To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live would be an understatement. With more people placing importance on monitoring their health and fitness, consumer gadgets capable of doing so have found themselves in the spotlight. With the lines blurring between smartwatches and fitness trackers, smartwatches today have assumed a new category termed health watches.
When Fitbit sent over their latest Fitbit Sense health watch towards the end of 2020, I was super excited to see how it would perform. However, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Apple Watch Series 6.
(Disclaimer: I’ve been using the Apple Watch since Series 0 (2015) and have seen Apple transform the Apple Watch into an all-rounded smartwatch with leading fitness and health tracking features. Hence the Apple Watch experience is somewhat of a benchmark in term of user experience for me.)
Right out of the box, the Sense looks beautiful and feels super comfortable. Fitbit has definitely been paying close attention to what Apple has been doing and has caught up in its design language and overall user experience.
3 WINS OVER THE APPLE WATCH
1. Superior Health Monitoring
Let me put it upfront – the Fitbit Sense and Apple Watch Series 6 have amazing health monitoring features.
Both the Sense and Apple Watch come with in-built ECG sensors, making them both capable of detecting signs of irregular heart and series heart issues, specifically atrial fibrillation. Both also include an Sp02 sensor, allowing you to check your blood oxygen levels.
The Sense edges over the Series 6 with its new skin temperature sensor that measures electrodermal activity that is tied to the EDA Scan app, which essentially measures your body’s stress levels. Pretty amazing! This is clearly a step in the right direction as according to Fitbit, there was a major shift and focus on mental wellness and stress management while staying indoors among Singapore Fitbit users in 2020.
Furthermore, this new Stress Management Score available on the Sense also calculates how your body is responding to stress based on your heart rate, sleep and activity data. Ranging from 1 to 100 with a higher score indicating your body is showing fewer physical signs of stress, the score is coupled with recommendations to better manage stress, like breathing exercises and other mindfulness tools.
With a Fitbit Premium subscription, you will get an even more detailed breakdown of how the score is calculated. According to Fitbit, this is tabulated via 10 biometric inputs, including exertion balance (impact of activity), responsiveness (heart rate, heart rate variability and electrodermal activity from the EDA Scan app) and sleep patterns (sleep quality).
With the Sense, Fitbit definitely has an edge over the Apple Watch in the area of overall health monitoring insights and data.
2. Best in Class Sleep Tracking Experience
The sleep tracking experience with the Sense is really simple, data-centric and most importantly, comfortable. This is something Fitbit is renowned for and continues to be superior at. Even with watchOS 7 adding sleep tracking features to the Apple Watch, wearing an Apple Watch on your wrist to sleep may not exactly be the most comfortable experience. As for the Sense, due to its flatter and less intrusive design, I went to sleep without even knowing it was on my wrist.
Comparing Apple’s sleep app to Fitbit’s, one can clearly see why the latter shines. While Apple’s sleep tracking focuses only on the amount of time you spend in bed, the Fitbit companion app, on the other hand, provides very detailed yet easy to understand information on my sleep patterns in a dashboard-like format. A sleep quality score is calculated daily and gives you a good overview of your night’s rest as you go through light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep!
Even for a long-time Apple Watch user like me, I still prefer to wear my Fitbit Charge 4 to sleep every night instead! And the fact that I have to take off the Apple Watch to charge it first before sleeping with it for sleep tracking brings me to my next point.
3. Longer Battery Life
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Sense reigns supreme over the Apple Watch in terms of battery life. While the latest Apple Watch Series 6 offers up to 18 hours of battery life, the Sense is apparently able to go 6 days on a single charge. This, of course, depends on your daily usage of the Sense, as well as whether the always-on display mode is switched on.
From my own experience, I managed to go on about 4 days of using the Sense before needing to charge it, having worn it on my wrist through my walks, jogs, groceries trips, work shoots and sleep. It’s amazing because the Apple Watch wouldn’t even come close!
3 LOSSES TO THE APPLE WATCH
1. Overall Smartwatch Features
Both the Sense and the Apple Watch have the standard features of being able to serve up notifications for calls, messages and apps. However, based on my user experience, there is no ability to respond to notifications on the Fitbit Sense like you would on an Apple Watch.
Both also have the ability to control music playing on your phone or pair your Bluetooth earphones to listen to music that’s stored on it. The Apple Watch works with music transfer via Apple Music, while Fitbit does the same with Deezer. Both, unfortunately, do not offer offline playlist support for Spotify. If you are using an iPhone, the user experience of controlling music will definitely feel tighter and more well-thought-out on the Apple Watch than the Sense.
Where the Apple Watch clearly has an upper hand is in its app ecosystem, where the Apple Watch App Store has a bigger and more comprehensive collection of apps. What’s more, many of these apps are also linked to the existing ones on the iPhone, making cross-device usage seamless. The Fitbit app collection for the Sense, while not exactly bad, is, unfortunately, no match in this aspect.
This might be a little biased on my part but having used the cellular version of the Apple Watch since Series 3, the freedom of being able to make calls and reply to messages without needing your phone on runs or workouts is something I just cannot give up at this point in time.
2. Lack of Fall Detection
Now, this is one feature on the Apple Watch which I find absolutely necessary in any smartwatch/health watch out there in the market today.
I recently had a clumsy fall when out for a run and the Apple Watch detected it flawlessly, giving me the option to respond if I’m alright or call for emergency help. If you don’t respond, the Apple Watch will even make the necessary emergency call for you.
It is a little disappointing that the Sense, as well as the rest of the Fitbit line, do not have a fall detection feature. Fitbit has been known to pay attention to consumer needs and competitor features, so here’s to hoping that this will be included in future iterations of the Sense and the rest of the fitness trackers and health watches.
3. Less Comprehensive Customisation Experience
This is by no means Fitbit’s fault, given that we are comparing it to the massive ecosystem of third-party support that Apple has built around the Apple Watch.
When you purchase a Sense, what you get is the standard package of the health watch itself with the existing black straps. There is only one size. You can purchase additional accessories like straps and chargers from Fitbit itself and there are some third-party options available on Amazon, Lazada and Shopee.
However, compare it to the fully personalised Apple Watch Studio experience and the difference could not be more obvious. From the moment of browsing and prior to the actual purchase, you get to fully customise your Apple Watch – its size, case material and band type. Furthermore, the plethora of third-party accessories available out there for the Apple Watch makes what you can find for the Fitbit pale in comparison.
The Fitbit Sense is a great alternative to the Apple Watch, especially if your focus is on health data rather than an integrated ecosystem experience. From better sleep tracking and skin temperature sensors to the ability to measure your body’s response to stress, the Fitbit Sense definitely edges out the Apple Watch Series 6 as the health watch to own.
However, if you already own an iPhone and want an all-rounded smartwatch that offers fitness and health tracking alongside work and play, then the Apple Watch would still be the better choice. As someone who lives and breathes within Apple’s ecosystem, the Apple Watch’s tight integration with iOS and Mac OS makes it the clear winner over the Fitbit Sense for all-roundedness.
On the other hand, for Android users, this could very well be the best smartwatch to purchase right now over all the other available options out there.
The Fitbit Sense is available now for S$428.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Written by Claudio Chock (Tech360.tv Community Creator) [@claudio.chock]