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Nokia Steel HR review

The Nokia Steel HR blends sleek design with superb fitness-tracking capabilities

Nokia Steel HR review
Nokia Steel HR
MSRP $179.99
“The Nokia Steel HR combines the best parts of a hybrid smartwatch with a capable fitness tracker.”
  • Attractive design
  • Intuitive app interface
  • Good selection of health programs
  • Solid battery life
  • Mineral glass is prone to scratches
  • Notification alerts are basic

In 2016, Nokia acquired Withings, a French electronics company responsible for a number of popular connected health devices. Ever since, Nokia has slowly been reintroducing popular Withings products under its own brand. Formerly the Withings Steel HR, the Nokia Steel HR is one such product getting a second life.

The Nokia Steel HR combines the best parts of a hybrid smartwatch with a capable fitness tracker. Its closest competitor is the Fitbit Ionic, though the Ionic is more expensive and much less attractive. With a simple but attractive design, long battery life, and an adequate OLED screen, the Nokia Steel HR is an excellent wearable for people who want the design of an analog watch with the features of a fitness tracker.

Sleek and customizable style

The Nokia Steel HR can pass off as a traditional watch. Its polished stainless-steel case is sleek and thin, and it doesn’t look or feel bulky on small wrists. The back of the case is slightly curved, allowing it to sit comfortably on the wrist while still continuously tracking heart rate. Minute indicators engraved on the bezel around the watch face allow you to quickly and easily check the time.

Steven Winkelman

Nokia opted for mineral glass to protect the watch, which offers minimal glare and didn’t cause us many issues. We would have liked to see something perhaps a little more durable — perhaps Gorilla Glass or sapphire crystal — considering it’s a fitness watch and it may see a fair share of bumps. We’ve noticed a small scratch on the glass, and we haven’t even dropped the watch. You’ll want to make sure you’re extra careful.

We do like the provided black silicone band on the Steel HR; it’s comfortable on the wrist and stylish. Better yet, you can choose from a wide variety of colors, or even opt for leather or woven bands if you want something a little more dressy. The bands have quick release bars, making them easy to switch out.

The Steel HR does a solid job of not looking like a tech gadget on your wrist.

We should note, only the 40mm variant has minute indicators around the bezel — and it’s the model we’re reviewing. There is a 36mm size option without these indicators, and we think it looks even more attractive and minimal. The 40mm only comes with a black watch face and a gray case; whereas you can choose between a gray or rose gold case for the 36mm, or even a white or black face. We prefer the black watch face, because there’s a digital display that’s less noticeable.

The Steel HR does a solid job of not looking like a tech gadget on your wrist. What may give itself away, however, is that digital display — a small, circular OLED subdial at the top center of the watch face. Tap the crown, and the OLED display will scroll through your tracking data.

The OLED and Activity subdial

The Steel HR has mechanical watch hands, along with an activity subdial on the bottom and an OLED subdial at the top. The OLED subdial offers call and text notifications, and appointment reminders from your calendar. Tap the crown and you can get quick access to your current heart rate, steps walked, calories burned, and distance traveled. While the display is monochrome and provides you with very little information, it does its job well and is easy to see in varying lighting conditions.

Nokia Steel HR review
Steven Winkleman/Digital Trends
Steven Winkleman/Digital Trends

The hand on the activity dial moves throughout the day to give you an idea of how well you’re meeting your fitness goals. It’s out of a 100 percent, so if your goal is to hit 10,000 steps a day and you’re at 5,000, it will sit at the 6 o’clock mark. It’s a handy and accurate way to quickly review your progress.

Fitness and Sleep Tracking

What makes the Nokia Steel HR different than many of its hybrid watch competitors is its fitness and sleep tracking abilities. While the Steel HR looks like a hybrid watch, it has built in heart-rate tracking and is water resistant up to 50 meters.

We have to give credit to Nokia for the clean and well-organized interface.

There are two ways to track your heart rate on the Nokia Steel HR. The first is to manually check by selecting the heart rate icon with the digital crown. You’ll see your heart rate appear on the OLED subdial.  You can also opt for continuous heart rate monitoring in the Health Mate app, but your battery will drain much more quickly.

To test the Steel HR’s tracking capabilities, we compared both our resting and active heart rates with manual measurements, as well as with measurements from an Apple Watch Series 3. All the results were close to each other, with differences of about two beats per minute.

Like the Fitbit Ionic, the Nokia Steel HR can track your sleep patterns. The function is robust, providing data on total time laying in bed, sleep duration, how long it took you to fall asleep, heart rate, and the number of times you woke up. The watch automatically tracks your sleep, so there’s nothing you need to do to trigger the feature.

nokia steel hr review app
Image used with permission by copyright holder

We tested the sleep tracking feature for a few nights, and the results are on par with other sleep tracking wearables we’ve tested. While most of the data is correct, one night it incorrectly determined when we fell asleep. Still, this is an easy way to get a lot of relatively accurate data about your sleeping habits. What do you do with this data? The Health Mate app offers up guides from experts about what you can do to improve your sleep. Based on the score you receive, it’s easy to see what you’re doing that’s causing fatigue, and what you can do improve your sleep. We’ll touch on the app again soon, but it’s well-designed and the data is easy to follow.

Fitness tracking on the Nokia Steel HR is spot on, like heart rate tracking. After walking a mile, we compared the results with the Apple Watch Series 3. Both watches accurately tracked our distance and heart rate — the Apple Watch said we burned about 10 more calories than the Nokia Steel HR; the small discrepancy is inconsequential.

Activity data, like the sleep tracking data, is easily accessible through the Health Mate app available for iOS and Android. The Health Mate app is simple to set up, and is the main way for you to dive into the data from the hybrid watch. We have to give credit to Nokia for the clean and well-organized interface, which helps make finding data very simple.

After signing up for an account, all you need to do is calibrate the watch and set your goals. We have yet to recognize any differences in functionality on the iOS app versus the Android version.

The Health Mate app shows the steps, calories burned, sleep, and heart rate data from the Steel HR. The highlights here are the health programs you can activate and customize. These programs are created by medical professionals, and by following them, the idea is you’ll be able to achieve better sleep habits, track your pregnancy, and improve your overall health.

The programs range from 8 to 44 weeks, and they offer daily tips and reminders to help you meet predetermined goals. While the programs only require the Nokia Steel HR, some recommend other Nokia (or Withings) products to help better monitor your progress.  The programs feel simplistic, but we found them to be relatively effective — especially since they slowly work to build better habits through regular monitoring and reporting. Like with any gadget, you’ll need to pull your weight here to ensure the programs and the Steel HR are benefiting your health.

Fitness tracking on the Nokia Steel HR is spot on.

The app also allows you to sync data from third-party services including some of the biggest health and fitness apps like MyFitnessPal and Nike+. We tried several third-party apps with the watch and they all worked flawlessly; data was not duplicated or missing.

If you’re the type of person who uses a smartwatch or hybrid watch primarily for health tracking, the Nokia Steel HR is an great option. It’s accurate, provides excellent data visualization through Health Mate or third-party apps, and best of all it’s far more attractive than most fitness trackers.

The biggest downside is the lack of music storage, which is a feature in many fitness trackers. If you don’t like carrying a phone or iPod when working out, if may be worth paying a little extra for a device that lets you store music to stream to Bluetooth earbuds. The notification alerts are also rather basic, as it’s largely meant to show calls, texts, and calendar alerts — it’s not as robust as many other hybrid smartwatches.

Great battery life

Most hybrid watches can survive for about 5 to 6 months thanks to coin cell batteries, but heart rate tracking requires slightly more power. The Steel HR lasted about four days with continuous heart-rate monitoring toggled on, which is similar to other fitness trackers. What’s impressive is if you turn the continuous heart rate function off, the battery will go on for about 25 days. We’ve yet to see it die, but that’s largely because it’s easy to place it on the charging dock every few days.

The magnetic charging dock is pretty standard fare, though we wish a wall adapter was included. Nokia has added a rubberized bottom to the dock, which is a nice touch as it keeps the dock from sliding when you place the watch on it. The watch easily clicks into place and is not easily dislodged. It takes about two hours to completely recharge the Nokia Steel HR.

Warranty, price, and availability

At first glance, the $180 Nokia Steel HR looks like a standard hybrid watch. But the OLED screen, great battery life, and accurate fitness- and heart rate-tracking capabilities make it an easy choice to recommend. It’s a fitness tracker that’s actually attractive. The Nokia Steel HR comes with a one year warranty and is available online and at many major retailers.

Our Take

If you’re looking for a svelte watch that does a great job masking its fitness tracking abilities, the Nokia Steel HR is an excellent choice for the money.

Are there better alternatives?

It depends on what you’re expecting. If you’re primarily looking for a hybrid watch with fitness tracking abilities, the Nokia Steel HR is a pretty solid choice. However, if you’re looking for a watch that can store music and more refined notifications on your watch, you may be better off going with the Apple Watch 3 or the Samsung Gear S3.

How long will it last? 

We think the Nokia Steel HR will last about three years. On the plus side, it is water and dust resistant so you won’t have to worry about using it outside. However, you’ll need to be conscious of the glass since it’s not as durable as Gorilla Glass SR or Sapphire crystal. The Steel HR also has a rechargeable battery that will degrade over time.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re looking for an attractive hybrid watch with excellent fitness tracking abilities, the Nokia Steel HR is the perfect choice.

Steven Winkelman
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven writes about technology, social practice, and books. At Digital Trends, he focuses primarily on mobile and wearables…
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