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Withings Steel HR review

Withings Steel HR review

by Jimmy WestenbergMarch 16, 2017

In the fitness tracking world, Withings has been making headlines as of late; not just for its health and fitness products, but also because it has a new parent company. Withings was acquired by Nokia back in June 2016, and the two companies just recently announced that the name ‘Withings’ as we know it will cease to exist, and all products made by the Withings team will now feature Nokia branding. That doesn’t mean they’ll stop making connected health products though, and that’s good news.

Withings’ Activité Steel is still one of our favorite analog watch/fitness tracker hybrids to date, bringing a classy design and activity tracking without a gigantic price tag. These types of connected watches are perfect for some people, but others have a hard time getting past the whole “no screen” aspect of them. This is why, in September 2016, Withings announced a beefed-up version of the Activité Steel called the Steel HR.

With the addition of a heart rate monitor and digital display, does the Steel HR offer enough to warrant the steeper price tag? Find out, in our full Withings Steel HR review!

Review notes: I’ve been using the Withings Steel HR as my main fitness tracker for about a month. The Huawei Mate 9 has been my smartphone companion of choice for the duration of this review.
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Design

The whole idea behind the Steel HR is that it’s actually a fitness tracker in disguise, so you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it can track your activity if you just saw one on the street. It doesn’t have an odd-looking display like other fitness trackers, nor does it have a sporty look. It looks like any other classy analog watch, aside from the small digital display, of course.

The Steel HR doesn’t look at all like a traditional fitness tracker, and that’s a huge plus

The watch case is made of – you guessed it – stainless steel, while the hands are made of chrome. Even though this appears to be an analog watch on the surface, there are a few extra things that make this device stand out from the rest. On the watch face, you’ll find an extra dial on the bottom half that counts your steps for the day, and a small, digital screen on the top. Neither one of these extra features really get in the way of telling the time, which is definitely a plus.

It’s not a particularly heavy device either, and it’s plenty comfortable to wear all day. I’ve been using the 40mm model, which weighs in at just 49g, while the smaller 36mm variant weighs 39g.

There’s one other differentiator between the two sizes, and that mainly lies in the bezel design. The 40mm variant, which is pictured in this review, has a slightly larger bezel with engraved numbers. If you’re not a fan of the engravings and would rather go for something a little smaller, you might be happier with the 36mm model.

The Steel HR comes with a soft, silicon strap that’s really good at picking up loose hair and dust. It’s not my least favorite strap on a watch to date (that award goes to the Moto 360 Sport), but I’m pretty sure most people are going to want to swap it out for a third-party strap. If you do choose to switch it out, Withings makes it an easy affair. The straps on the Steel HR have quick release functionality, so you can swap the stock strap out for any other 20mm strap you may have lying around. The smaller 36mm variant has a strap size of 18mm, by the way.

While convenient, the digital display can be pretty hard to read outdoors

Now for the interesting part – that display. This is the first Withings watch with a digital display, and let me tell you, I’m a huge fan. Maybe it’s just because I get the convenience of a digital display with the aesthetic of an analog watch, but I’ve been very happy using this thing for the past few weeks.

The display on the watch face is activated by pressing the physical button on the side of the device, and will cycle through the date, time, steps, heart rate, distance, calories, alarms and battery. From a convenience standpoint, this thing works wonderfully. Checking your steps and heart rate right on the watch is super convenient, especially if you’re coming from another Withings device without a display, like the Activité Steel or Pop.

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It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. While convenient for indoor use, the digital display can be really difficult to read outdoors in the sunlight. If you’re a runner, that’s not something you want to have to deal with. If you’re just checking the time though, at least you have the actual watch face to fall back on. Plus, you can’t activate the display by lifting your wrist, which is kind of annoying, though far from a deal breaker.

Features and performance

Like other fitness trackers on the market, the Withings Steel HR will track your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, heart rate and sleep. It’ll also keep track of your swimming and running stats through the Withings Health Mate app for Android and iOS.

In terms of step tracking, I’ve found the Steel HR to be very accurate. I took the Steel HR out on a 500-step-long walk along with the Garmin vívosmart HR+ and Fitbit Charge 2, and all three devices came out with similar results. The Steel HR recorded a total of 510 steps, while the vívosmart HR+ recorded 508, and the Charge 2, 512.