If you’re looking for a classy analogue watch with discreet activity tracking thrown in, Withings’ Activité range has always been a great place to start. The Activité, Activité Steel and the Activité Pop are all eminently stylish timepieces that monitor your activity throughout the day, while transitioning happily from the gym to a gala dinner. They positively ooze classy French design.
The Steel HR takes much of what is great about the Activité range and augments it with new features including a heart rate monitor and a separate digital display for smartphone notifications.
These simple additions bring Withings’ new wearable more up to date, making it a compelling choice for those looking to keep tabs on their fitness and activity, without necessarily letting the world know that they're doing so.
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For the first time in a Withings device, you’ll have a choice of two sizes of watchface with the Steel HR: 40mm and 36mm. The 36mm model looked a little sleeker to my eyes when I first tried on both versions back at IFA 2016, which I put down to the thinner circular bezel around its circumference. Or, perhaps, simply because it looked more appropriate against my rather dainty wrists.
But that’s not to say that the 40mm variant sent in for review doesn’t look classy and sophisticated. The size difference isn’t that pronounced, and the stainless steel case – which hides subtle minute markings – ultimately grew on me.
The combination of the curved glass and shiny metallic surface makes the Steel HR feel like a premium wearable and a stylish analogue timepiece.
There’s no sign of the sapphire glass of the top-end Activité, which in fairness should come as no surprise considering the Steel HR's price. The watch feels lightweight on your wrist, which is a pleasant departure from certain weighty smartwatches.
There’s a choice of leather or silicone watch straps, depending which model you opt for. The black silicone strap that came with my review model was supremely comfortable, just like the strap that came with the Pebble 2 – which is high praise indeed, since that's been my favourite watch strap to date.
The strap is slightly elastic and very supple, meaning it doesn’t dig into your wrist, even when wearing the watch strap tighter while exercising. Neither does it pick up lint and fluff, like other silicone straps I’ve worn in the past.
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The Steel HR has a standard analogue watch design with a secondary subsidiary dial below that's used to display your progress towards your step goal. One full revolution of the subsidiary dial’s hand marks 100% of your target.
As a matter of personal taste, I prefer how the subsidiary activity dial is incorporated on the Activité range. It looks a little more slick and subtle. I also sort of wish the hands glowed in the dark like analogue watches I've worn in the past.
Where things get more interesting compared to older Withings hybrid watches is towards the top of the watch. Here you’ll find the new dynamic digital display. This can now show information such as calories burned, heart rate and steps taken. You scroll through them using the crown button.
It's also now possible to receive notifications from your connected smartphone. You can have caller ID or notifications of incoming messages or calendar events. Just the addition of this little display makes the Steel HR feel far "smarter" than previous Withings watches.
It isn't perfect, though; the notifications feel limited. For starters, there’s no email let alone the option to pull in notifications from any other app such as WhatsApp. As someone who rarely sends or receives a traditional SMS message, it limited the usefulness.
Then there’s the fact that the display is small, so there isn't much room to work with. Notifications have to scroll across, losing the "at a glance" convenience as you're having to wait a little longer to read the title of a calendar entry or the phone number of a caller.
The little monochrome screen is at least bright and easily legible. There’s auto brightness support, too, so it can adjust to your surroundings. I never had any problems seeing what was on the display, whether indoors or outside.
The Steel HR pairs with the Withings Health Mate companion app on iOS and Android, which you use to set up the watch. Pairing happens over Bluetooth, after which you're taken through a simple setup process that lets you adjust the time as well as set your target steps. It’s all very intuitive.
The app is used across many of Withings’ other smart health devices, such as its Body Cardio smart scales. As a result, you can have all of your important health data in one place. A timeline breaks down your Steel HR-recorded activity day-by-day, letting you dive in to see more information for your activity and sleep data.
You can also set a silent alarm in the app. Disappointingly, though, there's no smart alarm that uses the accelerometer to try to wake you up at a less jarring time.