(Pocket-lint) - The Withings Activité Steel HR is the first device from the company since it was taken over by Nokia. It joins the plethora of beautifully designed devices, from the original Swiss-Made Activité to the Activité Steel, but it adds heart-rate tracking into the mix.
The Steel HR offers features including a 25-day battery life and a classic watch design, making it worthy of real consideration if you're in the market for an activity tracker - one that doesn't look like a boring plastic band around the wrist.
Question is, does it have balls of steel to match its name, or is it just another Fitbit competitor not quite up for the fight?
Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR: Design
- Stainless steel casing, interchangeable straps
- 36mm and 40mm size options
- Water-resistant up to 50-metres
The Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR follows the same design path as 2016's Activité Steel: it's a stylish analog watch, made from premium materials offering a stainless steel casing, chrome hands and an interchangeable silicone strap with a buckle fastening.
There are two sizes available - 36mm or 40mm options - with the larger featuring a more substantial bezel around the display and five-minute increments etched into it for a bulkier look. The smaller option comes in black and white colour options, while the larger only comes in black. Both offer interchangeable straps like other Activité devices, allowing for you to switch out for a smarter strap by pulling back the pins.
The Activité Steel HR continues to offer the secondary dial we've come to know and love from the Activité family, displaying the percentage of your daily step step goal - but it is positioned in the centre of the face rather than the right. There is also a circular digital display at the top of the analog face, directly in-line with the secondary dial, distinguishing this device from others in the Activité family.
This display is black and therefore blends in well on the black colour option, while standing out a little more on the white model. The display presents smartphone notifications along with health data, featuring clear and concise information in a monochrome format. It's possible to flick through various metrics using the button on the right-hand side of the watch face, from calories burned and steps taken to distance travelled, the order of which and what can be customised through the associated Health Mate app.
On the underside of the Activité Steel HR is where the real magic lies though: the heart-rate sensor. This Activité uses a technology called photoplethysmography (PPG) to monitor your heart rate, making it the first analog watch activity tracker to do so. Green LED lights are situated beneath the casing to detect variation in the level of blood in the wrist in order to provide a reading.
There are also two charging pins on either side of the heart-rate sensor, where the accompanying charging cable attaches (although not very easily; try and line it up so the cable comes out to the left from the 9PM mark). For such a beautifully designed device, the charging disc and mechanism seems like a complete afterthought - and a bad one at that. It takes a long time to line-up the disc with the pins and getting it to stay is a whole other ball game. You get used to it eventually and luckily the battery life is great so you don't need to do it often, but charging should be much more intuitive.
The Withings Activité Steel HR will last around 25-days before it needs recharging, which is impressive when compared to the likes of Fitbit, followed by a further 20 days of basic tracking without heart rate or smartphone notifications being active.
Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR: Features
- Tracks steps, distance, calories, heart rate, sleep
- Smartphone notifications
- No GPS, built-in or connected
The Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR measures steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned, along with sleep - all of which is just like its predecessors.
In terms of heart rate, the Activité Steel HR automatically measures continuous heart rate during workouts and resting heart rate while you're sleeping (like the Fitbit Charge 2). It also delivers an average heart rate during the day, though unlike Fitbit which measures every few seconds, Withings measures every 10 minutes, which is why it has that five times longer battery life.
Continuous heart rate can be read using the multifunctional button we mentioned previously, but the Activité Steel HR will automatically display heart rate while in workout mode. Press-and-hold the multifunctional button until it vibrates to start a workout and do the same to end it. Following a workout, it's possible to see maximum heart rate, calories burned and a time-in-zone graph in the Withings Health Mate app (much like what Fitbit offers), as well as categorise the activity and set a specific goal for that particular activity.
The Activité Steel HR will track more than 10 activities automatically through learned recognition. You'll need to give it a helping hand to begin with but over time it will know which activity is what, to an extent anyway.
In terms of other features, the Withings Activité Steel HR is waterproof up to 5ATM (that's down to 50-metres, divers) and it will automatically recognise when you are taking a dip, offering calories burned and time spent swimming, but not heart rate.
There's no built-in GPS or connected GPS so that's worth noting if you're a runner, while smartphone notifications are limited to SMS, calls and calendar alerts.
Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR: Performance
The Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR offers good accuracy when it comes to heart rate tracking from our experience. We wore it alongside the Fitbit Charge 2 for a couple of weeks to see how the two devices compared and both were near enough on par. The heart rate readout on the Activité Steel HR was occasionally a little high when requested on demand, likely down to it only reading every 10 minutes, though it will balance itself out after a few seconds.
During workouts and running, the Activité Steel HR performs well. The overall peaks and troughs were very similar to the Fitbit Charge 2 in our experience, with the maximum and average readings within a couple of beats per minute of each other and continuous recordings on par. For those who are looking to train in heart rate zones, we would recommend a dedicated chest strap for the most accurate reading, but the Activité Steel HR doesn't do a bad job for an estimate.
However, the Steel HR was a little inconsistent when it came to step tracking. In our experience, the Charge 2 has been very accurate in terms of step tracking, almost to the step. The Activité Steel HR over-estimated slightly in comparison on some occasions (with 10,302 steps recorded compared to Fitbit's 9,559 on one day), while other times it under-estimated (recording 3,319 compared to 4,129, for example). It's not a huge problem as, again, it's a good enough estimate - although it's worth bearing in mind that it might not always be spot on.
Sleep tracking performs well on the Steel HR. You don't get as much detail as you do with the Withings Aura sleep system, or the Fitbit Alta HR - both of which offer detail on sleep stages including deep, light and REM sleep - but the information is still clear and consistent. The Withings/Nokia seemed accurate for recording when we went to bed and when we woke up (although it's hard to determine exactly how accurate sleep tracking is on any device, what with unconsciousness, but we've always liked Withings' presentation of sleep data).
Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR: Smartphone notifications
- Call, text and calendar alerts
- Only name appears on digital display
- No third-party app support
The Withings Nokia Steel HR offers smartphone notifications in the form of calls, texts and calendar alerts, as we mentioned. Like Fitbit, there is no third party support for notifications so no WhatsApp, FaceBook, Twitter, and so on - but the provided trio of alerts are useful thanks to vibrational feedback to alert you of an incoming call, text or event notification.
The name of the caller or sender will appear on the small digital display - but as it is so small, it doesn't allow you to read the message like you can with the Fitbit Charge 2 and Alta HR devices. This isn't a problem though, as you'd need to pick up your phone to reply anyway, as you do on Fitbit, so although the notifications don't have the same use as a smartwatch, they are still a great feature to have.
Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR: Health Mate App
- Rich app platform with plenty of data
- Best experience when invested in other Withings devices
- Compatible with iOS 8 and higher, Android 6.0 and higher
The Heath Mate app is available for iOS and Android users and in addition to activity data it offers challenge leaderboards, personalised advice and compatibility with MyFitnessPal for food logging capabilities. It's easy to use and navigate, offering plenty of data in a simple layout.
The layout isn't as streamlined as per Fitbit's, with a lot of data and numbers, some of which you don't necessarily need, but it's a great platform overall. There are five main sections, all accessed via the three lines in the top left of the app, comprising Timeline, Dashboard, Leaderboard, Profile and Reminders.
You will also find My Devices under this option menu, which will allow you to change various settings on the Activité Steel HR, such as customising the screen.
All your activity and sleep data is found under the Dashboard tab and tapping on the various activity cards or sleep information will present you with further information. It's all very intuitive in that wherever you tap will generally bring you to the information you would expect.
Withings offers numerous other devices too, including the sleep system we mentioned, in addition to smart scales, a blood pressure monitor and a smart temporal thermometer, all of which will link into the Health Mate app. Invest in the platform and you'll see your timeline full of information about your health and wellbeing, which is great. Indeed, it's one of Withings' best attributes.
The Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR is a beautifully designed device that does a great job of delivering style and smarts in a one package. It offers a classic design with premium materials and it's certainly an activity tracker that steps away from the standard glorified rubber band look of many competitors.
Heart-rate tracking is good in the most, as is sleep tracking, while the battery life is excellent. Step-tracking isn't as consistent as we would have liked, however, and although we love the design it isn't as subtle as the likes of the Fitbit Alta HR, which offers the same features bar the waterproofing and swim tracking.
The Steel HR is also pretty expensive for its market, requiring an extra £40 more investment over the Fitbit Charge 2 and £50 more over the Alta HR. But then just look how those two compare visually and you can see why. If you want heart-rate monitoring with some added analogue appeal to those good looks then the Withings Nokia Activité Steel HR is not just a great choice - it's the only choice.
Alternatives to consider...
Fitbit Alta HR
The Fitbit Alta HR is Fitbit's newest activity tracker, offering many of the same features as the Withings Activité Steel HR, but in a slimmer, smaller and more subtle package. It's a great device and the interchangeable strap options available for it are excellent for making the Alta HR look that little bit smarter and more stylish. It's main downfall is the lack of waterproofing and GPS but it is cheaper than the Steel HR and it offers more advanced sleep tracking.
Read the full article: Fitbit Alta HR review: Fantastic everyday tracker
Fitbit Charge 2
The Fitbit Charge 2 is another fantastic activity tracker, offering a few extra features over both the Withings Activité Steel HR and the Fitbit Alta HR. There is Connected GPS on board, along with VO2 Max tracking and the Charge 2 also has a guided breathing feature. Like the Alta HR, there is no waterproofing again, but the smartphone notifications are a little more useful than the Steel HR, the interchangeable straps are great, and again, this tracker is cheaper than the Withings option.
Read the full article: Fitbit Charge 2 review: Taking charge
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ isn't anywhere near as good looking as the Withings Activité Steel HR or the Fitbit Alta HR, but it packs in a significant amount of functionality for its size. You'll not only get heart rate tracking and the rest of the usuals, but it also offering built-in GPS, which is unusual for the smaller trackers. It's a bit pricey, there is no option to make it look less like a rubber band and there is no waterproofing, but it's a worthy consideration.
Read the full article Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review: A fully-packed fitness tracker