2020 has proved a particularly stressful and chaotic year, so when the Fitbit Sense was revealed a couple of months ago as a smartwatch designed to help monitor and manage stress, it piqued our interest.
The new device also appeared alongside some other new wearable hardware that Fitbit has brought into the country, with the most notable being the Fitbit Versa 3.
We enjoyed the lifestyle-focused features of the Versa 2 last year, and as such, were intrigued by what the Fitbit Sense had to offer, as well as whether it would be worthwhile skipping the new Versa 3 altogether for this new device.
To find out what the Sense is touting, and whether it can indeed prove a helpful stress management tool, we spent the past couple of weeks with the device.
Here’s our thoughts.
Design by committee
Starting with body and a slightly new design is present on the Sense. The same goes for the Versa 3, so it looks like Fitbit has updated the design language for its wearables in general this year.
That said, the device looks decidedly “Fitbit” in nature. Whereas the previous version had an air of Apple Watch about it, this iteration feels a bit more unique, although the square form factor with rounded edges still exists.
All in all, it is a relatively pleasing design by committee that feels premium and ticks the necessary boxes – not too large, not too thick, a simple interface and layout.
One other thing that has changed quite a bit is the watch strap. Here a slightly more complex mechanism in place, with the larger of the two straps interweaving with the shorter one to provide a more secure fit.
Another aspect we noted on this new strap is the fact that it is far easier to swap to larger/smaller strap sizes when needed. This might seem a given, but on the Versa 2 it proved particularly challenging given our lack of nimble fingers.
Once secured, the Fitbit Sense fits comfortably, and after a while, goes unnoticed, which is kind of the point when it comes to smartwatches.
Having reviewed a number of Fitbit wearables in the past, the setup process and interface is all too familiar here. To set it up you’re going to need the Fitbit app (iOS and Android) and have the unit plugged in to charge.
A side note here on the Fitbit app is that it is still unavailable on Huawei devices running HMS. At the time of writing a placeholder for the Fitbit app exists in the AppGallery, but cannot be downloaded, which is something we found out during our review of the Fitbit Charge 4 earlier in the year.
Back to the setup process and it is relatively easy from there, especially if you already have a Fitbit profile on hand.
As for navigating, on the main home screen, three sets of data are always present when wearing the smartwatch: heart rate, steps and sleep. Oh, the time is there too of course.
All in all it is nothing new when it comes to what we’ve seen on other Fitbit smartwatches, with the 1.58″ display (336×336 resolution) being bright and vivid.
On the heart rate monitoring front, things are relatively accurate, with the Sense being one to two beats per minute off from a dedicated heart rate sensor we had attached to out finger at the same time for comparison.
As such, if you’re wanting an accurate monitor for your heart rate, the Sense will stand you in good stead.
This is rather important as older smartwatches and fitness trackers wavered heavily when it comes to heart rate monitoring, so thankfully this has been addressed on the Sense.
One of the other elements we quite liked on the Sense was battery life, with a full six days going by before a recharge was needed. We also saw a steady decrease in battery life over time, even when it got to the 20 to 15 percent range, which is not something you can say about all smartwatches these days.
Shifting to the big selling point on the Fitbit Sense – stress management. On this front the device sports a new sensor to detect electrodermal activity (EDA) responses, which is part of the reason why it costs more than the Versa 3.
This EDA app tracks the changes in the sweat levels of your hand, which is placed over the watch face in order for the reading to be taken.
Fitbit has used this function as part of a stress management tool, with both a quick and long format, but the general idea is to place your hand over the watch face for a specified period of time while you try to calm yourself or be mindful.
Once the specified time ends, you can see your changes, or lack thereof. Fitbit has also looked to gamify this function, rewarding you for using the EDA application regularly.
And this is where the problem comes in.
While the Fitbit Sense appears to accurately track the changes in your stress level, whether or not is is a useful tool for stress management is harder to gauge. Added to this is a lack of specific mindfulness or stress fighting tools that you may find on dedicated mobile apps.
As such, the Fitbit Sense is solid when it comes to heart rate monitoring, fitness tracking and working out, but the stress management function needs more refinement, which may only come with a second iteration.
At R7 999 (RRP), the Fitbit Sense is a fair deal more expensive than the Versa 3 at R5 699 (RRP). Much of that additional cost goes into the EDA system and the new screen technology it necessitates.
That said, the stress management features can track accurately, but do not feel fully fleshed out and have some way to go until they truly become a must-have functionality. For now then, the features onboard the Versa 3 should prove solid enough until Fitbit adds more to the stress management elements.
As such, the Fitbit Sense is a well appointed smartwatch, but at that price, there are other options in the Fitbit lineup that are equally suitable if fitness and working out are your primary concerns.