- Comprehensive health tracking including: SpO2, stress management and sleep tracking
- Fantastic Infinity Band strap
- Modern design with curved edges, rounded corners
- Good productivity features including reliable speech to text system and Alexa
- Lightweight, comfortable
I recently received the two new Fitbit smartwatches for review, the Sense and the Versa 3.
So, now I have the Versa 2, Versa 3 and Sense.
In all honesty, I can’t really tell the difference between them, particularly the Versa 3 and the Sense.
They have the same Infinity Band, same square watch case and curved edges and no button on the side. Really, besides little minute details, you can’t tell the difference at all.
At least the Versa 2 has more points of differentiation from the Sense like a different charger, the older band and a physical button.
The Versa 3 is a great smartwatch and I would highly recommend that watch. But now that I understand what the Versa 3 can do, the question is whether the Sense can beat that.
- Modern design, cool Infinity Band
- Too many senseless notifications
- A little rant about linkage reliability
- Texts and emails
- Fitness and lifestyle is what makes the Sense
- Sleep tracking
- Body temperature
- Blood oxygen saturation meter (SpO2)
- Stress tracking
- Fitbit Premium
Modern design, cool Infinity Band
The Fitbit Sense has what I would consider a very modern look to it. In a sense, it has a very thin bezel, rounded corners and curved glass.
It also has a rubber-silicone Infinity Band which looks very sporty and youthful. The band doesn’t use a buckle like many other smartwatches. Instead, it uses a band with a pin that you push into one of the notches to lock the length of the strap, and then you slide the rest of the strap into a hole that hides the excess length.
These are pretty rare out there. I can only think of the Apple Watch having a strap like this, and this is even better because there are two loops where you thread the strap into, rather than one on the Apple Watch
With only one loop, like the Apple Watch, the watch hangs precariously until you manage to push the pin into a notch. Then you use the second loop to tick the excess strap length.
With two, it feels a lot more secure because your watch wouldn’t be hanging unsupported. Once you thread the strap through the first loop, you’re able to keep the strap under pressure and hence it’s a lot easier to pin the strap in. The second loop functions the same way as the Apple Watch’s, which is for you to tuck the excess length in.
I really think Fitbit has done the Infinity Band really well. It has become one of my favourite straps out there.
The user interface of the Fitbit is also very modern. The default apps use simple one-colour icons with a modern, if unremarkable, sans serif font. Colours are also saturated to look vibrant.
The Fitbit Sense has no physical button on its left-hand side.
However, there’s a little groove that made me think that it’s one of those cool and modern “virtual” buttons.
Indeed it was and you will sense the haptic feedback if you press it with enough force.
I still prefer the good old days of the Versa 2 which had a physical button, though. The feedback from the groove is less distinct that one from a protruding button.
For some reason, the Sense’s button is much more sensitive than the Versa 3. So sometimes, I wake up noticing that the Sense has activated Alexa. I had to disable the long-press mode as a result because having a screen turned on suddenly in the middle of the night is very distracting.
Too many senseless notifications
The Fitbit Sense can be pretty problematic if you dislike getting notifications. Perhaps every time you get a notification, you will want to react immediately, only to find that it’s Fitbit telling you that you’ve achieved something not very important.
That’s the problem with the Fitbit app. Without disabling the default settings, you will be getting a ton of notification.
Let’s say you achieve something called the “Helicopter” achievement. I got it a while ago for climbing 500 floors. Nice to know, but not very important.
But if you haven’t modified how Fitbit alerts you to these achievements, here’s how annoying it gets.
Your Sense vibrates. You check it. It’s a notification saying that you’ve achieved something.
Your phone vibrates too. Same information.
Then your email pings. Fitbit has sent you an email with the same information.
Wow, do I owe a collections company money?
And then comes… message notifications
Now let’s talk about notifications that are important. On my phones, I have a bunch of messaging tools including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and regular texts.
When I first started using the Fitbit app, I didn’t know I had to manually enable certain apps so that I could receive notifications on the Sense.
Which is why, for a while, I always had to check my phone for certain apps’ notifications. Because the Fitbit app disabled them by default.
Luckily, once you rectify this situation, the messaging experience becomes quite pleasant.
For some reason, I have the worst luck when trying to keep the Sense paired with my smartphone.
I suspect it’s the Fitbit app because I don’t experience the poor reliability in connection quality when I use the Wear OS, Galaxy Wearable (for Samsung smartwatches), Garmin or Suunto apps.
For example, when I first got the Sense, somehow I kept getting a message that I should update my Sense, but I remembered I already updated it when I first turned it on.
Then, there are times when I wanted to use certain features that required the Fitbit app to forward information to the web. Sometimes, those fail.
Usually, a restart will resolve the issue. At other times, you’ll just be left flustered and helpless.
This has the biggest implications for replying to texts and emails. Then it also affects the integrated voice assistant (Amazon’s Alexa) and also the syncing of your health/lifestyle/workout data.
That said, when it works, the experience is mostly smooth and pleasant, which is most of the time.
Texts and emails
Texting and emails on the Fitbit Sense is quite a pleasant experience… as long as the link between your Sense and your smartphone works.
When you receive a text or email, you can read a snippet of it. Then you can decide if you want to reply.
You can reply with its speech to text function, send an emoji or use a prepared reply. There are no keyboards on the Sense but I have never found that function to be very convenient, so I don’t miss it.
The transcription quality of the speech to text is good. Short, typical messages that include phrases like the time, a greeting and an acknowledgement would probably be transcribed with good success.
Anything more complicated that includes jargon, slang or other non-typical diction might be a bit harder for the speech to text system.
A voice assistant is very important on a smartwatch because it can save you from many tedious tasks.
For example, if you wanted to start a timer, you could either swipe and tap to achieve this or you could just activate Alexa and ask it to start a timer.
Alexa is pretty smart too. You can ask it random questions like “What’s the capital of Chile” and it will tell you the right answer. Or you can ask it to give you the weather of a specific place.
The funny thing, though, is that Alexa and the rest of the Fitbit Sense feel like two separate environments that have no links to each other.
For example, my weather app tells me the weather where I live and in Celcius. But when I ask Alexa what the weather is, it gives me the weather in Wilmington, Ohio. I live in Canada, nowhere near Ohio.
If I asked Alexa for directions, it would also give the distances in miles. I prefer kilometres.
Also, it can’t seem to start workouts. I tried telling Alexa to “start a walk” and “start a workout” but Alexa responded with “I don’t know that one.”
If we compare this to other smartwatches, it seems to me that Fitbit’s voice assistant experience is much more disjointed as compared to the experience on the Wear OS, Apple Watch OS and Samsung Tizen OS.
Fitness and lifestyle is what makes the Sense
The Fitbit Sense is one step up from the Versa 3 because it can offer some health and lifestyle metrics not available on the Versa 3.
The cynic in me feels that smartwatch companies are really trying to one-up each other by finding new metrics that are increasingly less and less impactful to most people. So let’s start with the most impactful ones first…
Most new smartwatches that are not Wear OS smartwatches will have some form of sleep tracking feature.
I am also glad to say that the Fitbit Sense is one of the most comfortable smartwatches to sleep while wearing it.
Some smartwatches are just so invasive like the huge Garmin Fenix 6 where if you apply pressure onto the smartwatch, you’ll feel that pressure clamping down on your wrist.
Fortunately, the Fitbit Sense doesn’t have that problem. I still find it weird to wear a watch to bed but the good thing about the Sense is that it doesn’t feel like it’s there. It might come down to its curved bottom which spreads the pressure on your wrist. And it’s very useful to be able to see the time when you wake up in the morning.
What I like about the Fitbit app’s sleep tracking mode is that it looks attractive and can split your sleep zones into awake, light, deep, REM zones.
Am I hot or am I cold?
It’s not Katy Perry judging you. It’s your Fitbit Sense.
But why do I even care when it’s a smartwatch that’s judging me?
Remember by cynicism about new metrics? The body temperature metric captured by the Fitbit Sense is an example.
You sleep with the watch for at least three nights and the Sense gets a baseline temperature reading and tells you whether your skin temperature has increased or decreased from this baseline.
Fitbit’s FAQs on this feature also leads to no useful information as to what it can be used for, but its promo video says that it can help “track potential signs of illness.”
Blood oxygen saturation meter (SpO2)
Another metric that has become all the rage these days is the SpO2 meter that played a central role in Apple Watch Series 6’s marketing push.
It isn’t too prominently featured here, but it’s still a feature that Fitbit wants you to know the Sense has.
The Fitbit Sense records the SpO2 metric as you sleep. When you wake up, it’ll tell you about your blood oxygen saturation data. It will also tell you about the variability of your SpO2 in the app.
Again, this is a metric which is hard for most people to act on. What am I supposed to do if my blood oxygen level is lower than average?
On Fitbit’s website, they say that a change in percentage might indicate “changes in your well-being.”
I like tracking my workouts with the Fitbit. The interface is simple, clean and easy to refer to when you are in the heat of a workout.
That said, you can only get three metrics and switching them requires pressing the virtual button and then swiping. If you are cycling, this would likely mean you will have to stop.
Nonetheless, Fitbit tries to communicate to you about your heart rate zones through vibrating the smartwatch. If you drop below a certain heart rate zone, you will get one pulse. If you go above, you might get two. Fitbit different ranges into “below zone”, “fat burn”, “cardio” and “peak”.
The other innovation is the idea of Active Zone Minutes, which really helps you gauge whether or not you’re hitting the recommended 75 minutes of intensity or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
What this does is that it gives you two points per minute of higher intensity workout and one for every lower zone.
Fitbit’s press release from August says that this watch has the “world’s first electrodermal activity.”So what does it do?
Again, it’s not something that I really understand. Fitbit says, “Measuring your EDA responses can help you understand your body’s response to stressors and help you manage your stress.”
OK, so I did a quick session and I got eight responses. My heart rate also increased during this session. So does it mean that through this session, I felt more stressed?
The stress scores that I got are pretty interesting. They are the culmination of three metrics: responsiveness, exertion balance and sleep patterns.
Responsiveness looks at your heart rate and looks for changes. Exertion balance looks at how much exercise you’re doing against how much your body can take. Sleep patterns tracks your sleep quality and sleep debt over time.
The stress score is more useful in that you know you can modify certain aspects of it if you suddenly see a drop in that number.
But how do you know if you’re stressing yourself out because you’re doing too much exercise or sleeping too poorly? Well, you have to pay for Fitbit Premium.
You do get a trial of Fitbit Premium when you buy the watch, but once that’s over, you have to pay a monthly subscription to it in order to access the finer details of every metric.
It’s actually not dissimilar to paywalled news sites. The information is there but you can’t have it unless you pay.
User Review( votes)
The Fitbit Sense takes things to a whole new level. It’s amazing. I love it.
I like how it’s a really comprehensive health, fitness and workout tracking smartwatch. It’s like an on-board diagnostics tool for your body.
I believe if you really put your heart into this watch, you can work towards your goals whether it be exercise more, sleep better or meditate more.
Buy it if you have a goal and you need a tool that will keep track of your progress.