Fitbit Ionic – Exercise and activity tracking
Activity tracking is a pretty standard affair for anyone who’s ever worn a Fitbit fitness tracker. There’s the usual ability to count steps seen elsewhere, and advanced sleep tracking in the form of Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights, both of which debuted with the Fitbit Alta HR and later rolled out to Fitbit’s other advanced trackers as a software update.
In the Fitbit companion app you can change your goal from the standard step counting to distance covered, calories burned or stairs climbed courtesy of the altimeter. A buzz on your wrist will indicate when you’ve hit your goal.
You can also turn on move reminders and set how many active hours you want during a day. These are hours where you aim to hit more than 250 steps; if you’re a little short as you approach the end of the hour, a reminder will buzz on your wrist to let you know how many more steps you need to take to stay on course. This is great if you’re desk-bound or find yourself sedentary all day.
The sleep tracking is one of my favourite implementations from a wearable, offering a decent level of information regarding time spent in different sleep phases. It’s now far easier to digest all the data captured overnight, with easy-to-read graphs and benchmark data relative to your 30-day average and other people in the same demographic.
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As a result, it’s far easier to determine the actual quality of your sleep, rather than simply looking at the duration. Even if you’re achieving eight hours of sleep a night, you might still find yourself waking up tired; a look at your sleep stages may reveal the reasoning for it.
Silent alarms are available from the Alarm app on the watch. These buzz away on your wrist to wake you in the morning, which is great if you don’t want to wake your partner.
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As for full exercise tracking, there are shortcuts for Run, Bike, Swim, Treadmill, Weights, Interval Timer and a general Workout, accessible by default from the Exercise app. These seven slots are customisable from the Fitbit mobile app if you want to swap them out.
For exercise such as running and cycling, the GPS is relatively quick to lock. This meant I was able to set off on a run with far less of a hold-up compared to a TomTom Spark 3 that I was also wearing. On the Ionic it takes about 30-40 seconds; the Spark 3, on the other hand, could on occasion take up to a minute before it was ready.
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Before you set off, you can hit the cog icon to configure the run tracking, from toggling the GPS to setting the information displayed on the screen. During a run, for example, the screen is split into three stats slots. The top and bottom are fixed to whatever you want, such as distance or calories burned, whereas the middle stat can show multiple different metrics by swiping at the display.
During a number of 10K test runs on official courses, the Fitbit Ionic tended to over-judge the distance, typically by around 1-200m. The TomTom Spark 3 and Apple Watch Series 2 got much closer to a 10km recording, allowing for a little extra distance for deviations from a linear path around the course.
Heart rate monitoring was at least close between the various test devices, and the Ionic’s PurePulse sensor performed much better than the Charge 2 did in terms of how quickly it adjusted for a recovery heart rate post-race. The heart rate information is also used for Fitbit’s Cardio Fitness score, which is essentially your VO2 Max. This is a great way to keep an eye on your overall fitness level.
Related: What is VO2 Max?
Having physical buttons to use while swimming is great, because touchscreens really don’t work well when covered with water. The Ionic is able to automatically track lengths, but you’ll need to set the pool length in the Fitbit app – not via the cog settings menu on the watch itself.
The lap-counting worked accurately, nailing the correct distance during my tests. Sadly, it isn’t possible to receive any heart rate information during a swim, but you can see calorie burn and the impact on your day’s activity levels.
Finally, on the fitness side is Fitbit Coach, the replacement for Fitstar. The Ionic comes with three workouts on the watch: 10-Minute Abs, 7-Minute Workout and the longest duration Treasure Chest, which runs for 20 minutes.
The workouts are great for those unable to get to a gym or out for a run. I went through them while in a hotel room during a press trip, for example. The routines are clearly explained with the display showing a real person going through the form and technique. Buzzes from the watch let you know when to move onto the next workout, and the screen displays your current heart rate and the time remaining.
While these three workouts are available off the bat on the Ionic, Fitbit Coach is a subscription service, and provides a greater selection of workouts. Fitbit has said audio coaching will come to the Ionic in 2018, too.