Fitbit Sense 2 watch is a perfectly designed, minimalist experience, perfect for tracking fitness parameters
Launched in 2020, the Fitbit Sense is an ambitious smartwatch with comprehensive fitness tracking features. The sequel, though, is just a fitness tracker masquerading as a smartwatch, as the company decided to strip away several features from the original Sense while focusing on fitness features.
This puts the Fitbit Sense 2 in an odd position. It’s a great fitness tracker, but it’s expensive — ¥24,999. And the limited intelligence does little to make it a competitive smartwatch. So, does Sense 2 even make sense?
The Perfect Fitness Tracker
The Fitbit Sense 2 looks much like its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. Regardless, the “mouse” watch face with its excellent AMOLED display is perfect. Although the switch from the original Sense’s stainless-steel chassis to aluminum was an odd choice, the improvements are welcome.
Sense 2 is thinner and lighter. I find it much less intrusive on my wrist, especially while sleeping. Thankfully, it also replaces the awful sensor notch in the original Sense with actual physical buttons, making smartwatch operation seamless. That touch-sensitive button is frustrating to use and has been accidentally pressed.
The perfect design and desirable feel separate, and the fitness tracking is excellent. Sense 2 has a plethora of sensors that can track nearly every health attribute a wearable could ask for. It measures your heart rate, body surface temperature, electrodermal activity (EDA) and blood oxygen (SpO2).
Read more: Can Fitness Wearables Effectively Track Sleep?
The EDA sensor on the original Sense is now a cEDA sensor — the “c” stands for continuous. The first generation can only measure EDA on demand, while Sense 2 measures continuously in the background. Sensors measure your skin’s electrical activity and sweat levels, from which Fitbit can infer how stressed you are. Every time the device detects that you’re stressed, it sends you a mood check and prompts you to take some stress-relieving actions, like a guided meditation or a walk.
The assumption of stressful moments—Fitbit calls them “body responses”—may expand EDA monitoring a bit, and the experience of logging emotions with expected follow-ups is certainly clunky, but overall the stress management features are a nice addition.
Then there’s sleep tracking, which Fitbit has had for a while. Sense 2 monitors your sleep and your waking stages of tossing and turning in bed to provide you with a “sleep score” each night. Additionally, the heart rate sensor works overnight along with the SpO2 sensor, as large fluctuations in blood oxygen levels can be a sign of a sleep disturbance.
Fitbit Sense 2 was unveiled alongside a new version of Fitbit OS. The improved version has a Wear-OS-like design, although the core functionality remains the same. Additionally, the UI is more intuitive and the overall experience is definitely faster, which is also a function of the underlying functionality.
By offering a minimalist experience, the Sense 2 manages to deliver great battery life. Even with the always-on display (AOD) active, I can go three days without charging. With AOD disabled and limited workouts, you can get up to six days of battery life. Charging is also fairly quick. While 15 minutes of charging on the charger can easily get you a day’s worth of juice, it takes about two hours to go from zero to 100 percent.
Like the Fitbit Sense, the Sense 2 has onboard GPS, allowing you to leave your smartphone at home while you’re out running. However, the GPS tracking feature is problematic and may not meet the needs of runners who require accurate GPS data.
While the Fitbit Sense 2 is an excellent fitness tracker, it’s objectively a much weaker product than the Fitbit Sense. To put it bluntly, it is a downgrade.
Let’s start with Fitbit OS. An extensible operating system is what differentiates a “smartwatch” from a “fitness tracker.” Fitbit is walking an awkward line right now. The app selection on Fitbit has always been very limited. There are only a handful of beautiful but basic apps available to people, such as 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 nothing more. No barcodes on your wrist, no water reminders, no New York Times headlines.
If that’s not surprising, Sense 2 also doesn’t include Google Assistant. Inexplicably, both the original Sense and the Versa 3 support Google Assistant, and Fitbit is now owned by Google. Amazon Alexa is still supported.
Continuing, although the Sense 2 hardware supports Wi-Fi, the software has disabled the Wi-Fi connection. I don’t know why it does this. Wi-Fi support allows for faster updates than over Bluetooth.
There’s no offline music storage on the Sense 2 (another use case for Wi-Fi support), and since we no longer have third-party apps like Spotify, Pandora, or Deezer, there’s no way to listen to or even control music played through the Sense 2. The lack of music storage might be a nice touch, but music controls are unfortunately missing.
While all of these omissions are a headache, not everyone finds them worrisome. It can annoy you only if you use or plan to use the feature. Also, since the app library on Fitbit has always been limited, not many people will mourn the demise of third-party apps.
On the plus side, Fitbit announced that both Google Maps and Google Wallet will be coming to the Sense 2 (still no Google Assistant). But so far no ETA has been confirmed.
Fitbit has announced that both Google Maps and Google Wallet will be coming to the Sense 2 (still no Google Assistant). But so far no ETA has been confirmed.
Should you buy it?
The Fitbit Sense 2 — and other Fitbit devices — excel at dissecting all the raw data it collects through its multitude of sensors and presenting it in an easy-to-understand visual format. It’s perfect for creating healthier habits in a healthy, holistic way. Its Active Zone Minutes metric is perfect for helping beginners and fitness laymen keep tabs on their physical activity, rather than relying on confusing calorie intake or questionable step and floor counts. Plus, a Fitbit Premium subscription is the icing on the cake.
While six months are free with the purchase of the Fitbit Sense 2, you may need to subscribe to the premium version if you want to use it to its full potential. Thankfully, it’s much cheaper in India.While pricing in the US is $9.99 per month, in India you only need ¥999 for the whole year. Offering access to a huge library of guided fitness workouts and meditation videos, insights into fitness data with daily readiness scores, sleep profiles and health reports, and gamified fitness challenges are incredibly valuable.
So, as a fitness-first smartwatch, the Fitbit Sense 2 is an excellent choice for Fitbit fans and those just looking for a wearable for overall health.
But if you’re looking for a myriad of smartwatch features, you might want to look elsewhere — like the Samsung Galaxy Watch5. The Fitbit Sense 2 tries to justify its high price tag with a host of fitness-tracking features, but the Sense 2 isn’t an iterative update, it’s a sort of downgrade of the smartwatch.
Also, if you absolutely want to get a new Fitbit but don’t want to shell out the big bucks, you might want to consider the Fitbit Charge 5 or Versa 4, which offer many core features, with the exception of EKG testing and cEDA monitoring. In fact, you can also buy the original Fitbit Sense.
exhibit: 1.58-inch AMOLED | 336 x 336 pixels
aspect: 40.5 x 40.5 x 11.2 mm | 37.64 g
sensor: GPS/GLONASS, heart rate, altimeter, body temperature, gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, SpO2, cEDA
water Resistance: IPX8 | 5ATM | Waterproof up to 50m
Battery: 162mA | Over 6 days | 0-100% within two hours
color: Dark Grey/Graphite | Moon White/Platinum | Blue Mist/Soft Gold
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.