Fitbit Sense review: Makes sense in theory, but does it in practice?

the Fitbit Sense
Can the Fitbit Sense compete against other fitness trackers and smartwatches available? Photo credit: Supplied.

In 2020, wearables have really come into their own. Multiple lockdowns led to a greater focus on 'self-care' and for many that meant counting steps as we pounded the pavement or took the time to 'breathe' thanks to handy mindfulness features. 

But if you're looking for something basic to track your steps and maybe record a workout or two, Fitbit's latest offering probably isn't the wearable you're going for. 

The Sense is the closest competitor to an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch yet produced by Fitbit, boasting the ability to show messages, track incoming calls, stream music and pay using your credit cards stored in the 'wallet'. 

But is it successful to mix the base function of a fitness tracker with the extra features of a smartwatch?

I've been trying a Fitbit Sense for the past several weeks and here are my thoughts. 

The design: 

If you're wanting something sporty and sleek, the Sense is gorgeous. Personally I like the square screen of the smartwatch - similar to that of its predecessors the Versa and Vera Light, over the alternative slim screen of the Charge or Inspire.

The reason for this design is obvious: the slimmer screen models are more in the realm of basic health trackers - glorified pedometres - while this generous 1.58-inch screen sits firmly in the smartwatch category. 

The new silicone 'infinity strap' is sleek for sure, but feels a little silly to put on - kind of like those shoes that stick down for people who can't tie their laces. But it has a wonderful, almost velvety feel and the neutral shades available are much more subtle than some of the hot pink or lilac versions of its predecessors. 

Of course, if you're looking for a fitness tracker that looks more like a stylish wristwatch, you're probably going to go for something like a rose gold Garmin. But if you're keen for something similar to the Apple Watch, this matches up perfectly. 

The features: 

A massive selling point for the Sense is the EDA Scan app, which allegedly helps track your body's response to stress. Amidst a very stressful year for many of us, this is a thoughtful addition - although perhaps slightly stressful in itself to check. Ignorance is bliss, after all. 

After you've completed your scan by placing your palm over the screen, the sense will vibrate and you can reflect on your score. The stress score works on three factors: heart responsiveness, exertion balance (exercise) and sleep patterns.

"A high score indicates that your body is showing fewer signs of physical stress, so you may consider taking on a new project or exercising," the Fitbit site recommends.

"A low score indicates that your body may be showing signs of stress, so you may want to take a break - go to bed early or meditate."

It's definitely a great idea and I'm very much into tackling stress head-on, especially if I have an excuse to treat myself to a massage: "My Fitbit told me to". But as the tracker can only evaluate physical signs of stress, I don't know how much it can evaluate mental health. 

It's also one of those things you try once to see how it works, think to yourself: 'I must do that again and see how it compares', and then promptly never do it again. 

I personally found tracking my stress confusing, and... a little stressful. But taken regularly, it's probably a wonderful thing to show your GP and let them figure it out. 

Appearance-wise, the Fitbit Sense is gorgeous.
Appearance-wise, the Fitbit Sense is gorgeous. Photo credit: Supplied.

Another big selling point for the Sense is the renewed focus on that ever-present buzzword: 'mindfulness'. It offers guided meditation sessions, the ability to set weekly mindfulness goals and track your daily 'mindful' minutes. (Is 'mindful' beginning to stop looking like a word for you as well?)

It's another sign the Fitbit brand is trying to keep up with Apple and Samsung to bridge the gap between fitness and wellness. 

Other than that, the Sense operates pretty much like its previous models, tracking heart rate, steps and timing HIIT or AMRAP circuit training. As always, Fitbit comes into its own with sleep tracking, which in my opinion is far superior to that offered on many other wearables. It shows when you're in light, deep, or REM sleep, and gives you an overall score from 1-100 based on your heart rate, sleep stages, and time awake. 

One thing I didn't try but is on offer if you're so inclined is the new SpO2 clock face, which tracks your oxygen saturation levels while you sleep and shows how easy it was for you to breathe during the night. I'm sure it would be great for snorers or sleep apnoea sufferers. 

The verdict: 

If you're looking for a smartwatch with a focus on fitness, the Fitbit Sense is for you. It comes in over $100 cheaper than the most comparable basic Apple Watch model and in my opinion is a more user-friendly experience - no passive-aggressive 'rings' to fill in sight.

But if you're just wanting a Fitbit to track your health - steps, stress, sleep - I believe a cheaper model like the Versa or Charge will be all you need. 

For someone like me who has a phone glued to my hand and doesn't need the extra notification of a text coming through, I only really used this for its fitness features - and they're not worth the $579 price tag. If you're in the same boat, grab a cheaper wearable and treat yourself to a new pair of sneakers to go alongside.