Working for People with Sight Loss

Labs Product Reviews – Fitbit Sense Smartwatch

Fitbit Sense watch in charcoal black

In the latest of our Technology Product Reviews, Daniel Dunne in the NCBI Labs team provides us with an insight into the Fitbit Sense Smartwatch.

Item Name: Fitbit Sense Smartwatch
Reviewed by: Daniel Dunne

Description

The Sense is the premium smartwatch from Fitbit taking over from the Versa 3 as the company’s flagship model. The model was released in late 2020 and is intended to compete with similar premium products like the Apple Smartwatch. Boasting advanced featured sensors for your health such as stress, heart rate and ECG it certainly packs a punch for such a small device. Like other smartwatches it can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and can also connect to your home’s WiFi to receive updates, etc.… Also onboard is the Google Assistant and the Alexa Assistant which for the purposes of this review is an important and useful feature.

Unboxing / What are my first impressions of the item?

A tidy compact box not much bigger than a bag of sugar (but much lighter, thankfully!) contains the Fitbit Sense. Opening the box one has to peal the clear plastic seal on the back of the box at the bottom left. You then slide the main box out of the outer packaging. The box opens in half, to reveal the watch itself, a spare strap a quick start guide and the charging cable. No charger is contained inside the box which helps explain why the overall package was just the size of a bag of sugar.

Recently the push to reduce waste by the more environmentally conscious amongst us has convinced some manufacturers, like Fitbit, to stop shipping chargers and thus encourage us to reuse one we might have sitting in a drawer somewhere. So, be warned – if you are buying a new Fitbit product, purchase a separate USB charger if you don’t have a spare one at home.

The device itself is very compact for a Smartwatch that has so many features. The screen size is just a smidgien above 40mm across (corner to corner) and the watch is a little over 12mm thick – so it’s not intrusive on your arm at all. The stainless steel backing where the charger connects is easy to use, the square magnetic charging connector at the end of the USB cable is easy to guide into place. The straps are made from a substance called Elastomer which could be best described as rubber and soft plastic merged to give a comfortable fit.

The Fitbit App needs to be installed on your smartphone for the device to be setup – and for the purposes of this evaluation an iPhone was used. Your smartphone (whether you’re using Android or Apple) will require Bluetooth to be on for setting up and thereafter communicating with the smartwatch. It is possible to use some features of the watch without having an active Bluetooth connection to the watch, but such features are limited indeed.

The App works quite well with VoiceOver, navigation is straightforward enough but there are a lot of options so there will be plenty of exploring. If you’ve a Google Account or Alexa Account, it is worth linking them to the Fitbit Sense as it is far quicker to ask these Voice Assistants about how many steps you’ve taken, etc. than go through the App with VoiceOver.

I have been using this for a few days, how do I feel about it?

The Fitbit Sense is a compact and comfortable device to wear and the battery life is decent. While the author of this piece could do much better in engaging in more physical activity – I find the data itself interesting, intriguing even and I can see how one can get addicted to “hitting my steps goal for today”! Navigation of the smartwatch itself is simple – but a drawback is that you will need a relatively good level of vision to do this. Swipe down will reveal notifications from your connected smartphone, Swipe up will display widgets such as weather and health stats, Swipe left will navigate Apps on the smartwatch and swipe right brings you to the settings of the device.

One of the enhanced features of the smartwatch is the inclusion of an ECG sensor where one places their finger tips on the bottom left and top right of the watch face. Sighted assistance will be required here for the 30-second monitoring session that after a quick analysis gives you on-screen text feedback. While it’s not a replacement for the ECG carried out in a healthcare setting, it has usefulness in keeping an eye on things.

Other features include a stress level monitor – this is done by placing your other palm over the watch face for two minutes for the device to detect sweat level changes, etc.… this Author admits not to having done this test as he’s a happy-go-lucky type of guy.

Is it accessible?

Sort of, not really. Yes, that is a strange answer – but the smartwatch does not currently have any system like Talkback, VoiceOver or Commentary to navigate around with audio feedback. You can use Alexa or Google Assistant (not both) by holding the side button and asking the smartwatch for information from it – like how many steps have I taken? etc.…Likewise you can use your Smartphone to navigate the Fitbit App and review the data it has downloaded from the Smartwatch. Overall this is a big drawback for someone with a visual impairment, especially when Apple and Samsung have their own screen-reader software built into their smartwatches. You’ve spent the bones of €300 on this device, you’re supposed to interact with it physically more than just charging it or summoning Alexa!

What did I like?

It’s probably best list these as a lot has been said above:

  • Compact and Comfortable
  • Good battery life
  • ECG sensor was fairly straightforward
  • Easy to charge
  • Not hard to set up via the App
  • Onboard WiFi for getting updates and some other information

What didn’t I like?

Again, probably best to list these too:

  • No onboard accessibility such as a screen reader
  • Alexa or Google Assistant cannot interact with calls when using on Apple iPhones
  • Notifications were text only, no image thumbnails
  • No charger supplied

Did it meet my expectations?

Yes and no – I expected more for the price tag and the fact that Fitbit is a Google Company. Perhaps that is why calls don’t work on the Smartwatch via Apple phones! The device is clearly pitched to go up against the Apple watch and it’s lack of accessibility features here is a big miss. I was pleasantly surprised by the compactness and how comfortable the device was.

What improvements, if any, would I like to see in this product?

Development of onboard accessibility features is a big must for Fitbit should they release a Sense 2 model.

Would I recommend this item to others?

I would only really recommend this device to Android smartphone owners and at that they would need to be happy with using Google Assistant or the Fitbit App with Talkback/Commentary should they have a visual impairment. Overall though and for the purposes of the audience reading this review – I’d hold my €279 in the bank and await a Fitbit Sense 2 to hit the shelves to see if Fitbit work on an onboard screen reader for the smartwatch.

Is there other/competing technology you have tried, similar to this item?

No.