The world of smart watches in a bit of a rough spot – With the exception of the Apple Watch, virtually no other brand has ever managed to capture large parts or the market. Even once popular watches like the Moto 360 have been downgraded to the drawer where gadgets go to die. In my opinion, one of the biggest things holding smartwatches back is their limited battery life. A watch should be “wear and forget”, not “wear and charge daily”.
French company Withings (once part of Nokia and now on its own again) has always been on the cutting edge of design when it comes to fitness tracking watches, but they had always lacked something with true “smart” features. Their Steel HR is a hybrid analog/digital smartwatch that offers accurate fitness tracking, sleep tracking, phone triggered notifications, connected GPS, heart rate monitoring and a bunch more.
The watch is Available in a nice variety of styles – with silver or rose gold case colors, white or black face and your choice of 36mm or 40mm strap size. When placing an order, you can also add one of 15 different additional straps. Thanks to the pin and strap design, anyone can change a strap in seconds, allowing you to change your look depending on the situation. Personally, I find the black face/black strap to be perfect for formal occasions and my mesh metal strap (from Amazon) for day to day use. Because of the 36mm and 40mm case size, you can purchase thousands of straps all over the internet.
The Steel HR has three main displays – traditional analog time, a step counter showing a percentage of your daily steps and a small round digital display. These three displays combined provide everything a good smart enabled watch needs. The step counter shows how close you are to your daily step goal, something you can set in the app. As your day progresses, you can instantly see how close you are to this preset goal.
The digital display shows the time, date, alarm, steps, heart rate and of course any incoming notifications. The only notifications I am interested in are for text messages, incoming phone calls and calendar reminders. Thanks to its most recent update, the watch now supports almost all notifications available on your phone, but in this age of notification overload, it is actually quite nice to keep things limited to the really important stuff.
The next big feature is battery life – in theory (at least in my mind), no watch should be allowed to be called smart if you need to charge it daily. Thankfully the Steel HR doesn’t disappoint here – with up to 25 days of battery life, you can easily leave the charger at home during your next trip. Additionally, the watch is water resistant up to 50M (164 feet), allowing for everything from a shower to a swim in the pool. Speaking of charger – the included small white puck is an absolute piece of junk – I actually need a small office binder clip to keep it attached to the watch. There are 2 very small contacts on the charger that need to match up to the watch, and 2 tiny magnets are supposed to help align this. Unfortunately this really doesn’t work well, making the charger the only thing I really dislike about the Steel HR.
The watch is compatible with iOS and Android, and the Withings app offers a single interface for most of their products, including watches, smart scales and even an infrared thermometer.
The Withings Steel HR sells for a very acceptable $180. During my 3 month test with the watch, it has performed incredibly well – never dropping its Bluetooth connection, taking accurate heart rate measurements (when compared to the results from an AliveCor handheld EKG) and timely notifications. The price is really competitive, and knowing that I can wear it for several weeks without having to worry about charging is a real treat. Competitor alternatives include the Garmin vivomove HR and the Fossil Q Lineup (though that one does lack the third display).
Note: This review is of a commercial version of the watch, purchased directly from Withings.