Fitbit Sense review: All the health-tracking you could want

by birtanpublished on October 4, 2020

You've probably seen fitbit and apple trot out stories of how their smart watches have saved lives tales of users who have caught heart irregularities or finally started taking their health seriously after using their products as companies continue to stuff their smart watches full of tools previously found in doctor's offices wearables are finding their niche as comprehensive health trackers the race now is to see who can figure out what the next trending metric is and how to integrate that data

With its new sense smartwatch fitbit is hoping you'll want a sensor that measures your body's reaction to stress as well as other things like skin temperature and blood oxygen it also introduces a new button-less design but doesn't otherwise look all that different from the company's previous smart watches still the fitbit sense is the company's attempt at what it calls an advanced health device and it's chock full of features to help it meet that promise

one of the big changes fitbit made with the sense was to get rid of physical buttons completely instead there's a groove on the left side that the company calls a solid state button or sensor you'll have to cover this inch wide groove completely with your finger to trigger a press you can set a long press to do something like launching alexa or tracking a workout while a regular press will take you to the main

Watch face or wake up the screen it took me a while to get the hang of this the lack of a real button makes it hard to know if i've successfully pressed the sensor or not there's some haptic feedback but this only became more reliable after i realized it's better to use the side of my thumb rather than the middle and apply some force to trigger the sensor because it's done away with buttons fitbit also tweaked the navigation of his interface to be more swipe heavy now when you swipe

Right you'll go back a page while swiping up and down on the home page brings up your widgets and notifications respectively as before swiping left shows the apps on your watch you can customize the widgets drawer to show your favorite tools i added things like food and water logging along with the weather and some fitness metrics but there's no way to reorder this so that your most frequently used functions are near the top

I had to scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page when i wanted to track my calorie intake which is where fitbit places these widgets by default while the new navigation method is intuitive it's also a little sluggish and finicky not every swipe registers and sometimes when i would swipe left the watch would think i had tapped on the screen instead and take me to an app that i didn't want to launch i had to learn to be very deliberate with my gestures to use the sense

It's otherwise a very good looking device i like the shiny aluminum and stainless steel case and the new sharper amoled screen is lovely and bright i still prefer circle watch faces to the fitbit's rounded square but the sense at least looks classy if a little like a wider apple watch plus at 45.9 grams with the band it's lighter than the galaxy watch 3 which weighs 48.2 grams without its strap the smallest apple watch series 5 is still the lightest though with the aluminum model

Measuring just 38.8 grams aside from the changes to fitbit's interface and design the sense also adds features like an electrodermal activity sensor or eda and skin temperature monitoring eda is also known as galvanic skin response and it looks for changes in your skin that may be caused by stress you can manually conduct a scan via the on watch app and select quick scan for a two minute session or guided sessions for something more meditative during one of my quick scans i sat still

And covered the watch face with my palm making sure my skin was in contact with the case the watch vibrated to indicate the session was starting and i closed my eyes and waited for the two minutes to pass at the beginning my mind was still swirling from a triggering therapy session that i had just finished but i started to calm down after a bit when the time was up the sense vibrated to let me know i could remove my palm i'll admit that on earlier attempts i

Lost patience and peeked at the screen to see how long more i had to sit still and the sense rightfully paused the session when i moved my hand after the scan the watch showed that i had four changes or responses during the first half of the two minutes and none in the latter portion i can't really tell how good or bad that is but it seems to track with my experience of feeling more frustrated at the start of the session and calmer towards the end while it was validating to see the watch agree that i was feeling troubled

A manual scan doesn't feel like the best implementation of this tool when i'm stressed my first instinct isn't to go to an eda app on my watch it's to fix whatever's causing me anxiety which is usually a work or family challenge the guided sessions might be helpful if you frequently lose sleep over the million things running through your head at night perhaps but a better use for the eda tool might be all day tracking then the sense can gently tell me to take a walk to calm down the same way it

Prompts me to get up to move if i've been idle too long for now though the watch only tracks eda when you ask it to which might be a good thing for battery life fitbit does use this data to assign you a stress management score which also considers your heart rate sleep and activity levels results range from 0 to 100 with higher numbers indicating fewer physical signs of stress so far despite a very stressful week i've gotten a score of 89 and 91

Which makes me proud but doesn't feel accurate considering the amount of panicking i've done about my zillion deadlines with fitbit premium you'll get a bit more insight as to what contributed to your score like your sleep patterns or physical activity a deeper look at the app told me that my score was dragged down by two nights of poor sleep but boosted by my various workouts i've only had the sense for a few days though so things might change in which case there's always the mindfulness tile in the fitbit mobile

App which lets users set targets for the number of minutes a day they dedicate to their mental health this tile also offers activities like learn self-compassion and spread loving-kindness in addition to the usual guided breathing sessions to help you feel better if you've ever used other mindfulness apps like aura calm or headspace these will feel familiar

They're basically audio files that tell you what to think about although fitbit's tutorials do remind you to open the eda app on the sense fitbit has had blood oxygen sensors in its smart watches for years but it only enabled them this year with the sense it introduces a new spo2 watch face that will cycle between showing your blood oxygen saturation level heart rate floors client and steps taken the watch measures your nightly average spo2

Percentage if you wear the watch to bed and my result of 95 to 97 was in line with what samsung's galaxy watch 3 showed blood oxygen is a nice metric to have but it's really only useful in detecting anomalies that could warn you about other underlying health conditions since i didn't have an irregularity during this review period i can't vouch for the long term performance but knowing it's there does offer some peace of mind the potentially more useful new metric

That the sense tracks is skin temperature which could help catch when you have a fever but fitbit also points out it could be a sign that you're starting a menstrual cycle which helps the sense more accurately track ovulation you'll need to have worn the sense to bed for three nights before the watch can deliver reports on your baseline temperature as well as variations after my third night fitbit said i saw no changes overall which

Isn't surprising since it's the first result while it doesn't give you a reading of your actual skin temperature the sense can tell you how it fluctuated as you slept and it was interesting to see how it grew warmer as i fell into deeper sleep and then cooler in addition to your skin temperature the sense also logs your heart rate constantly to warn you about any irregularities similar to other fitbit and apple products the new smart watch features fitbit's

New heart rate sensor and algorithm to see if your pulse is too high or low based on your age and resting heart rate again my heart rate hasn't fallen outside what fitbit determined to be my normal range but this could help someone catch potentially fatal conditions the constant heart rate monitoring also helps fitbit better understand what sleep zones you're in making it a more insightful bedtime tracker than apple's devices with watchos 7.

The latter only tells you how long you were asleep based on your movement while fitbit will use your pulse to figure out if you're in ram or deep sleep for example the galaxy watch 3 also does this and i've found it to offer similar data to the sense although fitbit's watch is slightly more comfortable to wear to bed apart from keeping tabs on your health the sense can also help with your workouts its built-in gps accurately measures the distance for your runs and bike rides

Without your phone and like other fitbit watches the sense can track a wide variety of activities like yoga circuit training golf martial arts and tennis it'll add up the amount of time you spend in heart rate zones like fat burning cardio or peak and then assign you points based on your age and resting heart rate these active zone minutes were introduced with the fitbit charge 4 this year and according to world health

Organization and american heart association guidelines most people should strive to get 150 of these points a week fibbit will also evaluate your cardio fitness which is an estimate of your maximum oxygen uptake during intense exercise or vo2 max and give you a score while these numbers are mostly useful to athletes they still provide reassurance that you're not abnormal it's nice that the sense is able to track so many different health metrics but if you

Want to see more information or track your performance over time you'll have to spring for fitbit's premium subscription service it costs 9.99 a month and will enable things like 7 day and 30 day trends for things like heart rate variability spo2 breathing rate and skin temperature changes most other things about the sense are pretty typical of a fitbit smartwatch you'll get notifications from your phone if it's nearby and you can dictate replies to messages if you're using an

Android device you can also control your smart home gadgets with alexa on your wrist or play your favorite spotify playlists or log your calorie or water intake to name a few i prefer samsung's tizen os for many of these features as it generally offers more options but fitbit's os is adequate for most people fitbit doesn't share information about the processors in its smart watches but whatever they put in the sense could use an upgrade

The watch takes what feels like forever to launch apps like today or spotify and during my first few hours with the sense it crashed a few times after i learned to be very deliberate with the device i've grown accustomed to the delay but in general samsung watches are faster the sense does beat its main competition on battery life though lasting about two and a half days before hitting 25 and warning me both through a phone alert and an email that it was low on juice that's with

Always on display enabled two nights of sleep tracking as well as three brief workouts and one 40 minute yoga session logged i expect gps will drain the battery life a little more while disabling the always on display should get you some hours back that's better than the apple watch series 5 and galaxy watch 3 which might get you into a second day with always on screens enabled but generally they give up after one and a half as if all these features weren't enough

Fitbit also said that there's more new stuff coming to the sense later this year including an fda cleared ecg tool support for the google assistant as well as audible replies from alexa and the google assistant through the smartwatch's speaker there's so much the sense can measure that it almost feels overwhelming but i'm impressed and excited by the watch's potential most of the health tracking features work well and provide useful insights and while i don't like that you'll need

To subscribe to the premium service for some extras the free data is at least meaningful i wish the sends were faster and its os were more powerful but at 329 it is cheaper than the new apple watch series 6 and the galaxy watch 3 while offering more health tracking features if you don't need this slew of tools the cheaper versa 2 could be good enough despite its basic smartwatch skills the sense packs so much punch in health and activity tracking that it more than makes up for it for

More reviews about the apple watch galaxy watch other smart watches and every gadget in the land of consumer technology make sure you subscribe to engadget and as always thank you for watching you

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