The Fitbit Sense is an excellent smartwatch and fitness tracker, but the cheaper Versa 3 is still the best choice

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Fitbit Sense lead image
  • The Fitbit Sense packs most of the latest technology into a fairly-priced $299.95 smartwatch.
  • Unlike some of its competitors, The Sense has an EDA and skin temperature sensor to track stress.
  • The Versa 3 offers a similar experience to the Sense, but is $70 cheaper.
  • Check out our guide to the best smartwatches for more buying advice.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Sense (small)Versa 3 (small)

Health and fitness has always been at the core of Fitbit’s products, and the company is taking that one step further with the Fitbit Sense.

The Fitbit Sense was originally released in September at $330. But it’s now priced at $299.95, making it Fitbit’s most expensive – and most sophisticated – smartwatch.

What makes the Fitbit Sense unique is its ability to sense your body’s reaction to stress, a capability that rivals like the Apple Watch lack. The Sense can also monitor your blood oxygen levels (SpO2) and take an electrocardiogram (ECG), features that are starting to become standard on premium health watches from Apple, Fitbit, and Samsung.

Fitbit’s high-end smartwatch succeeds at giving users an incredibly detailed look at their fitness, health, and sleep. However, other Fitbit models like the $229.95 Versa 3 also offer many of the same features for less money. If you’re not concerned with taking an ECG from your wrist or getting an understanding of how your body reacts to stress, it’s hard to recommend the Sense over the Versa 3.

Fitbit Sense Specifications:

Fitbit Sense Specs
Display 1.59 inches, 336 x 336 resolution AMOLED screen
Battery Estimated at 6 days
Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC
Sensors Heart rate monitor, accelerometer, GPS and GLONASS, SpO2 sensor, electrical sensors for EDA and ECG apps
Durability Water resistant up to 50 meters
Compatibility iOS and Android

Design and display

Fitbit Sense Design and Display

The Fitbit Sense isn’t exactly a high fashion accessory, but it’s comfortable enough and has a nice, crisp screen.

The watch comes in a 40 millimeter square-shaped aluminum watch case with a silicone strap, which is easy to put on and adjust. The AMOLED display is bright and vibrant, and the always-on display also makes it easy to glance at my wrist to check the time, even in direct sunlight.

The watch has one haptic-only button on the side that acts as a home button and felt intuitive to use. Press it once to illuminate the screen, double press it for shortcuts, and long press it for either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

The watch holds up to five watch faces in an app on the device, and to add more you must use the Fitbit app on your phone. Luckily, there are many free options that allow users to pick from a huge range of digital and analog faces. Fitbit offers some customization, but doesn’t support the level of personalization you’d get with the Apple Watch’s complications.

Overall, Fitbit’s accompanying smartphone app is straightforward and easy to use. Fitbit’s $9.99 Premium service, which you get a six-month free trial of when purchasing a Sense watch, is a big part of the overall experience. But non-premium members can certainly still benefit from the plethora of data provided by the watch and the occasional free session.

The Sense also does all of the many things one would expect a premium smartwatch to do. It answers phone calls if your phone is nearby, sends alerts when you get a text or an email, supports mobile payments through Fitbit Pay, and is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

These options all work as they should with minimal fuss. I particularly enjoy using the smart alarm that vibrates in the morning when the watch senses that I’m lightly sleeping, which is less jarring than waking up to a traditional alarm.

There are a handful of third-party alarm and timer apps on the Fitbit app store, but don’t expect much more. Uber, Starbucks, Pandora, Walgreens, United Airlines and the New York Times have apps available. But the store’s offerings seem barren compared to Apple’s App Store.

Stress Management

Fitbit Sense stress management

The Sense, unlike other smartwatches, comes with an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor that helps measure your overall stress levels. This sensor detects small, electrical changes to your skin; the fewer electrodermal responses you get, the less stressed you are, according to Fitbit.

An app allows you to do a quick scan by placing your hand over the watch and staying still for two minutes. The watch vibrates to let you know when your scan is done, and prompts you to manually record how you feel. The sensor only works if your hand is completely still while touching the outside of the watch casing, so I found it difficult to truly relax while simultaneously keeping one hand glued to my wrist.

But my stillness clearly paid off when the app showed that I had zero EDA responses after my session and that my heart rate had dropped from 81 to 78 beats per minute. This was nice to see, but I honestly did not feel any less stressed than I had before.

These measurements are then compiled by the app into a Stress Management score, which ranges from one to 100. A higher number means that your body is showing less stress. The score looks at metrics like responsiveness (based on heart rate data and electrodermal activity), exertion balance (activity), and sleep patterns.

In addition to taking scans and issuing a Stress Management score, Fitbit also offers guided meditation sessions in the Fitbit app for Premium members that utilize this EDA sensor. A few introductory sessions are available for free.

Although I didn’t personally find the stress management feature to be all that helpful, bringing EDA sensors to smartwatches can be useful since you can’t really buy a standalone device to measure this type of metric. That’s according to Tanzeem Choudhury, professor in integrated health and technology at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, who spoke to Insider.

The EDA integration is certainly nice to have, but I understand why the technology hasn’t been sold as a standalone device. Until Fitbit explores new ways to make EDA scans feel more natural, it’s an interesting but only marginally useful statistic.

Blood oxygen readings

Fitbit Sense blood oxygen reading

The Sense, like the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, comes equipped with a blood oxygen (SpO2) monitor. Unlike its competitors, Fitbit only allows SpO2 monitoring during sleep, meaning you cannot use the watch to get an on-demand SpO2 reading.

Fitbit says this enables the watch to establish a baseline of oxygen saturation that’s probably more consistent than a spot check.

Traditional pulse oximeters clip to the end of the finger and take measurements by passing light through the skin and tissue, as the Yale School of Medicine explains. Pulse oximeters on smartwatches can produce similar readings, but use a different technique to get their data. Smartwatches like the Fitbit Sense use LED lights to shine through the skin on the wrist and measure the reflection of the light instead of its transmission through the skin.

Choudhury says smartwatch blood oxygen sensors should work as accurately as their clip-on counterparts. While there isn’t enough data showing how smartwatch sensors compare to traditional pulse oximeters, she still thinks making this type of data more accessible is valuable.

“Tracking these continuously at home, you can flag when something is different and have someone look at it,” she said.

Fitbit also says its SpO2 feature shouldn’t be used for medical purposes and is only intended for general wellness. Apple has made similar remarks about the Apple Watch Series 6‘s blood oxygen sensor.

As for the lack of on-demand SpO2 data, some might find this to be a drawback, but I disagree. I feel that my watch sometimes offers too much information, which can lead to excess stress.

After months of use, I barely glance at my SpO2 data. My levels stay consistent, which means it’s not a metric that I need to check regularly like other frequently changing measurements such as heart rate and sleep quality.

Fitbit is currently working on a feature that notifies users when their SpO2 levels fluctuate, though there is no indication of when users might see that update.

Health and fitness

Fitbit Sense Health and Fitness

The Fitbit Sense is a solid fitness tracker, although it lacks some useful features of its competitors.

The onboard GPS is fairly accurate and only takes about 30 seconds to a minute to connect – the same amount of time it takes the Strava app on my phone to connect.

The watch consistently tracks my location, pace, steps, and heart rate while exercising around my neighborhood. There are also specific exercise modes for biking, bootcamp, circuit training, elliptical, golf, martial arts, yoga and many others.

Like the Apple Watch, you can set specific goals for your workouts – for distance, time, active zone minutes, or calories – and the watch will give you haptic feedback when you complete them.

This is a great feature, but unlike Garmin and Apple, the Sense does not allow for pace alarms. This means that there is no way to get a notification for when my pace is too slow. Also, unlike the Apple Watch, the Sense lacks the ability to quickly switch between exercise types mid-workout, which some might find helpful.

The Sense also allows users to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) by opening an app on the watch and placing their index finger and thumb on the metal corners of the watch casing. The readings are then stored on the Fitbit app where they can be viewed or exported as a PDF. I found this feature nice to have, but not one I used often.

Both the Versa 3 and the Sense have a Spotify app, but it’s only available for Spotify Premium users, and does not offer the ability to download songs directly to the watch. I found this disappointing, as it meant that I needed to bring my phone with me on workouts in order to listen to music. Premium users of both Deezer and Pandora can download some of their music directly to their Fitbit watch, while Spotify members cannot.

Fitbit says that it is continually working on their music offerings and hopes to eventually support the ability to use Spotify offline.

Sleep tracking and battery life

Fitbit Sense Sleep tracking

Without a doubt, the Sense shines its brightest when tracking sleep.

All Fitbit users get a sleep score that is based on time asleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep, and restoration – which includes sleeping heart rate and restlessness.

In Fitbit’s free tier, users get access to graphs breaking down the time spent in various sleep stages, as well as the estimated oxygen-level variations throughout the night. They can also see their 30-day average, as well as benchmark ranges for people in their particular age bracket and gender.

The premium membership unlocks the full spectrum of the Sense‘s sleep tracking capabilities. This includes detailed readings from the blood oxygen sensor, sleeping resting heart rate, and skin temperature readings. Premium users can also dive into looking more closely at the different stages of sleep, the time asleep, and sleeping heart rate.

The sleep tracking feels surprisingly accurate, and my sleep score often correlates to how rested I am feeling the next day. Even the temperature readings feel accurate – I can remember feeling warm the night before, and lo and behold, my app tells me that I was one degree above my baseline.

As cool as this glut of information is, I’m not exactly sure what to do with it or how I can use it to improve my sleep. The Fitbit app has a two-week program called “Habits for Restful Sleep,” which walks users through ways to get rid of bad sleep habits and start new ones. This sounds great, but in reality it’s just a screen with tasks for you to check off at the end of the day for two weeks.

Fitbit claims that the Sense gets up to six days of battery life on a single charge. Of course, battery life varies by use, and I found that it reliably gets close to four days with the SpO2 sensor turned on and the always-on display turned off.

The Sense also charges quickly. Fitbit says that you can get a full day of juice in a 12-minute charge, a claim that I found to be accurate.

Should you buy it?

Fitbit Sense should you buy it?

Ultimately, the Fitbit Sense is a premium smartwatch that does almost everything right. The problem is that many of the Sense’s most useful features, like its long battery life and in-depth sleep metrics, are also found on the cheaper Fitbit Versa 3. That watch, which sells for $229.95, only lacks the nighttime temperature monitoring, the ability to take an ECG, and the EDA sensor, none of which are vital to the overall Fitbit experience.

That watch, which sells for $229.95, only lacks the ability to take an ECG as well as the EDA sensor, none of which are vital to the overall Fitbit experience. While the Sense includes a dedicated skin temperature sensor, the Versa 3 uses existing sensors to track changes in temperature but requires a premium membership.

Here are the biggest differences between the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3

Fitbit Sense Fitbit Versa 3
Always on display: Yes Yes
Built-in GPS: Yes Yes
Automatic workout detection: Yes Yes
Heart rate monitor: Yes Yes
EDA sensor: Yes No
SpO2 tracking: Yes Yes
Ability to take ECG: Yes No
Battery life: Up to 6 days Up to 6 days
Price: $299.95 $229.95

What are your alternatives?

Apple users interested in more advanced health metrics like SpO2 measurements and fall detection might benefit from the seamless iPhone integration and rich app store of the Apple Watch Series 6.

However, Apple’s smartwatch is more expensive than Fitbit’s since it starts at $399, and it’s lacking when it comes to battery life and sleep tracking compared to Fitbit.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is also a premium smartwatch and fitness tracker that features a blood oxygen sensor. Starting at $299.99, the Galaxy Watch 3 has solid fitness tracking features, good battery life, and the ability to download music from Spotify. But it doesn’t have the Google Assistant, is plain-looking, and the operating system can be un-intuitive.

Smartwatches from Apple and Samsung also come in an LTE compatible variant for those who are interested in getting calls, texts, and alerts when their phone isn’t nearby.

Watch Series 6 (40mm, GPS) (small)Galaxy Watch 3 (41mm, GPS, Bluetooth) (small)

The bottom line

Fitbit is wonderful at offering its users the most insight into their exercise and sleep habits. The Sense‘s new lower price as well as its long battery life make it a great choice for those who consider sleep tracking a priority. But unless you are dying for an EDA sensor and the ability to take an ECG, skip the Sense and get the Versa 3 instead.

Pros: Good battery life, Great fitness and sleep features, Comfortable

Cons: Small app store, No offline Spotify

Sense (button)

Read the original article on Business Insider