Many wearables lack the water-resistance to make them a true, all-day device. The Withings Steel HR doesn’t have that problem.
Reviewed By: Conor Hockett on February, 17th 2017
The Withings Steel HR incorporates a digital interface and a heart rate monitor into a classic, analog design. Add in the 25-day battery life and tremendous water-resistance, and it has all the makings of a top-tier fitness watch.
But while the Steel HR appears like a must-have wearable, the device lacks the functionality to pull off its hybrid transformation. The watch’s smartphone notifications are ineffective, it lacks built-in GPS, and activity tracking is somewhat limited. Wrist-worn wearables are supposed to help take phones out of your hand, but the Steel HR does the exact opposite.
One of the biggest upgrades between Withings’ Activité models and the Steel HR is the addition of heart rate monitoring. The Steel HR’s optical heart rate sensor measures your heart rate every 10 minutes. There’s also an option for a continuous heart rate mode, which you enable by holding the side button until it vibrates. This mode is more suitable for workouts because it measures your heart rate every second.
For the most part, the device provides measurements within five to 10 beats of a chest strap. There were times when I was working at my desk and the watch read my heart rate as 140, but these inaccuracies were usually due to the watch getting improperly positioned on my wrist.
The app also logs resting heart rate and then averages these readings across your day to counteract occasional spikes. The continuous heart rate mode yields more accurate results, but that’s to be expected. Overall, Withings hit the money with this technology.
Activity tracking on the Withings Steel HR seems relatively accurate, but it lacks the real-time feedback and the range of data points found on a device like the Fitbit Charge 2. There are four fitness metrics — heart rate, steps, distance, and calories burned — available on the watch, but only two of them (step counter, heart rate) should be taken at face value. The reason for this is twofold:
All of this aside, I still got a decent amount out of the device’s activity tracking because I mainly paid attention to the step counter and heart rate monitor. Also, I don’t necessarily need to see all of my information while working out, and the Health Mate app (more on this later) provides a fantastic recap of my day’s activity after the fact. Because the Steel HR automatically recognizes when you start working out, you can also log what kind of exercise it was later on in the app.
While I made pretty good use of the device’s available features, cyclists and runners that like to cycle through data and view their progress mid-workout should look elsewhere.
Automatic sleep tracking has become an industry standard, and the Withings Steel HR is no exception. The watch detects how quickly you fall asleep, how many times you wake up, and the duration of your sleep. It also provides an in-depth breakdown of your sleep cycle that shows the time spent awake, in light sleep, and in deep sleep.
With the advanced heart rate monitoring on the Steel HR, users also receive a graph of their heart rate that spans the entire time spent in bed. No sleep data is available on the watch, however, so you must view all of it in the Withings Health Mate app.
Because the Steel HR shows only the bare minimum of activity details, I use Withings Health Mate more than the corresponding apps on other devices. The Health Mate app presents fitness and sleep information in a very digestible way and is much easier to navigate than Samsung’s S Health app. It also provides a more comprehensive breakdown of each data point with supplemental graphs, numbers, and intensity ranges.
There’s plenty more to access beyond just activity data, as well. You can manage your profile, check the fitness leaderboard, sync data with partner apps like MyFitnessPal, and more. For each of your Withings devices, the app also lets you customize what displays on the screen and which notifications you want to receive. Withings Health Mate is also compatible with iOS and Android devices. Overall, the app is pretty fantastic.
The Withings Steel HR adopts certain features from both fitness trackers and smartwatches, but in terms of notifications, the device isn’t very functional. It receives texts and calls in line with your phone, but you can’t answer them or read a message on screen. Only the name of the caller or sender is visible. Unless you miss the alert on your phone — or have specific colleagues, friends, or family that you know to ignore — there’s no real benefit to this feature.
A comparable device like the Garmin Fenix 3 HR doesn’t offer quick replies or voice-to-text either, but it does display the message, so you can decide whether or not to reach for your phone. With the Steel HR, you have no choice.
Calendar alerts and alarms also come through on the watch, but they’re simple enough to actually be useful. The name of the event displays across the screen at the time you designate, and each notification can be turned off through the side button. Unlike the calendar alerts, however, alarms aren’t connected to your phone. You have to set them through the Withings app for a notification to appear on the device.
Withings claims that the Steel HR has a longer battery life (25 days) than any heart rate tracker on the market. With my battery still at 60% after two weeks with the device, there’s no reason to question the company’s assessment. I record workouts during the day and track my sleep every night, so the estimate certainly stands up to heavy usage.
However, it’s a good thing that the Steel HR’s lasts upwards of three weeks because it’s a nightmare to charge. The process works like many other wearables — magnets on the back of the watch align with those on the charging port — but linking up takes a ridiculous amount of trial and error. At times, it took me over two minutes to get the magnets in the right position. When they are finally aligned, be careful. The connection isn’t very secure, and the watch takes about two hours to fully recharge.
Many smartwatches, fitness trackers, and even sports bands lack the water-resistance to make them a true, all-day device. The Withings Steel HR doesn’t have that problem. It is water-resistant down to 50 meters, so users can stand in the rain, shower, or swim with it on.
A comparable device like the Samsung Gear S3 is safe down to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes, but you can’t swim with it. The Steel HR’s water-resistance gives it flexibility in terms of watersports — and an edge on the competition.
Withings’ newest watch blends the traditional appeal of analog with the digital interface of a fitness tracker. The Steel HR comes in two sizes — a standard 36mm and a 40mm version that caters to larger wrists. Both models have a small OLED screen near the top and a similarly sized subdial that displays progress toward your step goal on the bottom. Their overall designs differ, however. A stainless steel border with minute increments surrounds the 40mm device, while the smaller Steel HR has a glassy finish reminiscent of the Apple Watch 2.
The hybrid design makes the Steel HR unique, but it limits the device’s usability in some aspects. There are no touchscreen options, so users must click the watch’s side button every time they want to interact with the device. The OLED screen also isn’t an always-on display, but the analog watch face and subdial make up for this inconvenience.
In terms of comfort, the Steel HR is in the same class as the Moto 360 Sport. The band is secure, yet breathable, and it gave me no issues when sleeping. Other watches I’ve worn restrict my wrist movement, but even the 40mm device felt slim and never got in the way. The wristband attracts quite a bit of dust, but that’s my only complaint.
The Withings Steel HR comes with a silicone band, but it’s interchangeable if you want to match the watch’s classic look with leather. It’s important to note that the 36mm and 40mm devices require appropriately sized wristbands. The smaller version has 18mm-wide bands, while the larger model needs 20mm-wide bands.
At first glance, the Withings Steel HR seems to steal all the best attributes from both fitness trackers and smartwatches. Activity tracking, a heart rate monitor, 25-day battery life, and excellent water-resistance within a classic, analog design — what’s not to like?
But when you examine the Steel HR’s finer details, Withings fails to make the hybrid it promised on paper. The lack of efficient phone notifications, no built-in GPS, and limited activity tracking relegate this device to the second-tier of fitness watches.
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I really liked the way the Withings Steel looks. It actually looks like I'm wearing a real watch ins...Read This Full Review
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