In 2020, Fitbit announced several updates to existing products and even launched new hardware. One of the most interesting new wearables was the Fitbit Sense, and that means we’re diving into our official Fitbit Sense review. It’s hard to believe that the Fitbit Ionic — Fitbit’s first actual smartwatch — was released over three years ago. Fitbit’s come a long way in that short amount of time, finding new ways to refine its hardware design, FitbitOS operating system, and create a compelling narrative as to why you should have a Fitbit watch on your wrist instead of a Galaxy Watch, something with Wear OS, or an Apple Watch if you’re an iPhone owner.
By late 2020, Fitbit’s vision for the future of smartwatches culminated in the release of the Fitbit Sense. It does all of the usual Fitbit things like activity tracking, sleep monitoring, etc., but it comes with a bunch of extra sensors that are designed to help give you a more granular understanding of your body’s health. Whether it’s monitoring your stress or taking an ECG reading, Fitbit wants the Sense to be a one-stop shop for all of your health tracking — not just a gadget for logging your next run.
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The Sense is easily the most ambitious product Fitbit has released to date, and when everything works together as intended, the experience can be quite impressive. That said, I can’t help but wish more time was spent fixing software bugs and performance issues before Fitbit decided to chart this new path it’s now headed on.
At a glance
Bottom line: Sense is the most powerful wearable Fitbit has ever released, and while it tries a lot of new and exciting things, it still struggles with a lot of the fundamentals. All of the usual activity/sleep tracking features are as great as ever, and with things like an EDA and temperature sensor, you can monitor more aspects of your health than ever before. It’s a rather exciting piece of tech, though a myriad of performance and software issues raise into question whether the Sense is worth its extra high price tag.
- Lightweight and comfy to wear
- OLED display looks fantastic
- EDA and temperature sensors
- Built-in GPS and NFC
- Charger and watch bands are vastly improved
- Choppy performance
- Fitbit app is riddled with bugs
- SpO2 tracking only works with a certain watch face
- Many features were not available at launch
Fitbit Sense: Price and availability
The Fitbit Sense was announced and released in late September 2020. Its stated retail price was $330, which is the most expensive Fitbit device to date. However, you can often find it for sale at various retailers for as low as $250, sometimes even less. Since Amazon’s Prime Day 2021 event, it has been hovering around the $230 price point at most retailers.
Fitbit Sense: Design and display
At first glance, the Fitbit Sense doesn’t look all that different from the previous year’s Versa 2 or even the newer Versa 3. It’s another squircle watch with a compact design, but there are a few noticeable refinements in place that make the Sense Fitbit’s best hardware ever.
Let’s start with one of my favorite improvements, and that’s the watch band system. Fitbit is still using proprietary watch bands, but instead of having to mess with an annoying pin design like you did on Versa and Versa 2, watch bands now snap into place and pop out with the press of a button. It’s easily the best band design Fitbit’s ever had for its smartwatches, so here’s to hoping the company actually commits to it and doesn’t introduce another new design a couple of years down the road.
Fitbit also overhauled the charging accessory for the Sense. All of the past Versa watches have used a clunky cradle that you had to open and close to nestle the watch into, and while it worked well enough, it was never a great design. Fitbit Sense ditches that for a magnetic charger that’s considerably smaller and much easier to use. I still wish there was support for Qi wireless charging for a more universal charging option, but this is a marked improvement that I’m thrilled to see.
This is the best-designed Fitbit smartwatch yet.
As for the Sense itself, it’s mostly a home-run. The metal/glass construction looks fantastic, it’s super lightweight, and it fits on my tiny wrists without any problems at all. Coming from a 44mm Apple Watch Series 4, the Sense is substantially more compact and enjoyable to wear for long stretches at a time.
The only design aspect I’m not all that happy with is the faux side button that’s used for going to the Sense’s home screen and accessing app shortcuts. Rather than giving you a legit button, Fitbit opted for a small divet on the side that vibrates when you press it. It offers ample haptic feedback and feels good to use, but I occasionally found myself pressing on the area and not getting any response. I know the button-less aesthetic is cleaner and more appealing, but you just can’t beat a good, physical button.
Taking a look at the Fitbit Sense’s display, it’s simply fantastic. The OLED panel has great colors, deep blacks, and perfectly crisp text. The always-on display introduced with Versa 2 returns to the Sense, and with certain watch faces still showing color in this mode, it looks better than ever. My one and only complaint is how you wake the watch up.
Whether or not you have always-on display enabled, you can only engage the Sense’s entire display by moving your wrist to look at the watch or pressing the faux side button. I normally make the wrist gesture when I want to do this, and to Fitbit’s credit, it works incredibly well. However, not being able to tap the screen to enable it is such a weird and confusing omission. There have been countless times where I’m at my desk and want to use the display, but I don’t want to be forced to fiddle with the “button” or perform that gesture. It may seem like a small issue to complain about, but it’s a quality-of-life thing that you really notice in day-to-day use.
Fitbit Sense: Performance and battery life
Fitbit doesn’t talk about the processors it uses for its watches the way Apple or Samsung do. That makes it difficult to gauge what the performance of a Fitbit watch is going to be like, but with each new model, you’d naturally expect things to become smoother and more responsive. That’s, unfortunately, not exactly the case with the Fitbit Sense.
I’ve used every Fitbit watch the company has ever released, and even after wearing the Sense for about a week, it still felt choppy and inconsistent in a way that you wouldn’t expect for a wearable that costs as much as the Sense does. Apps can be slow to open, none of the animations are smooth, and it often takes an extra beat for some gestures to be recognized (such as pulling down the notification shade or swiping up to view your health shortcuts). Fitbit smartwatches have never felt fast compared to their competition, but given their affordable prices with the Versa series, I’ve always tended to be more willing to forgive them.
The Fitbit Sense is a battery champ.
Thankfully, battery life continues to be a strong suit for Fitbit. The Fitbit Sense is advertised as being able to get over six days of use on a single charge, and while your mileage will vary depending on how you use it, it’s safe to say that the Sense offers great endurance.
In my testing, I got about five days of continuous use before needing to throw the Sense on its charger. That included the first day of setting the watch up and using the screen quite a bit, wearing it for sleep tracking every night, taking a few EDA readings to monitor my stress, and having the always-on display enabled. If you keep the always-on mode off, you should be able to hit that six-day marker without a problem.
Fitbit Sense: Health tracking
If you’re looking to buy a Fitbit, you’re more than likely interested in using it to be more active and live a healthier life. Fitbit has built up an impressive repertoire of features in this area, and the Sense does all of the usual Fitbit things you’d expect to see in a modern fitness watch. These include:
- All-day activity tracking
- Automatic workout detection
- Sleep tracking
- 24/7 heart-rate monitoring
- Menstrual health tracking
We don’t have nearly enough time to dive into every single health aspect in great detail, but what I will say is that Fitbit’s current offering of health tracking is the most robust I’ve used. You can look at something as simple as your step count for the day, and the next second, be viewing your breathing trends for your most recent week of sleep.
The baseline Fitbit app has a lot to offer, but if you want to get even more out of it, there’s always the Fitbit Premium service you can sign up for. It costs $9.99/month or $79.99/year depending on whether you choose the monthly or annual plan, and when you buy a Fitbit Sense, you get six months for free if you’re a new Premium subscriber. Fitbit Premium offers things like advanced health insights, a wellness report that you can share with your healthcare provider, guided health programs, advanced sleep tracking, and more.
Speaking of which, Fitbit has done an excellent job at updating the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 over the last several months. In September 2021, the company announced that Fitbit Premium users will now have access to up to 30 pieces of sleep and stress-reducing content from the Calm mindfulness app. Users will also have the option of pairing their session with the on-wrist EDA Scan app on the Fitbit Sense.
In addition to the new Calm offerings, Fitbit has also rolled out noise and snore detection capabilities. This feature is designed to let the user know if they’re snoring or if there is noise in their bedroom. Considering that both of these factors can impact your overall sleep quality, it’s a nice feature to have. Snore & Noise Detect works by using the built-in microphone on the Fitbit Sense. It will carefully analyze any noises in your room, including snoring from you or others as well as any other sounds in your environment.
If you want to take your Fitbit experience even further, the Premium membership has a lot to offer.
One of the features that used to be exclusive to Fitbit Premium is the Health Metrics Dashboard, which offers a deeper look at your breathing rate, SpO2 levels, and heart rate variability. Fitbit has now announced that the dashboard is being made available to all Fitbit users for free, which is a welcome addition for certain. While that does take away some of the value you get from Premium, I’m certainly not complaining about Fitbit making these insights accessible to everyone.
The core fundamentals of what you’d expect from a fitness tracker are still here and just as good as ever, but with the Sense, Fitbit is looking to expand into new and exciting areas.
The first of which is Sense’s temperature sensor, which monitors your body’s temperature every night you wear the Sense. In the morning, you can look at the Fitbit app to see how your temperature increased or decreased from your baseline and exactly how it changed throughout your slumber. It’s something that works seamlessly in the background without you having to worry about it, and Fitbit hopes that it can help users detect a fever or the start of a new menstrual cycle. It’s worth noting that Versa 3, Versa 2, Versa, Versa Lite, Ionic, Charge 4, and Inspire 2 can also show your skin temp variation in that Health Metrics section, though Sense is the only one that gives minute-by-minute readings for a more accurate and detailed view of your body’s temp.
The second, and perhaps most noteworthy, is the Fitbit Sense’s EDA sensor. EDA is short for “electrodermal activity,” which is how the electrical levels of your skin change throughout the day. In addition to being a core component in polygraph tests, EDA can also be used to monitor how your body responds to stress. To look at your EDA on Fitbit Sense, all you have to do is open the EDA Scan app, place your hand over the entire front of the watch, and sit still with calming breaths for two minutes. After the test is complete, you can indicate how calm or stressed you’re feeling and be on with your day.
Even if you don’t take an EDA scan every single day, you’ll still get a daily Stress Management score in the Fitbit app that rates you based on your heart’s responsiveness, exertion balance, and sleep patterns. You can also log how you’re feeling at any time, with Fitbit hoping that you’ll look at your score, how it relates to your current mood, and get a better understanding of your…