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Review: new Fitbit Sense health watch

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Erin L

Erin L

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,

I’ve been lucky enough to review a lot of Fitbit devices. From the company’s very earliest trackers they’ve being great at constantly updating their devices and adding useful new features with every new device. Now, with the release of the companies new flagship smart watch, Fitbit sense, they have once again added a host of new features and useful tools. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with the brand new Fitbit sense to test and review.

Do I still like this watch after 6 months? Skip to the update below.

Fitbit Sense review

I’ll say right off the bat that Fitbit Sense has a lot of features and tracks a lot of data. With this Sense review, I’m going to focus on some of the newer features only and how they work, or else this could turn into a miniseries. I also deliberately didn’t enable Fitbit Premium. I want to see what the average basic user gets with the watch right out of the package and without paying the extra $13/month. Plus, I get annoyed at having to agree to pay up front after the trial period, because if I forget to cancel, I still get the bill.

Fitbit Sense tracks all the basics

You can expect that the Sense of course has all the standard features like step tracking, activity tracking, sleep metrics and the watch will also send notifications to your phone. It’s possibly worth pointing out that Android users get more functionality out of these notifications than Apple users do. That’s because android users can respond to some of the alerts while Apple users cannot. But the good news is, things are improving!

On Wrist calls set up

It appears it is now possible to use the Sense’s built in microphone and the Bluetooth connection between your phone and your Fitbit device to accept calls on the Fitbit sense, even for Apple users.

To set this up you just need to enable the Bluetooth option by going to settings, Bluetooth on your phone, then connect to Sens controls from the other devices list. If you have any trouble, and Sens Control is already connected tap the info icon and tap forget this device then reconnect. When you’re done return to the Fitbit app to see that the feature is active. Labelling the settings means you can use the built-in microphone on your watch to take calls as long as your phone is within range. To answer an incoming call just tap the phone symbol on your watch.

To get notifications of calls and texts to your Sense, you need to ensure Share System Notifications is set to on.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,

Choose a voice assistant: Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa… kinda

Another new option with the new Fitbit sense, is the ability to integrate with either Amazon Alexa or Google assistant. Previously the Fitbit devices were only compatible with Alexa on some models. But there’s a big “BUUUUT” here for Canadians: Google Assistant is not available on Canadian versions of the Fitbit sense. At least not yet. So I wasn’t able to test out that feature. I did enable Alexa. To choose your assistant, go to Today, your profile photo>Sense tile> Voice assistant tile. Choose which assistant you want to enable, and take note you can only have one assistant active at a time, but you can switch between them at any time.

What’s New with Fitbit Sense? New health & Wellness features

Because the Fitbit sense is all about health and wellness in this pandemic era world, I’m going to focus some time here on some of the new features of this smart watch, what they can do, and what they mean for you.

ECG on Fitbit Sense

To use an ECG to take an electrocardiogram, you need to first download the ECG app via the Fitbit app on your phone, that is unless you’re in Canada. As of the writing of this blog, frustratingly , the Fitbit ECG app is not available to Canadian users. The holdup on this kind of stuff is usually that Health Canada needs to approve the feature, which takes time. Apple Watch faced a similar delay in Canada. So for now I won’t be delving into this feature. But it will be coming… one day. More info on Fitbit ECG and global availability is here.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,

What’s an ECG & why would I need one?

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart. The app brings ECG technology to your wrist so you can record your heart’s rhythm when it’s convenient for you. During AFib, the upper chambers of the heart contract irregularly, increasing the risk of heart attack, blood clots, stroke and other heart conditions.

AFib can be difficult to detect, but the Fitbit ECG app lets you check in on your heart rhythm right from your wrist—so you have a better chance of spotting and treating it. This assessment can’t diagnose AFib on its own, but your results can help you have a better conversation with your doctor.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,EDA on Fitbit Sense

And ED a scan app on Fitbit sense detect electrodermal activity which may indicate your body‘s response to stress. Because your sweat level is controlled by your nervous system, these changes can show meaningful trends about how your body responds to stress. You can choose between a two minute quick scan or a guided session that lasts longer. To run a scan, open the ED a scan app. Choose the length of your session then place your hand over the top of the screen; your Palm must touch all four sides of the metal frame during the scan. The results of the scan are available in the today tab, under the mindfulness tile,/your journey.

In the app you’ll be able to see how frequently you took the time to do a chill out session, what your heart rate was at the time, and you can log what your overall mood is at that time too.

This feature seems a bit less useful than some of the others; after all, for the most part, my readings are all calm, with a low heart rate, since I was most often taking these readings when I had a quiet moment, as opposed to doing them right in the middle of a stressful situation or looming deadline.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,Skin temperature sensor

The new Fitbit Sense also has a skin temperature sensor. The suns will track your own personal range of average skin temperature, then start to let you know if your skin temperature is in range, or seems to be above or below what your baseline of normal is. I guess this might be helpful in detecting the onset of fever, beyond that I didn’t see much use for this feature.

Fitbit says it’s normal for skin temperature to vary throughout sleep and from night tonight. Your Fitbit sense will measure your skin temperature while you sleep only, apparently. Factors that may cause your skin temperature to change can include things like the temperature in the room, how much bedding you’re using, your general circadian rhythm’s, menstrual cycles for women, and if you have a fever coming on.

Fitbit Sense has a Blood Oxygen / SpO2 monitor

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,

Monitoring blood oxygen levels can be extremely useful for elite athletes or folks trying to fine-tune their health and metabolism, and along with things like heart rate, and body temperature can be an indicator of overall health. Low blood oxygen may also be an indicator of COVID-19.

The new Fitbit Sense has a blood oxygen monitor built-in. But how exactly you use it and what you need for it to work isn’t completely clear.

The Fitbit app will show you an SPO2 ‘app’ to download. (You will need to install this from the Fitbit app store in order to access it. You’ll find it labelled as SP02 tracker inside Fitbit App Store. (Today> profile photo>Sense>Apps tile) ) But once you do, nothing happens.

Using Fitbit SpO2 blood oxygen app: not on-demand

I’m not sure how useful this app will be. You can’t just call up the blood oxygen level app and check in at any given moment, or even hourly. This app tracks your blood oxygen saturation only while you’re sleeping, and displays it in the health metrics tab (a Premium-only feature on the Fitbit app).

After you install this app, you need to wear your device to sleep. Once you wake up, you’ll see your data in the app. The app runs in the background only. With what I noted above, I actually don’t think this would be a very useful feature for a lot of athletes who might want to know their blood oxygen level while they are training. I suppose this might be more useful for general health and wellness information for folks.

Next up, I found the free Fitbit SPO2 Clock Face. This allows you to use the SPO2 feature and view your results right on the watch, but again, it only tracks your 
oxygen saturation levels while you sleep, (which could indicate how difficult or easy it was for you to breathe during the night). The SPO2 clock face will show you your nightly average SpO2 percentage on your wrist after you wake up in the morning, though it could take an hour to display.

Annoyingly, the SpO2 clock face must be your primary clock face when you are sleeping for it to track your blood oxygen levels. Fitbit says you can switch it out during the day using the Clock app on Sense, where you can store five favorite clock faces on your device, but I was never able to save that face there and had to keep re-downloading it.

Overall, this is tedious, and if you forget to make the switch, you’re stuck until the next day. The SPO2 clock face also doesn’t really display other health info; you have to clock through it to see any other data, so it’s a very limiting clock face option, in my opinion.

What is blood oxygen and why monitor it?

Your blood oxygen level is the amount of oxygen circulating in your bloodstream. Your red blood cells gather oxygen from the lungs and carry it to all the cells of the body.

Too little blood oxygen can lead to shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness or high blood pressure and will mean your cells aren’t getting the fuel they need. This can lead to a condition called hypoxemia.

Who needs to measure blood oxygen?

Those with medical conditions or compromised immune systems could benefit from keeping tabs on blood oxygen percentages. However elite athletes or those who are trying to extract maximum performance from their bodies are also the ones keeping tabs on blood oxygen.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,Breathing rate measurements

Only with Fitbit Premium, automatically measure your breathing rate while you sleep to help you understand your wellness and learn if there are signs of significant changes. View your nightly average and trends over time in the premium-only Health Metrics dashboard.

Fitbit Sense & stress management

Sense users see a daily Stress Management Score in the Fitbit app ranging from 1 to 100—where a higher number means you’re showing fewer physical signs of stress. It’s calculated based on three metrics: your responsiveness, exertion balance and sleep patterns.

My experience with Fitbit Stress management measurements

For the most part my stress scores were between 70 and 85, meaning I was pretty chill during my testing. I’d say that matches up with how I felt generally during that time period. But I did have a particularly stressful day (or so I felt) and my stress score was 84, indicting it was one of my least stressed days according to Fitbit. So either I truly do manage stress well or this metric isn’t worth its salt.

How stress management is calculated on Fitbit

Only Fitbit Premium members see their score breakdown. But here’s what you acn see if you opt for Premium and what it means.

Responsiveness:

Responsiveness means: when you’re stressed, your nervous system releases hormones to prepare you for a ‘fight or flight’ response. This process can raise your heart rate, change your skin’s sweat level, and make you more alert or tense. The stress responses that results can show up as physical signs of stress. To understand responsiveness, Fitbit looks at: heart rate variability, elevated resting heart rate, sleeping heart rate above resting heart rate, electrodermal activity from skin.

Exertion:

The right amount of physical activity can help shield you from reacting to stress. Too little activity may make you more susceptible to seeing mild event as stressors. But too much activity can lead to physical fatigue because exercise is also a source of bodily stress. To understand you’re exertion, Fitbit looks at your daily steps, weekly activity, and Fitness fatigue score.

Sleep:

Poor sleep can negatively affect your ability to deal with stress. Similarly, high levels of stress can make it harder to fall asleep. To understand you were sleep, Fitbit looks at: sleep that overtime, restlessness or other disruptive patterns the night before, REM and deep sleep the previous night.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,

Battery and charging on Fitbit Sense

The new Fitbit Sense charges fast. During my testing, I was able to take it from just under 10% battery to 75% in about 20 minutes.
A full battery on your Fitbit sense should last you about six days, depending on your use and other things like how many notifications you get. I can definitely say this is one of the longest lasting watches, wearables, or trackers I have ever used, and not needing to charge it every single night is a huge plus.

Other things Fitbit Sense can do

There are a few other features on the Fitbit Sense that are handy; a weather forecast is available, where you set your location and you can tap the watch to check in. You can also set tiers and alarms on your sense, as well as move reminders. You can also do these things by tapping Alexa o your watch.

Overall review of Fitbit Sense

Overall, I’m sad to say I’m not wowed by the new Sense; at least not yet. It feels like many of these new features aren;’t ready for primetime yet. And without them, you could save yourself some bucks and opt for one of the other lower cost Fitbits.

Fitbit Sense 1, review, how to, new, health,

To recap: The blood oxygen measurements are lacking. Apple Watch by comparison measures your blood oxygen level throughout the day and you can also take an on-demand measurement at any time. The version on Fitbit Sense feels weak and inferior and more like a gimmick than anything relevant to someone who might truly want this feature.

Google Assistant isn’t available in Canada, yet and the ECG option is also a no-show for now.

I felt like the stress management feature wasn’t truly reflective of what I was experiencing day-to-day.

On the upside, the battery life feels practically eternal, and the charging is fast. The notifications work great and I like the new addition of Bluetooth phone connection so I can answer calls on my wrist, though with that said, there’s no way to initiate the call on Sense; only answer.

Of course, the rest of the stuff a Fitbit does it does extremely well; step counts are accurate (especially if you calibrate it; here’s how to calibrate your Fitbit for accuracy), the sleep tracking seems bang-on, activity tracking and calorie burn are good, heart rate seems accurate and is displayed all day, and I love the female health tracking too.

In short, I think you can get most of the greatest Fitbit features on a lower cost device right now. Especially some of those new health features like blood oxygen, and ECG aren’t yet ready for Canada. Of course you could also get your Sense now and just wait for those updates to trickle in.
Fitbit Sense costs about $359CAD and you can get it from Fitbit and Amazon.

UPDATE after 6 months:

I’ve been wearing this watch for about 6 months now and I’m still really preferring it to my old Apple Watch. The Fitbit Sense is just so accurate when it comes to tracking my activity and sleep, and I get all the notifications I need. Fitbit Sense has really earned its place on my wrist.

*A note about Affiliate Links: Occasionally I will include affiliate links in my reviews. I do this partly for convenience of the reader (since I’ll almost always include a link to the company website or similar anyway) in case you want to read more or purchase but I also may get a small commission from the click, which helps me keep the blog running. If you chose to use this link I thank you greatly for supporting the blog. There’s no obligation or cost to you for using this link.

Erin L

Erin L

I'm a journalist, tech blogger, writer, TV producer, silversmith& jewelry designer, foodie and world traveler. I blog, write for publications, and supply freelance writing services to Calgary, and the world.

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