The hybrid smartwatches are now competing with the fitness trackers like never before. The rise of smartwatches pushed wearable technology sector to flourish as a much faster pace. In 2017, if you want a smartwatch that goes beyond the domain of an accessory, the Withings Steel HR is a serious consideration.
This watch is an upgrade to the Activité Steel that is tweaked to be a better day-to-day fitness tracker. What we looked in a smartwatch in this segment is a device that goes beyond basic sleep and step tracker. After all, we are looking for hybrid smartwatches that can be as close to a fitness tracker as possible. The Steel HR is accompanied with an optical heart rate monitor, additionally it does better at displaying the notifications as compared to other smartwatches like the Misfit Phase.
On the surface, the Withings Steel HR does get our attention, but how it performs in our benchmark test for a truly useful hybrid smartwatch, let’s find out.
The Good and The Bad of Withings Steel HR
Minimalistic traditional watch sharp design
Two styles available- 40mm (black only) and 36mm (black or white) options
Highly accurate optical heart rate monitor
Automatic brightness sensor
25-day battery life
Automatic fitness tracking
iOS and Android compatibility
50 ATM water resistance
OLED digital sub-dial is hard to read
No GPS, doesn’t works with phone GPS either
Clumsy magnetic charging pad
No social connectivity in Withings’ Health Mate app
Limited phone notifications
Features of Withings Steel HR
There’s a lot this hybrid smartwatch has to offer.
Analog watch lovers are going to be impressed by the design of the Withings Steel HR. It is a minimalistic analog style hybrid smartwatch that is aviable in two sizes-a 36mm case and a 40mm case. If you had experience with the Activite Steel, you will know that this device is built upon the same design and body structure. Both the sizes are available in black color, but you also get a white option with the smaller one. We though the weight will be a problem with the 40mm Withings Steel HR, but to our surprise it is lightweight. It is a big plus, as now the watch as a heart rate monitor, you will be taking it for a run and it helps that it is lightweight.
Speaking of the steel case, you will find that the uncluttered and classic look is not compromising on any information that need to be displayed. The analog dial houses two sub-dials- a digital one at the top and an analog one at the bottom-both are used to display the smart features of the watch. The digital sub-dial shows data like heart rate and throws up notification without any user interruption or participation. You don’t have to reach out to your phone or use interpreting hand movements like with Misfit Phase to get the information in the displayed. The analog sub-dial consist only of a single hand and it represents your progress in a particular activity for that day towards the 100% goal.
Withings has ensured to make the Steel HR super light and this is why you get silicon straps that are lightweight yet strong. These straps make it comfortable to wear the watch casually and during exercises. If you are not impressed with the silicon strap you have other options as well like leather straps, but they will be a trouble if you are an active runner.
The screen of the Steel HR is monochromatic and if you don’t like minimalistic design you may find it outdated. But let us remind you that the screen is highly for the size and displays important information on the go. The information displayed is clear and you can read it without straining your eyes. As far as notifications are concerned, you can choose from the Withings Steel HR app what all notifications to be displayed including calls, texts and calendar alerts. When you receive a text or a call or some calendar event fires, the watch will vibrate depending on the notification type displaying the name of the contact or event.
What we think is a limitation in displaying the notification is that you can only view the name of the contact and not the message. Also SMS is almost outdated and people are using social apps like Whatsapp and Facebook messenger, but unfortunately there is no support for notification of these services.
Withings’ comprehensive app packs a lot of activity tracking features that I think will impress hybrid smartwatch lovers. It is an effective step tracker and calorie burnt estimator but it also comes with an optical heart rate monitor that expands its utility. It can monitor your heart rate throughout the day and keeps an eye on the distance travelled. With a long press of the button you can convert it to a running watch that tracks the heart rate zones and distance.
In the Withings Steel HR you will find an amalgamation of digital and analog technology. The small monochromatic display does an excellent job at displaying various information circles that are easy to read. From the Withings Steel HR app you can order, add or remove the information to be displayed in the digital sub-dial like the date, current heart rate, alarm, steps counted, calories burnt, battery and distance travelled. With the press of a button on the side of the watch you scroll through all this information.
The Steel HR has become the runners’ watch as it comes with an inbuilt optical heart rate tracker. As a fitness tracker this hybrid smartwatch is highly competitive. It automatically detects sports activities like running, swimming, tennis and basketball. There’s also an option to start the training session manually if you do not want the Steel HR to detect it automatically. As the watch is water resistant to 5 ATM you won’t need to think before taking it to swim. But we want to inform, you don’t get heart rate monitoring under water, just distance and calories burnt.
The optical heart rate sensor on the watch continuously monitors your heart rate but you also get an on-demand reading option. We would recommend you not to rely on the data you get as soon as you switch to on-demand reading. Wait for a few seconds to get more accurate beat data as the watch needs time to adjust down. The lag in the heart rate monitoring of the Steel HR as compared to other fitness trackers is because it takes data every few minutes unlike other devices that read heart rate data every few seconds.
However, this compromise makes way for less battery consumption, so that the Steel HR can keep running longer. But when you exercise the watch tracks heart rate more frequently giving a steady reading.
Workout and sleep tracking
When you first look at the Withings Steel HR you won’t see a running watch whatsoever. But you will be surprised how well the watch performs with its optical heart rate monitor not only during routine hours but also during the run. Step and distance tracking is highly accurate. You can take this hybrid smartwatch with you while you run and you won’t need any other fitness device.
To better review the capability of the watch’s newly added HR feature, we compared its data with the chest strap devices. We were impressed how close were the peaks and troughs and the average and maximum heart rate data.
The heart rate sensor in the Steel HR is par excellent. It can give tough competition to some of the best fitness trackers from Fitbit and Garmin on this front. By now you might be considering getting your hands on this wearable but before you consider it for your serious running needs there are few limitations that you should know about.
There’s no inbuilt GPS in this smart watch, neither does it syncs with your phone’s GPS. The distance is tracked from the data from some other sensors, so you might not get as much accuracy as you expect from some dedicated running watch.
Sleep tracking feature is another stronghold of the hybrid smartwatch. While reviewing other fitness trackers we found automatic sensors to be a little iffy while tracking sleep and wake time, but the Steel HR is incredibly accurate. Small size and light weight gives this smartwatch an edge over bulky fitness devices and you won’t be troubled to sleep with this device on your wrist.
App and battery life
Withings’ Health Mate app won the Weareable Award 2016 for the best Health and Fitness Platform of the year and it says a lot about the capability of the app to provide fitness metrics of users. The app is compatible with both Android and iOS platforms.
As soon as you open the app you will be provided with an activity timeline that gives you an overview of activities in reverse chronological order. It gives you an instant view of what all activities you are indulging in and how they are affecting your health. There is a lot of metric displayed by the app and it can be little overwhelming at first. Withings Steel HR app deeply drills down on your daily activities and it helps to keep track of your progress. To keep motivation high the app provides tips, badges and goals for you based on your performance.
A 25-day battery life is an impressive feature of the Steel HR that gives it an edge over other hybrid smartwatches. You get 25 days of life on this device even when you are using continuous heart rate monitoring, switching it off gives you 20 more days of step tracking.
The magnetic charging pad is a disappointed looking at the overall experience we had with the Withings Steel HR. There is no click mechanism or dip that holds the watch in place. This can frustrate some users as docking the watch on the flat charging pad is tedious. We think Withings Steel HR need to work on the charging pad and make it as elegant as the rest of the product.
Reasons to choose Withing Steel HR
Traditional watch design
Those looking for more than conventional wristband design in fitness trackers will like the Steel HR for its fantastic style and design. Leather bands available make it a more of a fashion statement and less of a necessity.
Optical heart rate monitor
Every hybrid smartwatch has basic step and sleep tracking feature but this device comes with an inbuilt optical heart monitor. Accuracy of the heart rate tracker during running and other sports activities is unmatched.
The Steel HR is water resistant to 50 ATM. You don’t get this feature in many traditional watches or fitness trackers. It tracks the calories burnt and distance covered under water too.
Long battery life
This beauty is powered by a battery with 25-day battery life. With most fitness trackers that have continuous heart rate tracking it is a challenge to last long before you charge them again. But the Steel HR will track your heart rate 24/7 without failing with a single charge per month.
For those looking beyond the industry standard rubber wrist fitness trackers, the Withings Steel HR will be a treat for the eyes. The tradition watch design is stylish and you won’t feel like you are wearing a fitness tracker. With full heart rate and other fitness tracking features, this hybrid smart watch is a fashionable fitness tracker that packs loads of features backed with an incredible Withings Health Mate app.
The Steel HR is the watch for you if you want a combination of fitness functionality and style. It might not be the best fitness tracker, but as an overall package it’s unique. For the price you are getting a proper watch that tracks your fitness well and can be taken to vacations without worrying about charging it frequently.