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

Keep it simple 

The philosophy of the watch is simplicity. There's no need to charge it as Nokia says its battery lasts eight months. You put it on, live your life and check in on the app every now and then to see how you're sleeping and walking. No need to fiddle around with apps or buttons on the actual watch.

That's all good in theory, but it can be hard to escape the lack of functionality. As mentioned, there are cheap or free apps that track your sleep. The phone I'm currently using, Huawei's P10, has a built-in pedometer, so my steps are already counted. There are also many apps for this.

Then there's the competition. For less than $10 more, Garmin's Vivosmart 3 gives you a heart-rate monitor and a bunch of fitness tracking tools. That includes V02 Max readings, an aerobic-performance indicator which until recently was reserved for more expensive wearables. But it's not just the luxurious bells and whistles that the Steel lacks, as it's also without a heart-rate tracker, which you'll find in the identically-priced Fitbit Alta HR, though Withings did include one in the Steel HR (pricing and availability for the new Nokia model isn't yet known, though the older Withings version was priced at $180 or £170, which is about AU$230).  

A step backwards

Lack of functionality is one thing, but it's not my main problem with the Nokia Steel. More importantly, there's been no meaningful evolution from 2015's Activite Pop, which is essentially the same product. The only real change is on the software front, with Nokia redesigning the accompanying app, which is the second problem. That change doesn't appear to be for the better.

I never got a chance to use Withings' app, but many users have had trouble with Nokia's version. For my part, I struggled to get the Steel to sync to my phone. No matter how many times I tried, it didn't seem to work -- until it randomly did. I'm not sure I could replicate the process if you asked me to.

Since then, the app has mostly worked for me, but has at times registered me as sleeping when I wasn't. Complaints from users mostly centre on random drops in functionality. People often seem to have trouble syncing data from the watch or from other apps.

In a sense, it's unfair to compare the Steel to dedicated fitness trackers from Fitbit and Garmin, and especially to smartwatches from Samsung and Apple. It does some fitness tracking, but its primary purpose is not to be a fitness tracker: It's a fashion accessory first, a functional device second. That was a new idea in 2015, but now Nokia has competition. Garmin's Vivomove is a strong alternative, and Fossil has several similar watches coming later this year. That makes the Steel's lack of evolution and software woes even less forgivable.

This is a rare case where judging a book by its cover is actually appropriate. If you're shopping for a watch and like the look of the Nokia Steel, it makes sense as a purchase. But it's hard to recommend for the tech that's inside. 

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