Nokia Steel review: Nokia Steel is the gateway drug of smartwatches

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The Good The Nokia Steel is one of the best looking wearable devices you can buy and its battery lasts eight months.

The Bad Only offers basic fitness tracking compared to similarly priced competitors. No huge improvements over the previous model. Nokia's software is buggy.

The Bottom Line If you're after a stylish watch with some smart tech sprinkled on top, the Nokia Steel is for you. If you're keen on actual fitness tracking, jog on to other devices.

6.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Battery 9
  • Performance 5
  • Software 5
  • Features 5

How much you like Nokia's new Steel depends on one question: How smart do you like your watches?

It is technically a smartwatch -- it's a watch, and it connects to your phone for basic fitness tracking. But you won't be able to answer calls from it, get messages or emails. It doesn't even have a screen, as you've probably noticed. Those are actual physical watch arms in those pictures. If you want those features in a wearable, this is a no go.

But maybe you don't like the looks of the Fitbits and the Samsung Gears of the world. Or maybe you find them too pesky to charge and only want bare-bones fitness tracking from a stylish accessory that doesn't garner too much attention. If so, Nokia's Steel may be what you're after.

It looks like a regular -- but nice -- wristwatch, one that's flexible enough for a day at the beach or a night at a restaurant. It comes in both black and white, retailing for $130, AU$229 or £119. It's not exactly new, being a rebrand of the Withings Activite Pop. That's kind of the problem though: The Activite Pop was released in 2015, and there's not much new to Nokia's version.

Subtle tracking 

The Steel's fitness tracking isn't as fully featured as most wearables. It'll track your steps and distance travelled and it can estimate the calories you burn during exercise, plus your total energy expenditure for the day. It's only a useful exercise tracker for walking, running and, being water-resistant to 50 metres, swimming. That means those of you who prefer to do cardio on a cycle or elliptical machine are out of luck.

Unlike other trackers, little of that information is displayed on the device itself. There's a dial that tells you the percentage of your step goal you've walked so far, but everything else is in Nokia's Health Mate app. Health Mate lets you compare your activity with friends, so long as they also use Nokia or Withings devices. It'll also award you with Badges for reaching certain milestones, such as walking 42 kilometres, which the app informs me is "the distance of a marathon."

Those are actual watch arms on this Nokia watch.

Ian Knighton/CNET

Health Mate works with Google Fit for data tracking, MyFitnessPal for calorie counting plus RunKeeper and Nike+ for more running tracking. You'll want to link to those running apps, since the Steel and Health Mate app can't track your run times. The app is also home to Nokia's whole ecosystem of products, as it's also used with Nokia and Withings smart scales.  

Nokia is also keen to help you keep a record of your sleep, with a tracker that'll tell you how long you sleep, a total time of how long you were in bed for, how long it took you to actually get to sleep and how many times you woke up. Like calorie expenditure, it's really more of an estimate, as I've woken up without the watch registering it -- I remember because the nightmare that woke me up was wild -- and I feel like it takes me longer to get to sleep than the app indicates.

Nokia tries to be more helpful with its guide to better sleep, in which it tries to curb what it calls "Social Jet Lag," which is what you apparently get after screwing up your sleep schedule on the weekend. It's all helpful, but you can get the same amount of tracking, and in my experience more accurately, in the free Sleep Cycle app. 

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