Apple Watch Series 5 review

Apple’s iPhones numbers may have suffered in recent years, but when it comes to smartwatches, the company remains utterly dominant. Recent figures from Counterpoint put Apple Watch growth at 48% year over year for the first quarter, commanding more than a third of the total global smartwatch market. Samsung’s myriad different models, meanwhile, put the company in a distant second with 11%.

All of that is to say that Apple’s clearly doing something right here, and competitors like Fitbit and Fossil (the latter of which has been working closely with Google) have plenty of catching up to do on the smartwatch front. Given the company’s sizable head start, it probably comes as no surprise that the latest version of the watch is more interested in refining the device, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Announced alongside a repositioned line of iPhones, the Apple Watch Series 5 doesn’t include any hardware additions quite as flashy as the LTE functionality and ECG (electrocardiogram) monitor it introduced with previous updates. There’s an always-on display and a built-in compass — as far as smartwatch features go, neither is the sort of thing that’s likely to win over longtime holdouts. But taken as a whole, the new features go a ways toward maintaining the device’s spot at the top of the smartwatch heap.

Visually, Watch remains largely unchanged from previous generations, aside from the increased display size that arrived on the Series 4. The addition of the always-on display, however, addresses a longstanding issue with the device. When not in use, the Watch has traditionally been a blank screen. It seems like a massive oversight, but it’s also an understandable one. Battery life has always been a big concern with products this size, and keeping a screen on at all times is a surefire way to make sure you’ll run out of juice before the end of the day.

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While improved battery life would almost certainly be a welcomed feature in future updates, Apple’s made a bit of a compromise, offering an always-on watch that lasts the same stated 18 hours as its predecessors. I found I was, indeed, able to get through a day no problem with standard use. My own usage had the product lasting closer to 20 hours without the need to recharge, but even so, the device needs to get charged once a day, regardless — otherwise you’ll almost certainly be out of juice the following day.

The long-awaited addition of sleep tracking failed to materialize for this model — one of the few places where Apple continues to lag the competition. Of course, adding such a feature would require a much more robust battery than one capable of getting 18 hours on a charge.

Apple’s employed some clever fixes to ensure that the new feature won’t totally sap battery life. Each of the faces gets a low-power, always-on version. In the case of the Meridian face that I’ve been using (new for WatchOS 6), it’s white text on a black background. Hold the watch up to your face, however, and the colors invert. The active version is easier to see, and the always-on version uses less power.

The low-temperature poly-silicon and oxide display (LTPO), meanwhile, adjusts the refresh rate based on usage. It’s a broad spectrum: 60Hz at the high end and as little as 1Hz on the low. The ambient light sensor also automatically adjusts the brightness to help conserve power. Covering the watch with your hand will jumpstart the low-power mode.

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While complications and other features are still on display, they’re simplified, removing any power-hungry features. That means the second hand disappears on the standard watch face, and when the watch is in workout mode, the milliseconds will disappear until you bring the watch back up to your face.

The ambient light sensor also works to dim the display in those situations when a bright always-on screen are a genuine nuisance, like watching a movie in a theater. Though while it’s fairly dark, you’re probably better off switching the watching into Theater mode, which turns the screen off altogether until you press the crown.

The other big update on the hardware side is the addition of a built-in compass. Like LTE and the speaker before it, the feature represents another case of bringing more smartphone features over to the watch. At present, there are only a handful of Watch applications that utilize the new feature, the most prominent being Apple’s own Maps. The addition of the compass makes it much easier to navigate directly from the wearable itself.

It’s a handy offering on that front. If you don’t mind the smaller screen size, it’s great being able to find your way around a new area without pulling out your phone.There’s also Apple’s own Compass app, which could prove handy when going for a hike, and also includes a new elevation reading taken from a combination of Wi-Fi, GPS, map data and barometric pressure to determine your positioning relative to sea level.

Given that the product isn’t actually available yet, the number of third-party apps that take advantage of the feature is still pretty limited. That said, the much-loved star map app Night Sky offers a pretty compelling use for the compass, as you swing your arm around to get a better notion of your own place of the massive, ever-expanding cosmos.

The last big addition is Emergency SOS. Of course, it’s not always possible to test out every new feature on a device for obvious reasons. We’re going to have to take Apple’s word for it on this one. The feature, which is only supported on the cellular version of the Series 5, brings the ability to call local emergency services when traveling abroad — even when there’s not a phone nearby. The feature also works with the fall-detection feature announced the last time around, sending an emergency SOS if the wearer takes a spill.

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The new watch will also feature a number of software additions new for WatchOS 6, including Cycle Tracking, which makes it possible to log menstrual health, symptoms, period and fertility windows. There’s also the Noise app, which utilizes the Watch’s built-in microphone to track when noise levels get beyond 90 decibels — at which point they can begin to cause hearing loss.

The Series 5 starts at $399 for the standard version and $499 for cellular. Prices go up from there, including the lovely new titanium version, which will ruin you $799. The ceramic is arguably the best looking of the bunch, but $1,299 disqualifies that model for the vast majority of us. No one ever said good looks came cheap. There are countless other combinations beyond that, which will be available for mix and match at Apple’s retail locations. Everyone you know may be wearing an Apple Watch, but it’s still possible to make yours stand out a bit.

In keeping with the addition of a low-cost iPhone 11, the company’s keeping the Series 3 around at $199, offering a much more accessible price point for first-time buyers. For those who already own the device, there’s probably not enough here to warrant an upgrade from last year’s model, but some welcome new features like the always-on help keep the line fresh.

Natural lighting is the key to Apple’s remodeled Fifth Ave. store

When it opened in 2006, Apple’s Fifth Avenue flagship quickly became a top destination for New York City residents and tourists, alike. The big, glass cube was a radical departure from prior electronics stores, serving as the entrance to a 24-hour subterranean retail location. Location didn’t hurt either, with the company planting its flag across from the Plaza Hotel and Central Park and sharing a block with the iconic high-end toy store, FAO Schwarz.

Since early 2017, however, the store has been closed for renovations. Earlier this month, the company took the wraps off the outside of the cube (albeit with some multi-color reflective wrap still occupying the outside of the familiar retail landmark). Last week, the company offered more insight into the plan as retail SVP Deirdre O’Brien took to the stage during the iPhone 11 event to discuss the company’s plans for the reinvented space.

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During a discussion with TechCrunch, Apple shed even more light on the underground store, which will occupy the full area of the Fifth Avenue plaza. As is the case with all of Apple’s flagships, light is the thing here — though that’s easier said than done when dealing with an underground space. Illuminating the store is done through a combination of natural lights and LEDs.

When the store reopens, a series of skylights flush on the ground of the plaza will be doing much of the heavy lifting for the lighting during the day. Each of those round portholes will be frosted to let the light in, while protecting the privacy of people walking above, with supplemental lighting from silver LED rings. That, in turn, is augmented by 18 (nine on each side of the cube) “sky lenses.” Oriented in two 3×3 configurations, the “sculptural furniture” will also provide seating in the outdoor plaza.

Of course, the natural lighting isn’t able to do all of the work for a 24-hour store. That’s complemented by a ceiling system that uses a similar stretched fabric-based lighting system as other Apple Stores. Here, however, the fabric will take on a more cloud-like structure with a more complicated geometrical shape than other Apple stores. The fabric houses tunable LED lights that react to the external environment. If it’s sunny outside, it will be brighter downstairs. When it’s cloudy, the lights will dim.

In all, there are five modes tuned to a 24-hour cycle, including:

  • Sunrise: 3,000K
  • Day: 4,500K-5,250K (depending on how bright it is outside)
  • Sunset: 3,000K
  • Evening: 3,250K
  • Night: 3,500K

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Sunrise and sunset are apparently the best time to check it out, as the lights glow warmly for about an hour or so. There are 80 ring lights in all, and around 500,000 LEDs, with about 2,500 LED spotlights used to illuminate tables and products inside the store. The natural lighting also will be used to keep alive eight trees and a green wall in the underground space. 

The newly remodeled store opens at 8AM on September 20, just in time to line up for the new iPhone.

Roboticist and YouTube star Simone Giertz is coming to Disrupt SF (Oct. 2-4)

Here’s a fun thing to look forward to next month. Simone Giertz, she of the shitty robots fame will be appearing on stage at Disrupt SF (Oct. 2-4)  at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

The U.S.-based, Swedish inventor has built a massive online following (currently at 1.92 million YouTube subscribers) with DIY videos that examine technology and art through a whimsical lens.

Giertz is probably best known for her “shitty” robotic creations, including arms that serve soup and breakfast, draw holiday cards and apply lipstick — to hilariously uneven results. More recently, she had a verified viral hit when she busted out some power tools to turn her Tesla into a pickup truck.

She’ll be joining us on stage to walk us through some of her most interesting creations, including the Every Day calendar. The project, which made nearly $600,000 on Kickstarter late last year, is designed to help motivate users into developing good habits like meditating, flossing or writing. Or, you know, eating churros. 

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Giertz joins an outstanding lineup of speakers including Kitty Hawk’s Sebastian Thrun, Admiral Mike Rodgers, Rachel Haurwitz of Caribou Biosciences, and Marc Benioff, Box’s Aaron Levie and dozens more.

Buy tickets here!

After conquering smartphones, PopSocket sets its sights on beverages

In its first half-decade of existence, PopSocket has grown into one of the most popular — and imitated — smartphone accessories on the market. In 2018 alone, the company generated $90 million in profit. Not to bad for a little Colorado-based upstart.

So, where does an utterly dominated accessory maker go from here? Beverages, naturally. Delish was the first to report the existence of the PopThirst line. You may well have missed it in the wake of this week’s iPhone news. I was on a plane with limited WiFi access, I swear. Whatever the case, the weird little retractable phone holder that has captured the world’s imagination $15 at a time is now headed for the lucrative field of refreshments. 

It’s an odd evolution of the brand, to be sure. But why not strike while the iron (and coffee) is hot? I know plenty of people who swear by the phone accessory, and the pop-out gripper looks to fit pretty well on a matching koozie for hot and cold beverages, alike. Pop it on a can of LaCroix to find yourself on the cutting edge of the 2016 zeitgeist.

The cupholders feature a wide range of styles, from leopard print to camo. They’re up for pre-order on Popsocket’s page for $15 a pop. They’ll go on sale Sept 15.

Ten questions for 2020 presidential candidate John Delaney

In November 2020, America will go to the polls to vote in perhaps the most consequential election in a generation. The winner will lead the country amid great social, economic and ecological unrest. The 2020 election will be a referendum on both the current White House and the direction of the country at large.

Nearly 20 years into the young century, technology has become a pervasive element in all of our lives, and will continue to only grow more important. Whoever takes the oath of office in January 2021 will have to answer some difficult questions, raging from an impending climate disaster to concerns about job loss at the hands of robotics and automation.

Many of these questions are overlooked in day to day coverage of candidates and during debates. In order to better address the issues, TechCrunch staff has compiled a 10-part questionnaire across a wide range of tech-centric topics. The questions have been sent to national candidates, regardless of party. We will be publishing the answers as we receive them. Candidates are not required to answer all 10 in order for us to publish, but we will be noting which answers have been left blank.

First up is former Congressman John Delaney. Prior to being elected to Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, Delaney co-founded and led healthcare loan service Health Care Financial Partners (HCFP) and  commercial lender CapitalSource. He was elected to Congress in 2013, beating out a 10-term Republican incumbent. Rumored to be running against Maryland governor Larry Hogan for a 2018 bid, Delaney instead announced plans to run for president in 2020.

1. Which initiatives will you prioritize to limit humankind’s impact on climate and avoid potential climate catastrophe?

My $4 trillion Climate Plan will enable us to reach the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, which the IPCC says is the necessary target to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The centerpiece of my plan is a carbon-fee-and-dividend that will put a price on carbon emissions and return the money to the American people through a dividend. My plan also includes increased federal funding for renewable energy research, advanced nuclear technologies, direct air capture, a new Climate Corps program, and the construction of the Carbon Throughway, which would transport captured carbon from all over the country to the Permian Basin for reuse and permanent sequestration.

2. What is your plan to increase black and Latinx startup founders’ access to funding?

As a former entrepreneur who started two companies that went on to be publicly traded, I am a firm believer in the importance of entrepreneurship. To ensure people from all backgrounds have the support they need to start a new business, I will create nonprofit banks to serve economically distressed communities, launch a new SBIC program to help provide access to capital to minority entrepreneurs, and create a grant program to fund business incubators and accelerators at HBCUs. Additionally, I pledge to appoint an Entrepreneurship Czar who will be responsible for promoting entrepreneurship-friendly policies at all levels of government and encouraging entrepreneurship in rural and urban communities that have been left behind by venture capital investment.

3. Why do you think low-income students are underrepresented in STEM fields and how do you think the government can help fix that problem?

I think a major part of the problem is that schools serving low-income communities don’t have the resources they need to provide a quality STEM education to every student. To fix that, I have an education plan that will increase investment in STEM education and use Title I funding to eliminate the $23 billion annual funding gap between predominantly white and predominantly black school districts. To encourage students to continue their education after they graduate from high school and ensure every student learns the skills they need, my plan also provides two years of free in-state tuition and fees at a public university, community college, or technical school to everyone who completes one year of my mandatory national service program.

4. Do you plan on backing and rolling out paper-only ballots or paper-verified election machines? With many stakeholders in the private sector and the government, how do you aim to coordinate and achieve that?

Making sure that our elections are secure is vital, and I think using voting machines that create a voter-verified paper record could improve security and increase voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections. To address other facets of the election security issue, I have proposed creating a Department of Cybersecurity to help protect our election systems, and while in Congress I introduced election security legislation to ensure that election vendors are solely owned and controlled by American citizens.

5. What, if any, federal regulation should be enacted for autonomous vehicles?

I was proud to be the founder of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to understanding the impacts of advances in AI technology and educating other legislators so they have the knowledge they need to enact policies that ensure these innovations benefit Americans. We need to use the legislative process to have a real conversation involving experts and other stakeholders in order to develop a comprehensive set of regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, which should include standards that address data collection practices and other privacy issues as well as more fundamental questions about public safety.

6. How do you plan to achieve and maintain U.S. superiority in space, both in government programs and private industry?

Space exploration is tremendously important to me as a former Congressman from Maryland, the home of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, major space research centers at the University of Maryland, and many companies that develop crucial aerospace technologies. As president, I will support the NASA budget and will continue to encourage innovation in the private sector.

7. Increased capital in startups founded by American entrepreneurs is a net positive, but should the U.S. allow its businesses to be part-owned by foreign governments, particularly the government of Saudi Arabia?

I am concerned that joint ventures between U.S. businesses and foreign governments, including state-owned enterprises, could facilitate the theft of intellectual property, potentially allowing foreign governments to benefit from taxpayer-funded research. We need to put in place greater protections that defend American innovation from theft.

8. Will U.S.-China technology decoupling harm or benefit U.S. innovation and why?

In general, I am in favor of international technology cooperation but in the case of China, it engages in predatory economic behavior and disregards international rules. Intellectual property theft has become a big problem for American businesses as China allows its companies to steal IP through joint ventures. In theory, U.S.-China collaboration could advance technology and innovation but without proper IP and economic protections, U.S.-China joint ventures and partnerships can be detrimental to the U.S.

9. How large a threat does automation represent to American jobs? Do you have a plan to help train low-skilled workers and otherwise offset job loss?

Automation could lead to the disruption of up to 54 million American jobs if we aren’t prepared and we don’t have the right policies. To help American workers transition to the high-tech, high-skill future economy, I am calling for a national AI strategy that will support public/private AI partnerships, develop a social contract with the communities that are negatively impacted by technology and globalization, and create updated education and job training programs that will help students and those currently in the workforce learn the skills they need.

To help provide jobs to displaced workers and drive economic growth in communities that suffer negative effects from automation, I have proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would create an infrastructure bank to facilitate state and local government investment, increase the Highway Trust Fund, create a Climate Infrastructure Fund, and create five new matching funds to support water infrastructure, school infrastructure, deferred maintenance projects, rural broadband, and infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities in urban and rural areas. In addition, my proposed national service program will create new opportunities that allow young adults to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience. For example, my proposal includes a new national infrastructure apprenticeship program that will award a professional certificate proving mastery of particular skill sets for those who complete the program.

10. What steps will you take to restore net neutrality and assure internet users that their traffic and data are safe from manipulation by broadband providers?

I support the Save Net Neutrality Act to restore net neutrality, and I will appoint FCC commissioners who are committed to maintaining a fair and open internet. Additionally, I would work with Congress to update our digital privacy laws and regulations to protect consumers, especially children, from their data being collected without consent.

Razer made a case for cooling iPhones while gaming

Razer’s efforts to build a game-centric smartphone haven’t exactly caught the world on fire just yet. Still, mobile gaming is a huge business poised to get even bigger, with services from big names like Apple and Google waiting in the wings.

Seeing as how accessories have long been the company’s bread and button, products like Arctech are probably an easier way for the company to ensure it’s got a horse in that race. The product is a phone case specifically designed to help stop phones from overheating during resource-intensive activities like gaming.

Thermaphene

The product uses Razer’s proprietary Thermaphene technology sandwiched between microfiber lining and an outer casing with perforations to help let the heat out. Per Razer,

Thermaphene is a thermally – conductive material that dissipates heat. In independent testing against similar style cases, the Razer Arctech case maintained temperatures up to 6° Celsius (42.8 Fahrenheit) lower than the comparison case.

There are two versions of the case, Slim and Pro, the latter of which offers added protection for up to a 10 foot drop. As for why the company’s launching today, in addition to the Razer Phone 2, the Arctech will be available for all of Apple’s new iPhones. The Slim runs $30 and the Pro is $40. They’re both available starting today.

What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future

No matter how much polish and Apple magic the company put on today’s big event, there was one unshakable truth that colored the event: phones just aren’t selling like they used to. And unlike other industry-wide trends, Apple isn’t immune. The large scale slowdown of smartphone sales has had an undeniable impact on the company’s bottom line.

Casual observers may not have noticed, but that harsh truth impacted nearly every mobile announcement on stage today at the Steve Jobs theater. Two elements in particular really stood out, however:

  1. Content and services taking center stage
  2. Apple rethinking how the iPhone is positioned.

Apple Watch Series 5 hands-on

The new Apple Watch is even harder to distinguish from its predecessor than the new iPhone. Given the fact that Fitbit’s smartwatches appear more and more Apple-like with every new generation, however, maybe the company’s onto something here. Like the iPhone, Apple hasn’t touched the Watch’s design for a while now, leading one to wonder if there’s much to be done on that front.

The new titanium and ceramic cases are nice to look at, but they’ll cost you. There are some nice new magnetic straps, as well, and Apple’s new in-store customization options will go a little ways toward helping wearers stand out from the crowd.

Apple Watch Series 5

On the whole, the Series 5 doesn’t feel like a huge step forward. There’s nothing on here that’s quite as radical a shift as the addition of LTE from a while back. The addition of sleep tracking, meanwhile, appears to have been put on the back burner for a bit — owing perhaps to battery constraints. The truth of the matter is that 18 hours is more than enough to get you through a day, but wearing the watch to sleep is another matter.

That said, there has been some battery improvement. The listed battery life is the same as the last model, but that time now factors in the always-on display. That’s probably the useful day to day addition for the new device. Even when you’re not actively engaging with it, the screen stays on.

Apple Watch Series 5

Like other smartwatches, it accomplishes this with the low-energy display. But the switch is less radical than on, say, the new Fitbit Versa. Instead, the faces invert while keeping complications and other features visible. I got a demo of the feature, which was triggered when either covering the light sensor with a hand or, more naturally, swinging your arm down to the side.

I’ve been using always on with the Fitbit and find it to be kind of a mixed bag. It sucks when sleeping (you’re better off turning it off at night) and would probably be a pain in, say, a movie theater. That said, there are plenty more instances when you just want to check the time without actively engaging the watch. Among other things, Apple appears to be laying the ground work for battery improvements and, hopefully, the aforementioned sleep tracking.

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The inclusion of the compass is nice. It’s easy to see how developers can leverage it, going forward. The best demo I got was Night Sky. The familiar star gazing app is neat when you can move the watch around to get a full spherical look at the constellations.

The Series 5 starts at $399 for the standard version and $499 for LTE. Titanium is around $700. Like the iPhone, they hit stores September 20.

iPhone 11 Pro hands-on

More than any other iPhone event in recent memory, today’s big launch was content-first. Apple began the show with several gaming demos from Arcade, before moving along to TV+ premieres. The new iPhone didn’t necessarily take a backseat, but there’s little question that this event was a key piece in shifting messaging for the company.

The big announcement also saw a shift in iPhone positioning against a backdrop of declining smartphone sales. There are a number of reasons why device sales are down across the board, of course — I along with everyone else in the industry have written about them dozens if not hundreds of times. Price creep is a big one, and the iPhone 11 finds the company readjusting accordingly.

The device takes the spot of the R line — a big seller for Apple. This time the entry-level “flagship” is $699, while the Pro and Pro Max step in for the premium-tier devices, priced at $999 and $1,099, respectively. Apple set those prices with the iPhone X two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Apple has also really settled into a style. The 11s are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, head on. The screens have been souped-up to “Super Retina XDR” on the Pros. Both are 458 PPI, at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively.

Apple iPhone 11

The notch remains, even as companies like Samsung push into a subtler cut-out model (not to mention all of those companies currently experimenting with pop-up cameras). Ditto, unfortunately, for the Lightning port. Apple’s ditched it for USB-C on the iPad Pro and, honestly, I can’t wait for it to follow suit on the iPhone. I go through what feels like a Lightning cable a month, due to wear and tear on the connection.

That will have to wait until 2020 (fingers crossed). So, too, will 5G, though the company did allude to “faster cellular” in a quick rundown of all the features it didn’t have time to announce onstage. Ditto for the rumored improved FaceTime camera. That should work faster and from more angles, so you’ll (theoretically) be able to check messages while the phone is laying flush on a table. Huge, if true.

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Speaker of cameras, that’s the biggie here, of course. It continues to be the last vestige for smartphone innovation. Again, hardware is just kind of good on smartphones. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of room for innovation, but for the camera. The iPhone 11 ditches telephoto, for wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pros, meanwhile, add telephoto it back in.

The three cameras on the Pros are as follows:

12MP wide angle camera (26mm f/1.8), a 12MP ultra wide (13mm f/2.4), plus a 12MP telephoto camera (52mm f/2.0). All are capable of shooting 4K video at 60FPS.

They’re in an odd square array (versus, say, the three down vertical on Samsung’s latest). In fact, all versions of the iPhone 11 have a camera box bump on the rear, for the sake, one imagines, of aesthetic uniformity. As we’ve noted before, most of the innovation in smartphone cameras is happening on the software side, and that appears to be the case here. The big feature is Deep Fusion.

iPhone 11 Apple

It works similarly to HDR photos, creating a massive composite. Here it uses nine photos, with the optimal pixels chosen by on-board machine learning for super-fancy photos that should greatly reduce image noise.

The devices are the first to sport Apple’s new A13 chip, which promises much faster processing — the “fastest ever on a smartphone,” according to the company. That, naturally, means more and better gaming, bringing us right back around to the content play we were discussing at the top of this story.

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Understandably, what you can do with the phone has become a much larger selling point for Apple than the phone itself. You’ll be able to get your hands on the device starting September 20. 

Fitbit Versa 2 review

The Versa didn’t single-handedly save Fitbit, but it gave the struggling wearable company a way forward. The smartwatch demonstrated the potential for life beyond the fitness tracker. It also proved that Fitbit was finally ready to offer a product that could compete with the utterly dominant Apple Watch.

Last year’s Versa Lite was, by all accounts, a misstep. The device was an attempt to capitalize on one of the Versa’s strongest selling points: price. It was a miscalculation, however. The discount wasn’t enough to justify the missing features, and Fitbit’s financials took a hit as things finally appeared to be heading in the right direction.

By that account, the Versa 2 arrives just in time to help offset soft smartwatch sales numbers, a year and a half after the first device arrived. The new device doesn’t represent a radical departure from the first version. Nor should it. After the disappointing Ionic, Fitbit got things pretty right with the original Versa.

The smartwatch offered a solid, fitness-focused alternative to the Apple Watch for Android users and those looking for something cheaper than that $400 wearable. At $200, it’s priced the same as its predecessor. And that feels just about right, given the design and feature set.

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Honestly, you can’t mention the design without invoking the Apple Watch. I’m sure Fitbit would rather have a conversation about the device that isn’t utterly dominated by Apple, but, well, the evolution of the Versa’s design is asking for it. Here’s what CEO James Park told me when the product launched:

“With phones, it’s like every phone starts to look the same. But for us, we try to blend a round design and the square design into what we call the squircle design that tries to capture both one that looks more like a traditional watch piece but still has a squareish form factor to display information. So we think we’ve struck the right balance. And I think whether it looks like an Apple Watch or not is kind of irrelevant. We’re trying to look at the customer experience and try to see what’s best for the user.”

There’s probably something to that, though to be fair, the default watch design is round, not square, and most non-Apple products have gone that route. That said, Fitbit did acquire the Pebble design team, and the argument can certainly be made that the new device shares some clear characteristics with the pioneering startup’s products.

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Moving beyond those superficial interests, the hardware is quite nice, particularly given the $200 price point. The display has been upgraded from LCD to AMOLED, though it’s still surrounded by a pretty massive black bezel on all sides. The casing is a nice brushed metal — a dark gray in the case of the one I chose. I also opted for the 44mm version. It’s the larger of the two models, but it fits great — it was even reasonably comfortable to sleep in, which can’t be said for most smartwatches.

Good on Fitbit for making a 40mm version available, as well. This was a major oversight on past devices from a company with such a larger female user base.

There’s a single button on the device, which doubles as power and an Alexa trigger. That’s one of the bigger additions here. After spending millions on acquisitions to build its own OS and ecosystem, a smart assistant is probably a bridge too far at this point. A deal with Amazon, however, is mutually beneficial to both parties. Fitbit gets access to a leading smart assistant with little to no investment and Amazon gets a leg up on wearables.

Interestingly, there’s no speaker on the device. Alexa can hear you via the built-in mic, but it can’t respond accordingly. That means the answers are displayed visually instead. It’s a novel way to interact with Alexa and in most cases probably easier than holding your watch up to your ear. That said, Alexa was always irritatingly slow, first listening, then thinking, then returning the result. I’m not sure if that’s an easy software fix for Fitbit but it’s less than ideal.

The app selection has thankfully improved since last time as well. Fitbit’s still got a long ways to go to compete with Apple, but the addition of Spotify feels like a pretty big win for the company. It’s a big step up from the Deezer integration the Ionic launched with.

FitbitOS is fairly simple, but that’s fine. It works well with the small screen size. A decade of experience means Fitbit’s got a solid selection of health software features. It will be interesting to see what the company adds to the device with its $10 a month Fitbit Premium service. I’ve got some doubts on that one, but I’m willing to hold off judgement until I try it. Unlike Apple, Fitbit has offered sleep tracking for some time (expected to come to the Watch with tomorrow’s update). There’s a new Sleep Score feature, as well, which distills your patterns into something a bit more easily digestible.

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The battery has been improved to five days, which was about right in my testing. That’s certainly a big plus over the Apple Watch, particularly for a device that’s meant to be worn regularly to bed. Obviously that number will fluctuate quite a bit depending on usage and whether you opt for the always-on display — another nice feature.

The Versa 2 is a nice update over the original. There’s not enough here to warrant an upgrade, but it should help maintain Fitbit’s spot as one of the few viable Apple Watch competitors. And that $200 price point certainly doesn’t hurt.