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Fitbit Sense 2: This Smartwatch Wants to Make You Stress Less

The new Fitbit smartwatch has cleaner software that's easier to navigate and new sensors for all-day stress monitoring.

Fitbit Sense 2 smart watch
The Fitbit Sense 2
Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Fitbit is trying to make its stress-tracking tech more useful with the $300 Fitbit Sense 2, which has a new body response sensor that can scan for potential signs of stress passively throughout the day. It can also take spot checks on-demand just like the original Fitbit Sense, though my colleagues Lexy Savvides and Scott Stein said its stress-tracking capabilities were "more confusing than helpful." Can the Fitbit Sense 2 change that? 

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Aside from an updated user interface that feels fresh and easier to navigate, the new body response sensor is the biggest factor that separates the Sense 2 from its 2-year-old predecessor. I've been using the Fitbit Sense 2 for roughly two days, which is just enough time to appreciate the watch's more streamlined software and the return of the physical navigation button. I'll need more time with the watch to get a sense (no pun intended) of what all-day stress tracking really brings to Fitbit's latest wearable. The Sense 2 is also slightly cheaper than its predecessor, which was priced at $330 when it launched. 

The launch comes just before Google is expected to announce more details about the Pixel Watch's launch on Oct. 6. Since Google owns Fitbit, the search giant's first smartwatch will include some of Fitbit's health-tracking features too. We'll hopefully have a clearer picture of which smartwatch is the better overall choice after spending more time with the Sense 2 and learning more about the Pixel Watch. In the meantime, here are the biggest things that have stood out to me so far while using the Fitbit Sense 2.

The Fitbit Sense 2's updated interface

Fitbit Sense 2 smart watch

The Fitbit Sense 2

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

I generally prefer the Apple Watch's interface over Fitbit's, but the Sense 2's new software is a promising step in the right direction. The Today View, which shows calories burned, distance, steps and other data points, now displays these metrics in bubble-shaped tiles that have a softer look. 

Most importantly, the interface shows more information at a glance. On older devices, navigating your Fitbit went something like this: A swipe up would show widgets for your core stats, swiping down would show notifications, swiping to the left would pull up app icons, and swiping right would show quick settings.

That's simple enough, but the new software feels even easier and seemingly shows more data without having to tap into specific apps. Swiping down shows quick settings, swiping up shows notifications, and then you can access a carousel of widgets for tidbits like your steps, heart rate, the weather, sleep, a timer and more by swiping left or right. These widgets feel richer than before and allow me to see a snapshot of my activity for the day, how my heart rate has been trending over the past couple of hours, how much sleep I got last night and more just by swiping through the interface. 

The Fitbit Sense 2 showing the weather forecast

The Fitbit Sense 2 has a new user interface that feels cleaner and easier to navigate.

Bobby Oliver/CNET

Fitbit also brought back the physical navigation button, last seen on the Versa 2 from 2019. It sits on the side of the watch and replaces the haptic "button" on the previous model. I generally find physical buttons easier to manage than haptic keys, especially on devices that are as tiny as smartwatches that are meant for quick, tappable interactions. I don't want to have to press more than once because I can't tell if the sensors registered my taps. 

The Fitbit Sense 2 showing fitness stats

The Fitbit Sense 2's new software is a step forward.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Tapping the side button will wake the watch if it's asleep, and pressing it again launches the app menu. You can also program a shortcut to trigger when long-pressing the button (I currently have mine set to launch Alexa), and a double press pulls up your favorite apps. Apps are now displayed in a list that follows that same bubble-esque tiled format I mentioned earlier when describing the Today view. It replaces the app grid system found on previous Fitbits. Not only is this cleaner and easier to read, but scrolling up or down to cycle through apps also feels more natural than swiping between screens.

In terms of performance, navigating around the Sense 2 doesn't feel quite as speedy and smooth as on the Apple Watch Series 8. But it also doesn't seem to lag noticeably like the previous Sense.

Fitbit Sense 2 stress tracking

The Fitbit Sense 2 being worn on the wrist with a stress management notification being shown on the screen.

The Fitbit Sense 2 has a body response sensor that can send a notification when it detects that your body may be showing signs of stress.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Stress tracking was the biggest differentiating feature on the original Sense, and that holds true again with the Sense 2. Fitbit has a new type of sensor that the company calls Body Response, which measures "cEDA," or continuous electrodermal activity. 

This new measurement, combined with other metrics that have previously existed in Fitbit devices like heart rate, heart rate variability and skin temperature, can flag moments throughout the day when you might be stressed. The previous Sense only allowed you to check your electrodermal activity (EDA) on-demand by launching an app on the watch and placing your palm over the bezel for two minutes to take a reading. 

I've only been wearing the Fitbit Sense 2 for a couple of days, so I haven't gotten many body responses yet. The first one came in the late afternoon during a busy work day, which seemed logical since I was probably scrambling to wrap up my projects for the day. However, I didn't recall feeling more stressed than usual around the time I received the notification. I also didn't check the alert until about 20 minutes later, after the moment had passed. 

When you get one of these notifications, Fitbit prompts you to log your mood. Even though I didn't feel particularly stressed, I chose the "stressed" option to see what would happen next. Fitbit suggested that I reflect on why I felt stressed and take a walk or start a guided breathing session. To use these features, you must opt-in to stress tracking when setting up the Sense 2 and toggle on the "Body responses" option within the Fitbit app. 

The Fitbit Sense 2 being worn on the wrist with the mood logging feature on screen

The Fitbit Sense 2 asks you to log your mood if it thinks your body may be showing signs of stress.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The new Fitbit also offers a stress management score, which is also found on many other Fitbits like the Inspire 3 and Versa 4. The score doesn't require these sensors since it uses factors like heart rate, sleep and activity to assess whether your body may be showing physical signs of stress. But if you are wearing a Fitbit device that has electrodermal activity sensors, it'll use those readings too, according to the explanation of the stress management score in Fitbit's app. 

It seems like Fitbit's goal is to offer a suite of stress tracking features with varying degrees of depth depending on the device. It's similar to how not all fitness trackers and smartwatches measure health and wellness the same; the more expensive the device, the more sensors it's equipped with to provide a closer look at your health.

A screenshot showing Fitbit's stress management score feature

Fitbit's stress management score is based on your activity, sleep and other factors. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

But since I haven't been using the Sense 2 for very long, it's difficult to know how useful these metrics are. Like any of the many data points our fitness trackers gather, this type of information is only helpful if the user knows what to do with it and is willing to make an effort. 

The addition of continuous tracking certainly seems more useful than going out of your way to take a scan when you're feeling stressed. But it seems easy to dismiss a notification in the moment, especially if you're already in a busy situation. I also wonder whether receiving yet another notification during a potentially tense moment would make people who are prone to stress even more overwhelmed.

When Scott and Lexy reviewed the previous Sense, they said their EDA Scan results didn't always correlate with how they felt. I haven't had enough time to decisively say whether that holds true for the Sense 2. But one EDA Scan that I took during the work day said I had 12 responses, which should mean that my body was likely showing signs of stress. However, I didn't feel very stressed at that particular moment. 

It'll take some time to see how helpful the Fitbit Sense 2 stress tracking truly is. But just as it took the industry years to push beyond basic step tracking and provide deeper insights tied to activity and exercise, I imagine the version of stress tracking we're seeing today is far from Fitbit's overall vision. We'll update this story in the future with more details on stress tracking, general health and activity monitoring and more after we've had more time with the Fitbit Sense 2.