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

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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.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Battery 8
  • Performance 7
  • Software 7
  • Features 7

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.

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.

withings-steel-hr-14.jpg

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.

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