“Withings Steel HR Sport is worthy fitness tracker tucked inside a polished analog watch”
- Nearly month-long battery life
- Comfortable band
- Helpful sleep scoring
- VO2 tracking
- Small display for notifications
- Superficial performance analysis
Withings shook up the fitness watch market in 2015 when it introduced the Activité Pop, one of the first smartwatches to blend the classic analog wristwatch with a cutting edge fitness tracker and a sub-$200 price tag. The company found its niche with these hybrid watches, and it caught the attention of Nokia Technologies, which acquired it in 2016. Perhaps it was too small a niche, because Nokia sold Withings back to its co-founder earlier this year.
Withings is powering on with its first post-Nokia product, the Steel HR Sport. It maintains all the same tenets as other WIthings watches — it looks as good as ever, it now has more advanced fitness-tracking features like VO2 max and connected GPS, and it still has an affordable price tag.
Ever since the Activité Pop, Withings has been making some of the best-looking wearables on the market. The new Steel HR Sport continues this tradition with a classic analog watchface and subtle smartwatch integration. The watch measures 40mm wide and 13mm thick, and weighs a mere 49 grams. It has a matte black stainless steel casing that is paired with your choice of either a white or black watch face. The side button sits close to the casing so it doesn’t snag on clothing. The button is very responsive and pushes with a firm, reassuring click.
Withings upgraded the band in the Steel HR Sport using a soft silicone material with holes for breathability. It’s super soft and comfortable on the wrist, but if you don’t like the supplied band you can purchase an optional leather or colored silicone band from Withings, or choose any third-party 20mm band.
The watch face uses a standard analog hands with tick marks for minutes and five minute increments engraved on the casing. Withings adds smartwatch features and fitness tracking to the Steel HR Sport in a way that doesn’t detract from the watch’s overall good looks. At the top of the watch face is a small LCD that displays health metrics and incoming notifications. You can press the side button to scroll through data screens to view your current heart rate, step count, calories burned and more. We had no problems viewing the screen in daylight or under interior lighting. At the bottom of the watch face is a sub-dial that shows the progress towards your current step count goal.
Withings knows people like to do more than just run or bike and has included 30 different sport modes into the Steel HR Sport. Five of these sports modes can be added to the watch at a time. You can start an activity by pressing and holding the side button to open the activity menu. You then can use the button to scroll through 5 different activities that you have added to this menu.
It’s difficult to read these metrics on the small display while exercising.
Once an activity starts, all the metrics can be viewed within the Health Mate app on your phone. You also can press the side button to scroll through the available data screens on the watch such as distance, time and heart rate. Unfortunately, it is difficult to read these metrics on the small display while exercising. We either had to stop running or pull our phone out of our pocket to gauge performance.
You can stop an activity using the watch or the phone, and when you are done, the activity is stored on the phone for review.
One of the new showcase features of the Steel HR Sport is VO2 max, an estimation of the amount of oxygen you utilize during exercise and a common metric used to gauge a person’s fitness level. Withings, like other fitness manufactures, estimates this value using a combination of your pace, distance, heart rate and other recorded metrics. The higher the number, the more fit you are.
After an exercise, Withings will assign a fitness level score between 17 and 60 that reflects your relative fitness level during that activity. It takes a few exercise sessions before the value is set, and it will change as your fitness level improves or declines. You can scroll through the individual fitness level scores for past exercises, but the app oddly does not track how this score has changed over time.
We compared the Health Mate track to one recorded by the Suunto 9, a dedicated GPS sports watch, and it was spot on.
Connected GPS is another new feature in the Withings Steel series of watches. The company saves weight and lowers battery consumption by offloading the work of GPS tracking to your phone. Using connected GPS is simple. Just fire up the Health Mate app on your phone when you start exercising, and it will do all the recording for you. You can even view performance stats like pace during the activity just by glancing at your phone. The tracking, though, is only as good as the GPS in your phone. We used an iPhone 8, and the GPS recording was impressive. We compared the Health Mate track to one recorded by the Suunto 9, a dedicated GPS sports watch, and it was spot on.
Withings’ Health Mate app is the central hub for all your fitness data. It pulls the data via Bluetooth from the Steel HR Sport and any other compatible devices, like the Withings scale. First and foremost is a timeline feature with all the various metrics presented in daily blurbs. You can scroll through this timeline and view your daily summary from weeks and even months ago.
Next to the timeline is a dashboard view that summarizes your steps, sleep, weight, and average heart rate for the current day. Tapping on one of these metrics lets you view both week-by-week and month-by-month averages. There’s also a wellness program built into the app that helps you set goals and stick to them. You can sign-up for programs to help you lose weight, improve your sleep and more. The rest of the app is used to customize your profile and manage your devices.
Health Mate sticks to basics when it comes to analyzing your fitness data and is targeted towards the casual user. The daily step counts, sleep time, and similar stats are presented as daily, weekly and monthly averages. They are broken down by the weekday and weekend, but that is about it for advanced analysis. One feature we really miss is trend analysis — there is no way to view trends so you cannot easily determine if your step count or fitness level is going up or down over the year.
Activity details are equally sparse. You can see the basics like pace, splits, and calories burned, but there are no advanced metrics like cadence or speed. Also missing is a comparison feature that tells you whether you are trending faster or slower on a particular run or bike ride. Data can be shared to other services such as MyFitnessPal or Runtastic, but Strava unfortunately is not included at this time.
The Withings Steel HR Sport is geared towards getting you off the couch and on the move so you can hit your fitness goals. The Health Mate app lets you set your own daily step goal and rewards you with achievements and daily encouragements when you reach or exceed your goals. A leaderboard option encourages you to connect with friends and compete to get the most steps each week — you only need to have the Health Mate app on their phone to participate.
The Steel HR Sport also can track your sleep. Like most fitness trackers, it detects automatically when you go to bed, and provides detailed analysis of your sleep pattern. The watch was accurate in detecting when I went to sleep and woke up with only a few exceptions mostly when I tossing and turning in bed before I woke up. The Health Mate app breaks your sleep down into stages so you can see when you are awake, in light sleep or in deep sleep. It also records your heart rate through the night and provides your resting heart rate.
Our favorite feature was the sleep score, a numerical rating assigned each day to your sleep based upon the duration and the quality of your nightly rest. For folks dealing with sleep issues, it’s an easy way to compare your sleep on different days.
Smart notifications on the Steel HR Sport are not as elegant as compared to other smartwatches and fitness trackers. You can control the notifications that reach the watch using the Health Mate app, but the delivery of these notifications is hindered by the small circular display. Each notification scrolls across the display and only shows a small portion of the overall information. You can see who the email is from and the first few words of the message, for example. The scrolling text is awkward to read and you have to wait for all the text to scroll by. If you miss some of it, you have to wait for the notification to stop scrolling before it will scroll a second time. It scrolls three times and then disappears.
Withings does the best it can with the small LCD on the watch, but this is one of the tradeoffs you get with a hybrid watch.
Withings advertises 25 days of battery life and actual performance is not far off. In three weeks of testing, we only charged the watch once and that was only because we had 30% battery left and wanted more than enough juice to make it through a long run. We haven’t had to charge the watch a second time yet.
Withings offers a limited warranty that covers defects in materials or workmanship on the device for one year from the date of purchase.
Withings managed to build a beautiful timepiece and embed a very capable fitness tracker inside. We appreciate the simplicity, with the analog watch at the forefront and fitness tracking in the background. The Steel HR Sport also is among one of the most comfortable fitness trackers we have worn. You can sleep with it, swim with it, run with it, and you don’t even know it’s there. If you are looking for a hybrid watch, then the Withings Steel HR Sport should be at the top of your list.
Is there a better alternative?
Withings is at the top of the hybrid market with the Steel HR Sport, but it is followed closely by the Garmin Vivomove HR. Both watches share a classic design, but Garmin has the leg up on the Withings in the fitness tracking area thanks to deeper metrics, and large user base with the Garmin Connect app.
How long will it last?
The Withings Steel HR Sport’s construction is solid, but elegant. We had zero problems with watch during testing and expect this to continue. The glass display is the biggest potential vulnerability. It’s not sapphire crystal, so it may scratch and scuff with rough usage. Thankfully, it is water resistant up to 50 meters. We expect the Withings Steel HR sport to provide up to three years of tracking as long as you are not too hard on the physical exterior.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you want a fitness tracker, but hate the boxy designs and digital displays of the current crop of fitness trackers, then the Withings Steel HR Sport is for you. The companion Health Mate has a clean interface and provides just the right balance of encouragement and analysis for fitness buffs who don’t need to dig deep into their data.
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