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A sense of purpose: A Fitbit Sense review

A sense of purpose: A Fitbit Sense review

Fitbit Sense adds new health tools to the smartwatch brand

This is as much a review of the Fitbit Sense as it is of the future of healthcare and wellness.

Fitbit was one of the pioneers of the wearable revolution, and has led the pace in the space since. Beginning with activity trackers, its latest launch, the Fitbit Sense is one of the most advanced health smartwatches around.

Fitbit also remains one of the few remaining independent smartwatch brands around not tethered to a smartphone brand – at the time of writing. (Google is in the process of acquiring Fitbit, pending regulatory review. It remains to be seen if Google will incorporate Fitbit into its Pixel ecosystem, although that seems unlikely).

Design

I already own a Fitbit Versa 3, giving me a good starting point for comparison.

The Fitbit Sense is a sleeker device than the Versa. Its aluminium and stainless-steel body gives the device a polished profile. The Sense comes with a new set of silicon bands with a quick-release attachment if you need to rejig your look. The watch is water-resistant up to 50M.

The physical function button of the Versa family has been replaced by a sensor on the left. It responds via tactile feedback when pressed.

The charger has been redesigned as well. The Versa 3 charger is a clamp that wraps around the body. In contrast, the Sense has a small flat attachment that snaps onto the back via magnets.

Fitbit says the biosensor core within has been configured to house the most sensors of any Fitbit device while maintaining a sleek aesthetic and long battery life.

The AMOLED display is bright and features an integrated ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the screen when needed, along with an optional always-on display mode.

The battery should easily give you a full week of operations between charges with the power-saving mode on, half of that in ‘always on’ mode.

The biosensor core within has been configured to house the most sensors of any Fitbit device.

Performance
The main addition to the Sense is the new EDA (electrodermal activity) sensor which measures stress. Measuring your EDA responses should help you understand your body’s response to stressors and help you manage your stress levels.

According to research, one in three people experiences a lot of worry or stress, as well as psychological and physiological symptoms caused by stress. Over time, the physical strain from stress can contribute to a variety of health problems if unmanaged, like an increased risk for high blood pressure and heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and mental health disorders like anxiety or depression.

EDA readings range from 1-100 with a higher score indicating your body is showing fewer physical signs of stress. The sensor detects small electrical changes in the sweat level of your skin. Paired with the mobile app, it offers guided mindfulness sessions to see how your body responds during meditation or relaxation.

To measure your EDA place your palm over the face of the device with the EDA Scan on. It gives you readings after two minutes, while you can pair the EDA response with the mobile app for a more granular breakdown of the data.

I can vouch for the efficacy of the EDA sensor of the Sense. Basically, the fewer EDA responses on the app, the calmer you are. On November 3, election day in the US, I had zero responses after the two-minute scan. My readings on November 4th however revealed six responses in the nail-biting waiting period for US elections results.

Fitbit Premium members will get a detailed breakdown on how the score is calculated, which consists of over 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).

The Fitbit Sense also features a new heart rate sensor. The sensor can detect and send a notification if your heart rate is outside of the normal threshold. Generally, a high or low heart rate may be an indication of a heart condition that requires medical attention, such as bradycardia (heart rate that is too slow) and tachycardia (heart rate that is too fast).

Fitbit Sense adds a new skin temperature sensor to detect changes that may potentially be a sign of a fever, illness, or the start of a new menstrual phase. Wearing your device when you’re asleep each night lets you regularly measure your skin temperature variation to see trends over time.

EDA readings range from 1-100 with a higher score indicating your body is showing fewer physical signs of stress.

Medical applications
The true success of wearables will arrive when they can be utilised more broadly within the medical field.

Fitbit and other wearable manufacturers have made huge leaps in integrating medical-grade technology in their devices. Regulatory authorities globally are playing catch up. Fitbit earlier this year received a nod from FDA and its European equal CE mark for the heart sensor technology, which can be used to assess heart rhythm.

Wearables may be able to play an important role in the early detection of infectious diseases by acting as an early warning system for our bodies.

Early findings from a Fitbit Covid-19 study suggest that changes in some health metrics can be detected by Fitbit devices simultaneously with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, and in some cases even before.

The company says over 100,000 Fitbit users joined the study, and results showed Fitbit’s algorithm could detect nearly 50 per cent of Covid-19 cases a day before the onset of symptoms with 70 per cent specificity. This research could serve as a model for detecting other diseases and health conditions in the future.

Fitness
Fitbit Sense is at its core, a fitness device. It comes with onboard GPS, 20+ on-device exercise modes, automatic activity tracking, cardio fitness level and score, and sleep measuring tools.

I noticed a difference between the Versa and the Sense in how they both measure distance. My usual 10KM with the Versa is somehow 1KM shorter with the Sense, much to my chagrin.

Fitbit is the Official Health and Wellness Partner of the Dubai Fitness Challenge (DFC) 2020 for the second year. Over 30 days, Dubai’s residents are motivated to get at least 30 minutes of activity every day through challenges and events that take place physically across the city and virtually from October 30 to November 28, 2020.

Fitbit users looking for extra motivation can use their fitness features on their Fitbit devices like Active Zone Minutes, on-device exercise modes with GPS, and automatic activity tracking to monitor key trends in their health and wellbeing throughout the challenge.

There’s a built-in speaker and microphone to take calls and reply to texts with voice commands, contactless payments, thousands of apps and various clock faces. My favourite apps are Spotify-which allows me to take my music on my run without the phone, and Wallet-which makes me like a secret agent when tapping the wrist to make payments.

Fitbit refers to the Sense as a health smartwatch and it’s easy to see why. The future of healthcare will be more personalised and more proactive. The Fitbit Sense is an important step in this direction.

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