Fitbit Versa 3 review: A happy medium of health features and fitness tracking

Like

  • Up to six days’ battery life
  • Bright, always-on AMOLED display
  • Advanced sleep tracking
  • Onboard GPS
  • Mic and speaker for text dictation

Don’t Like

  • Relies heavily on mobile app
  • Slow to sync
  • Health metrics are hard to find
  • Notification replies are Android-only

The Fitbit Versa 3 is Fitbit’s best smartwatch for most people. With an always-on display, built-in GPS, blood oxygen and temperature tracking during sleep, and a battery that lasts six days, the Versa 3 holds its own against some of its pricier competitors like the Apple Watch SE and even the Fitbit Sense. While you don’t get the stress tracker and FDA-cleared electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) like the Sense, the rest of the Versa 3’s smartwatch and fitness features are similar. As an added bonus, the Versa 3 costs $100 less than the Sense.

Better design all-around 

The Versa 3 still has the same square-ish watch body and metal frame as its predecessor the Versa 2, but it now has a larger 1.58-inch AMOLED screen with slimmer bezels. It’s bright, crisp and easy to see in direct sunlight. It can stay always-on (as a toned-down version with fewer metrics displayed) to give you a quick glance at the time without moving your wrist. And since Fitbit supports third-party watch faces, you have hundreds of different options to choose from. 

Despite its aesthetic improvements, the touchscreen and Fitbit interface still aren’t as responsive as what you’d get on an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch, which also have AMOLED screens. The Versa 3 lags a bit between swipes and takes a while to load apps and display information.

Instead of a physical button on the side of the watch like its predecessors, the Versa 3 now has an indented haptic side button. In theory, this works exactly like a real button, but the haptic feedback is nowhere near as satisfying as pressing a real button and it takes some getting used to. 

Fortunately, not all the design changes have a learning curve. Fitbit has also overhauled the strap mechanism on the Versa 3 and now all you have to do to swap out bands is press a button. It’s so much easier than previous models, which had a tiny, fiddly clasp.

fitbit-versa-3-perforated-charcoal-leather-crop-center-v2

Fitbit

Better training tools for fitness tracking

At this point it’s safe to assume most Fitbit devices can handle your basic fitness-tracking needs, measuring steps, distance, calories burned and heart rate. The Versa 3 covers the basics well and has the same fitness features as the more expensive Sense. It tracks 20 different activities including indoor and outdoor swimming and has automatic workout detection for some exercise types like running if you forget to start a session. 

It’s also the first Versa smartwatch to have built-in GPS, although not the first Fitbit, as the Charge 4 and Sense also have built-in GPS. As a runner, not having GPS on earlier Versa models

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Apple Watch bands could offer concealed batteries, enhanced fitness tracking

Apple is continuing to explore ways to improve the Apple Watch via bands, including adding an extra battery to the strap, as well as a fabric band capable of handling various fitness tracking capabilities.

The Apple Watch is already a very capable wearable device, with it housing a collection of accelerometers and other sensors to enable it to monitor the health of the user, among other tasks. Packing all of these features into a confined space is a design challenge, as at some point it will be extremely difficult to add more components without increasing the size of the casing somehow.

Apple believes it can get around that limitation, by placing some of the components outside of the main Apple Watch unit itself and taking advantage of the free space offered by watch bands and straps. These elements are not currently electrically connected to the Apple Watch, and for the moment serve only to affix the device to the user’s wrist, but Apple envisions giving them extra capabilities.

According to a pair of patents granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple’s intentions cover expanding the battery life of the Apple Watch, as well as adding more sensors.

Battery watch band

The first of the two patents, simply titled “Battery watch band,” is pretty straightforward in terms of what it offers. In effect, it’s a watch band that can house multiple batteries, which is connected to the Apple Watch in some way.

Apple’s suggestion is for the band to include multiple battery cells running parallel to each other, and fitting along the watch band section that goes down the wrist, as viewed by the user. By using multiple batteries that are slightly spaced apart, the band will still be able to flex and move without worrying about physically fatiguing the batteries.

The band could contain multiple batteries to extend the usability time for an Apple Watch.

The band could contain multiple batteries to extend the usability time for an Apple Watch.

The band itself would have an inner frame with slots to receive the batteries, complete with tapered projections to protect the battery while slimming down the bulk going towards the sides of the band. An outer cover is employed over the entire assembly. Each of the batteries are also physically isolated from each other, which could potentially allow for simpler replacements during servicing.

The batteries are connected to the Apple Watch by pins within the connector, which slides into the slot at the base of the main unit. Induction coils are mentioned for recharging the batteries, with one battery having the coil wrapped around it and used to recharge all of the cells in the band.

While the main description relates to a typical flexible watch band made from rubber, silicone, or other similar material, Apple also proposes the same thing could be accomplished with a metal watch band. In that particular case, the batteries are held within individual links, encased in an elastomer.

The patent lists its inventors as Michael

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Amazon Echo Buds get fitness tracking skills (and of course a Black Friday discount)

The truly wireless Amazon Echo Buds have just got some new fitness tracking skills, allowing them to monitor walks, runs and other fitness activities.



a close up of a mouse: Fitness tracking skills come to Amazon Echo Buds


© Provided by What Hi-Fi?
Fitness tracking skills come to Amazon Echo Buds

Once the firmware update, which is rolling out today, is installed, users can simply say “Alexa, start my run” to commence monitoring. And at any point, asking “Alexa, how far have I run?” provides an update on their distance so far.

The Alexa voice assistant can offer a full rundown on progress, including step count, average pace, overall time, and calories burned. To set it up, simply complete a Workout Profile in the Alexa app, where all the workout data is then stored.

According to Amazon, the update will reach all Echo Buds devices in the next few days. It will download automatically when the buds are in their charging case and connected to the internet.

We found the Echo Buds fairly disappointing when we tested them, mostly due to their sound quality paling in comparison to the rival Apple AirPods, Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 and Sony WH-1000XM4. Still, we praised their decent noise-cancellation, reasonable battery life and Alexa smarts. And this new fitness tracking update no doubt bolsters what is already a fairly impressive features list.

Their £20-off Black Friday discount helps their case too, but we’ve found plenty of better Black Friday headphone deals for anyone looking for new cans.

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Read our full Amazon Echo Buds review

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Apple Watch Series 6 Beats Garmin’s Fenix 6 Pro For Fitness Tracking In One Important Way

A Garmin runner’s watch like the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is an obvious choice if you want a wearable to track runs, walks and bike rides. But does it really do the job better than an Apple Watch Series 6?

I decided to test these watches’ heart rate sensors in the context of a run. An Apple Watch on one wrist, a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar on the other, and a Wahoo Tickr HR strap around the chest, acting as a control for this not-quite-scientific test.

Here are the results over a roughly 7km run, one dotted with breaks and slow-downs to see how the trackers cope with sharp changes in effort. The Garmin is the red line, the Apple Watch Series 6 the blue line and the Wahoo Tickr the green.

The most obvious fault here is the Wahoo Tickr chest strap’s. Or, to be fair, my own. Its readings are all patchy and intermittent at the first increase in pace, most likely because the strap wasn’t quite tight enough to start.

However, it is otherwise the most accurate of the three. And I’ve left the first few minutes of tracking in this graph to highlight the main wearable takeaway.

The Apple Watch Series 6 starts off from a much better position than the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, whose results are too high. This is a common observation of Garmins and wearables in general: their HR tracking algorithms tend to assume your heart rate will be far above your resting rate as soon as you begin tracking an exercise.

If you start the session as you warm-up, it will not be. The Apple Watch Series 6’s readings are very accurate from the first seconds onwards.

This issue with lower heart rate readings continues throughout the run. In each decrease in pace, or outright stop in the case of the deepest dip in the graph, the Apple Watch Series 6 tightly matches the lowest reading recorded by the Wahoo Tickr chest strap. But the Garmin’s are all routinely slightly higher.

MORE FROM FORBESGarmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar: Check Out Its 48 Exercise Modes And Fitness Features

The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro shows significantly higher readings during the cool-down too, aside from an aberrant blip at the end where the recorded rate drops, and then compensates with an artificially high peak.

Apple’s Watch Series 6 only failed to keep up, slightly, with the Tickr when I went from running to sitting on a bench, to cause a very steep fall in heart rate. The Apple and Garmin’s falls are similarly cliff-like, but not as steep as the Tickr’s.

The Apple Watch Series 6’s heart rate hardware is superb, obviating the need for a chest strap, for most people. There is another side to this story, though.

To

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COVID takes challenge of tracking infectious college students to new level

As the return of college students to campuses has fueled as many as 3,000 COVID-19 cases a day, keeping track of them is a logistical nightmare for local health departments and colleges.

Some students are putting down their home addresses instead of their college ones on their COVID testing forms — slowing the transfer of case data and hampering contact tracing across state and county lines.

The address issue has real consequences, as any delay in getting the case to the appropriate authorities allows the coronavirus to continue to spread unchecked. Making matters worse, college-age people already tend to be hard to trace because they are unlikely to answer a phone call from an unknown number.

“With that virus, you really need to be able to identify that case and their contacts in 72 hours,” said Indiana University’s assistant director for public health, Graham McKeen.

And if the students do go home once infected, where should their cases be counted? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted this issue in a recent study of an unnamed North Carolina university’s COVID outbreak, stating that the number of cases was likely an underestimate. “For example, some cases were reported to students’ home jurisdictions, some students did not identify themselves as students to the county health department, some students did not report to the student health clinic, and not all students were tested,” it said.

The White House coronavirus task force even addressed the problem in weekly memos sent to the governors of Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky and New Jersey. “Do not reassign cases that test positive in university settings to hometown as this lessens ability to track and control local spread,” it recommended late last month in the memos, made public by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the full scope of the address confusion is unclear, the health departments of California, Indiana, Iowa and Virginia all acknowledged the challenges that arise when college cases cross state and county lines.

The maze of calls needed to track such cases also lays bare a larger problem: the lack of an interconnected COVID tracking system. Colleges have been setting up their own contact tracing centers to supplement overstretched local and state health departments.

“It is very patchwork, and people operate very differently, and it also doesn’t translate during a pandemic,” said McKeen, whose own university has had more than 2,900 cases across its Indiana campuses. “It made it very clear the public health system in this country is horribly underfunded and understaffed.”

Colleges’ transient populations have forever bedeviled public health when it comes to reportable infectious diseases, such as measles and bacterial meningitis, Association of Public Health Laboratories spokesperson Michelle Forman said in an email to KHN. But the coronavirus infections spreading across the country’s universities, and the mass testing conducted to find them, are something else altogether.

“COVID is just a different scale,” she said.

Lisa Cox, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the issue of

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