August 27 update below. This post was first published on August 25, 2020.
Fitbit has just revealed three new devices, Fitbit Versa 3, Fitbit Inspire 2 and an all-new model which is the star of the show: Fitbit Sense. The Versa 3 is a strong update over the current model, as is the Inspire 2, but it’s the Fitbit Sense, which stands out.
It speaks the same design language as the Versa but has a more premium look and feel (and price). The Fitbit Sense has a powerful focus on health, aiming to help wearers to understand their stress levels, for instance, in a ground-breaking way.
August 27 update. One of the standout features of the Fitbit Sense is its capability to measure an ECG on your wrist. Few other devices have this feature, though the main ones are Apple Watch Series 4 and onwards, Samsung Galaxy Watch3, Withings Move ECG and Withings Scanwatch.
The thing is, while it’s one thing to build the technology into the smartwatch, it’s another to be able to offer it to users. Not one of the watches mentioned above has ECG capabilities in all the places you can buy it.
That’s because it requires clearance from the appropriate health authority, such as the FDA in the United States, for instance. And even then it takes time. Apple revealed its ECG capability on the Apple Watch Series 4 in 2018 and it had apparently received FDA clearance just hours before the announcement. It was then a couple of months before it arrived on users’ Watches. Similarly, E.U. clearance came in early 2019 and landed on Apple Watch models in the U.K. first, in March 2019.
For Fitbit Sense, clearance has yet to be granted, so it won’t be available anywhere when the Sense goes on sale in the coming weeks. However, James Stables at Wareable has now reported that clearance is expected soon. Fitbit VP Larry Yang told Stables that the feature is in what he called final review with the FDA, which is promising. Even better, he said that clearance should happen in the States and also in the E.U., “this side of the holidays”. So, it’s possible that the feature will go live this year – though more likely to be early 2021.
This E.U. clearance, by the bye, is good news for U.K. users since the United Kingdom is in the E.U. until December 31, 2020 and outside it from next January. It may mean that British users will get clearance by the skin of their teeth before the exit from Europe.
It has sensors previous Fitbits did not, including the world’s first Electrodermal Activity (EDA) sensor on a smartwatch. This sensor is at the forefront of the stress level detection capabilities in the Fitbit Sense.
It measures, Fitbit says, tiny electrical changes on your skin. If you’ve ever found your palms getting a little sweaty when you’re nervous or anxious, it’s this kind of change that the Fitbit Sense will spot.
If you want to know your stress levels, you need to start an EDA session, as Fitbit calls it. It’s pretty simple: place your palm across the face of the Sense and breathe. I mean, hopefully you were doing the breathing bit anyway, right? But the session means it can analyze how you’re doing.
The display says, “Take a moment to de-stress, and see your body’s response”. In the Fitbit app, it’ll show you your stress management score which is calculated daily and shows your heart health, sleep and activity levels. A high score means you have few signs of physical stress and a low score means you are showing signs of stress.”
The Fitbit app can also help you lower your stress levels with mindfulness, taking part in meditation sessions included in the app. Fitbit has its own Premium tier which has extra sessions and further detail in the stress management section, including something called exertion balance which aims to gauge the impact of your physical activity. This is a Fitbit, after all, so it still tracks all your exercise, for instance.
This Premium level of stress tracking also looks at what Fitbit calls responsiveness. This looks at your heart rate, heart rate variability and your electrodermal activity when you use the scanning app. It also considers sleep patterns. You’ll get recommendations on managing stress such as physical activities or a tip from the American Heart Association.
Buying a Fitbit Sense gives you six months’ free membership of Fitbit Premium.
The Fitbit Sense will also track your heart health, with continuous heart-rate tracking, something the company has offered for the last six years on selected devices, and now with ECG tracking.
ECG tracking is currently waiting for pending FDA review for use in the US, so it’s not available just yet. When it comes, this feature is also not for people under 22.
Battery life is over six days, Fitbit says, and both it and the new Versa 3 will come with a new magnetic charging system able to deliver a day’s usage from a 12-minute charge.
The Fitbit Sense is made from aluminum and stainless steel, which is why it looks classier than the regular Versa and is water-resistant to a depth of 50 meters. There’s GPS on board, for exact measurement of your outdoor exercise even without your companion smartphone.
Oh, and not only is Alexa here, as it was since the Versa 2 was launched, but so is Google Assistant. To get to the assistant of choice, press the watch’s button. In other words, there’s no hands-free assistant here as there is on the Apple Watch. The arrival of Google Assistant may not be entirely unrelated to the fact that Google is buying Fitbit.
This Fitbit will still do all the exercise-related things you’d expect from the brand, like more than 20 exercise modes, advanced sleep tracking and more.
The Fitbit Sense, and the other devices announced today, are available for pre-order now and are available in September. The Fitbit Sense costs $329, £299 in the U.K.
Follow me on Instagram by clicking here: davidphelantech and Twitter: @davidphelan2009