Fitbit is no stranger to the wearables market. In fact, it's been kicking around for a decade this year, having sold over 67 million devices. That's quite a lot. While the company dominates the fitness tracking market though, it isn't as prominent in the smartwatch arena.
Yes there is the Blaze, announced in 2016 and the Surge, announced in 2015, but neither are what you consider proper smartwatches. The Fitbit Ionic on the other hand, aims to fill the space for the company and Fitbit thinks it's in a unique position to deliver.
We've known it's been coming for a while, but now Fitbit's new GPS smartwatch has been officially announced. Here are our first impressions of the Fitbit Ionic. Can Fitbit dominate the smartwatch market in the same way it does fitness trackers?
Fitbit Ionic preview: Design
- Aluminium unibody design
- Interchangeable straps
- Coloured display with 1000nits
The Fitbit Ionic is the first Fitbit device to be designed from start to finish in-house. Made from aerospace grade 6000 aluminium, the Ionic has been nano moulded for a unibody construction that is seamless in its design.
It's a square device, unlike many smartwatches out there, but it offers a lightweight, premium finish that's comfortable to wear and has a lovely finish.
The top of the Ionic is dominated by a beautiful, high resolution colour display that pumps out 1000nits of brightness, while function buttons are situated on the right and left-hand edges. The buttons are raised from the side of the device and textured, making them easy to locate and push.
The Fitbit Surge doesn't allow for strap changing, while the Fitbit Blaze takes a different approach, requiring you to switch out the entire frame surrounding the display and strap, rather than just replacing the strap.
The Ionic takes design cues from both these larger devices though, offering the continuous design from display to strap as seen on the Surge, while adopting the squarer, sharper lines and coloured display found on the Blaze.
There will be three Ionic colours available from the box, but Fitbit is also offering two leather straps that are super soft and feel lovely, as well as three perforated sports straps that allow for breathability, all of which can be bought separately to give your Ionic a different look.
On the underside of the Ionic's face is the heart rate monitor but Fitbit has altered the design of this too. Previously the PurePulse heart rate monitor, found on several of its devices, protruded from the bottom of the device, but the Ionic has the heart rate sensor module built into the device, meaning it sits flush with the rest of the underside of the device.
Fitbit claims this is for accuracy, but it makes for a cleaner looking finish too and one that is likely to be more comfortable as well. The Ionic is fastened with a buckle clasp, adding to the watch element of this device, while also being good for security.
With the standard straps, the end of the strap has a pin mechanism that slots into one of the remaining holes to keep the strap from flapping about, while with the leather strap, there is a loop for the rest of the strap to tuck into.
Fitbit Ionic preview: Fitness features
- Water-resistant up to 50-metres with swim tracking
- Built in GPS with 10-hour battery life
- Fitbit Coach personal coaching
The Fitbit Ionic is designed to bring all the best features within the company's fitness trackers, coupled with smartwatch features and a variety of other fitness features. Fitbit believes it's the totality of the feature set together that makes the Ionic unique, rather than a single individual function on its own.
First up, it's the second Fitbit device to offer waterproofing, with the only other one being the Flex 2. The Ionic is water resistant up to 50 metres and it will track swimming, like the Flex 2, but it takes swim tracking one step further by showing your stats in real time, something the Flex 2 can't do due to its lack of screen.
Next up is the addition of built-in GPS, something only the Fitbit Surge offers with the company's portfolio. The GPS has been improved since the Surge though, with extra features added too, including run detect which will automatically kick in when you start running, as well as auto pause, which will pause your workout if you stop at a traffic light or to tie your shoes, for example.
Fitbit has also added GLONASS technology for stronger connection to satellites and it claims the GPS battery life will last up to 10 hours, which if true is pretty good.
The third element worth mentioning is the addition of personal coaching. Fitbit is launching Fitbit Coach alongside the Fitbit Ionic, which will offer workout recommendations based on your recorded activity and feedback. There will be three workouts offered free, but there is also a paid-for subscription that will deliver more personalised workouts, as well as audio coaching.
Eight sensors are built into the Ionic, one of which is the heart rate sensor we mentioned previously. Unsurprisingly, this will measure your heart rate, both resting and during a workout, but Fitbit has also improved algorithms to provide better heart rate tracking during high intensity workouts.
Another of the sensors is SPO2 which can help monitor blood oxygen levels, though Fitbit wouldn't detail anymore than that for now.
The Ionic will also include all the features from the likes of the Alta HR and Charge 2 including sleep stage monitoring, automatic tracking and cross platform compatibility.
Fitbit Ionic preview: Smartwatch features
- Smart notifications, including texts, calls and third party apps
- Fitbit Pay, contactless payments from your wrist
- Storage for up to 300 music tracks
- Four-day battery life
As the Fitbit Ionic isn't just aiming to be a fitness device but a smartwatch too, it has various smartwatch capabilities too.
As you would expect from a smartwatch, the Ionic will deliver notifications from your smartphone including texts, calls and third party notifications like WhatsApp, Facebook and Gmail.
It also has Fitbit Pay on board, which is a new feature that will launch with the smartwatch, allowing you to pay for anything, anywhere that accepts contactless payments with your watch. Fitbit has teamed up with AMEX, MasterCard and Visa at launch but it is working with global partners too and like Apple Pay, there is no £30 limit as you can enter your pin on the Ionic.
Music can also be stored on the Ionic smartwatch, with 2.5GB of space dedicated for audio files alone. This will allow around 300 tracks to be stored on your Ionic, but you can use the space for audio books and podcasts if you so wish.
The Ionic won't do everything the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices do, such as map directions and allowing you to make and take calls from your wrist, but the notification and payment side of things is on the Ionic and there is potential for expansion as the Fitbit OS that the Ionic runs on - more on that in a minute - has an open SDK that will be available from mid-September, allowing anyone to create an app to work with it.
Fitbit also claims the Ionic will offer a four day battery life, which is quite a lot more than smartwatches on the market, but less than devices like the Garmin Forerunner 735XT that come with a couple of weeks life. We didn't get a chance to test the features or battery life during our brief time with the Ionic but we'll be sure put it through its paces when we review it in full.
Fitbit Ionic preview: Software
- Fitbit OS software
- Open SDK for app developers
- Strava has confirmed partnership
Apps have to be approved by Fitbit but if you can write Java, you can create yourself a personalised watch face or app and share it with your Fitbit friends to put on their watches too.
At launch, there will be numerous health and fitness apps from Fitbit itself within the Fitbit app gallery, including the Fitbit Coach app and a couple of third party app partners will also be on board too, including Strava and Accuweather. No doubt more will appear over time, which will help make the Ionic smarter.
The Ionic we saw wasn't final software so we weren't able to get a good feel for the interface, though the exercise workouts available seemed similar to what is offered on the Blaze suggesting the interface will be familiar to current Fitbit users and easy to navigate for newbies.
The Fitbit Ionic brings a great solid, lightweight design with a beautiful screen, along with interchangeable straps for achieving a different look.
The company has introduced plenty of technology into the device, including a heart rate monitor, improved GPS, smart notifications, payment capability and all the features Fitbit users will have come to know and love, like automatic tracking and sleep stages.
The four-day battery life, addition of waterproofing and the potential that comes with the Fitbit Coach and Fitbit OS all add to the possibilities of what this device could be.
Whether it will be enough of a smartwatch for those in the market for an Apple Watch or Android Wear device to opt for the Ionic instead remains to be seen for now, but Fitbit seems to have delivered a good bridging device between fitness tracker and smartwatch so we can't wait to take it for a test run.