opStyle has always been important, but the days of the blocky sports watch are now long gone. Instead, we have sleek and style lifestyle devices, which monitor us, and give us the data to monitor, if not improve, our health. With Withings, Steel HR is a perfect example of this, and is probably the most attractive activity tracker on the market – in my eyes anyway!
Withings Steel HR Review – Digital Style
Let’s be clear, the Withings Steel HR is about as stylish as activity trackers come. Now watches, rather than activity trackers, are very much like glasses, highly personal items. Some people for whatever reason don’t LIKE to wear what looks like a digital watch or a neon green fitness tracker. Personally, I really like the high-tech look of the Polar M600 or the FitBit Alta, but quite understandably there are people who also feel that this doesn’t blend with certain work clothes or a business suit for example.
Withings released the Activité line, consisting of the Activite, the Pop and the Steel last year, with the cheapest of the range, the Withings Pop bringing the concept of an analogue activity tracker to £80.
But technology has moved on in the last year, and optical HR is now the new step counter. All devices must have optical HR, even if it isn’t very reliable (Garmin Fenix 5 !) As such Withings have launched the Withings Steel HR – All of the weight and robustness of last years Steel, but not with a screen and optical HRM to complete the package
Withings Steel HR Design
The Withings Steel HR looks like a classic watch. The black face and bright polished metal immediately conjure up images of 50’s and 60’s style given the black strap in the box
Around the fixed bezel we have minutes engraved, and the new OLED screen balanced at the top of the watch to equal the visual weight of the analogue dial.
Around the back, we have the new optical HR sensor – flat and comfortable against the wrist. BUT the slight lip where the sensor is put into the watch acts are a real dirt trap unfortunately
The two silver dots also function as the charging points for the included USB power cord
Occasionally the magnets seem to object to you asking to charge the device, as they can also repel the charging puck. But often it is merely just a case or re-orientating the watch.
Not a major issue but one I haven’t come across before with other devices
On the RIGHT side is the simple push button which allows you to cycle through all the menu screens
Removable straps are a must on casual activity trackers now, and the Withings Steel HR uses the same system as the Pop before it. Simple latches on the underside of the watch, allow you to quickly and easily slide the straps out without any issue
With the strap removed, you can see this is merely a very clear way of attaching a regular strap pin. Meaning a regular watch shop would also be able to provide you with replacement straps of different materials.
Personally while the strap is a nice black, it would have been nice to see and offer to bundle more than one strap, or to have different choices on purchase
Withings Steel HR Screen
All interactions with the watch are through the single button on the side. You can scroll through:
Date – Digital time- heart rate- steps – distance -alarm time
But being OLED, while it might allow for a good looking watch inside, the screen is practically useless in bright sunlight
Withings Steel HR Specification
- Weight: 39g (32mm) 49g (40mm)
- Glass: Mineral
- Screen: OLDE
- Size: 36mm or 40mm
- Battery life: 4 days continuous HR monitoring, 25 days normally, 20 additional reserve battery days
- Water Resistance: 50m (diving not advised)
- Sleep Tracking: recording both light and deep stages of sleep
- Connectivity – BlueTooth Low Energy
- Steps – distance and calories
- Running – distance and calories
- Swimming – duration and calories
- Activities auto detect from MEMS 3-axis accelerometer
- Heart rate
- Silent alarm – really useful, rather than waking your partner, or telling the world you have an alarm going off, the Steel vibrates. That vibration isn’t like many other smart watches or phones though. The vibration is practically inaudible – that might seem a minor point, but I think it’s great!
The Withings Steel HR manual is available here
Using the Withings Steel HR
The Withings Steel HR is a very simple device to use, the vast majority of the features of the watch are primed during your setup, and then it is just a case of fire and forget for the activity tracker
Fire and Forget is particularly app when it comes to the battery life. 25 days of active use is certainly realistic, and unlike most other smart watches, when the battery does run down, the Reserve function kicks in.
At this point, you loose the smart watch features but maintain that crucial function of a watch – the ability to tell the time
Withings Health Mate app
The app walks you through all the steps regarding setting up the Withings Steel HR
Including the initial firmware updates as needed
It is only a minor point, but because the Withings Steel HR is an analogue device, the app contains a brilliant function to ensure the analogue hands are lined up, which is done with a large onscreen wheel and is a lovely approach to calibration. You will do this for the minute hand, hour hand, and the activity tracker dial at the bottom
Finally, you have to confirm your step goals for the day, with a simple on-screen slider
And with that, you are nearly done! The alarm is similarly set with an easy to use the on-screen slider, and you stay which smart notification you want to come through to your wrist, and then you are good to go!
There is a lot about the gamification of activity and sports (I word I’m not keen on but still) – Nike tried it with the original Fuel Band. Fitbit has a similar system where you can see your activity compared to others. But as a rule of thumb, these are closed ecosystems. Which might be an effective way of encouraging a family, or group to buy into a particular brand, but if you are outside of a companies sphere of influence, you are left outside in the cold.
Withings goes some way towards addressing this with the Health App. The Health App is free, can be downloaded by anyone with an Android or iOS device, And then the phone itself can track your activity level, which will also allow you to take part in the family/group challenges even without a dedicated Withings device. The same system will cover you if for some reason you leave you Withings Steel HR at home. By toggling a switch within the app, you’ll get your steps recorded by your phone that day, rather than the Withings Steel HR!
The Withings Steel HR can automatically detect swimming, running and walking, typically registers things well
However, occasionally the Withings Steel HR will not know quite what has happened while acknowledging indeed something has. At which point the app allows you to save or dismiss that activity detected
Running with Withings Steel HR
As there is no GPS in the Withings Steel HR, running is quite a simple affair, press in the button on the side, and off you go!
While you are running, you can see your heart rate, and the duration you have been running. Dedicated runners watch this isn’t.
If you do find yourself going for an impromptu run, and forget to start your watch, then the Steel HR will detect your started running and trigger the optical HR for appropriate monitoring
After the run, you can review your activity in the app,
But that information is very limited to duration, calories and HR tracking. You don’t even get estimated distance or cadence in the running activity screen. Although your steps do count towards your overall distance
Withings Steel HR Swimming
Here we have a similar mixed bag. When swiming you get duration, and calories but nil else. I also found a several swims that the HR failed to track for some reason
I have not been able to find a good reason for this, but as I’m not really getting many additional data from the swim function, I haven’t really been too fussed, as I find it so very limited already
Withings Steel HR Activity Tracker
As you use the Steel HR and walk greater total distances, you unlock badges… This isn’t too well signposted or discussed in the app as initially, they seem arbitrary. You’ll get a popup saying “You unlocked Loch Ness!” you go “huh?!” and then the message is gone. When you look into the app, the badges relate to landmarks corresponding to total distances you have walked with your device. An interesting idea, but not really integrated very well
Your activity levels are shown in the app across each hour, with darker reds corresponding to more activity, or running as we can see here. With further break down below on how far you walked each hour, and what has been going on with your heart rate over the day
Withings Steel HR Sleep tracking
Sleep is recorded showing light and deep sleep. This recording happens automatically when the Withings Steel HR recognises you been still for the appropriate length of time.
Which you can break down further into light and deep section of sleep, so you can monitor your number of sleep cycles
The Withings Steel HR is a great watch, stylish, and seems to give accurate step tracking. But I would suggest that step tracking is its main function, yes you can go for a run in it, but even though Withings suggest that the device is safe to swim in – heck it is one of their big features, there have been reports is issues with the Withings Steel HR being affected by moisture.
I’d seen no issues with this – until it came to that day to write up the review – sitting outside in the sun and “uh oh” – steam under the Withings Steel HR glass!
Now Withings responded very reasonably to this explaining that it is due to normal condensation when the temperature of the air changes inside the watch, causing condensation of any humidity in the internal air. The watch is water resistant, not air tight, and that the fog should disappear when the watch returns to room temperature.
That was certainly my experience after taking the Withings Steel HR back inside for a few minutes.
Never the less, if things worsen, or do not resolve Withings suggest to contact their Customer Service
Withings Steel HR – Heart Rate Analysis
Now, this bit of analysis has to be a bit light. I have not been able to export the raw HR data from the Withings Steel HR to a graph as I would normally do. But if we compared the heart rate graphs from the Withings Steel HR along with a 4iiii chest strap graph, they both look to be reasonably similar.
Given the other broad brush strokes that the Withings Steel HR takes towards specific exercise tracking, I’m happy with the optical HR “in the same ball park.”
Withings Steel HR Conclusion
The Withings Steel HR is beautiful. Without a doubt. The construction feels distinctly more premium that the Withings Pop was able to carry off. But who is it aimed at? There certainly isn’t enough data available on the watch screen for someone doing training or trying to log their runs/swims.
The Withings Steel HR is for someone who wants to monitor their fitness, casually, perhaps do the occasional workout, without having to worry about recharging the battery every day. But crucially someone who doesn’t want to have a digital, or obviously sports watch or band such as such the FitBit on their arm, and that I think is one of the major selling feature – style.
The style is the most important feature in “normal” watches, so as the fitness tracker market has matured, it makes sense that innovations on style and functionality are becoming priorities – The analogue gauge as a way of counting steps is a great idea, and an easy way to engage people. Although the few smart watch features do feel a little limited at the expense of style.
If I’m honest, the only two issues that I have with the Withings Steel HR are the fact that there is no option to purchase the watch WITH a leather strap. You have to buy that separately, and the restriction of activity monitoring to only walking, swimming and running, think cycling should have really been included.
A beautiful device, but too many limitations to get above 3/5
Withings Steel HR – “Limited but beautiful.”