TechTechnology

The battle of the basic wearables

As long as I’ve been covering wearable tech, the category has always been on the cusp of something. But it’s also been hampered by a series of ifs that still make wearables impractical for a lot of people: if battery life was better; if it was smarter; if it was more accurate; if it looked nicer; if it offered enough value to wear it on my wrist / body / face all the time.

However, the upside of anything that feels not fully realized is that there’s always room for improvement, which means the companies that make wearable tech keep on trying. Like Fitbit: it starting selling wireless health trackers in 2009 (in the early days, they were basically techie pedometers), and more recently, it jumped on the smartwatch bandwagon. First, there was the Ionic smartwatch (it didn’t do all that well), and now, the company has just released the Versa, a $200 smartwatch with Fitbit-standard fitness features. In what is perhaps one of the biggest testaments to incrementalism across the whole smartwatch market, it looks a heck of a lot like an Apple Watch, and it performs a lot of the same functions, too.

So in the season finale of Versus, “we” compare the Fitbit Versa with the entry-level Apple Watch Series 1. Fitbit really makes a compelling case with the Versa, which undercuts the Apple Watch Series 1 in price; is compatible with multiple operating systems, not just iOS; and even tracks swimming, whereas the Apple Watch Series 1 is only “splash and water resistant.” But the Apple Watch — any Apple Watch, not just Series 1 — is integrated so tightly with iPhones that things like messages and notifications are just that much better on Apple’s smartwatch then they are on Fitbit’s.

Those might sound like small things, but when smartwatches are still in a position of having something to prove, every tiny ping and buzz and tap and micro-app matters. Otherwise, a smartwatch becomes an overpriced irritation on your wrist, one you can’t help but be aware of. It’s maybe the greatest irony of wearable tech: many of the products are rolled out in big splashes and bold claims, when, really, the whole point of well-designed wearable tech is that you should be able to forget about it entirely.

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