Fitbit Sense review: Good health watch, average smartwatch

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The Fitbit Sense is the company’s top-of-the-range smartwatch, competing with the likes of the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch devices, but with a stronger focus on health.

Offering a lovely premium design, coupled with some unique stress management tools – as well as features like the ability to take an electrocardiogram (ECG), and a skin temperature sensor – is the Fitbit Sense worth its price tag?

Design & Display

  • Carbon/Graphite, Lunar White/Soft Gold
  • Water resistant to 50m (5ATM)
  • Stainless steel design

The Fitbit Sense has a design that’s pretty much identical to the Versa 3, offering a more premium and softer visual approach compared to the older Versa smartwatches. The Sense’s main body is square but it has rounded corners, rounded edges, and a curved back, with smoother lines than the older Versa 2.

There’s a colourful AMOLED display – also with curved edges – that sits on top of a solid stainless steel body. A polished trim surrounds the display, while the rest of the body has a brushed finish.

We like the two-tone finish as it makes the Fitbit Sense a little different. With the Apple Watch, you either get the polished look in the stainless steel models, or you get the brushed look in the aluminium models.

The Fitbit’s touchscreen display is lovely, with rich colours and plenty of vibrancy, although it isn’t as responsive as the Apple Watch. During our review time, we experienced quite a lot of lag and sluggishness with the interface not always registering a swipe.

On the underside of the Fitbit Sense is the heart-rate sensor, skin temperature sensor, speaker, and the buttons for changing the straps. There’s also an inductive button to the left of the display – a little lower down than we would choose – which wakes the display up, turns the display off, or into Always On mode, while a long press takes you to a shortcut of your choice.

A silicone strap comes with the Fitbit Sense as standard, though there are others available to buy if you want to smarten it up. The silicone strap is comfortable, secure and easy to clean, even if the fastening is a little fussy and bulkier than we would like.

Features

  • Built-in GPS
  • Smartphone notifications
  • Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant
  • Electrodermal sensor (EDA)
  • Skin temperature sensor
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

The Fitbit Sense is packed full of features, though you might find you don’t need or use some of them. It does the obvious things including smartphone notifications, sleep- and activity-tracking, automatic exercise tracking (for some exercises), and heart-rate tracking, as well as offering built-in GPS, swimproofing, and Amazon Alexa voice assistant.

There are a few extra features though, some of which are unique to the Sense and position it as more of a health watch than a smartwatch.

Like the Apple Watch Series 4, 5 and 6, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Galaxy Watch 3, the Sense has the ability to take an ECG, as well as detect high and low heart rates above or below your threshold. 

Unlike others, however, there’s also a skin temperature sensor for detecting small variations to your body temperature. And the Fitbit Sense has an electrodermal (EDA) activity app on board too, designed to help you monitor your body’s response to stress.

Fitness and smartwatch performance

As with all Fitbit devices, the sleep tracking and the data offered by the Sense – especially with Fitbit Premium – is excellent. The Sense is a little bulky to wear to bed in comparison to Fitbit’s trackers but, overall, the sleep tracking on this device is great. 

Smartphone notifications are very average though. If you have an Android device, you get Quick Replies – which offer a little more interaction – but Apple users won’t get these. So while the notifications from calendar, messages and apps come through, there isn’t much you can do with them, making the Sense a lot less useful than the Apple Watch in terms of a smartwatch. We also found that the “Active Call” notification didn’t disappear after an incoming call had finished.

General activity tracking is good, but specific workout tracking isn’t brilliant in our experience – though this does depend on the workout type you are doing. We do a lot of HIIT, which the Sense doesn’t cope with very well. It took several minutes longer for the Sense to register a spike or reduction in our heart rate when training compared to the Apple Watch we were wearing on our other arm (the things we do for smartwatch testing, eh?).

The Sense is also better if selecting the standard “Workout” option rather than the more specific options – but the response time for heart rate is still much slower than we would like.

Health features performance

The Fitbit Sense is a better performer when it comes to its health features though. This is the main reason to buy into this system.

The skin temperature sensor data sits within the Health Metrics section of the Fitbit app, where you’ll also find data on breathing rate, heart rate variability, and resting heart rate. It’s probably data overload for most people if we’re honest, but as it sits behind the Health Metrics section, you only really see it if you want to.

Fitbit Sense review: An ambitious smartwatch that's getting better with  time - CNET

The various metrics can all contribute to helping you figure out if your body is experiencing stress or strain, or showing potential signs of illness, but Fitbit doesn’t alert you to this if this happens. It gives you the data but you have to analyse it all yourself, making it less useful – although at least it’s not guaranteed to turn you into a hypochondriac.

The EDA sensor is perhaps a little more useful though – and unique to the Sense. It contributes to the watch’s ability to track stress. The Sense offers a daily stress score out of 100 – like the sleep score – made up of heart rate responsiveness, exertion balance, and sleep patterns. This means that while you may feel stressed mentally, the score is based on biological factors instead.

However, the breakdown can only be seen in Fitbit Premium – which is a pay-for service that we’ll detail more in the Software section below.

To get a stress score, you have to wear the Sense for the majority of the day and to bed too. The EDA Scan app also makes up part of the Sense’s ability to track and monitor stress. The EDA test is done on the Sense, while the data is found in the Mindfulness section of the Fitbit app. The two-minute test requires you to keep still, place your hand over the Sense’s display – making sure you touch the metal frame – and wait for the vibration. After it’s finished, you are encouraged to reflect on how you feel from a series of options: very stressed, stressed, neutral, calm, very calm.

The Fitbit app then allows you to see the results from the test in more detail, along with your heart data during the test. The more responses measured, the more stressed you’re deemed to be. It’s certainly interesting, though we aren’t sure how accurate or useful it is as on days we felt stressed, we got quite a high score, suggesting that we weren’t.

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