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Fitbit Sense 2 review: A great fitness-first smartwatch but not without flaws

The Fitbit Sense 2 watch has a flawless design, offers a minimalist experience, and is great for tracking fitness parameters

The Fitbit Sense 2 looks just about like its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. That ‘squircle’ dial with an excellent AMOLED display was anyway perfect. (Google)

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Launched in 2020, the Fitbit Sense was an ambitious smartwatch with comprehensive fitness tracking features. The sequel to that one though is merely a fitness tracker masquerading as a smartwatch since the company decided to strip off several features from the original Sense while focusing on its fitness capabilities.

This puts the Fitbit Sense 2 in a weird spot. It’s a great fitness tracker, but an expensive one at that -- at 24,999. And the limited smarts barely make it a competitive smartwatch. So, is there any sense to the Sense 2?

A perfect fitness tracker

The Fitbit Sense 2 looks just about like its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. That ‘squircle’ dial with an excellent AMOLED display was anyway perfect. The refinements though are welcome even if the move from the original Sense's stainless-steel chassis to aluminium is an odd choice.

Sense 2 is thinner and lighter. I found it far less distracting on my wrist, especially while sleeping. Thankfully, it also replaces that awful inductive groove from the original Sense with an actual physical button which makes the smartwatch operations seamless. That touch-sensitive button was frustrating to use and there were accidental presses all the time.

The flawless design and ideal feel apart, the fitness tracking is brilliant as well. The Sense 2 has a plethora of sensors to track almost all the health attributes that one could ask for in a wearable. It can measure your heart rate, skin temperature, electrodermal activity (EDA), and blood oxygen (SpO2).

Also read: Do fitness wearables track sleep effectively?

The EDA sensor present on the original Sense is now upgraded to a cEDA sensor – the “c” stands for continuous. While the first generation one could only measure EDA on-demand, Sense 2 measures it continuously in the background. The sensor measures your skin’s electrical activity and sweat levels from which Fitbit extrapolates how stressed you are. Every time the device detects that you are stressed, it sends you a mood check-in and prompts you to take a few stress-relieving actions like a guided meditation or going for a short walk.

The assumption of stress moments – Fitbit calls them “body responses” – might be stretching the EDA monitoring a bit much and the experience of logging the mood with the expected follow ups is definitely clunky, yet overall, the stress management feature is a pretty good addition.

And then there’s sleep tracking, which Fitbit has aced for a while now. The Sense 2 monitors your sleep and also the phases in which you were aware, tossing and turning in your bed, giving you a “Sleep Score” for each night. Additionally, the heart rate sensor works in conjunction with the SpO2 sensor through the night since large swings in blood oxygen levels can be a sign of sleep disorders.

Fitbit Sense 2 debuts with a new version of Fitbit OS. The revamped version has a Wear-OS like design although the core functionality remains the same. Also, the UI is more intuitive, and the overall experience is definitely snappier which is also a function of what lies underneath.

By virtue of offering a minimalist experience, the Sense 2 manages to offer a stellar battery life. Even if the always-on display (AOD) is active, I could go without charging for three days. With AOD disabled and limited workouts, you can stretch the battery life for six days. Charging is quite quick as well. While you can easily get a day’s worth of juice with 15 minutes on the charger, it takes about two hours to go from zero to 100%.

As with the Fitbit Sense, the Sense 2 also has onboard GPS allowing you to leave your smartphone at home when you head out for a run. However, the GPS tracking is iffy, and might not satiate runners who require accurate GPS data.

Baffling omissions

Despite being a fantastic fitness tracker, the Fitbit Sense 2 is objectively a much weaker product than Fitbit Sense. To put it bluntly, it’s a downgrade.

Let’s start with the Fitbit OS. An extensible operating system is what differentiates a ‘smartwatch’ from a ‘fitness tracker’. Fitbit is treading an awkward line now. The app selection on Fitbit was always quite limited. There were only a few nifty, but rudimentary, apps that one could use, like Spotify, Uber, etc. However, even those are gone now. The new Fitbit OS does away with third-party apps. You’re stuck with Fitbit’s apps which are great for tracking fitness but that’s that. No barcodes on the wrist, no water drinking reminders, no headlines from the New York Times.

If that wasn’t surprising, Sense 2 also does not include Google Assistant. It’s baffling since the original Sense and the Versa 3 packed in support for Google Assistant and given the fact that Fitbit is now owned by Google. There’s still support for Amazon Alexa.

Moving on, while the Sense 2 hardware is Wi-Fi capable, the software has disabled Wi-Fi connectivity. I have no idea why this was done. Wi-Fi support enables faster updates instead of doing it via Bluetooth.

There’s no offline music storage (another use-case of Wi-Fi support) on the Sense 2, and since we don’t have third-party apps like Spotify, Pandora, or Deezer anymore, there is no way to listen or even control music through the Sense 2. The lack of music storage could be a fair choice, but the absence of music controls is unfortunate.

While all these omissions are head-scratchers, not everyone will find these worrisome. It might irk you only if you use or plan to use the feature. Also, since the app gallery on Fitbit has always been limited, not many will mourn the death of third-party apps.

On the bright side, Fitbit has announced that both Google Maps and Google Wallet would be coming to the Sense 2 (still no Google Assistant). But there’s no confirmed ETA as of now though.

Fitbit has announced that both Google Maps and Google Wallet would be coming to the Sense 2 (still no Google Assistant). But there’s no confirmed ETA as of now though.
Fitbit has announced that both Google Maps and Google Wallet would be coming to the Sense 2 (still no Google Assistant). But there’s no confirmed ETA as of now though. (Google)

Should you buy it?

Fitbit Sense 2 – and other Fitbit devices – excels at dissecting all the raw data it gathers with its surfeit of sensors and presenting it in easy-to-digest, visual formats. It’s great for building healthier habits in a wholesome, holistic way. Its Active Zone Minutes metric is excellent for helping beginners and fitness laypersons keep a tab on their physical activity instead of relying on the confusing calorie intake or the dubious steps and floors counting. Plus, the Fitbit Premium subscription is icing on the cake.

While you get six months free with your purchase of a Fitbit Sense 2, but if you want to unlock its full potential, you might want to go for the premium subscription. Thankfully, it’s way cheaper in India. While the pricing in the US is $9.99 per month, in India, you can get Fitbit Premium for just 999 for the entire year. It’s great value offering access to a huge library of guided fitness training and meditation videos, deep dive into fitness data with Daily Readiness Score, Sleep Profile, and Wellness Report, as well as gamified fitness challenges.

Therefore, as a fitness-first smartwatch, the Fitbit Sense 2 is a great pick for Fitbit fans and those who are only looking for a holistic health wearable.

However, if you’re looking for myriad smartwatch capabilities, you might want to look elsewhere – like the Samsung Galaxy Watch5. The Fitbit Sense 2 tries to justify its premium price tag with a great set of health tracking features but instead of being an iterative update, Sense 2 is a downgrade of sorts for a smartwatch.

Also, if you're absolutely married to the idea of getting a new Fitbit but don’t want to pay a bomb, you might want to consider the Fitbit Charge 5 or the Versa 4 which offers much of the core functionality, except ECG testing and cEDA monitoring. You can, in fact, also pick up the original Fitbit Sense.

*****

Specifications

Display: 1.58-inches AMOLED | 336 x 336 pixels

Dimensions: 40.5 x 40.5 x 11.2mm | 37.64 gms

Sensors: GPS/GLONASS, heart rate, altimeter, skin-temperature, gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, SpO2, cEDA

Water resistance: IPX8 | 5ATM | Water resistant up to 50m

Battery: 162mAh | 6+ days | 0-100% in two hours

Colors: Shadow Grey/Graphite | Lunar White/Platinum | Blue Mist/Soft Gold

*****

Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.

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