I'm equally excited and terrified of Amazon and Fitbit's newest wearables

Fitbit Sense
Fitbit Sense (Image credit: Fitbit)

Seemingly out of nowhere, 2020 is quickly shaping up to be one of the biggest years for wearable tech that we've had in a long time. Samsung's Galaxy Watch 3 proved to be a hit, there's a new Apple Watch on the horizon, OnePlus is expected to drop its first smartwatch very soon, and we have new health-focused wearables from Fitbit and Amazon. For the purpose of this editorial, those are the ones I want to focus on.

What's interesting about these two releases is that while they're coming from two very different companies, both Fitbit and Amazon are taking unique approaches to the world of holistic health. With both the Fitbit Sense and Amazon Halo wearables, we have two devices that aim to help you live a better life by focusing on things other than your step count and exercise minutes. I'm all for new ways of using technology to improve one's quality of life, but the transition of getting used to these things could be a challenge in itself.

Fitbit Sense

Fitbit Sense

Source: Fitbit (Image credit: Source: Fitbit)

Let's start with the Fitbit Sense, which at first glance, looks like a pretty modest upgrade to Fitbit's Versa series of smartwatches. It does all of the usual Fitbit stuff you've come to expect, allowing you to log exercises, track your sleep, monitor your water intake, etc. None of that is going away, but on the Sense, it's joined by an all-new feature — stress tracking.

Fitbit Sense is equipped with an EDA sensor, which is able to scan your body's electrodermal activity. Electrodermal activity can measure how your body responds to stress, and on both the Sense's display and in the Fitbit app, you'll be able to see a graph of your stress throughout the day and understand how it changes over time. It's a very timely feature for the world we currently live in, and by understanding how we deal with stress, Fitbit hopes that the Sense will urge you to "understand your stress, reflect on your mood, and make time for mindfulness."

Fitbit Sense

Source: Fitbit (Image credit: Source: Fitbit)

Proper stress management goes beyond an app on your phone.

All of that sounds amazing in theory, but I'm not yet convinced about its real-world performance. The idea of having my watch remind me of just how stressed I am sounds incredibly stressful on its own, and while that data can be put to good use, it's still up to you to actually do something about it. If you don't, you'll be just as stressed as before, except this time you have a screen on your wrist making sure you don't forget.

There's also the possibility that some people could see that their stress levels are high, do a recommended meditation session through the Fitbit app, and think that's all there is to it. That could be enough for some individuals, but relying on a smartwatch instead of seeing a therapist for working on your mental health is not a good alternative.

Fitbit obviously isn't responsible for what its users decide to do or not do with the data they get from something like the Fitbit Sense, but this big push of improving mental health from a consumer electronics brand instead of just seeking out a doctor all feels a bit icky to me. I have no doubt that Fitbit's intentions are good and pure, but effectively turning your mental health into another app on your phone doesn't seem all that healthy.

Amazon Halo

Amazon Halo

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

Perhaps even more unsettling for some people, there's the next product we need to talk about — Amazon Halo. Amazon unveiled the Halo on August 27 with virtually no fanfare, which is especially interesting given that it's the company's first-ever fitness band. It's also pretty unique in how Halo operates, as it has no on-device display and doesn't do the traditional step/exercise tracking that you get on something like a Fitbit. Instead, Halo tracks your daily activity and sleep as numbered points and uses sensors on the back to measure the intensity of your activity and the quality of your sleep.

There's nothing inherently troubling or concerning about that, but where things start to get weird is with Amazon Halo's body fat tracking. Using Halo's sensors and your phone's camera, Amazon creates a personalized 3D model of your body to show you your body fat percentage.

Amazon Halo 3D body scan

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

Ignoring the questions regarding how technically accurate something like this can be, it also sounds like a nightmare for someone with a disorder like body dysmorphia. Amazon isn't forcing anyone to buy Halo, but the fact that we have a device that is so heavily focused on body image is concerning. As pointed out by Dieter Bohn at The Verge, there's even a feature that allows you to move a slider and see what you would look like with less body fat. To say that's troubling would be a massive understatement.

Then there's the "Tone" feature, which sees the Halo periodically listening to your voice throughout the day and providing feedback on how you sound — whether it be friendly, delighted, overwhelmed, etc. This brings up the same concern I have with the Fitbit Sense's stress tracking, which is that it could potentially cause more stress for users than intended. I'm someone that often reflects on how I speak with people, even for something as simple as picking up my food from a restaurant. Wearing a gadget that tells me I spoke the wrong way when I was already anxious about it doesn't sound like a fun time.

Getting comfortable with the future of health care

Fitbit logo

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

I'm not saying any of this with the intent of bashing Fitbit and Amazon for trying something new with wearable tech. In fact, I think it's really exciting that these two companies are using their resources to try and better the lives of people through the means that they think are best.

That said, I am concerned about this transitional period. Health and technology go hand-in-hand more than ever before, especially in the world that we live in now where doctor appointments are held over video calls. The merging of these two things is great to see, but it's going to take some time for companies to learn what is and isn't appropriate for their approaches — just like we need to learn how to get comfortable with these new offerings.

A stress-monitoring watch and vocal-training fitness band might be the norm a couple of years down the road, but right now, I can't help but feel a little apprehensive.

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • A stress sensing device would probably explode on my wrist, lol.
    For real fun, can you imagine both of these having voice alerts, and you walk down the street with them repeating "You're fat!", "You're stressed!".
  • Samsung watches have had stress detection for years... It's not very useful. And yeah the halo sounds horrible.
  • Yeah, there's a serious violation of privacy with both trackers. No way would I ever give Amazon my body shape. They already have enough info about me. They don't need that info as well. Don't buy these, people.
  • Why is it anything/anyone that points to a persons weight, in regards to fat/obese people, considered body shaming or wrong? The societal norm should not be ok with everyone being 50+lbs overweight and we should not encourage it.
    Obesity and poor health cause massive burdens on our society to the tune of trillions of dollars.
  • Yeah, I'm not sure when the "shaming" aspect became a thing, unless you're literally insulting somebody. Merely saying somebody is fat isn't shaming; it's stating fact, and even fat people will admit they're fat. Many are okay with that, and that's great. Many aren't, and that's great. If your body image is causing psychological issues though, you need a therapist.
  • Yeah, I'm not sure when the "shaming" aspect became a thing, unless you're literally insulting somebody. Merely saying somebody is fat isn't shaming; it's stating fact, and even fat people will admit they're fat. Many are okay with that, and that's great. Many aren't, and that's great. If your body image is causing psychological issues though, you need a therapist.
  • I agree. These devices are meant for people who want to make positive change and support that journey. How data is stored and used is a separate issue which is based on which company you trust.
  • The thing is, fat people usually know they're fat. You pointing it out isn't helpful, it's just being q dick. There's plenty of other health issues that people let slide, do you point out how unhealthy people are every time you see someone light a cigarette or drink a glass of whiskey? Or ask people with exposed skin if they have sunscreen on in sunny weather? What's more, in this device body fat detection is completely useless. No one's body fat fluctuates enough that you need a wearable to track it constantly. Lastly, if you're American you don't get to complain about burdens on the healthcare system lol. It's not like your taxes subsidise other people's healthcare.
  • fuzzylumpkin, Yeah Americans, at least ones who work and pay for insurance and their healthcare, do get to complain. My healthcare costs and insurance premiums are directly affected by other people.
    People who dont pay their bills, are on Medicaid, etc.... increase costs for the Americans who do pay. And yes it bothers me equally when people smoke.
    FYI 1-2 drinks a day is not adverse to your health, its actually recommended ;) But obesity is the biggest preventable burden (along with smoking) on our nations healthcare system.
  • That thing about drinking being OK in moderation is a myth based on a flawed study. They compared the health of people who drank moderately with people who did not drink, but did not control for the non-drinkers who did not drink because they were actually ill. When you do that, there is no benefit. However, fuzzylumpkin is incorrect. Body dysmorphia exists, but also people take their norm from those around them, so the fatter society gets the more they treat obesity as normal. Anything that changes that is potentially a social good, and excessive nannying of overweight people isn't really helping them. Some of them are suffering a lot of pain due to being very overweight, but they just don't perceive the cause.
  • This comment is a bit off topic. Please bear with me. This new politically correct "body shaming" concept so as not to offend someone who is fat is a bit bizarre. Of course, if one is being rude or obnoxious its not excusable but to call a fat person fat should not be considered so incorrect as long as its a statement of fact. Why should obesity be considered something that should not be discussed openly. It causes a host of related health problems, takes a toll on quality of life and if nature had its way would probably not bode very well for the obese person as far as the laws of nature work. Society becoming tolerant or hush hush about a pandemic of obesity is not a good sign. We should be able to call a spade a spade.
  • I'd love a quick crash course in how to call someone fat without being rude lol.
  • Yikes. No gracias.
  • So someone knowing what the look like with less body fat is concerning. I could see that being motivating. In a world where unhealthy people are more susceptible to death from CV, this is possibly a way to open some people's eyes to what they don't see in the mirror.
  • I agree provided that what they are being shown is accurate, and I see that as being a problem.
    BMI is a bit of a blunt tool, but I could agree with something that, say, shows what people look like with the range of "normal" BMIs. The problem, of course, is the amount of data that would have to be gathered and stored.
  • Yes! That was my first thought as well. I struggle mightily with being overweight with the occasional long stint in the obese category. The effects are disastrous for my mental image, personal image, heart rate, blood pressure, energy level, personal relationships, back pains, knee pains, etc. I want tech and science to continue innovating tools and methods to help people like me. Not every idea is going to be a winner right out of the gate, but we should encourage and support the attempts, not deride and lambast them. For the halo device specifically, exactly how is this some breach of privacy? YOU choose to buy and use it. YOU choose to give it access and permissions. YOU control who gets to see it. This seems like an improved process of what millions of people already do, which is taking weekly selfies to track progress. Final note. Obesity is a serious problem for the individual and society, as I can personally attest. So-called "body shaming" is unpleasant but it's better than fat acceptance. What's next? Are we going to tell people who cut themselves it's normal and ok? (and that's not a random example, someone very close to me did that for years before we got him to stop, and it wasn't through preaching "acceptance")
  • Buying a fitness device thats going to help you get fit and in shape by showing you what your body could look like is crazy talk.... That was sarcasm. Its not fat shaming by you yourself buying a device that you know is going to use technology to help you. Its not being forced down anyones throat. This entire move to say fat shaming is ridiculous. Im not saying you have to be a dick about telling someone they are overweight but telling someone that they are overweight and the health risks they are in is much more of a service to them then making them feel being overweight is fine and dandy. The scientific data is there. Letting people think its ok is a disservice. We dont feel this same way about people who smoke. After we found out how bad smoking was we pushed back and let everyone know they need to stop. Its the same thing. The people who have Body dysmorphia are a very small percentage of people and again, THEY WOULD HAVE TO PURCHASE THIS DEVICE THEMSELVES TO BE AFFECTED... smh
  • Anyone thinking "tough love" in the form of a phone telling you just how fat you are - is someone unencumbered by credible medical training. If a device can't provide you your body mass index, a chart of deviation from accepted BMI, and links to further information about this from health care providers are begging trouble: device reviewers can really show their stuff by bring health specialists into the equation. A device that inspirés health is far more valuable than one that quantifies the obvious. If wearable tech thinks it can inspire healthy attitudes with new sensors and algorithms and calling it fitness - it's sleeping. IMHO