Is the Fitbit Sense a smartwatch fit enough for the pandemic age?

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

I can confidently say that Fitbit makes the best health and fitness trackers in the market. In the realm of smartwatches though, I can’t say the same. Far too many folks I know can’t get over their general misgivings over Fitbit’s lack of finesse in past devices like their early Versa series and the Ionic. 

Enter the Fitbit Sense. It’s the most advanced smartwatch Fitbit has ever made and the one that the company firmly believes is the best wearable for the pandemic age

At $488, this is Fitbit’s most thorough health tracking device yet with an impressive list of biometric sensors that can monitor stress, skin temperature, and blood oxygen levels, on top of the usual suspects like heart rate and where you are via built-in GPS. 

But before diving into the data rabbit hole, let’s talk about look and feel. It’s a beautiful, classy-looking smartwatch, that’s for sure. The squircle screen is a sleek design with a crisp 1.58-inch OLED touchscreen display producing bright and vibrant colours that are readable even in direct sunlight.

Sadly, the bezels on this thing are chunky — it would have been nicer with slimmer sides since there are a ton of stock watch faces and many more gorgeous ones from third parties. 

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

There aren’t any physical buttons too, which adds to that clean, minimalist look. In lieu of a button, there’s a sunken groove that you’re supposed to press, and the watch vibrates to let you know that yes, you’ve pressed it. The only problem is that it doesn’t register presses at times — and annoyingly so. You need to find the right spot and have the right finger placement to get the watch to read a push, so things can get inconsistent. 

Speaking of things that are hard to register, the performance of the touchscreen and user interface navigation just isn’t up to scratch when compared to other recent smartwatches like the snappy Apple Watch Series 6 or the responsive Oppo Watch.

Swiping left or right for the menu, and up and down to access notifications and widgets work fine for the most part… but it just doesn’t feel fluid or snappy. Sometimes, it even remains unresponsive to taps and wrist raises. Like I said, annoying. 

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

But at least the battery life is excellent. With the always-on display enabled, the Fitbit Sense lasts a whopping three days. Turn it off and it can go for as long as six days. There was no fear at all about having to keep this thing charged, even after prolonged GPS tracking during running sessions and multiple days of sleep monitoring. 

In the pink of health

Excuse the post-workout sweat. PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

Unlike Apple, Fitbit is not afraid to call its latest and greatest wearable an advanced health smartwatch. And to be fair, it really does live up to that promise, considering that there are more than enough metrics that the Fitbit Sense can measure to give you data overload. If you’re a Fitbit Premium subscriber, you can even use all the information gathered to formulate a wellness report that you can pass to your doctor. 

Let’s have a rundown of what the Fitbit Sense can do, shall we?

Fitness tracking

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

This is a given since Fitbit is pretty much synonymous with everything health-tracking. This is still Fitbit’s best feature, and it’s as accurate as always at reading your steps, heart rate, calories burnt, floors climbed, and distance ran, walked or cycled. 

Active Zone Minutes — how long you’ve engaged in heart-pumping activities — is still the key fitness metric, which helps a lot in your goal to shed weight and build cardio endurance. 

Electrodermal activity (EDA)

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

This is the Fitbit Sense’s headlining feature, making it the world’s first smartwatch that can track your body’s response to stress. Fitbit believes that measuring the electrical pulses in your sweat is a reliable indicator of stress, and this is measured by placing your palm over the watch’s metal bezel. The reading, combined with nine other inputs, will give you a stress management score of over a 100. The higher the score, the lower the signs of physical stress. 

Is it accurate? I’m not even sure. Most days, my stress management score stays above 90 and I don’t know how exactly it could change dramatically when I’m under any pressure or feeling some anxiety. What the smartwatch’s EDA feature does, in the end, is lower your heart rate, but that’s pretty much expected when you have to sit quietly for the two-minute scan to complete. 

Oxygen saturation (SpO2)

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

Like the new Apple Watch, the Fitbit Sense monitors the level of oxygen in your blood. The difference here is that Fitbit’s wearable can only take the reading when you sleep, and on its specific SpO2 watch face. Most times I’d forget to switch to the watch face before falling asleep, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter because a dedicated oximeter would be a more reliable tool to measure blood saturation. 

Skin temperature reader

PHOTO: Screengrab/Fitbit app

It takes three days of wearing the Fitbit Sense to sleep for your average skin temperature to be established. From there, the watch can tell if you’re hotter or colder than normal, which may or may not be able to tell you if an illness is creeping up. On my end, it hasn’t varied that much and I’m not feeling sick… so I guess it works? 

Sleep tracking

Fitbit is still the best at breaking down sleep duration, sleep stages, and other metrics that build up into a single sleep score. It’s not an exclusive Fitbit Sense feature though — you can get the same data-heavy experience with the cheaper Fitbit Charge 4

Data overload

PHOTO: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

So we’ve got all this information in our hands. Now what? 

It’s really up to what you want out of a smartwatch in the end. The Fitbit Sense can offer a really in-depth picture of your day-to-day health — and it could come in handy as the pandemic rages on worldwide. Then again, so can many other fitness trackers, Fitbit or otherwise. But as far as smartwatches go, it might not be the one that’s fit enough for your wrist in 2020. 

ilyas@asiaone.com