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The Fitbit Versa 2 brings new hardware, a premium aesthetic and a Premium subscription service for fitness freaks. But one important and overlooked addition, at least in its local marketing material, is Amazon Alexa.
Amazon’s smart digital assistant is now available as a virtual butler on the Versa 2, which can be controlled and queried using the fitness watch’s built-in microphone.
Fitbit doesn’t advertise this feature for its South African consumers, but it does actually work. And fairly well at that.
This is pretty surprising, as Amazon Alexa itself hasn’t been formally launched in South Africa. The company has been vague about its introduction too, even though you can use other Amazon products in SA with little fuss.
Alexa doesn’t seem to know this though and functions much like how Google Assistant works on Wear OS devices.
Activating Amazon Alexa
To activate it, you’ll need to head into your Fitbit app, log in to your Amazon account (it needn’t be a US account either) via your mobile browser, and read through Amazon’s required permissions.
Once those are all ticked, you can swipe down from the top of the Versa 2’s screen and select the Alexa icon in the middle.
You don’t have to install Alexa to your phone (well, not initially at least). You just need the Versa 2 connected to your Fitbit account.
Finally, when activated, you can ask the assistant a number of questions, or tell it to set reminders and alarms.
Alexa does give you a few examples of questions you can ask. We tried each, and added a few challenges too to see if Alexa is really useless in South Africa.
These are the results:
“Set a timer for 20 minutes”
This works flawlessly, and sets a timer for, well, 20 minutes. The watch will vibrate when the time is up.
You can also ask Alexa “How much time do I have left” which prompts a display of the remaining minutes.
“Set an alarm for 6am”
Here we ran into a speed bump.
Alexa wanted us to download its app and adjust the time zone. So clearly it doesn’t take the time zone or location data stored on the Versa 2 or Fitbit app into account.
“Wake me up at 6am” didn’t work either.
You can manually set alarms on the Versa 2, so this isn’t a huge issue. But it’s odd, considering that Alexa could understand other location- and time-contextual questions and requests just fine.
“Is it going to rain today?”
Not only does Alexa answer this query, understanding that I am in Cape Town, it also gave a micro weather forecast for the day.
We wanted to see if Amazon Alexa really was useless in South Africa
Substituting “today” with “tomorrow” also works. “Next week” produces an entire paragraph explaining the average rainfall probability for the next seven days.
Asking for specific cities like “Johannesburg” also provides a forecast for that city.
“How much protein is in an egg?”
“One raw egg has six grams of protein,” Alexa answered.
We also asked how much vitamin C kale has: “1 cup of curly kale has 21% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C,” read the response.
And if you ever wanted to know how many glasses of water you should consume a day, Alexa doesn’t “know that one”.
“Remind me to go for a jog at 1pm”
Alexa confidently assured me that I will be reminded at 1pm, which makes the failure of the “alarm” question posed earlier even weirder.
Asking Alexa to “remind me to watch that movie at 9pm” also set an alert for the time requested.
All reminders set can be viewed from within Alexa on the Versa 2, including the reason they were set, be it a jog or movie. Alarms and timers are also listed.
You can also delete these by asking Alexa. It’ll display a confirmation screen, and you’ll need to reply with a “yes”. You can choose to remove specific entries or all simultaneously.
“How old is Amazon?”
“Amazon was founded on July 5, 1994 by Jeff Bezos. It is 25 years old,” Alexa told me.
It also produced the same detailed information for Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and Google.
When asked how old Fitbit is, Alexa gave an “about 12 years old” response with no founder information or exact founding date. It’s not clear what database it’s drawing the information from here.
“What is the population of South Africa”
Pulling data from the CIA World Factbook, Alexa could answer this one to0.
When asked for the “27th president of the United States,” Alexa answered “William Howard Taft”.
Alexa also knows that South Africa’s current president is Cyril Ramaphosa.
“What is the deepest part of the ocean?”
I got no response for this one.
Alexa did, however, know that Everest was the “tallest mountain in the world”, and that the “tallest mountain in South Africa” is Mafadi Peak.
“How much does the Fitbit Versa 2 cost?”
Alexa spits out pricing details from (you guessed it) Amazon, which makes all the sense in the world.
Contextual Fitbit information
To get answers specific to your Fitbit data — how many steps you completed, or how much sleep you got — you’ll need to use “Ask Fitbit” ahead of each query. But this was a huge fail.
Both “Ask Fitbit how far I walked yesterday” and “Ask Fitbit how I am doing today” received an “I don’t know that one”. In one case, it asked me to install the Alexa app and link my Fitbit account to teach it the “Fitbit skill”.
Again, this isn’t a huge issue, considering all your stats are visible within the phone app and on the Versa 2’s home screen. The watch doesn’t say anything about installing an additional app until you pose the question.
Some will probably welcome the separation between Amazon and Fitbit services, but others will lament the additional step needed to achieve complete service harmony.
So is Amazon Alexa now available in South Africa?
Well, not officially, but clearly there’s no real reason it won’t function here.
Bar the odd mishap with setting alarms, and its ironic reluctance to present Fitbit data, the addition of Alexa to the Versa 2 gives the fitness company’s latest smartwatch a touch more utility than the Versa, Versa Lite and Ionic.
Will you use it daily? Probably not. I couldn’t find a way to activate Alexa using just my voice, without a swipe and touch. This narrows its use cases.
Some may also want to use Google Assistant or Apple Siri to remain within their respective ecosystems, snubbing Alexa entirely. Unfortunately, on the Versa 2, it’s Alexa or nothing at present.
But at least now you can learn more about the former presidents of the United States while jogging.
All images: the Fitbit Versa 2 with Amazon Alexa integration, by Andy Walker/Memeburn