Top Ad unit 728 × 90

Withings Steel HR review: Classy on the outside, inconsistent on the inside

Valentina Palladinohttps://dwgyu36up6iuz.cloudfront.net/heru80fdn/image/upload/c_fill,d_placeholder_arstechnica.png,fl_progressive,g_face,h_450,q_80,w_800/v1485482199/arstechnica_gear-gadgets-withings-steel-hr-review.jpgedited by Jennifer Hahn.
Fossil Group may call most of its wearables "hybrid" smartwatches, but it doesn't own that term. A number of companies design devices that look like traditional watches but have the internals of a mid- to high-end activity tracker. Withings has done this with its new $199 Steel HR, the smartwatch that replaced the Activité Pop in its wearable lineup. The Steel HR has all the activity tracking features of the Pop and even the original, luxury Activité, but it also has a built-in optical heart rate monitor to provide another level of data in your workout stats. With that extra piece of hardware, it's supposed to be easier to transition between everyday life and the gym with just one device. That convenience is undeniable, however the Steel HR has a few caveats that may limit it in the long run.

Design: A regular watch done right

We officially live in a world where companies make wearables that don't have to be ugly. Withings always had a knack for making attractive products, whether it was wearables or smart home devices. In some ways, you could say it was more of a watch company than a wearable company when it came out with the expensive Activité a few years back. The Steel HR is the evolution of that relatively basic activity tracker into a device that monitors more things than any other Withings wearable has monitored before—without losing the brand's timepiece design. It comes in either a 36mm or 40mm case, and the price depends on the size you get ($179 for the smaller of the two and $199 for the larger). Besides size, the two models are identical.
The Steel HR is made of stainless steel and mineral glass and is surprisingly light at 49 grams (I reviewed the 40mm model, and the smaller model shaves off a few grams from its total weight). Its soft silicone band has more give than many other bands you see on wearables, which makes it easy to adjust and comfortable for exercise as well as casual wear.
The case itself has one physical button on the right side that controls the tiny, monochrome OLED circle display that sits just underneath 12 o'clock. Pressing the button lets you scroll through information including the date, time, alarms, and battery life, as well as activity data including current heart rate, steps, and calories. You can customize every screen in the mini display within the Withings app. A circle of the same size sits directly below the OLED display and acts as an analog dial of your daily activity goal. Its one hand moves around the circle throughout the day as you exercise and shows you how far you've gone to meet your daily goal.
Considering the Steel HR monitors heart rate throughout the day, its battery life is impressive. It can last up to four days in continuous heart rate mode and up to 25 days when that feature is turned off. It's also water-resistant up to 50 meters, and you can choose swimming as a trackable activity in its app. However, the optical heart rate monitor embedded into the underside of the watch won't work underwater. That's not uncommon, but as we've seen in the Apple Watch Series 2, there are methods to keep heart rate monitors working while submerged (even if sporadically).

Features: Misses the heart rate mark

In many ways, the Steel HR is a lot like Misfit's Phase, but it has a few added perks. The Steel HR automatically monitors steps, distance, calories, and sleep, and it takes your pulse every few minutes throughout the day. Aside from the secondary OLED display, the biggest difference between the two devices is that the Steel HR has a heart rate monitor and the Phase doesn't. Scrolling to the heart rate screen on the display using the side button will take a real-time reading of your pulse, but otherwise the watch does this automatically every few minutes.
The Steel heart rate monitor gave readings that were within five BPM of my own personal estimates using a finger on a pressure point. But that was when I was lounging around my home or working, when my heart rate is low. During intense exercise, the heart rate monitor was more inconsistent. At its worst, the Steel HR was as much as 30 BPM off the Apple Watch Series 2's readings, and that was usually when my heart rate was up to 180 BPM. Typically, my cardio sessions are 30 to 45 minutes long, so about a third of the way through, the Steel HR would even out. When that happened, the Steel HR was usually within five to 10 BPM of the Apple Watch's reading—which isn't terrible, but I've used better monitors, like that in the Fitbit Charge 2.
Thankfully, step and distance calculations were fairly accurate and in line with the Apple Watch. There's also a level of automatic activity recognition, but the Steel HR makes manually monitoring a workout easy, too. Just long-pressing the side button will make the watch go into workout mode, and you're free to do whatever exercises you want in that time. To end the recording, you just have to long-press the button once more.
The auto-recognition comes into play when you sync your data to the Withings app. The Steel HR tries to decipher what kind of exercise you were doing, and most of the time it's successful. The watch can identify simple exercises like running, but it gets tripped up on occasion—I didn't manually record a weight-training session one morning, but the app recognized that my heart rate was elevated and blocked that time off as a workout. The only problem: the Steel HR thought I was swimming when I was actually shuffling between different weight machines.
The Steel HR also tracks sleep, and it differentiates light sleep, deep sleep, and waking time by how much you move at night. In this case, it and the Phase are similar. The Steel HR has a silent alarm if you want the watch to vibrate to wake you up. If you don't want to use the alarm as a wake-up call, you can set it for any time on any combination of days if you need a reminder to take medicine, walk your dog, or anything else.
One area where the Phase has the Steel HR beat is smartphone notifications. Withings' watch can only deliver call, text, and calendar alerts via vibrations and flashes on the OLED display. For calls and texts, you'll only see the name or number of the person contacting you, and you'll know the difference between a call and a text by the length of the vibration. For calendar notifications, you'll see the name and time of the event on the display. The Phase delivers those alerts and more to your wrist, including social media messages from WhatsApp, Facebook, and more. For those who don't use social media as much as they do regular smartphone services, you may be perfectly fine with the limited notifications you can get on the Steel HR. However, I would have liked to see a few other notifications since I use other apps and programs on a regular basis.
But even if the Phase is more versatile in the kinds of alerts it delivers, the Steel HR wins on clarity. The OLED display makes it easy to see what kind of message your smartphone is receiving and who's sending it to you. There's no guessing involved, and, unlike the Phase, you don't have to memorize what a color-changing window and moving watch hands mean. While I enjoy both methods, the Steel HR's clever use of a small display is one of the best ways of delivering alerts on any wearable since it keeps the alerts discreet as well as concise.
The other perk of the Misfit Phase is its Link feature, which lets you control external devices using one of its two physical buttons. It's not a magic remote control for everything, but you can control smartphone music playback, some smart home devices, and your phone's camera with a press of a button. In my experience, this kind of feature becomes invaluable once you find that one thing you want to control more easily. For me, that tends to be music playback, because I'll use any method to pause and play trackers or change the volume that's quicker than pulling out my smartphone. But for those who don't have that one thing they want easier control over, it's not a necessary feature.
Listing image by Valentina Palladino
Withings Steel HR review: Classy on the outside, inconsistent on the inside Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 7:34 PM Rating: 5

No comments:

Kogonuso © All Rights Reserved!

Contact Form

Name

Email *

Message *

Powered by Blogger.