REVIEW: Fitbit Sense
Stressed? Let this new premium wearable help you through it - by getting fit, of course
Well, we won't fault anyone for saying that this era has been one of the most stressful - probably the most stressful for most - in history. And we could use something to lighten us up.
Fitbit made some announcements recently, and their headliner this time around is a brand-new name that is pegged to be 'sensitive' to your needs - the Fitbit Sense. Consider it a stress-buster of sorts.
And since this is a whole new series in Fitbit's vast stable of offerings, it may be a bit unfair to compare it to anything before it, even to the latest Versa 3 that was launched alongside it. So we'll go at it alone.
TALE OF THE TAPE
The Sense is quite unassuming - and already that's one of its beauties. It's a square-shaped gizmo that has a 1.58-inch display that's roughly as wide and thick than an Apple Watch. The bezels, though, are quite thick, and you can make the argument that it would've looked cooler if they were thinner - not to mention the extra display you'd be getting by doing so. And while the Sense only has one size, it would still fit all rather nicely.
There are no obvious buttons around it except for except for one on the left, which is what Fitbit calls a solid-state sensor button with haptic abilities. There are three main actions for it: Single press, to wake it up or go to the home screen; double-press, to go to four favourite apps that you can customise; and press-and-hold, which activates a specific action you can define as well. By default, that last one will fire up Alexa, but you can change that to other stuff such as music, Deezer and Fitbit Pay.
Thing is, that button is a bit inconsistent with its response: There are instances wherein you're already pressing properly and repeatedly, yet it still refuses to respond, so you'll end up, for example, double-pressing it instead of an intended single press. The idea here is that your finger needs to cover the button's entire indention, but it seems to have a little trouble responding or sensing it (that was an ironic statement).
From the home screen on the display swiping left, right, up and down will take you to apps, control panel, customisable widgets and notifications, respectively; swiping to the right within an app would take you a screen back or exit it.
Some observations: First, the UI isn't buttery-smooth; we tried to swipe through the apps with gusto but the responsiveness, if you observe it closely, is a tad late. Another is that every app that you open has some sort of splash screen, which personally is a bit unnecessary. Also, if you lift up your wrist to check the Sense, there's a split-second delay before the watch face shows up. Guess a firmware update should solve this.
There are two stainless steel colours to choose from, carbon/graphite and lunar white/soft gold; we do have the former but the latter looks really better.
And right out of the box comes a sporty rubber band, with a longer spare that ensures fitting any wrist size. Fitbit also has a whole lot of other bands to choose from, including ones that are woven in different colours and styles, more sport band options and a premium variety from US leather goods maker Horween.
PERFORMANCE, KEY FEATURES
Naturally, you'll need to set up the device. But you won't be able to use it right off the bat as it would take, as stated on the Fitbit app, over 20 minutes to fully configure it. Wi-Fi speeds would also play a role here; ours took well over half-an-hour before we finally were able to start toying with it - a lot of things.
Fitbit says the Sense is its most advanced yet. And with that, comes another first: It has an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor on it. In layman's terms, EDA reflects the output of integrated attentional and affective and motivational processes within the central nervous system acting on the body, serving as a biomarker of individual characteristics of emotional responsiveness.
Ergo, as its name implies, this device won't just encourage you to keep fit - it'll can also, well, sense if you're stressed out.
Using the EDA app is easy enough, and there are two ways in which you can get results.
The first is a quick scan, which will require you to place your palm over the entire screen for two minutes; there'll be a little vibration to signal when you're done. If you lift your hand before the two-minute requirement, it'll ask if you want to continue, but anything below 30 seconds won't be logged.
The second and more extensive one is guided sessions. With it, you'll be able to choose from 'mindfulness' sessions that'll help you from anything from calming yourself to sleep meditations and eating right to busting out stress. The sessions can be anywhere between one to 60 minutes long.
In either case, you'll get detailed results in the app.
You'd notice that the last two images are the same, save for the heart rate change. For some reason, the heart rate change doesn't immediately show up after you've finished a session and pops up after a few minutes. Could be a bug, since I was wearing the Sense all snug and properly all throughout.
The other major addition to the Sense is the electrocardiogram (ECG) app, which will help you determine whether there's something wrong with your heart rhythm.
Unfortunately, there's a three-pronged down news to this: It won't be available until mid-October so, as we write, we don't have it; it will only be available in 19 countries at launch; and the UAE isn't one of them. On the bright side, the UAE has approved the ECG app on the latest Apple Watch, so we're confident that Fitbit will receive the same green light soon.
In any case, the drill is pretty straightforward. To take an ECG, you should place your fingers on the stainless steel ring for 30 seconds, and three results are possible: Normal, inconclusive and atrial fibrillation (Afib), the last of which will be of concern since that's a signal that you have an irregular heartbeat. The results can be shared with your doctor.
And just like the ECG app on Apple Watch Series 6, we and Fitbit would like to make it clear that in case you're not feeling well, the best discourse is to see a doctor or contact emergency services. Fitbit is also explicitly clear that the device won't be able to detect a stroke, heart attack or blood clots, and may not be accurate with those taking certain medications.
Another new thing is stress management score, which basically cobbles up your sleep, activity levels and heart rate to determine how it impacts your overall well-being.
It may seem a lot to digest, but it's simple enough to do and is a good indicator of how you're apparently doing.
Meanwhile, you can also measure your blood oxygen - that thing more famously known as SpO2 - with the Sense. Unfortunately, here's another multi-pronged downer: It's not yet available and it completely depends on a specific clock face. Ergo, if you wish not to have that clock face, there won't be any SpO2 readings available on the fly. Seriously?
Anyway, speaking of clock face, you'll get a whole lotta that as well in the app.
Of course, exercise and fitness are also part and parcel of this whole thing. With the Sense, you'll now be able to run, walk, bike and hike with GPS. All the goodies will be on the results in the app, including heart rate zones, calories burned, steps taken, elevation and Active Zone Minutes, first seen on the Charge 4. You'll also have 20 goal-based exercises at your disposal.
Fitbit promises up to six days of battery life - that is, of course, dependent on how you use it. In particular, if you activate the always-on display in settings, it explicitly says that battery will last for just two days. Yikes.
But anyway, in our run, it did manage to breach the five-day mark; trying to get to six days would entail minimal usage, but with the Sense's purpose, a five- or even four-day finish line before hitting the charging station is definitely more than enough.
It doesn't come with its own wall plug, but using the supplied cable yields the following results:
That asterisk denotes that, for some reason, the Sense started out at a level of four per cent when it switched itself on after the charger was slapped in. But, it any case, one thing is clear: The Sense can charge up really fast. Fitbit is also saying that a 12-minute charge is enough to give the device 24 hours of juice, which is pretty much in line with our test and actual run.
The Fitbit Sense is the most complete offering from the wearable pioneer. The health metric features - particularly the ECG and SpO2 apps, plus the unique EDA - very well puts it in a collision course with Apple Watch Series 6 - especially when all of them become available. It's also heartening to know that Fitbit did their own extensive research to back up their newest device. Battery life is also a big plus, though that significant drop when you opt for an always-on display is a bit too steep. We only do hope that the UI is improved.
GOODIES: Very long battery life, robust health metric features with detailed results, stylish design
GOOFIES: Big battery discrepancy when using always-on display, SpO2 can only be accessed via a clock face, iffy UI/side button, number of features unavailable at launch
EDITOR RATING: We haven't seen its full features yet. We'll circle around once the rest of the pack is available. 4.0/5
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