Withings Steel HR review (hands-on): The heart-rate watch with month-long battery life

Withings’ take on the smartwatch comes with a refreshingly retro twist. Combining analogue watch faces with hidden Bluetooth and fitness-tracking smarts, this is a vision of a smartwatch that doesn’t wear its tech on its sleeve. Now, at IFA 2016, the firm is taking the next step with the Withings Steel HR, adding heart-rate monitoring and notifications while retaining that classic look.

Withings Steel HR review (hands-on): The heart-rate watch with month-long battery life

As with the original Activité, the Withings Steel HR is more attractive than your average smartwatch. It has a stainless-steel case and analogue hands to tell the time, and an analogue subdial for displaying progress towards your daily goal, just as with the standard Activité.

Combined with its black silicone strap, it’s the perfect wearable for those who don’t want to wear a watch and a fitness tracker, or who don’t like the look of digital screens. First and foremost, it’s a sleek, attractive-looking watch.

What’s new?

The most visible difference between the Withings Steel HR and the Activité is that the Steel HR has a small, circular LCD display. This shows basic notifications (calls, emails, texts and calendar alerts) via the partner app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices, and heart-rate data, with the button on the side of the watch used for cycling through different information screens.


Heart-rate data is pumped in via an optical sensor on the rear of the watch, and despite the fact that the watch takes spot readings of your heart rate every ten minutes, battery life is excellent. In fact, Withings claims the Steel HR’s internal battery is capable of powering the watch for 25 days on a single charge. And that’s with heart-rate monitoring on. After your 25 days is up, it doesn’t simply stop and give up the ghost, it gives you another 20 days of use without heart-rate monitoring –that’s 45-day battery life. That’s seriously impressive.

It’s a proper fitness watch, too

This is no casual fitness tracker, however. Not content with offering casual, heart-rate spot checks and smartphone notifications, Withings is also going after Garmin here, with continuous heart-rate monitoring during workouts displayed on the watch’s small circular LCD screen.

It will even automatically kick into continuous monitoring mode when it detects you’re running, although I’ll have to wait until I strap one onto my wrist to tell you whether this works well or not.


Aside from this, there’s the usual array of activity monitoring and tracking on offer: sleep quality with the addition of pulse monitoring, step tracking, and even basic swimming tracking, with the watch capable of detecting when you start and finish your swim.

I haven’t had much of a chance to play with the watch, but if first impressions are anything to go by, this should be a massive success in the run-up to Christmas 2016. And with prices set to start at £170 for the smaller 36mm version and £180 for the 40mm version, the price isn’t bad, either.

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