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Fitbit Versa 3 vs Fitbit Sense: Which fitness smartwatch is best?

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<p>We tested battery life, features, value for money and monitoring ability </p> (The Independent/iStock)

We tested battery life, features, value for money and monitoring ability

(The Independent/iStock)

When you think of fitness tech, chances are that Fitbit is near the top of the list. Founded in 2007 in California (where else?), the fitness tracker giant is a go-to brand for the fitness industry, from Couch to 5k beginners to professional athletes. Google’s acquisition of the company finally went through this month, so the future looks even brighter, with a series of upgrades surely on the horizon.

Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park, in a letter to Fitbit owners, moved to allay any worries about data security and ease of use, saying that Google “has made a series of binding commitments with global regulators”, ensuring that users’s health and wellness data won’t be available for Google Ads and will be kept separate from all other Google data.

For those who worry this means the end of third party apps, Park also reported Google’s commitment to allow such connections to continue, letting users connect their favourite health and wellness apps to their Fitbit account.

Even without Google’s help, Fitbit has produced some of the best fitness tracking gadgets, smartwatches and wearable technology available: 275 trillion tracked steps so far seems to back this up. Two of Fitbit’s more sophisticated products, the Versa 3 and Sense, look to give the wearer much more than a step count.

Various attractions, including an blood oxygen saturation tracker, guided meditation, call and text notifications and the chance to check up on your stress levels mean that the two smartwatches are a genuine competitor to other less-fitness-focussed rivals.

There are differences between the two. The Sense is more classifiable as a health smartwatch, offering a holistic approach to improving or maintaining a healthy lifestyle, while the Versa 3 is certainly more geared towards fitness-heavy use. We put them head to head in a comprehensive test to see which version is right for you.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Fitbit Versa 3

Battery life: Six days+

Assistant: Alexa, with Google Assistant most likely incoming

Useful features: ECG sensor, SpO2 tracker, guided mindfulness and breathing sessions, sleep tracker, menstrual health tracking, music capability, Bluetooth call and message/app notifications.

Originally marketed as the “mass appeal smartwatch”, the third edition of Fitbit’s wildly successful Versa model still offers more than enough to hold the title. A built-in GPS is the biggest and long-awaited improvement over the Versa 2’s “connected GPS” that ultimately resulted in an imperfect link to your phone’s GPS. No issue with the Versa 3.

While the watch might be more geared to the fitness market, it still has an ECG sensor, and now offers a feature that seems acutely apt for our current situation: an app that measures blood oxygen saturation levels while you sleep gives any user worried about this a history of their average SpO2 levels through the night.

Fitbit’s own sleep tracker will make a note of light, deep and REM sleep to give you a “sleep score”, and offers a smart awake alarm, waiting for the optimum time in your sleep cycle to rouse you from slumber. On top of this, a skin temperature sensor will track variation each night to give you a running average, picking up on any anomalies that could indicate stress.

The new design is slightly softened around the edges, and the screen is a good size for details and physical interaction. Its design is, along with the Sense, among the best on the market, and the wide array of clock face options has something for everyone – there’s space on the watch to save five faces, but the Fitbit app’s library is easy to use. However, there is one downside to the design upgrade: by taking away the side button, Fitbit has forfeited some ease of use for the sake of aesthetics. We found the now-indented side button slightly unreliable, especially during more strenuous activity.

The Versa 3, like its predecessors, is definitely more of a fitness tracker than a wide-ranging smartwatch. However, while its features are more limited than the Sense, it still does a great job of upholding its “mass appeal” moniker. The battery life is phenomenal – almost a week off one charge, and a full day of use from 12 minutes of charge. For purely fitness-focussed folks, the Versa 3 is a winner, with an affordable price point in comparison to rivals, and a still-impressive array of features continuing the Versa series’s praiseworthy lineage.

Buy now £199.99, John Lewis & Partners

Fitbit Sense

Battery life: Six days+

Assistant: Alexa, with Google Assistant most likely incoming

Useful features: ECG sensor, EDA scanner, SpO2 tracker, skin temperature sensor, guided mindfulness and breathing sessions, sleep tracker, menstrual health tracking, music capability, Bluetooth call and message/app notifications.

The Fitbit Sense is the smartwatch for the 2020s. Many aspects of the Sense are available in the Versa 3, but its extras are important for anyone looking for a more health-focussed wearable, and justify the higher price.

A focus on mental and physical health in equal measure gives the Sense a holistic feel. Like the Versa 3 and many recent products from competitors, the Sense comes with an ECG sensor. However, its more sophisticated heart monitoring capabilities make it possible to pick up on atrial fibrillation, notify you of low and high heart rate readings, and to train using heart rate zones, providing real-time stats on your session.

On top of this, and along with the reassuring SpO2 tracker and other features also seen in the Versa 3, it’s another tracking app that takes the Sense’s usefulness up a level. The EDA scanning app tracks your electrodermal activity: that is, a way of noting stress through small electrical changes in the sweat level of your skin. We don’t quite understand the science behind it, but tracking stress levels certainly helped us remain aware of the dangers of daily stress.

Stress-management is a primary concern for the Sense, with guided mindfulness and breathing sessions working in tandem with a dedicated app to encourage moments of calm in a turbulent world. More detail into your health is provided with a paid subscription to Fitbit Premium, but each Sense (and Versa 3, for that matter) comes with six months free.

Away from its in-built features, the Sense’s design sticks to the same lines as the Versa 3, with an added stainless steel edge to the screen (a gold option is available for both products), which elevates the aesthetic and gives the Sense a lighter and sleeker air than the Versa 3 despite being the same size. The screen’s Gorilla Glass offers a super clear face, perfect for Fitbit’s huge range of clock faces, and the side button seems to work more reliably than the Versa 3’s.

The Sense is sleek, subtle and chock-full of useful features to help anyone improve their approach to health. Its base fitness tracker capabilities have been improved by layers and layers of features until the result is a premium smartwatch.

Buy now £299.00, Amazon

The verdict: Versa 3 vs Sense

The Versa 3 is a worthy successor to the Versa 2, developing its positive aspects and adding much-needed features, such as the inbuilt GPS. For those who want a sophisticated fitness tracker that can double as a decent smartwatch, the Versa 3 is a solid choice, especially for the highly-competitive price.

However, the Sense is a formidable piece of wearable tech. The retention of third party app capabilities helps it retain its status as a very handy smartwatch, but its comprehensive scope of health features would be of use to anyone, especially in a time where a focus on health – both physical and mental – is more important than ever.

Although many of Fitbit’s features are available on both products, and there’s a £100 price difference, the Fitbit Sense offers such in-depth monitoring and advanced personal support that it’s worth the extra money.

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