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Withings Steel HR review: ​Your everyday watch with heart rate

Long battery life and a subtle look: The Withings Steel HR is swim-friendly and low-key.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

The Withings Steel HR isn't a smartwatch. It's just a smart-ish watch, and really just a fitness tracker, and that's OK. It's got analog hands, and a normal watch face. But it tracks activities and even heart rate. Its battery life is great, too.


Withings Steel HR

The Good

Sleek, sharp design. Long battery life. Seamless pairing and automatic fitness tracking. Fifty-meter water resistance.

The Bad

Tiny OLED second screen hard to read, and doesn't automatically turn on. Erratic heart rate tracking. Withings' Health Mate app isn't as socially connected as Fitbit. Limited phone notifications hard to read.

The Bottom Line

The Withings Steel HR comes as close as we've ever seen to an everyday watch with full heart rate fitness tracking, but it's not quite as good as it looks.

If you like the idea of a fitness tracker that feels like a normal watch, there are lots of options. Garmin, Fossil, and many others have similar products that track steps and log sleep with an onboard accelerometer. They're simple, but can be effective. Withings had one of the first of those, called the Activite. (Withings is now owned by Nokia, but the watch products are still similar.)

Steel HR ($180/£170 or equivalent to AU$237) upgrades the equation, adding optical heart rate tracking and even a small circular LED display onto its regular-looking watch design. It's a classy-looking watch, if small (I reviewed the 36mm black model, but a slightly bigger 40mm version with a larger bezel costs $200/£180, or around AU$264). It's just like the previous Withings Activite, plus heart rate. I just wish that heart rate function were a little better, because I love the idea of this watch otherwise.


Heart rate, but you need to press the button to see it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A second, smaller screen and heart rate, too

The new LED shows step count, distance, my heart rate, and time and date. When the side button is pressed and held, a timed workout mode stopwatch also shows continuous heart rate.

The Withings Steel HR tracks steps, sleep and heart rate automatically, and can also track swimming (which I didn't try, but older Withings Activite watches did this too).

But heart rate didn't work as well as I'd like. Accuracy seemed iffy: sometimes my heart rate was significantly lower than it should be, and then it would spring back up. I'd call it slightly glitchy. And the heart rate readout is hard to see when moving: the display is tiny and dim, and the domed glass casts a lot of glare.

The small screen can also receive limited phone notifications (text alerts, incoming calls, and calendar events), but the full information won't come through. I could see my wife was calling. I couldn't read what her previous text was.


Most watch features don't need the second screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best part of Steel HR might be battery life. It uses a rechargeable instead of a replaceable battery like previous models, meaning it won't go for six months. But a full charge lasted me well over three weeks, and Withings claims the Steel HR will last another two weeks in just a watch and step/sleep tracker mode with its digital display and heart rate features shut off. I haven't even had the watch long enough to test that out. Basically, this is the perfect fitness watch to wear on a long vacation.

The included magnetic charge cable was a little hard to snap on and has a weak grip compared with other chargers I've used, but it works.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Not quite enough, but the right idea

I like Withings' bare-bones fitness app, and have been using it for years to try to manage weight loss and blood pressure. It won't win over Fitbit users, because it's not nearly as social or activity-focused. But it's fine for the basics, including hooked-in MyFitnessPal nutrition-logging.

Withings Steel HR is a good upgrade to the previous Activite watches, but it isn't a killer fitness tracker. And it seems to have some issues with heart rate tracking that would keep me from recommending it for dedicated hardcore fitness purposes. It does, however, point the way to how regular-looking watches could get full heart rate-enabled fitness tracking and still have good battery life. Expect others to follow suit.

  • Pairs via Bluetooth with iPhone or Android
  • Has vibrating alarms (which were too subtle to reliably wake me up)
  • Automatic step, sleep, swim tracking
  • Optical heart rate monitoring
  • 50-meter water resistance
  • Swappable standard watch bands
  • Mineral glass dome, stainless-steel body
  • 25-day battery life (four in continuous heart rate mode), extra 20 days of standby use
  • Black or white models

Withings Steel HR

Score Breakdown

Design 8Battery 8Performance 7Software 7Features 7