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Fitness bands are, like ice bucket challenges, Oscar selfies and lamentable England World Cup performances, starting to feel a bit 2014. Even if the latter is more of a recurring nightmare.

Not that we've turned on the likes of the excellent Alta HR - there's still very much a place for subtle health-trackers in our lives.

But if you've grown weary of your Fitbit's lack of built-in music, apps and notifications, then you'll have been pining for a smartwatch. And that's where the Versa comes in.

It's not Fitbit's first smartwatch, of course – that was the promising but slightly rough-edged Ionic. While that had its moments, its smart functionality was way too raw. 

Can the Versa make it second time lucky for Fitbit's smartwatches? I had a play with pre-production model to find out...

Design: a safe middle ground

If the key to successful smartwatch design is about offending as few people as possible, then the Versa is off to a good start.

Its rounded edges and square face are much more conventional than the wider and more angular Ionic. There's only one case size, but you get both small and large straps in the box.

Some might say the Versa is pleasantly inoffensive, others might snipe 'designed by committee'. But there's no doubt it has wider appeal than the Ionic and fits its unisex label.

That's helped by its bigger range of case colours and bands – three of these (grey/silver aluminium, peach-rose gold aluminium and black aluminium) are the standard £199 option, while two £219 special edition versions come with woven straps that you can't buy separately.

You won't be blown away by the build quality, but then the Versa is £130 less than an Apple Watch. And, like the Ionic, you do get three handy hardware buttons on the sides, which saves you prodding at the pleasantly bright touchscreen with your sweaty gym fingers.

Features: getting smarter, but missing GPS

The Versa is a smaller version of the Ionic, minus one pretty big feature – built-in GPS.

How you'll feel about this depends on what kind of exercise you do. Keen runners or cyclists who want accurate pacing and distance tracking will want to look elsewhere.

Yes, the Versa does have 'connected GPS', which means it can piggyback your phone's signal, but anyone keen on shaving seconds off their PB is unlikely to want to carry their phone with them too.

Still, if you're just after a waterproof watch to log basic exercise stats, track your sleep, serve up phone notifications and generally act on autopilot, then the Versa is a strong new candidate.

It's particularly interesting thanks to some new features coming with Fitbit OS 2.0, which will (eventually) fill a number of holes in the Ionic's CV.

You'll be able to store and listen to up to 300 offline songs from Deezer, which you'll be able to try with a three-month trial. Okay, Spotify would have been nice, but it's a start.

Android users can also send quick replies to notifications, with support for iOS coming soon, and there's a new health dashboard for quickly checking stats like heart-rate with a swipe up from the homescreen. Fitbit says this dashboard will get more personalised over time, with sleep summaries and customised prompts based on your data coming later in 2018.

Not that the Versa or Ionic are likely to match the Apple Watch for smarts anytime soon. There's still a dearth of apps and Fitbit still hasn't announced which UK banks will be supporting Fitbit Pay.

So while the Versa shows that Fitbit is definitely making progress, its strengths are still health-tracking rather than acting like a mini wrist-phone.

Battery life: plenty of juice

The Versa claims to have over four days' battery life. The Ionic boasted the same when it launched, but in our tests actually lasted just under three days.

That's still good for a smartwatch and we expect the Versa will get closer to its four-day billing for one main reason: it doesn't have built-in GPS.

GPS is a real battery drain and holds the Apple Watch back from going beyond 18 hours. If constantly daily recharges are putting you off smartwatches, the Versa might well be for you. 

Fitbit Versa early verdict

The Versa is shaping up to be a fine all-round fitness tracker, perhaps the best Fitbit you can buy. And its smartwatch powers look much more polished than the Ionic's early showings.

If you're a Fitbit veteran with a fondness for its smartphone app, or just want to dip your toe into smartwatches, it could well be for you. The only other real contenders at this price are the Ticwatch E, Garmin Vivomove HR and an Apple Watch Series 1, and it certainly looks great value at only £30 more than a Nokia Steel HR.

For full sports-tracking, there are better options – the Apple Watch S3 or Garmin Vivoactive 3, for example, which both have built-in GPS. A comparative lack of apps and question marks over which UK banks will support Fitbit Pay are also slight stains on the Versa's smartwatch credentials.

But its versatile design and improved Fitbit OS could well see it become the cheaper, health-focused alternative to the pricey, fitness-mad Apple Watch. We'll bring you a full review before it hits stores in April 2018.

Where to buy Fitbit Versa: