Fitbit Sense review: Ambitious? Absolutely. Worth buying? That depends…

Fitbit Sense review: Ambitious? Absolutely. Worth buying? That depends…

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Fitbit Sense is available in a single size, although the straps are available in different lengths (Image: FITBIT • EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

The Fitbit Sense is easily the most ambitious smartwatch the company has ever produced. However, that doesn’t automatically make it the most accomplished. Express.co.uk has been testing the dizzying number of modes and features for a few months now, here’s everything you need to know about the Fitbit Sense.

Fitbit Sense review: UK price and availability

Fitbit Sense launched in autumn last year worldwide. The smartwatch is available in a single configuration, with two colour options — Carbon or Lunar White. At launch, the Fitbit Sense cost £299, however, this has dropped in the months since launch. Fitbit now sells its Sense smartwatch for £269.99, with other retailers, like Currys, Argos, Amazon, John Lewis, and others all dropping to around the same price tag.

Fitbit Sense Smartwatch Review

The Sense is available in Carbon (Black) or Lunar White (pictured above) (Image: FITBIT)

Fitbit Sense review: design

Fitbit Sense is easily the best-looking smartwatch the company has ever produced. Initially known for its svelte and stylish wrist-worn step trackers, Fitbit really lost its way when it first introduced smartwatches to its line-up. The Fitbit Ionic, its first effort released back in 2017, was a clunky square that looked like a prop from Back To The Future II.

Thankfully, the Fitbit Sense is much more elegant. With its soft edges and chamfered case, it looks great on your wrist whether you’re out on a morning run, sitting at your desk, or dressing up for a special occasion. Fitness-focused wearables, like the Fitbit Sense, offer the most value and insight when worn constantly. However, to convince people to strap a gadget to their wrist at all times — companies need to make sure their products look good.

And Fitbit has absolutely nailed that aspect of the Sense.

Fitbit Sense Review Fitness Smartwatch

Fitbit Sense is designed to be worn all-day and all-night – not just when exercising (Image: FITBIT)

Fitbit Sense Review Fitness Smartwatch

Fitbit pushes you to hit 10,000 steps every day (Image: FITBIT)

It’s also worth noting that it’s a pretty unisex design, which is appreciated. There has been a bit of a trend of designing all smartwatches in the vein of either bulky blokey divers watches (yes, that criticism is aimed at you, Samsung) or chunky masculine straps (like the Fitbit Ionic) so it’s nice to see a design language that also works for half of the world’s population.

Interacting with the Fitbit Sense is handled predominantly by the 1.58-inch touchscreen. This works well enough and the screen is bright enough that checking your stats in direct sunlight shouldn’t be a problem.

Fitbit has also added a small touch-sensitive button on the left-hand side of the case that throws you into your most frequently used apps. A single-press will open one app (Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, by default) while a double-press displays four shortcuts to other apps. It’s a nifty trick, however, the fact you always have to resort to tapping or swiping on the screen means you’ll always have a watch covered with fingerprints.

We’d have preferred to see something like the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch or the rotating bezel found on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which both keep the screen smudge-free.

The Sense makes it easy to switch between straps thanks to its quick-release buttons (Fitbit has thankfully dropped the fiddly toggles found on earlier gadgets), which is great because the fitness firm has a pretty stylish line-up of leather, woven, knit bands. Third-party companies and Etsy sellers have also created some fun options to help personalise your shiny new smartwatch for any occasion.

The Fitbit Sense is water-resistant to 50-metres, so there’s no worry about submerging this smartwatch in a pool or in the sea. And even if you’re not a keen swimmer, it’s reassuring to know that getting caught in a monsoon or forgetting to take your Sense off before the shower isn’t going to do any damage to this £299 piece of kit.

Fitbit Sense Review Fitness Smartwatch

Overnight, Fitbit measures your blood oxygen saturation levels (Image: FITBIT )

Fitbit Sense review: features and smartphone app

When it comes to health-tracking features, Fitbit has really thrown everything at the Sense. Of course, there’s the usual step count, heart rate, calories, and sleep tracking… but there’s also an electrocardiogram (ECG) test, EDA scans to measure stress, skin temperature tracking, and breathing rate.

If you’re unsure whether you need all of those health checks in your daily routine — rest assured, you don’t.

While it’s undoubtedly impressive that Fitbit has managed to cram so much technology into such a compact gadget, that alone doesn’t quite justify including all of these features.

Some of the new additions, like the ECG, are genuinely useful. While not something you’ll use every day, it’s reassuring to be able to run the test at the drop of hat and share the results with your GP if you’re concerned about your heart health. Likewise, the notification about a worryingly low or high heart-rate is a great feature. If your heart is beating unusually — your Fitbit will warn you, so that you can seek help promptly.

Other features, like the electrodermal activity (EDA) scans are pretty useless. At times, we struggled to get a reading from the Sense. And when it did work, it wasn’t immediately obvious what we were supposed to do with this data.

Unlike metrics like resting heart-rate and calories burned, it seems pretty easy to keep track of your stress levels without the help of a gadget. When you are feeling stressed, Fitbit has included some mindfulness exercises within its companion app, but these require a subscription to Fitbit Premium (£7.99 a month).

After a few weeks of wearing the Fitbit Sense and testing out all the flashy new tricks, we soon found ourselves relying on the same handful of tracking features. The built-in GPS, which isn’t available in the more affordable Versa 2, is a brilliant addition as it means walks and runs are accurately tracked without the need to carry around your phone in your pocket.

Fitbit Sense Review Fitness Smartwatch

The Sense is the only gadget in Fitbit’s line-up that can perform an ECG wherever (Image: FITBIT )

Except that …you’ll probably end up lugging around your phone anyway. And that’s because Fitbit hasn’t included any built-in storage for music or podcasts in the Sense. While there is a helpful partnership with Spotify that makes listening to your playlists from your wrist easy, this works by piggybacking on the mobile internet connection from your phone. So, if you’re in a gym in the basement of a hotel with no Wi-Fi or want to leave your phone on the bedside table for your money run… you’ll have to make do with the sound of your own thoughts. Given that Apple and Samsung both let you track workouts, record GPS data, and listen to music from their wearables — so you only need to leave the house with Bluetooth headphones, your smartwatch and house key, it’s a pretty gutting omission from Fitbit.

Active Zone Minutes is a really helpful metric. By analysing your resting heart-rate and age, Fitbit will send out notifications during your workouts to let you know when you need to take action, like speeding up when you’ve slipped off the pace. If you’re looking to hit a specific goal, like shed a few kilos, you’ll want to make sure you’re racking up Active Zone Minutes (AZM). Fitbit Sense wearers earn 1 AZM when in the fat-burning zone, but you’ll clock-up 2 AZM when in the peak zone — so it’s well worth listening to its advice and pushing yourself.

While the hardware of the Sense is solid, it’s worth highlighting that one of the reasons you should consider paying a premium for a Fitbit over the sea of copycat wearables on Amazon is the app. Yes, the Fitbit companion app on Android and iOS is solid. It presents everything in a beautiful interface and has some brilliant social features.

If you have friends or family with Fitbit devices on their wrists, the fun challenges can be a phenomenal way to motivate you to heave yourself off the sofa and to the gym or park. There are plenty of beautiful watch faces that you can add to your Fitbit Sense from the app too. The app is also where you’ll add contactless payment methods too.

Fitbit Sense Review Fitness Smartwatch

The straps are easy to unlock and there’s a strong line-up of Fitbit-designed and third-party options (Image: FITBIT )

Fitbit Sense review: final verdict

  • Pros: Gorgeous unisex design, huge number of strap options, built-in GPS, finds your phone with a touch of a button on the watch, Fitbit app is packed with challenges and social features
  • Cons: No offline music or podcasts, stress measurements aren’t particularly useful, pricey

Fitbit Sense is a stylish, beautifully crafted smartwatch that looks good on the wrist, regardless of whether you’re sweating profusely on a treadmill or during a job interview. The interchangeable bands are easy to use and Fitbit’s popularity means there are plenty of third-party options available if nothing from the official store takes your fancy.

The Fitbit companion app is the secret weapon for this wearable, with its easy-to-use interface, fun personal challenges, and selection of competitions to take on friends and family. Fitbit Premium adds some extra features, but there’s more than enough to get your teeth into without coughing up the £7.99 a month subscription fee.

There’s a lot to love about the Fitbit Sense. Built-in GPS, ECG, and proactive low and high heart-rate warnings are awesome tools that really help you keep track of your overall health. Likewise, the coaching around Active Zone Minutes is a handy virtual personal trainer that can really help you to push yourself, something that rudimentary pedometers can’t do.

However, some of the biggest new additions — like the EDA stress tracking and skin temperature sensing — are the most baffling. Cramming this technology into the Fitbit Sense undoubtedly contributed to the higher price tag (the EDA-less Fitbit Versa 3 has similar battery life, GPS, and water resistance but costs £100 less), and unfortunately, these features were the ones that we stopped using within a few weeks of wearing the watch.

If you’re looking for a stylish smartwatch that offers every bell and whistle that Fitbit can muster, there’s no doubt the Sense is a must-buy. Likewise, anyone who knows how to dig into Oxygen Saturation (SpO2) rates and really invest in tracking their mood and any correlation to the EDA data will be overjoyed with the Sense.

However, if you’re simply looking for an easy-to-use fitness tracker with great app support, social features, and enough insights to help you shed the lockdown beer belly …then it might be worth pocketing the extra £100 and looking at the Fitbit Versa 3.

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