PHENOMENAL BATTERY LIFE, BUT NOT EVERYTHING IS GREAT
The Fitbit Sense is the first major innovation since the Versa. You can still exercise and stay fit with it, but the emphasis is more than ever on mental well-being and stress management. We have tested the Fitbit Sense and in this review we tell about our experiences.
Fitbit Sense review
This fall we will be reviewing no fewer than three new smartwatches, because in addition to the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE , Fitbit has also released a new smartwatch. It’s only been three years since Fitbit developed its own watch from the legacy of Pebble, the Ionic. Shortly thereafter, several generations of the Fitbit Versa followed, which was appreciated thanks to its more compact size. Now there is the Fitbit Sense, a smartwatch that goes beyond exercising and getting fit.
It contains a lot of sensors that should help you better understand your health and body. Think of an ECG measurement to check your heart function, an EDA measurement to determine your stress level or a measurement of the skin duration to detect health problems.
Fitbit wants you to have a health dashboard with the Sense that gives you the most complete picture of your physical status. But Apple is also trying to do that and it is interesting to see how different the manufacturers have approached it.
The Fitbit Sense is the most comprehensive smartwatch that Fitbit has released. The list of features is impressive. But in terms of ease of use and operation, I think there is still something to be desired. Many actions such as setting a new watch face or measuring the SpO2 require just a little more effort than on my Apple Watch. A very specific problem was that my Fitbit Sense was set in German for the interface. It took me a few days to figure out how to change that. In any case, not on the watch itself, nor in the Fitbit app on the iPhone . How this is possible is still a mystery to me.
Admittedly, this is a unique and personal problem that other users are unlikely to ever encounter. But it does indicate how complicated seemingly simple actions can be. Fitbit hasn’t given that much thought.
Design of the Fitbit Sense: slightly rounder
The Fitbit Sense looks little different from the simultaneously announced Fitbit Versa 3, which is slightly cheaper and made entirely of aluminum. It is a square screen with rounded corners. Compared to the earlier Versa models, the whole is a bit more convex and rounder along the sides. This time there is also a metal ring around the screen with two side stripes on either side. This has to do with the fact that a sensor has been incorporated in the ring to measure your stress level. The smartwatch itself is only available in a 40mm housing and is therefore fairly compact.
Due to the pointed sides, the Sense also seems a bit slimmer than the somewhat ‘clunky’ Apple Watch (especially if you wear 44 mm). But when it comes to the ‘squircle’ shape, I find the Apple Watch a bit tougher than the very smooth lines of the Sense
There are two versions of the Fitbit Sense: Carbon / Graphite (black gray) and Lunar White / Soft Gold. I tested the gold version, although it is not my favorite. The black version looks more stylish. I would change the strap and choose the woven textile strap (similar to Sport Loop) or perforated leather strap. For a few months now, Fitbit has also had its own Pride rainbow band that costs only € 35, much cheaper than Apple’s bands. Fitbit’s mounting system has been updated and now works with two buttons on the back of the watch case, similar to Apple.
The aluminum, glass and metal ring construction is lightweight yet robust to the touch. I am less enthusiastic about the haptic side button on the left. This is a fake button, basically some sort of slot. When you put your finger on it, the Sense recognizes the touch. You can use it to go back to the watch face, just like on the Apple Watch . But instead of pressing the Digital Crown (always works and you get direct feedback when pressing), you have to feel for the groove with the Sense, put your finger on it and wait. It vibrates a bit, which gives confidence. But the sensor does not always recognize your finger. In this case, I prefer a real physical button, even though a completely smooth design without buttons might look a bit nicer in photos.
Speaking of photos, what strikes me regularly at Fitbit is that there are also plus-size models in photos, so you don’t get the feeling that you have to be a muscular athlete to wear the products. That lowers the threshold. Ultimately, Apple Watch users are by no means always fanatic athletes, despite the fact that they wear a Nike + watch with a sports strap all day long.
Fitbit Sense screen: The bezel has an additional function
I am enthusiastic about the screen. The OLED screen looks nice, text is legible and the shades come out well. It is comparable in size to the 40mm Apple Watch in both inches (1.58 8 vs 1.57 ″) and pixel resolution (336 x 336 pixels vs 394 x 324 pixels). One difference is that the Fitbit Sense is square and the Apple Watch slightly elongated.
The border around the screen also has a function: you have to put your hand on it for two minutes to measure your stress level. You can read more about this later at the EDA sensor .
The Fitbit Sense also has an always-on screen, which, like the Apple Watch, has been improved. You can now also see color watch faces, while always-on is active. Yet there is a big difference: while you can tap on the screen at Apple to activate, that is missing on the Sense. You will have to turn your wrist or press the fake side button to operate the screen. This can be a bit inconvenient during daily use: you look at your watch screen while you are typing, want to do something and then have to move your wrist upwards excessively.
Health functions on the Fitbit Sense: quite complete
Exercise has always been possible with a Fitbit, but the focus is very different with the Fitbit Sense. This is intended for people who want to lead a healthier and more active life and who want to collect as much data as possible for this. The emphasis is strongly on mental well-being. That feels a bit fuzzy at first (“hey, I’m really not going to meditate!”) But luckily Fitbit doesn’t force you to do that either.
It is all a bit more subtle and one of the tools is the paid Fitbit Premium service, which can now finally also be used in the Netherlands. Normally, Fitbit Premium costs € 10 per month, but it is nice that when you buy such an expensive smartwatch you can now try it for free for a while. That may give you extra motivation to make good use of that time: perhaps you have achieved your health goals in 6 months with the help of Fitbit and you no longer need it at all. You get more statistics, a wellness report that you can share with your healthcare provider, and there are just some health programs in place to work towards a specific goal. Sleep tracking is also a bit more extensive for Premium users.
Another good development is that Fitbit will now make the health dashboard available to everyone, without the need for the paid Premium service. You can see your heart rate variability, SpO2, respiratory rate, skin temperature and heart rate at rest in clear graphs, so that you can keep track of the trends.
Of course it also contains the usual sports and health functions:
- Register workouts
- Measure daily movement
- Measure and analyze sleep
- Continuously monitor your heart rate
In addition, there are a few extra functions such as weight, water consumption, nutrition and menstruation registering. What makes the Fitbit Sense really special are all the extras. The amount of measurements the smartwatch can take is impressive and you can also find it all in the app, such as how your breathing rate develops (in case you want to know).
Especially during the corona period, people are extra worried about their physical and mental well-being and Fitbit responds to this at the right time with this ‘wellness watch’. At Apple, the timing is a lot less well-chosen: Fitness + would have been ideal when the gyms closed, but when it finally becomes available later this year, I no longer need it. Moreover, we are not yet allowed to use it in the Netherlands and Belgium. Boo!
As mentioned, Fitbit is expanding the Sense with all kinds of interesting sensors, including a skin temperature sensor. This measures your skin temperature at night while you are wearing the watch. In the morning, the Fitbit app shows you how your skin temperature changed during the night. You don’t have to think about it, the measurement happens automatically. That way you can, for example, detect a fever faster, or find out which phase of the female cycle you are in. It is the first time that such a sensor is present; it was still missing on the Versa models.
Another newcomer is the EDA sensor. You will also only find this on the Fitbit Sense, not on previous Fitbit smartwatches. EDA measures the electrodermal activity. This is the electrical conductivity of your skin and it gives an indication of how your body reacts to stress. For this you have to take a measurement. You open the EDA app on the watch, place your hand over the watch face for two minutes so that you touch the metal edge and stay still. Two minutes is quite long and when I slowly wondered if it was almost over, it turned out that there was 17 seconds left. Fortunately, you will receive a vibration and a direction to put your hand back. You do not have to do the measurement all over again.
After the measurement you will see how stressed you are. That did not really produce workable values for me. I still don’t really know much, except that apparently it’s not bad enough to set off alarm bells. Fortunately, you don’t have to take this measurement every day. The smartwatch also looks at other factors to calculate your daily Stress Management score. This concerns, for example, sleep patterns and heart rate data. You can also record how you feel. Just like with food recording, that’s not something I would do often, but if you are someone with changing moods, it may make sense to keep an eye on that. This makes it easier to recognize patterns.
If you have problems with your mental health, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, this function can be very useful. In my case, limiting my daily stress and discovering stress factors might also be helpful, but I often have the (unjustified) excuse “that I’m too busy for that”. Being more busy with it can also result in you being more stressed by it. For example, I have that when a wearable gives me more sleep data than I can contain.
Software on the Fitbit Sense: lots of rough edges
As far as software is concerned, I am not a fan of the Fitbit Sense. Fitbit OS had suffered from slow performance in the past. That has gradually been resolved, but another problem remains: the not always intuitive way of operating. It is frustrating that you cannot change simple things such as the language setting of your device on your smartphone or in the app. Both the Fitbit Versa 3 and the Fitbit Sense come with the latest version of Fitbit OS, which is 5.0 . This includes more intuitive navigation and a variety of other improvements. Yet I saw little of it.
Measuring blood oxygen (SpO2) is also a good example. I wanted to compare the measurements of the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Fitbit Sense with a medically approved device. But it is not that easy. At Apple you can take an ad-hoc measurement, at any time. When you go to bed, the Apple Watch even automatically measures it several times a night, without you having to do anything about it.
It is not immediately clear how this should be done on a Fitbit. I googled and found that it only happens when you install the Fitbit SpO2 watch face and then go to sleep at least one night. You can only set 5 dials, so I wasn’t really keen to sacrifice one of the five for that. But there is no other way. The next morning I looked expectantly at my watch face, but there was still nothing to see. Somewhere in the middle of the morning there was 94% on the dial. But was that an average? There was also a range from 90% to 97%.
Quite apart from the ambiguity, I wonder why you have to sacrifice a dial for this. What was Fitbit’s idea of doing it this way, when Apple made it much more logical. I’m not saying that as an Apple fangirl, but because I really don’t understand the thought behind it. I would have preferred a separate app. Or a function that works unnoticed in the background.
As mentioned, you can set up to 5 watch faces. That is too little and an unnecessary restriction. You also cannot create and delete them – like on the Apple Watch. This is only possible via the Fitbit app. After that, you have to wait for it to appear on your watch.
In addition, I was annoyed by the illogical navigation. If you get the hang of it, it will undoubtedly go smoothly, but I still have no idea when to swipe, tap or press a button. The screens do not contain any hints (for example a back link at the top left).
Fitbit app: packed with data, but the interesting thing is in one tab
The Fitbit app is widely acclaimed for containing so much information. That’s right, but in fact only the first tab (Today / Today) is very interesting because it contains personal data. On Discover you will find the workouts and on Community the list of friends (who in my case are not actively involved in challenges, encouragement or other forms of interaction). Finally, there is a tab Covid-19, which redirects you to a general webpage with Covid information.
The Today screen is very informative, but I noticed that in the Health app , Apple has also been busy expanding the amount of insightful metrics, averages, and trends, making it more of an information dashboard. Previously it was mainly a list of measurements, but now you can do much more with it. Fitbit is clearly one step ahead on that point.
Performance of the Fitbit Sense
While Apple talks about S6 processors and U1 chips, with Fitbit you don’t know what’s inside in terms of components. That makes it more difficult to determine whether the performance has improved. Maybe I’m too spoiled by the Apple Watch, but on the Fitbit Sense things are just a bit less smooth. That is not because of the aforementioned problem that I know the operating system a little less well, but because, for example, the animations are a little less smooth and the apps take a bit more time to open. You will notice that Apple has now considerably optimized the platform and knows how to coordinate the hardware and software well. Because of watchOS 7 we noticed that the older models have also become a bit faster.
Fitbit could do that too, especially now that they have the power of Google behind them and given their years of experience in making wearables, I would have expected a bit more from a smartwatch that costs € 329.
Battery and charging the Fitbit Sense
Time for the good news: the Fitbit Sense lasts a very long time on a battery charge! It can last up to six days on a single charge, although it can vary depending on usage. Those who often do workouts are just a little faster through the battery . That promise of six days with normal use is actually being achieved, even though the first days I was quite busy searching, measuring and setting. I had switched off the always on screen, but even if it is on you can count on five days of use.
More good news: Fitbit provides a new type of charger with this smartwatch. It is a flat magnetic plate that you place against the back of the smartwatch, similar to the Apple Watch. The difference is that it is black at Fitbit and contains four gold-colored pins. So you no longer have to put your smartwatch in some kind of clothespin. This new magnetic charger looks more logical and is easier to carry. As with Apple, there is no support for Qi wireless charging. I hope Fitbit will stick with this accessory for a while now, so that you don’t end up with a different charger with every new smartwatch.
Even more good news: this Fitbit can charge quickly. In just 12 minutes, your Sense is full enough to be able to move forward one whole day. It is fully charged in just 40 minutes. This takes 90 minutes with the Apple Watch Series 6 (also suitable for fast charging).
What’s to come
The Fitbit Sense is not completely finished yet. There are several features that won’t be available until later, such as setting up Google Assistant as an alternative voice assistant instead of Alexa. This comes in October. Also in October: an ECG app to detect atrial fibrillation. This has been available on the Apple Watch since the Series 4. You will also soon be able to use the speaker and microphone to make calls and dictate texts and you will receive spoken responses to voice commands from the Google Assistant or Alexa.
Support for Siri is of course missing and HealthKit is still not included. However, you can already use Fitbit Premium and Coach, while you still have to wait months (and perhaps years) for Apple.
The Fitbit Sense is suitable if you are looking for a smartwatch with a good battery life. Fitbit beats almost all other brands on this point, including Apple of course. You can wear the Fitbit Sense for five to six days without having to charge it in the meantime. People who want a very complete picture of everything that can be measured are also good at Fitbit.
Conclusion Fitbit Sense review
The Fitbit Sense is for people who want a lot of tools and data in the field of health and body status. Fitbit also makes that happen: you are stimulated in several areas to lead a healthier life, also mentally. And with Fitbit Premium training programs, you can get started right away to make that change in your life.
The Fitbit Sense is compact, lightweight, looks good on any size wrist and works with multiple platforms, including Android. But for iPhone users, there is simply a better choice. The Apple Watch is much better suited to your situation. Apple’s smartwatch is faster, more logical, apps work seamlessly between iPhone , Apple Watch and iCloud, you can use Siri and you can choose from many models, colors, price ranges and straps. With Fitbit Sense it is all a bit less. There is only one size and you can choose from two colors. There are apps and bands, but much less than with Apple.
There are two unique features that might make you choose the Fitbit Sense: the skin temperature measurement and the EDA stress measurement. But to be honest: I don’t think it is necessary and I would have preferred a smoother, easier to operate smartwatch. The extremely long battery life is of course something that Fitbit scores extra points with.
- Very long battery life of 5-6 days
- Compact and lightweight design
- Lots of sensors and measurements of your body values
- Free Fitbit Premium for 6 months
- Performance sometimes a bit slow
- Confusing software, actions don’t always make sense
- Little choice of colors and designs
- Measuring SpO2 is very laborious
- Only 5 dials (but third party dials)