitbit’s iPhone and Android apps are great. I love that the app shows all of my data front and center — how I slept, how many calories I’ve burned and more. I can tap on each to learn more detailed information, like when I went for a walk or how many times I woke up at night and at what time. You can also use it to earn badges, a feature of the Apple Watch that I also love, and to compete with friends.

Finally, it’s very easy to use, which means it should be attractive to a wide audience of people who might find the Apple Watch too complicated. You interact with the Inspire through a series of simple swipes on the device’s face to see your steps, heart rate, calories burned, distance walked and more. Holding the power button for a second or so shows the battery life, which is convenient.

I don’t expect a whole lot for $99, but I still think the Fitbit Inspire HR feels and looks cheap and dated.

It doesn’t have any third-party apps, so don’t expect additional functionality beyond what you see. Also, like the Fitbit Versa Lite, it charges using a proprietary dongle. Wireless charging or even USB-C would have been better, since both are standard and you’ll already have one wherever you go.

Only if you’ve never used a fitness tracker before and want to see what it’s like. The Fitbit Inspire HR is super basic, so if you want to track some workouts and see how far you walk each day, this is a good choice. If you already own a Fitbit or another tracker and are looking for something more advanced, this isn’t for you.

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