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Fitbit's Sense 2 gave me a glimpse of how the Google Pixel Watch will be

Review: The Sense 2 offers a timeless Fitbit experience, but the lack of third-party app support and Google Assistant makes a forthcoming smartwatch all the more enticing.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on
Pros
  • Lovely AMOLED display
  • Elegant, refined squircle design
  • Well-supported Fitbit ecosystem
  • Free six months of Fitbit Premium service
Cons
  • Minimal app selection, no third-party apps
  • No Google Assistant
  • $299 price is not the most competitive

After Google purchased Fitbit, we expected changes ahead. And with the upcoming Pixel Watch, there should be boundaries between it and the best Fitbit. The Fitbit Sense 2 moves forward with the hardware and backward with the software, in comparison with the original Fitbit Sense released two years ago. At $299.95, the Sense 2 also launches at a price $30 less than the original Sense.  

If you installed and used third-party apps on your Fitbit Sense, don't look for them in the Sense 2. The Sense 2 is basically a watch version of other Fitbit devices like the Inspire 3 with added health and wellness features like the EDA scan (electrodermal activity) and integrated GPS. 

Google Assistant was available on the Sense after an update, but the Sense 2 launched without it. It may never arrive on the Sense 2, but there is advertised support for Google Wallet and Google Maps.

Also: I made a huge Apple Watch mistake

Design

One of the cons in my Fitbit Sense review was the solid-state button, so I am very pleased to see a return to a physical button that works in conjunction with the touch screen. Touches are much more reliable and responsive on the Sense 2 as well, another benefit of the second-generation device.

The Fitbit Sense and Sense 2 side by side on pavement

Slight updates in the design of the Sense 2 (right).

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The familiar squircle format is present with support for the same Sense bands, so you can keep using those you have collected over the past couple of years. The dimensions are about the same, but the Sense 2's design is a bit more refined and it's a pleasure to wear 24/7.

We were sent the Shadow Grey/Graphite Aluminum model to test out; other options are Lunar White/Platinum Aluminum and Blue Mist/Soft Gold Aluminum. 

A host of bands are available, including leather, vegan leather, Brother Vellies designer, sport, hook/loop, and woven. We tried out a Horween leather and a sport option with the Sense 2 for different life scenarios. Bands range in price from $34.95 to $54.95.

Sense 2 user interface

Similar to the Inspire 3, the user interface on the Fitbit Sense 2 has been simplified to provide a consistent experience and help you navigate faster than before. 

Swipe from the top down to access quick settings, swipe up to view notifications, and swipe left or right to move through the Tiles that are selected in the settings in the Fitbit app on your smartphone. Press the physical button to open the app launcher, press and hold to open a selected shortcut, and double-press to show your four favorite apps. The updated UI does a great job of helping you get to your favorite apps quickly.

Fitbit Sense 2 worn on a wrist

It's a solid health and wellness tracker.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The Fitbit Sense 2 supports phone calls, and if you connect it to an Android phone, then you can reply to text and notifications using voice-to-text. There is no phone dialer on the watch, but you can answer incoming calls directly on the watch after enabling the second call Bluetooth profile.

The Sense 2 is mainly designed as a health and wellness wearable with support for EDA scan, Active Zone Minutes, stress tracking, ECG, and advanced sleep tracking. It makes a nice passive fitness tracker, with a large amount of available data and reports from Fitbit Premium enhancing the experience. A battery charge lasts about a week, and with just 12 minutes on the charger you can get a full day's charge with fast-charging capabilities. 

Back of the Fitbit Sense 2 showing the sensor

The heart rate sensor is key to the tracking.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Fitbit app

There are iOS and Android apps for Fitbit. Google Fast Pair is supported, so the Sense 2 should appear quickly in a pop-up on your Android phone once it is turned on. We tested the Inspire 3 with a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4.

The most significant change I see is the removal of support for third-party apps and the limited number of apps available for the Sense 2. There are just a total of 11 apps available to install and use on the Fitbit Sense 2 -- and that includes things like alarms, settings, timers, and notifications that are not really apps, but basic functions of a wearable.

Also: The best sports watches, and how does the Apple Watch Ultra compare?

The Sense 2 does support third-party watch faces, with a massive number of options available through the Fitbit smartphone app, some of which you pay the developer to use. If watch faces are important to you, you will find enough that you can change to a new face every day.

Bottom line

It's wonderful to see the return of the physical button to a Fitbit watch, and the refined design is great. The Fitbit Sense 2 accurately captured my outdoor activities with GPS and indoor activities with heart rate tracking, and noted the details of my sleep and my daily heart rate. It is an excellent health and wellness tracker, with the Fitbit Premium service offering all of the details and guidance you could ask for to help you improve your health.

The Sense 2 will be even better with Google Maps and Google Wallet, so we look forward to that future update. If you use 3rd party apps on the Sense, don't upgrade to the Sense 2 since you will lose access to those apps. While the Sense 2 supports receiving phone calls, incoming audio is not very clear and callers said I sounded like I was far away from the watch. This function should really only be used for urgent calls and is not good enough for regular use like we see with an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch.

I'm not quite sure where the Fitbit Sense 2 fits in the market, with more affordable options like the Inspire 3 providing the basic health and wellness data you need while smartwatches like the Apple Watch SE and Galaxy Watch 5 offer more for just a bit more money. If you want a basic GPS sports watch that tracks some advanced metrics like EDA scanning and ECG, then the Fitbit Sense 2 may be for you. It's an interesting time for the Sense 2 with the upcoming Pixel Watch and we'll have to see how things shake out when we get more details next week.

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