Fitbit Sense review: More than just steps and heartbeats
Quick verdict: The Fitbit Sense stands out for its holistic approach to body health, tracking stress and guiding you through meditations just as easily as it prompts you to take a run or get better sleep.
- Excellent battery life
- Wide suite of health metrics
- Lightweight design
- Some features locked behind a premium paywall
- Not always responsive to taps
Fitbit has alternated between its classic fitness trackers and more watch-centric models over the years, but the Fitbit Sense is something different. Not so much in the design – it could be described as an Apple Watch Lite in some respects – but in the way that it goes beyond the simple fitness tracking mantra that's been central to Fitbit's identity, offering up a suite of broader wellness activities. It's a great smartwatch in most respects, although it's a pity that much of its best content is paywalled.
Design: Familiar design, but it's a comfortable one
The Fitbit Sense design is light and elegant, looking rather like a smaller Apple Watch if you removed the digital crown entirely. There are 3 colour variants, Sage Grey with Silver Stainless Steel, Carbon with Graphite Stainless Steel or Lunar White with Soft Gold Stainless Steel, which is the model I was sent for review. It wouldn't be my personal style choice, but I can appreciate that it's a subtle design, and the reflective gold does give it a nice jewellery feel.
Physical controls are kept at a minimum, with a small left-hand-side button with haptic response used to activate the display, although you can keep it in an always-on state if you don't mind the resultant battery hit that entails.
The single side button defaults to a screen on command with a single tap, but also can be set for a secondary function on a long press, including invoking voice assistants, music playback or to activate a simple timer.
While the style is reminiscent of the Apple Watch, one design area where the Fitbit Sense absolutely annihilates Apple is in watch faces. The Fitbit App is where you'll find hundreds of potential watch faces, with a mix of paid and free options to choose from. It's a lovely customisation step that means you can set your Fitbit Sense up with either practical information or a design that suits your tastes. Dig deep enough and you might even find one that does both, but choice is the real benefit here.
The Fitbit Sense relies primarily on touch command and swipes for its user interface, and while I've no problems with its 1.58-inch OLED display's clarity, its sensitivity often left a lot to be desired. It's admirable in one sense to go nearly all-in on touch to keep the design simple, but not when you're trying to work out where an app function sits. You can select quick launch functions, but if you want more apps that it supports, you're going to be swiping, swiping and swiping, sometimes with less-than-responsive results.
Performance: Are you feeling stressed out yet?
The Fitbit Sense tracks regular exercise components such as steps, elevation, GPS positioning and heart rate, but then you don't have to spend this level of money for that kind of functionality any more.
I did test the Fitbit Sense as a straight-up fitness tracker, and it works well, with smart auto detection when I was out running or walking, GPS mapping and of course the benefits of Fitbit's long association with such functionality. My one criticism here is that it was sometimes a little slow to get a GPS lock, even though pandemic realities meant I couldn't actually change my real world GPS status all that much.
The smaller size of the Fitbit Sense also made it a more comfortable watch to wear to bed to track my sleep scores. Like most devices of this type I've used, however, my sleep tracking was quite variable, even on nights when I slept well, or badly. Part of the point here is meant to be that you don't know all your sleep habits, but watch-based tracking can only go so far.
The Fitbit Sense also has ECG functionality, and while it wasn't available at launch in Australia, it's now been properly certified for Australians to use it. That's a feature that is most of use to older Fitbit Sense owners, and as always not a full-grade medical ECG. For the record, my heart health appears healthy according to the Sense.
You also get voice integration – by default Google Assistant – and integration with Spotify and Deezer for your music needs while exercising or going about your daily business. It's not quite a full suite of smartwatch apps in the same way as you'd get on an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch, but it does cover most basic needs well enough.
Still, again, that wouldn't make the Fitbit Sense stand out. Where Fitbit pitches it isn't so much just as a step counter, but also as a stress counter, taking measurements of the electrical changes in your skin to come up with a stress score over time. Taking those measurements is a somewhat cumbersome process, because you've got to stay still and cover the entire watch face with your hand for 2 minutes to get an EDA stress score.
You know what isn't stress-free, Fitbit? Waiting 2 minutes for my stress score, but then maybe I'm just the impatient type.
There are plenty of caveats around this kind of tracking depending on the individual, but the core idea has merit, even if it only makes you stop and think about your stress and work patterns from time to time. Longer term stress tracking could be quite valuable in terms of helping you make smarter life and health decisions, too.
Fitbit's also taken a page out of Apple's playbook with the Fitbit Sense, with a premium subscription tier called Fitbit Premium. Priced at $16.49 per month, with a 6-month trial included with the Fitbit Sense, it offers a wider range of guided wellbeing activities, as well as advanced analytics around sleep, stress and your overall health. I don't object to the idea of having premium guided content behind a paywall, but hiding my metrics behind a paywall when they're my metrics feels cheap, Fitbit.
Fitbit Sense battery: Superb battery life
Fitbit's reckoning for the Fitbit Sense is that it's capable of up to 6 days' battery life, although that's if you don't have the always-on display function in play. Like just about every other smartwatch, if you want it on all the time, you can more realistically expect 1-2 days of battery life in that case.
That 6-day figure is fair if you're happy to just wake the Fitbit Sense when you need it; I found I had to recharge the Fitbit Sense after around 4 days of heavy usage, but I could see it stretching further for users who weren't (for example) using GPS functionality in a standalone way quite so much.
Recharging is via a supplied magnetic puck, but there's no included charger in the box. That's very much par for the course for many smartwatches, so you'll need to keep your phone charger handy at least once a week.
Should you buy the Fitbit Sense?
- Buy it if you want a fitness tracker that goes beyond simply counting steps and heartbeats.
- Don't buy it if you want a responsive app-centric smartwatch.
Fitbit is of course a Google-owned entity, and as such it's a little surprising that the big G hasn't shifted Fitbit over to its WearOS platform just yet. That's one of the biggest strikes against the Fitbit Sense, because at its asking price (or nearabouts) you do start to enter the world of fully app-capable smartwatches from the likes of Apple and Samsung. If you want or need that kind of full app compatibility, the Fitbit Sense isn't going to meet your needs.
However, not everyone does need that level of app control. The Fitbit Sense covers a lot of the basics, from music playback to payments via Fitbit Pay, as well as its core fitness and specifically wellness management. That does mark it out as a more holistic health wearable, although you really do need to factor in whether you're also happy paying the Fitbit Premium price to access all features.
Fitbit Sense pricing and availability
How we tested
The Fitbit Sense was tested over a 2-week period to assess its features, including fitness tracking, sleep tracking, ECG, stress management and battery life. Some movement limitations around the pandemic did limit the level of GPS tracking that was available.