Smartwatches have become an unnecessary luxury that most people aren’t willing to buy into. I know I’m not. I passed on the Apple Watch and have no interest in Android Wear, even though they can be pretty awesome. But at the end of the day, I find them to be a distraction not worth the $300-plus tag. The Withings Steel HR is different.
Withings is a French company that heavily focuses on health gadgets, and the Steel HR is no different. The company first burst onto the scene with the Activité a few years ago, a simple smartwatch with just two mechanical dials. If you wanted anything more in depth, you had to do everything through the app. The Steel HR is a refinement of that product.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Steel HR is not a traditional smartwatch that we’ve come to know. It doesn’t have a digital display or touch capabilities. It doesn’t let you browse through email or read your text messages. It won’t show you the weather or make phone calls.
The Steel HR isn’t an extension of your phone. It’s a watch in every sense of the word—with a hybrid element to it.
This hybrid element is what gives the Steel HR its magic. The device adds a small circular OLED display that lets you see extra information, such as smartphone alerts, calories burned, and even your heart rate. This inclusion is a huge improvement over past Withings smartwatches.
The primary purpose of the Steel HR is to track activity. From that scope, its main competition should be activity trackers like the Fitbit Blaze instead of the Apple Watch. But its neat stainless steel design, subtle OLED display and marriage with the Withings app break it out of the mold of the activity tracker and into the arena of full-featured smartwatch.
The OLED screen displays seven different clusters of information: time/date, alarm, battery, heart rate, step tracking, calorie count and step count. Four of those screens are focused on activity tracking. It’s also water resistant up to 50 meters, meaning you won’t have to worry about sweat or water damage while working out.
On the bottom side of the watch face is a third dial, a circular countdown of your daily activity goal. Say you want to walk 10,000 steps per day, as you get close to that number, the dial begins its journey clockwise, showing you how much you’ve done. It’s a nice visual reminder without being obnoxious.
The Steel HR excels in tracking activity, but it can also do more. The watch provides notifications for phone calls, text messages and calendar notifications. The vibration feedback is subtle and understated. Obviously, this isn’t on par of other smartwatches, but it is still a helpful addition.
The thing that brings the Withings smartwatch experience together is the Withings app, which give users the full-scope of activity information the device is meant to deliver.
I paired it with my iPhone, but you can pair to any Android device as well. It was really simple and I was able to set it up in less than five minutes. In the app, you can adjust the display of information. You can edit the order or turn off a given panel you’re not interested. I didn’t need to set an alarm, so I turned that panel off immediately.
I’ve reviewed smartwatches in the past, and while I have enjoyed the experience, none have won me over enough to actually use one beyond the review period. I like to keep things simple, and the Steel HR definitely keeps it simple in a good way. It is because of this simplicity that I’d actually consider buying this smartwatch.
The model I reviewed was the 36mm. There is a 40mm version in case you want something bigger. The 36mm version costs $179 while the 40mm comes in at $199. The price is not cheap, but for all the features you receive, it’s comparable to other fitness trackers and much cheaper than any other smartwatch.
Where the Steel HR really hits the sweet spot is with ease of use and battery life. The mechanical crown/dial lets you know the time and to shift through the different panels of information, you just need to push the button the right side. Not much to it. Withings states the Steel HR has a battery life of up to 25 days, which I haven’t had the opportunity to fully test just yet. I used this device for a week a half and never once charged it. It still has 40% left. You’ll be lucky to use an Apple Watch for two days on a single charge. The Fitbit Blaze, another comparable device, gets five days of battery life.
To get a full scope of the activity tracking capabilities, I let my wife use the Steel HR for the last few days of my review because she is training to run the L.A. Marathon. Her physical activity is at a much higher pace than mine so I thought it would provide better results related to its tracking abilities.
She used the Steel HR for a 10-mile practice run and while she ran the Huntington Beach 13-mile Half Marathon. She also used a third-party running app to see if her phone’s GPS tracking matched up with the watch. There was only a difference of 0.1 miles, which is pretty negligible.
From the perspective of a runner, this is a great watch to use. It’s sleek and stylish but also tracks your activities. It’s not the brick and plastic design Fitbit and Garmin offer. And the Steel HR is much more enjoyable to wear beyond doing physical activity.
So should you buy this smartwatch? It’s not as simple as a yes or a no. Yes in the sense that it’s a great smartwatch with reliable activity tracking and a few tricks up its sleeve. No if you want something with a rich display and more robust functionality. The Steel HR falls in the middle area where fitness trackers and smartwatches fail to meet.
Withings’ latest wearable fuses those together into a great, enjoyable package, providing robust activity tracking and limited smartwatch functionality. If you’ve been searching for an in-between device, the Steel HR is the perfect solution.