Fitbit Sense vs. Apple Watch SE: Which should you buy?

Fitbit Sense
Fitbit Sense (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Fitbit Sense

Fitbit Sense

For those looking to get an accurate picture of just about every health and wellness stat under the sun, the Fitbit Sense is like the Holy Grail of smartwatch options. It can track everything you'd expect with a premium device, plus it has sensors to measure stress, skin temperature, and more. Sure, you need a Fitbit Premium subscription to get the most out of the features, but it comes with six months free. Even without Premium, this is a solid smartwatch for both fitness buffs and those just interested in keeping track of their wellness.

Fitbit Sense

Ultimate tracking

Packed with tracking features
Gives a holistic picture of your health
On-screen workouts with animation come in handy
Robust app, online community
Need Premium subscription to realize all benefits
No cellular option
No built-in music storage

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE

For those who are firmly within the Apple ecosystem, the Apple Watch SE is the logical choice. Not only is it the most affordable new Apple Watch in the line-up, but it offers all of the same premium features minus the "nice-to-haves," along with the gorgeous display and sleek design. And you get lots of built-in music storage, built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring, and that seamless connectivity experience with an iPhone, which is the only smartphone with which it's compatible.

Apple Watch SE

Built for iPhone users

Most affordable Apple Watch
Same design and display as Series 6 Watch
Tons of apps to customize the experience
Useful hand washing and noise level reminders
No ECG or blood oxygen monitoring
Only comes in aluminum
Only compatible with iOS devices
Very short battery life

Usually, the reason Apple iPhone owners opt for a non-Apple smartwatch is due to price or features. But the Apple Watch SE is both the most affordable Apple Watch in the line-up (of new models), but it also contains many of the same premium features. That said, the Fitbit Sense, which comes in at the same price, offers many compelling features you won't find in any other smartwatch. Plus, it works both with iPhone and Android, which is useful should you decide to switch down the line. The app is robust, and the Fitbit community makes it worthwhile to join, no matter what smartphone you own.

But which should you choose? We already looked at the Fitbit Sense versus the Apple Watch Series 6, which is the most premium Apple Watch in the line-up. But how does the Fitbit Sense – which we called the best Fitbit device ever - compare to Apple's more affordable Apple Watch SE? The Fitbit Sense is the only one of the two options that will work if you use an Android device. But if you have an iPhone, the decision gets trickier.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the Fitbit Sense vs. Apple Watch SE, let's look at how they compare based on specs alone.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch SEFitbit Sense
Operating SystemWatchOSFitbit OS
Battery LifeUp To 18 HoursUp To 6 Days
Mobile PaymentsApple PayFitbit Pay
Display1.78" Retina LTPO OLED1.58"
Display Resolution448 x 368 pixels336 x 336 pixels
Water-ResistantUp to 50 mUp to 50 m
Music Storage32 GB2.5 GB (up to 500 songs, only Pandora, Deezer)
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE (optional)Bluetooth 5.0
Built-in Sleep TrackingYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorYesYes
Size44 x 38 x 10.4 mm40.48 x 40.48 x 12.35 mm
CompatibilityiOSAndroid, iOS

As you can see, there are really only minor differences in the core features of these two smartwatches. So, the choice might come down to which of these differences could be dealbreakers for you.

Apple Watch SE vs Fitbit Sense: Sports and activities

Both devices make great workout companions, coming with pre-loaded sports that you can instantly track, from running to rowing and biking. However, to enjoy coaching with the Apple Watch SE, you need to sign up for an Apple Fitness+ subscription. If you decide to pay for this, you will get a really compelling experience, including real-time stats on the Watch screen and the ability to follow the workout from a device like an iPhone or iPad. There is a deal that includes the first year for free when you buy a new Apple Watch.

Similarly, Fitbit requires a subscription to Fitbit Premium (the first six months free) to enjoy detailed coaching. But you can get a few free workouts right on your wrist or within the app played on another device. These usually include short workouts, like a 10-minute ab workout. Premium, however, unlocks more intense and detailed workouts and plenty of choices to match your fitness goals.

Keeping track of progress is fun on the Apple Watch using those familiar Activity Rings that slowly close as you get closer and closer to getting the appropriate number of daily steps, active minutes, and standing time. While the crucial stats are accessible on the Fitbit Sense screen, it's more compelling to view them in the app itself. In both cases, however, it's pretty motivating.

Fitbit also offers Active Zone Minutes, which will buzz on your wrist when you enter a target heart rate zone, a great way to keep you motivated and going consistently without having to constantly look over at your wrist to see your heart rate.

Apple Watch SE vs Fitbit Sense: Lots of sensors

Fitbit Sense

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Both devices track more than just the basics. But the Fitbit really kicks things up a few notches with sensors you won't see in other smartwatches. Along with the basics, like a sleep sensor and continuous HR monitor, it also has an EDA Scan app that can help you determine how your body responds to stress. In addition to the sensors, you can also add daily reflections, logging your current mood, from calm to very stressed, right after taking an EDA Scan so the device can further help determine how your body responds to stress.

It also offers SpO2 monitoring for oxygen saturation and even an on-wrist skin temperature sensor that will monitor how your skin temperature varies from your personal baseline over time. It also works with ECG apps in certain countries (U.S. and U.K. included) to check for things like atrial fibrillation and other heart irregularities. And it measures breathing rate, heart rate variability, and menstrual health.

Apple Watch Se Lifestyle Stats

Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore (Image credit: Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

The Apple Watch SE tracks the basics, like activity, heart rate, and sleep, but it doesn't track blood oxygen or ECG, nor any of the other features of the Sense, like skin temperature. If you don't think you'd use that data, though, it might not matter. And keep in mind that the Apple Watch SE does track menstrual cycles and stress. The neat Breathe app also helps you get centered when you need a break. (The Fitbit Sense has a similar Relax app.)

Fitbit is one of the top brands; however, when it comes to detailed sleep tracking. The Sense provides not only overall sleep data, including the number of hours in deep, light, and REM sleep, but also gives you a sleep score to get a better idea of the quality of your sleep. Again, subscribing to Fitbit Premium will provide even more insight.

Apple Watch SE vs. Fitbit Sense: Look and style

Apple Watch Se On Wrist

Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore (Image credit: Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Both smartwatches both employ similar designs, with square-ish faces that boast a futuristic look that screams smartwatch: neither is easily disguised as a standard wristwatch.

The Fitbit Sense is actually slightly larger than the Apple Watch SE, so some might find the Apple Watch SE to be a sleeker-looking device. The Apple Watch SE also has a larger and higher resolution display, despite its overall smaller size. If you're doing a lot of on-screen workouts or relying a lot on the screen itself for updates, this could be a dealbreaker. However, the Fitbit Sense's screen is no slouch, by any means.

Fitbit Sense

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

You can swap the bands for something that better suits your style in both cases, whether you want something dressy or sportier. They both also have customized watch faces so you can change the look to meet your style, whether it's to make the screen look like an analog clock face or display block-style stats. There are tons of Apple Watch faces from which to choose, allowing you to highlight what's most important to you, whether it's your daily calendar appointments, fitness stats, or the weather. But keep in mind it doesn't have an always-on display, so you can't just lift your wrist to glance over at what's going on: you'd have to press the side button to wake it up. By contrast, the Fitbit Sense does indeed have an always-on display, so you can simply lift your wrist to eye level, and it will turn on. It's a minor feature, but it could make a huge difference depending on how often you rely on it.

The Fitbit Sense is made of more premium stainless steel and comes in either carbon/graphite or lunar white/soft gold. To justify the lower price of the Apple Watch SE versus its more premium sister, the Apple Watch Series 6, this one is made only of 100% recycled aluminum. It comes in silver, gold, or space gray.

Apple Watch SE vs. Fitbit Sense: Music to your ears, and more

Fitbit Sense

Source: Fitbit (Image credit: Source: Fitbit)

Arguably the one feature that Fitbit users are most upset about with the Sense is that it does not include built-in music storage. Technically, it does have about 2.5 GB worth of storage space for up to 500 songs, but these can only come from the paid versions of Pandora or Deezer. You can, however, connect and control a Spotify account. The Apple Watch SE, on the other hand, has ample space with 32GB of internal storage for music. If you have an Apple Music subscription, you can download songs or workout playlists right to the device and play them back from your wrist, without your phone having to be nearby.

This brings up another related point of built-in GPS, which both smartwatches have, allowing you to leave your phone at home while you go for a run or store your phone in your locker while you sweat it out at the gym. The Apple Watch SE also offers an LTE version so you can do even more without needing your phone next to you at all times, like answering incoming calls, replying to e-mails, navigating running routes, viewing directions, and more. There's no LTE option for the Fitbit Sense.

Both smartwatches deliver smartphone notifications on-screen for everything from e-mails to text messages, incoming calls, and other app alerts you set up. Both also work with various third-party apps and devices if you want to keep track of more data, from hydration to running routes, get alerts about the weather or to-do reminders, play games, use a calculator, and more. The Apple Watch SE can even be used as a walkie-talkie so you can communicate with other people who own Apple Watches or as a trigger for your smartphone camera shutter to take selfies and group pictures.

Fitbit doesn't have quite as much third-party app support, but there are some useful options like Starbucks, Yelp, Find my Phone and Pill Reminder. There are far more compatible apps with the Apple Watch SE, though. So a choice might come down to how much you care about these.

You can pay for items at compatible retailers directly from your wrist with both devices, using their respective mobile payment platforms. The Apple Watch SE works with Siri voice assistant as well. Simultaneously, the Fitbit Sense is compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants for asking questions and getting answers right on your wrist or even controlling compatible smart home devices. The responses are delivered in text on screen as well as audibly via the watch's built-in speaker.

Apple Watch SE vs. Fitbit Sense: Add-on safety features

Apple Watch Se Emergency Sos

Source: Apple (Image credit: Source: Apple)

The Apple Watch SE might have a leg up on the Fitbit Sense in the added safety and security features that make it useful, especially for older or disabled persons. Chief among these are fall detection and emergency SOS, which will automatically contact emergency services in the event of an accident if you press and hold the side button.

The Apple Watch SE also reminds you to wash your hands and can also detect the noise level in your environment and let you know if it's too loud – especially useful if you have hearing issues or a baby or young child in tow.

While the Fitbit Sense doesn't have anything similar, as noted, it does offer some compelling features the Apple Watch SE doesn't, such as ECG monitoring with an app, stress management, and skin temperature, which can help you recognize the onset of a fever.

Apple Watch SE vs. Fitbit Sense: Battery life

Fitbit Sense

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Battery life has always been a sore spot for the Apple Watch, and the Apple Watch SE is no exception. Like all other Apple Watches, all of those features and app support comes at a price as you'll need to recharge it every day. That said, you can easily get into the routine of charging it at your desk while working or right before bed while you relax with your favorite TV show, so you don't lose out on valuable steps, activity, or sleep tracking.

By contrast, you don't have to worry about this as often with the Fitbit Sense because its battery lasts almost a full week – up to six days – per charge. This means you can recharge it for an hour every Sunday or so while you relax with a good book.

Apple Watch SE vs. Fitbit Sense: Which do you choose?

Fitbit Sense

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

The choice is obvious if you have an Android smartphone: you have to go with the Fitbit Sense vs. the Apple Watch SE because the Apple Watch SE only works with the iPhone. But even for iPhone owners, the Fitbit Sense is the more versatile option of the two.

Yes, you get silky smooth integration between the Apple Watch SE and an iPhone, along with the ability to do things like download and play music from Apple Music, download tons of great apps, and more. But if these things aren't as critical to your day-to-day experience, the Sense is one of the most feature-rich smartwatches you can buy nowadays that won't lock you to the Apple ecosystem.

While the skin temperature and EDA sensor are cool features, you probably won't use them as much as you think. That is, unless you decide to subscribe to Fitbit Premium. At that point, you'll get much more insight into what the data actually means. Plus, the coaching, workouts, detailed sleep analysis, and more, might make it worth the entry price. The fact that you get six months free gives you more than enough time to figure out whether it's worth the upgrade or not.

But even without it, the Fitbit Sense gives you plenty of great features for the price, and you can wear it all week, from the shower to in bed, without worrying about the battery dying. It's a great workout companion. The Fitbit community adds motivation as you compete in challenges against friends and family members, or even random peers who fit into the same age and gender category as you.

However, I can't discount the tremendous value of the Apple Watch SE, and features like the gorgeous display, sleek design, ample music storage, built-in GPS, and ease with which it complements an iPhone. If you want to save some money, the Apple Watch SE might be the way to go since it's slightly cheaper and still gets you into the prestigious Apple Watch camp. But you can also pay a bit more to get the super-premium third-party Fitbit Sense smartwatch. It all depends on which features are most important to you and how strict your budget is.

Christine Persaud

Christine Persaud has been writing about tech since long before the smartphone was even a "thing." When she isn't writing, she's working on her latest fitness program, binging a new TV series, tinkering with tech gadgets she's reviewing, or spending time with family and friends. A self-professed TV nerd, lover of red wine, and passionate home cook, she's immersed in tech in every facet of her life. Follow her at @christineTechCA.