- Always-on screen is bright and easy to see
- Detailed sleep analysis
- ECG is easy to use
- Built-in GPS
- Google Assistant is versatile
- Stress tracking doesn't tell you much yet
- No onboard music storage
- Not as responsive or fast as other smartwatches
The Fitbit Sense adds a whole slew of sensors to the Fitbit lineup to track everything from stress to blood oxygen levels, temperature, sleep and even has an FDA-cleared electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). On top of all that, the $ (£, AU$) Sense also doubles as a regular smartwatch and fitness tracker. And while the Sense still has fitness at its core, it wants to be your daily wellness coach now, too.
Fitbit is trying to bridge the gap between fitness and wellness with the Sense, a zone most wearables were already navigating even before the current COVID health crisis. The Apple Watch has been leaning to wellness and health over the last few years, with a new blood oxygen feature, ECG app and fall detection feature. Samsung's newer Galaxy Watches include these metrics, as well as a stress test of its own, while the Oura ring also collects temperature data like the Sense. The end goal for most of these is that all this data may someday help identify the onset diseases before the user experiences any symptoms. But in the meantime all those charts, numbers and scores from the Sense can feel overwhelming, especially for someone with no medical training.
Now playing:Watch this: Fitbit Sense: A puzzle of data from your wrist
After two months with the Sense, we have mixed feelings about it. In short, if you want a health device to monitor your daily stats, and also wanted ECG on a Fitbit, this is your watch. But otherwise, the lower-priced Fitbit Versa 3 (which has the same general features of the Sense, without ECG and stress sensing) would be plenty.
CNET's Lexy Savvides and Scott Stein both wore the Fitbit Sense for this review.
A familiar design if you're upgrading your Fitbit
The Sense has a similar design to the Versa, except with a stainless steel edge around the square watch face instead of aluminum and a host of new sensors inside, which does make it a tiny bit thicker. Along with the touchscreen, you interact with the Sense through an indented haptic side button, which can do everything from launching Alexa (or the Google Assistant) to starting a workout. It feels more comfortable than the Versa 2, especially during workouts and at bedtime, thanks to its more rounded finish. Those fiddly toggles used to switch out straps on earlier Fitbits are gone, thank goodness. They've been replaced with quick release buttons to make swapping bands out a lot easier on the Sense.
The Fitbit Sense also has a faster processor than the Versa 2, which makes interactions with the watch feel snappier, but we still noticed some lag when opening apps, raising the watch to wake the screen or swiping up to see daily stats. It also takes about 30 seconds to sync new watch faces like with earlier Fitbits.
What it has improved is its charging station. Instead of the alligator-style clips from earlier Fitbits, the Sense uses a new magnetic charger that easily attaches to the back of the watch.
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The ECG feature is easy to use
The Sense is the first Fitbit to include an onboard ECG app capable of producing a single-lead electrocardiogram read in 30 seconds. Fitbit says that the ECG on the watch will also screen for possible arrhythmias that could indicate atrial fibrillation, or aFib, but it can't detect heart attacks or other cardiac conditions. It recently received FDA clearance in the US and it's now available for use in the US and US territories, Canada, New Zealand, some European countries and Hong Kong. You can find a full list here.
To take an ECG, you first need to go through a quick Heart Rhythm Assessment briefing in the Fitbit app (go to Discover > Assessments & Reports). Once complete, the ECG app should appear on the Sense. Take a seat and place your thumb and index finger on opposite corners of the watch and you'll see one of three results after your scan is complete, depending on the heart rhythm: normal sinus, signs of atrial fibrillation or inconclusive. You can also review the results in the Fitbit app and share with your doctor.
Samsung has received a similar clearance for the feature on its two newer Galaxy Watches, while Apple's ECG app has been active on the Apple Watch since the company launched the Series 4 in It also notifies you of irregular heart rhythms indicative of aFib, plus high and low heart rate alerts, as does the Sense. The ECG and heart rate notifications work in a similar way between the Sense and Apple Watch, although to take an ECG on the Apple Watch you place one finger on the digital crown rather than the two fingers on the rim of the Sense.
Stress tracking is only helpful if you already know how to manage it
While the Sense isn't the first wearable device to track stress, its method of retrieving this information is unique. Rather than focusing on heart rate like Samsung's Galaxy Watches, the Sense also uses sweat data from its new electrodermal activity, or EDA sensor to determine stress levels. To measure your levels, you place the palm of your opposite hand over the stainless steel rim on the top of the watch. The palm's contact on the watch's metal rim completes a circuit, then uses the EDA sensor to measure possible sweat-triggered stress markers. The entire process takes two minutes.
It's a little weird at first because you can't see anything on the screen while you're doing the scan, but once it's complete, you'll receive a vibration. You can also log how you feel at the end of the test, see your EDA responses and check if your heart rate went up or down. Fitbit offers guided audio meditation sessions for Fitbit Premium users to pair with the EDA scan, although we didn't find them particularly helpful or relaxing.
The stress results so far have been vague. One of Scott's initial readings showed a few EDA moments, which are those sweat-triggered incidents. But for the most part he seemed to be stress-free, according to the Sense. Considering he wore the Sense throughout a pandemic with two small children at home and during one of the busiest work weeks of the year, this reading did not reflect the reality he experienced. The app also didn't seem to provide any meaningful context as to why he experienced those early incidents or how to improve on his results. Lexy had similar difficulty interpreting the EDA moments, of which she had 17 during one particularly stressful day on deadline. The Fitbit gave no indication as to whether this was a normal amount or cause for concern.
Fitbit does, however, provide a new Stress Management score at the beginning of each day that takes into account sleep, physical activity and stress to give you a "how you're doing" number. It's like the daytime equivalent of the Sleep Score from previous Fitbits. This data could be helpful for recovery: For example, if you have a lower score you might want to focus on getting more restorative sleep rather than pushing yourself on a workout.
But the Stress Management readings right now aren't particularly user-friendly and it can take a few days for them to show up after you first start wearing the Sense. Lexy's scores varied from 78 to 92, usually averaging in the 80s. A higher Stress Management score means things are generally good. But even on days when her score managed to tip into the 90s, it didn't necessarily correlate with the amount of stress she felt. The Fitbit app doesn't provide personalized feedback to help you interpret or improve your score so figuring out what to do with it can be a bit of a mystery. But a month or so after the Sense launched, we noticed a prompt appear in the app saying the way the Stress Management score is calculated has been improved. We'll update this review if we notice any significant differences from our initial testing.
You don't need a Fitbit Premium account to access much of this data, but you'll need one to get the extra meditation features, insights from the stress sensor, extra stats about your sleeping heart rate and minute-by-minute skin temperature variations during sleep. Fitbit is making additional health data, such as heart rate variability and SpO2 trends over time, available to everyone with a compatible device in the coming months. But for that other data you'll need to pay $10 a month for a premium subscription, which is becoming an important part of the Fitbit experience.
The Sense will soon get a new Readiness Score for Fitbit Premium users that takes into account heart rate variability, sleep data and activity level so you can determine if you should push yourself on a workout, or take a rest day. You'll also receive recommended workouts, meditations and a personalized active zone minutes goal depending on your score.
Read more: How the Fitbit Sense tracks stress.
SpO2 tracking only runs while you sleep
The Fitbit Sense doesn't take SpO2 or blood oxygen readings on demand like Samsung's Galaxy Watch 3 or the Apple Watch Series 6. Instead, it measures blood oxygen levels while you sleep. The Series 6 also measures SpO2 levels at night.
All you need to do to measure your SpO2 while you sleep is to wear it to bed. In the morning, you can check your SpO2 level in the Fitbit app. You'll also be able to see the graph of your blood oxygen variations. (There are no specific numbers, just an indication of whether your oxygen variation is high or low.)
Note that at launch, the Sense required you to select a specific SpO2 watch face before you went to bed in order to track SpO2. Your level would then appear on the watch face about 45 minutes to an hour after waking. If you prefer to see the blood oxygen level on your wrist instead of through the app, you can still select the SpO2 watch face before you go to bed. Fitbit says there will be seven additional SpO2 watch faces available in the app gallery by the end of the year.
As with the stress score, it's difficult to know what to do with your SpO2 reading unless you're a medical professional. And it's not possible to test the sensor against a pulse oximeter, a device doctors use to measure blood oxygen levels from your fingertip, as the Sense's SpO2 readings are taken at night and averaged out.
It's also worth noting that SpO2 is also available on the Versa 2 (with the specific watch face) and the Versa 3 which works in the same way as it does on the Sense, so you don't need to select the SpO2 watch face before retiring.
Sleep tracking is great on the Sense and it works in pretty much the same way as earlier Fitbits. It gives you a detailed breakdown on your stages of sleep and a sleep score each morning.
Temperature tracking on the Sense is also only at night
Temperature tracking on the Sense is similar to SpO2 in that it doesn't provide a measurement on demand, but rather shows whether you've deviated from your baseline in a daily graph. Needless to say, it won't replace your thermometer any time soon. You'll need to log about three nights of sleep for the Sense to establish a baseline from which to go by. Like the Oura ring, which we've also been testing for a few months, it's a potentially helpful way to get an idea of your temperature fluctuations over time and indicate possible fevers before you might be aware of them.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), we haven't been sick in the period where we've been tracking our temperatures and haven't experienced any significant variances from the baseline to report on. Fitbit is promising that the Sense will also reflect temperature variations due to menstrual cycles, and it did seem to show a dip in Lexy's skin temperature before the start of a cycle. Basal body temperature is often used by women to predict fertility, as ovulation often causes a slight increase in temperature, or a dip in temperature before a period. Like other Fitbits, the Sense has cycle tracking which you can log in the app, or see where you are in your cycle on the watch. Fitbit also offers a blood glucose tracking feature in the app.
Fitness tracking: Not much has changed
One of the downsides of Fitbits that launched after the Ionic in was lack of onboard GPS. Starting with the Charge 4 earlier this year, Fitbit has finally brought back GPS so you don't have to take your phone with you on an outdoor run or ride to track your route. It takes around 10 seconds to acquire a lock when you start an outdoor activity, with or without your phone nearby.
If you've used any other Fitbit in recent years, the rest of the fitness tracking features on the Sense will seem familiar. You'll still be able to track your steps, start a goal-based workout, see your heart rate zone and keep an eye on calories burned. What is new is the addition of Active Zone Minutes, which we first saw in the Charge 4. This uses your age and resting heart rate to show you how hard you worked out during an activity. You'll also receive real-time alerts when you've changed zones, which can help you take action during your workout, whether that's pushing yourself a bit more or easing off depending on your goals. For Lexy, it was most helpful during an outdoor run so she knew when to go a bit faster (usually, that's all the time).
Despite the Sense having the same general fitness features, it has its advantages in a workout. The screen is brighter than the Versa and earlier Fitbit trackers, so it's relatively easy to see in sunlight as long as you ensure the brightness is set to maximum. It's also comfortable to wear, and thanks to its flat profile it doesn't get in the way even when you're working up a sweat.
We compared the Sense against a chest strap to test heart rate tracking accuracy. While it matched up fairly consistently to the strap for resting heart rate, it took at least 5 to 10 seconds to catch up to the strap during a workout when heart rate spiked (like when going from a gentle jog to a full sprint).
Battery life is good, but not as strong as other Fitbits
With the always-on display active, two minute workouts, a few stress measurements and a full night of sleep tracking, the Sense met the two-day battery life claim. Turning off that always-on display and just using raise to wake helped boost the battery to around days between charges. That said, outdoor workouts seem to be a pain point for the battery. Lexy noticed after a particularly strenuous hour outdoor bike ride, the battery dipped almost 50%.
More smartwatch features are being added over time
The Sense works with Android and iOS and the experience is consistent across ecosystems, with the exception of not being able to respond to text messages from the watch when you're on iOS. There's a microphone and speaker onboard so you can now take quick calls from your wrist with your phone nearby. You can also switch the call back and forth between your phone and the watch, which is a nice touch. The speaker sounds fine for a quick call, but we wouldn't want to use it for any lengthy conversations. If you have an Android phone, you'll also be able to use dictation or voice-to-text to respond to messages.
Google Assistant on the Sense has rolled out with the update to Fitbit OS and works across Android and iOS. Once you link your Google account and agree to share information between the Fitbit app and the Assistant, you can ask the Assistant to do everything from show your sleep score, or start a specific workout like a run. It's responsive and a lot more helpful than the slow and limited Alexa functionality, which is also available on the Sense. You can't, however, send text messages or start a call with your voice using the Google Assistant yet.
You can store songs for offline listening from Pandora or Deezer if you have a premium subscription, but the Sense will only serve as a remote control for Spotify.
You can't store your own music on the Sense, however, which is a big downside if you like to listen to songs during a workout and don't want to take your phone with you.
A good, but not great smartwatch for the price
The Fitbit Sense hits the mark in many ways: It has strong battery management, excellent sleep tracking and an array of new sensors that could be helpful to some people. It feels like it's trying to do a little too much at once, with features like stress management seeming more confusing than helpful. That said, in the months since its launch, Fitbit has added new features including automatic SpO2 tracking at night, Google Assistant support and the ability to take calls from your wrist that has improved the overall experience.
But unless you need an ECG and the stress tracker, you might be better off with a more basic and capable Fitbit Versa 3, which has many of the same features as the Sense. That way you'll save some dollars and wait for Fitbit to iron out the kinks for the next generation of Sense.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Fitbit Charge 5 unveiled with one huge feature from the Fitbit Sense
Fitbit has pulled the curtain back on its latest fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5, which poaches the new EDA stress tracker from the much more expensive Fitbit Sense.
Just as it does with the Fitbit Sense, the EDA sensor can monitor your body temperature and perspiration for an in-depth look into your stress levels and current bill of health. Unlike the £ asking price of the Fitbit Sense however, the Fitbit Charge 5 is much more affordable with a starting price of just £
The Charge 5 is also the first in its popular line of wearables to boast a full colour AMOLED screen, feeling like a far cry from the monochrome display of the Fitbit Charge 4.
Launching alongside the Fitbit Charge 5 is the new Daily Readiness feature – available exclusively for Fitbit Premium members. Much like the competing Whoop Strap , Daily Readiness will take into account your current exercise routine and suggest what the next course of action should be, whether that’s time for rest, light exercise and meditation, or even trying to exceed your personal bests.
Deal: Fitbit Charge 4 for just £ (was £)
To introduce new users to the feature, the Fitbit Charge 5 will come with six-months of Fitbit Premium, which also includes access to curated meditation sessions and soon, new workout routines from Les Mills, amongst other pieces of content.
Courtesy of the EDA sensor, the Fitbit Charge 5 is able to conduct an ECG test for signs of atrial fibrillation, and also monitor your heart rate variability, both of which are key in understanding your heart health.
Returning features includes SpO2 monitoring, a seven-day battery life and sleep tracking with an accompanying sleep score. In spite of all these improvements, the Fitbit Charge 5 is actually 10% thinner than its predecessor.
As previously mentioned, the Fitbit Charge 5 will retail at £ with a planned launch sometime this autumn.
Fitbit Sense review: a good smartwatch that fails on sustainability
Fitbit is attempting to challenge the dominance of the Apple Watch with the Sense: a smartwatch packed with advanced health sensors for stress, heart rate and ECG wrapped up in a neat and tidy package. But be careful, because if you damage the watch, it appears you can’t even pay Fitbit to fix it.
It costs £ and is Fitbit’s top model above the £ Versa 3, which is essentially the same smartwatch without the advanced sensors, plus a cheaper line of fitness trackers.
The watch measures just mm across and mm thick, making it one of the smallest smartwatches available. The in OLED display is bright and surrounded by a polished stainless steel bezel that forms part of the electrical connections for the sensors. The rest of the body is aluminium.
The screen can be set to always show the time and other data, or to light up on turning your wrist or pressing the button in the side of the watch. You cannot wake it up by tapping the screen, which I found annoying. There are hundreds of watch faces available from Fitbit and third parties, which you can download using the Fitbit app on your phone.
Screen: in OLED
Case size: mm
Case thickness: mm
Operating system: Fitbit OS
Water resistance: IP68, 50 metres (5ATM)
Sensors: gyro, HR sensor, ECG, EDA, blood oxygen, light, GPS+GLONASS, altimeter, skin temperature
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, wifi n, NFC, speaker, mic
Battery life and connectivity
The battery can last up to six days between charges, but lasts more like two with the screen on all the time, calls and notifications turned on, and using some of the more advanced health monitoring features.
I had to charge it before bed every other night with everything turned on, running a couple of times a week, tracking walks and my sleep. A minute run with the screen on and GPS active consumed 6% of the battery, meaning it should last the length of a marathon or so.
The watch connects to the Fitbit app on your Android or iPhone via Bluetooth, but also has wifi for downloading updates, apps and similar.
Despite publishing a sustainability statement, Fitbit declined to answer any of the Guardian’s sustainability questions, including on the use of recycled materials, whether the watch is repairable and the costs to do so out of warranty, and battery lifespan, losing it a star. Batteries in other smartwatches typically last for at least cycles while maintaining at least 80% of their original capacity.
The Sense was awarded five out 10 for repairability by repair specialists iFixit, but Fitbit does not appear to offer any out-of-warranty repair services, such as those for broken screens or battery replacement, also losing it a star. It ships with a charging cable, but not a power adaptor.
Fitbit has recently been bought by Google, which has made significant progress on sustainability, so hopefully Fitbit will improve in this area.
Fitbit’s software is fairly slick. Swipe down from the top for smartphone notifications, up for widgets including health stats and the weather, left for apps and right for quick settings.
Press the side button once to return to the watch face, or twice to access four quick shortcuts for music, apps and other functions. Press and hold it to invoke Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant for voice queries, timers and other functions, which are responsive as long as the watch has a good connection to your phone.
Notifications from your phone are fairly basic, showing texts and alerts, but no images from chats, smart cameras or similar. You can reply to messages with canned responses or voice dictation on Android, but not if used with an iPhone.
Music controls do not automatically appear and are somewhat cumbersome to get to: double-press the side button and tap the music shortcut to control playback, volume and other functions.
The Spotify app is only a remote and cannot store or play music directly. Deezer or Pandora in the US can download tracks and play them via Bluetooth headphones. The watch has Fitbit Pay for contactless payments, but the number of UK banks that support it is very slim.
The Sense is packed with health and fitness features. It records your heart rate every five seconds, counts steps and active time, and has automatically adjusting high and low heart rate alerts, move reminders and daily activity goals.
It also has advanced sleep monitoring, recording an overall “sleep score”, various sleep cycles, heart rate variability, skin temperature, breathing rate and blood oxygen saturation. A smart alarm function wakes you up at the optimum time in your cycle, too.
One of the key features is the electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor, which records the rhythm of your heartbeat and works just as well as rivals, useful for keeping an eye out for early warning signs of heart trouble. The other is the electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor, which detects changes in the sweat level of your palm to measure stress levels in addition to data on stress interpreted from heart rate and sleep.
The idea is sound but it requires you to place your palm for two minutes each time you want to record it – not something I’m going to do regularly. Guided mindfulness sessions use the EDA sensor too, but I didn’t feel any more relaxed than after doing some basic breathing exercises. It could be useful for keeping more empirical records of stress levels if you’re particularly worried.
On top of general health and activity monitoring, the Sense can track and record 20 different exercises, including the usual walking, running, swimming and cycling, yoga, circuit training, golf, tennis and others.
The watch can automatically track many of the more vigorous activities taking more than 15 minutes in length, including walking and running: this records time, heart rate, calories burned, steps and other bits, but doesn’t activate the GPS for a route map. Manually recording the activity adds distance, pace, laps and a GPS map of the route where applicable.
For running, the Sense gets a GPS lock in about 30 seconds. Its heart rate data varies slightly to that produced by a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar or Apple Watch Series 6, but reached similar averages. The distance and pace of routes run along straight roads appeared accurate, but recordings for routes around parks or with many different corners were shorter than competitors by as much as m over 5km, which is disappointing. The Sense also doesn’t record or display cadence or any other more advanced running dynamics information, either.
Much of Fitbit’s goals are based on heart rate zones, where more intense exercise begets more “zone minutes”, which are effectively exercise points towards your daily goal. It is an easy to understand scheme and more motivating than using just steps as a metric for success. Fitbit Coach provides guided exercises, too, which vary from basic running or walking plans to mindfulness and diet habit-building schemes.
Fitbit differs from competitors in requiring an additional £per-month premium subscription for many of the advanced tracking and analysis features. These include analysis of duration, heart rate and restlessness of sleep and the health metrics dashboard in the app showing skin temperature, heart rate variability and breathing rate. Fitbit premium also adds features based around guided workouts, plans and challenges, where you can link up and compete with other Fitbit users.
You need to routinely open the Fitbit app on an iPhone to keep it from being shut in the background and stopping things such as weather from updating on the watch.
The charging cable is annoyingly short, at just cm.
The Sense comes with a six-month free trial of Fitbit premium for new customers.
The Fitbit Sense costs £ and is available in black or gold.
For comparison, the RRP for the Fitbit Versa 3 is £, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 costs £ and the Apple Watch Series 6 costs £
The Fitbit Sense is a solid smartwatch with a good screen, a relatively slim design, two day-plus battery life, solid Google Assistant or Alexa integration and simple smartphone alerts.
It has many advanced health sensors, including ECG for heartbeat rhythm and EDA for stress monitoring, and good sleep and daily activity tracking. But some of the features and analysis require a £a-month subscription to access, which is irritating for a £ device.
Automatic and manual workout tracking is solid, but the watch lacks more advanced metrics offered by rivals such as cadence for running and has issues with GPS accuracy on curvy or circular routes.
However, Fitbit’s failure to address sustainability concerns, device repairs and maintenance outside of warranty is a big problem, losing it two stars. If you smash the screen or the battery wears out, you’re on your own; users report that you simply can’t pay Fitbit to fix the watch, making it an expensive disposable item, which is a real shame.
Pros: good screen, responsive, slim design, extensive health tracking, ECG, good basic workout tracking, GPS, good activity motivation, Google Assistant/Alexa, solid smartwatch battery life.
Cons: not sustainable, no OOW repair options, proprietary straps, issues with GPS accuracy, no advanced workout tracking, some health-tracking features require additional monthly subscription, short charging cable.
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