Withings Steel HR review
As an upgrade to the Withings Activité Steel, the Steel HR is a timepiece that features an analog watch with smart, fitness tracking capabilities. It’s one part “regular” watch, mixed one part “smart, activity tracker”. This goes for its physical look as well as its functions.
The Withings Steel HR is offered in 36mm ($180) and 40mm ($200) case options with both sold in black; the smaller one is also available in white, too. The watch feels smaller than it sounds, even at the larger size. This was welcome to us, particularly as it’s designed to be worn during physical activities. The last thing you want to wear when out running or doing rigorous activities is a big wonky face or thick strap.
The watch face itself looks entirely analog at first blush. A second look, however, reveals the pair of complications. At the top you’ll find a digital circle sub-dial with an analog one below. The former delivers notifications while the latter represents your progress toward goals. The entire face is a stainless steel case which looks more business than casual.
The Steel HR is a very light watch that is also quite comfortable to wear. Thanks to the silicone straps, it’s something you’ll not mind having on you during a run. It breathes nicely and cleans up easily, too. Should you want to switch up to something more professional looking, the watch allows for that quite easily.
Our first overall impression of the watch was that it looked a little more “basic” or outdated than it appeared in press renders. Moreover, the monochrome complication initially seemed unimpressive and generic. After wearing the Steel HR a couple of days, we had completely warmed to it and didn’t mind at all.
The complications are a nice size and serve their respective purposes quite well. The upper one only displays your information for a few moments, but the 8-bit-like graphics are easy to glance at. You don’t have to worry about a strange font; a quick and simple glance is all it takes to see notifications.
Pressing the button on the side of the face lets you scroll through the various information to track or view, including the date, alarm, battery level, calories burned, steps taken, distance, and heart rate. There’s also a digital version of the clock should you need to check it in the middle of the night.
This was actually a pain point for us as the analog watch is essentially invisible when it gets dark out. Use it in dim environments or at night and you’ll have a hell of a time seeing the time, something we rely on watches for… a lot. We would have loved glowing tips on the hour and minute hands. Nevertheless, we press the button quite often come evenings.
As for dealing with notifications, though, it’s a mixed bag. To see who is calling, or look at a calendar notification requires reading through a scrolling message. Additionally, it’s somewhat of a limited experience in that notifications don’t work for Facebook Messenger, WhastApp, and a number of other apps. We’d like to see that rolled out in a software update, and think it is within the realm of possibility.
The Withings app gives users control over notifications for calls, calendar, and messages. Moreover, you can set up the various types of vibrations to know exactly what sort of notification you are receiving. If you want to track your weight (and you should), you can do that. Set goal, log activities manually, or get tips — whatever you imagine a typical activity tracker to do, this one does it.
Perhaps one of the best features in the Steel HR, and one that should be standard in wearables that run about $180 and above, is a heart rate monitor. This function alone opens up the door to deeper tracking.
The watch is able to discern when you’re out running, sleeping, or doing nearly ten other activities automatically. Among them are swimming, running, basketball, and tennis, however, you can also manually input your own activities.
Speaking of swimming, the Withings Steel HR is water resistant to 50 meters. This is far more than you’ll get in most wearables which tend to tap out around 3 meters. Just know that by swimming you’ll not get the accurate heart rate or calorie burning.
The battery is downright fantastic on the Withings Steel HR. We’re talking weeks off of one single charge. Withings calls for 25 days of usage, which looks to be just about right. We’ve used this one off and on for the last two weeks and aren’t yet ready to charge it up.
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind sleeping with a watch on, this one works nicely. It’s thin and light enough to not make you feel constricted; the watch can also help you wake up with a silent vibrating alarm during your lightest sleep.
In terms of accuracy, we noticed that it didn’t match up step for step with any other wearable. Whether it was literal steps or calories, it varied slightly as compared to the Fitbit Charge 2, Wear24, and a couple others. Generally speaking, though, it was nothing that concerned us. To us, variance is expected across the different types and brands in that space. On its own, though, we found it accurate, if not, perhaps more importantly, consistent.
Distance is one area where we think it could do better. Because it does not have a built-in GPS sensor and does not tie into your phone’s GPS, it’s not quite as accurate as it could be. Somehow, the Steel HR infers distance based on a variety of sensors and input. This is not a running watch so much as it is an “every man” activity tracker.
As for charging the Steel HR, it’s fairly easy if not a touch wonky. There’s a charging pad that you place the watch against, which takes some orienteering and playing around. Even though we didn’t need to charge our review unit, we were able to figure out the mechanics in a few tries. It’s a tad cumbersome and clumsy at first, but it’s easy enough to learn.