Smartwatches

Fitbit Sense review: Fitbit's most advanced smartwatch yet

Fitbit Sense review: Fitbit's ...
The Fitbit Sense displays key fitness stats right on your wrist
The Fitbit Sense displays key fitness stats right on your wrist
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The Fitbit Sense displays key fitness stats right on your wrist
1/6
The Fitbit Sense displays key fitness stats right on your wrist
Heart rate, blood oxygen levels and even stress can all be tracked with the Fitbit Sense
2/6
Heart rate, blood oxygen levels and even stress can all be tracked with the Fitbit Sense
Our review unit came with the $39.95 Pendleton strap rather than the default silicone one
3/6
Our review unit came with the $39.95 Pendleton strap rather than the default silicone one
The Fitbit Sense can track just about everything – including running pace
4/6
The Fitbit Sense can track just about everything – including running pace
Stats are synced back to the Fitbit apps for Android and iOS
5/6
Stats are synced back to the Fitbit apps for Android and iOS
This is the silicone strap that comes bundled with the Fitbit Sense
6/6
This is the silicone strap that comes bundled with the Fitbit Sense
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The Fitbit Sense is the flagship device in the Fitbit range, the top device from one of the top names in wearables – and we've had one strapped to our wrist for the past couple of weeks to try and figure out whether or not it's worth the US$299.95 that you'll have to pay to get hold of one.

At a glance

  • Packed with features
  • Accurate tracking
  • Wide choice of watch faces
  • No 4G LTE connectivity

Launched alongside the Fitbit Versa 3, which is $70 cheaper, the Fitbit Sense has a couple of extra goodies on offer compared with the more affordable Versa 3: ECG readings to detect irregular heart rhythms, and stress monitoring that combines multiple signals and electrical charges in your sweat to figure out how stressed you are.

You don't get ECG readings and stress monitoring in just any smartwatch, so already the Fitbit Sense is starting to justify its high price tag. All the standard features and functions you would expect are here too, including round-the-clock step and heart rate monitoring, and blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) tracking too – though this is only measured overnight, and can't be spot checked like your heart rate.

The Fitbit Sense can also track skin temperature, floors climbed, calories burned, your night time breathing rate, and (with the help of some manual input in the Fitbit app) your menstrual cycle too. You can pick from more than 20 different exercise types in the app, and there's GPS on board too for plotting your runs, cycles and hikes on a map even if you don't have your phone with you.

With all that in mind, the other smartwatch features on offer here feel rather secondary. The Fitbit Sense features Fitbit Pay, for contactless payments without your phone, and you can also take calls from your wrist over Bluetooth (though your phone does need to be nearby for that).

Notifications from just about all your Android or iOS phone apps will show up on the Sense in basic form, and you can reply to texts – though that's only available on Android. You can control music apps on your phone from the smartwatch, and sync music to the watch as long as you use Deezer or Pandora.

Heart rate, blood oxygen levels and even stress can all be tracked with the Fitbit Sense
Heart rate, blood oxygen levels and even stress can all be tracked with the Fitbit Sense

That's a lot of functionality, so what's it like to actually use? We found the Fitbit Sense to be light and comfortable to wear, with the 1.58-inch 336 x 336 pixel OLED display almost the perfect size for our wrist – and, more importantly, bright enough to be able to easily see it in daylight.

While the display bezels are a little on the chunky size, we can live with them: the screen itself is sharp and clear. It's worth mentioning that our review device, which you can see in some of the photos accompanying this review, came with the blue and gray woven $39.95 Pendleton strap, not the standard black silicone strap.

The software on board the Fitbit Sense is usable but often slightly sluggish – screens can take a few milliseconds to scroll or load, and the single button on the side of the Sense can be really awkward to push (and a bit hit and miss when it comes to registering a touch). The smartwatch feels like it needs some speed optimizations, but it doesn't affect the user experience too much.

As for changing the look of the interface, there's a good selection of watch faces available, though as anyone can make and submit a watch face, the quality can vary considerably. Fitbit itself makes a few dozen different ones that you can pick from, so you should be able to find something that suits your needs.

Tracking seemed to be accurate and quickly updated, as far as we could tell from using the watch. We were able to compare heart rate and blood oxygen levels with a dedicated pulse oximeter device, and the Fitbit Sense was either giving the same readings or only out by a margin of one or two – so it's a device you can rely on in terms of measurements. It would be nice to be able to do spot blood oxygen tests, but that will have to wait for a future model (or perhaps a software update).

Our review unit came with the $39.95 Pendleton strap rather than the default silicone one
Our review unit came with the $39.95 Pendleton strap rather than the default silicone one

Fitbit claims that the Sense can last around 6 days between charges, if you manage it well – and that includes not turning on the always-on display. We did activate the always-on mode, because we don't think smartwatches are much use without it, and were seeing 3-4 days of battery life. That's respectable enough for a fully featured smartwatch like this, and it does at least charge up quickly (from zero to 100 percent in less than an hour).

Then there's the Fitbit mobile app for Android and iOS, which remains one of the leaders in its field. It's packed with data and information, but never feels difficult to navigate or too complex to understand. Through the app you can manually log drinks, food, weight and other stats that the Fitbit Sense isn't tracking automatically.

As usual when picking any sort of gadget, you're not just weighing up the device itself, you're considering everything else that goes along with it. The Apple Watch is undoubtedly a fine wearable, but it's going to be of little use to you if you use an Android phone (or think you might in the future). Fitbit is now owned by Google, but the Sense is almost certain to remain a wearable that you can use with any mobile platform.

While the Fitbit Sense doesn't have the polish, the app support or the speed of some of the other options on the market – Samsung, Apple, Garmin and others all have great smartwatches on sale – it does excel in terms of what it tracks and how well it tracks it. Add in one of the best mobile apps in the business, and we think the Fitbit Sense is a serious competitor as a flagship smartwatch, despite a few weaknesses.

You can buy the Fitbit Sense now, fitted with a one-size-fits-all silicone band for $299.95, and with a six-month trial of the Fitbit Premium fitness subscription service thrown in as well (which gives you some extra stats analysis and a host of video workout lessons to try). Your color choices are either a carbon band with a graphite stainless steel casing, or a lunar white band with a gold stainless steel casing.

Product page: Fitbit Sense

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