Withings Steel HR Sport Review

The Withings Steel HR Sport is one of the best hybrid watches for newbie runners and casual gym goers.

Pros

  • Pretty design
  • Comfortable fit
  • Solid basic health and workout tracking
  • Amazing battery life

Cons

  • Not clear when the connected GPS is working
  • Doesn’t match feature set of dedicated fitness trackers

Key Features

  • Review Price: £189.95
  • Android and iOS support
  • Connected GPS
  • Heart rate reader
  • 30+ trackable sports

What is the Withings Steel HR Sport?

The Steel HR Sport is the first wearable from Withings since the company bought itself back from Nokia earlier this year. At first glance it looks like a minor refresh of the company’s original hybrid smartwatch, the Withings Steel HR.

But a number of important under-the-hood upgrades mean it more than earns its new ‘Sport’ branding. Highlights include tracking for advanced performance metrics, like VO2 Max estimates, and connected GPS location support. The updates make the Steel HR Sport a great option for casual gym goers or joggers looking for a discrete tracker.

But the Steel HR Sport’s increased focus on design means it doesn’t match dedicated trackers from the likes of Garmin when it comes to performance. More serious athletes will be better off investing in a more powerful, but admittedly uglier, tracker, such as the Garmin Vivosport, as a result.

Related: Best fitness tracker

Withings Steel HR Sport – Design

The Sport’s had a minor design refresh but sticks fairly close to Withings’ tried and tested model, which is no bad thing in my mind.

The Steel HR Sport has been designed to look like a watch first and fitness tracker second. The only indicator it’s actually got smart functionality shows when you press its single right facing control button.

Once clicked it lights up the secondary LED smart screen. The screen showcases the time, plus basic things like your heart rate and incoming notifications. A longer press opens up the sports menu, where you can cycle through the various activities you can track.

The system works well enough for scrolling through basic info, like your step count or current heart rate. The accompanying smartphone app also makes it quick and easy to change the order of things in the menu system to your liking. But I found it less useful for notifications. The small dimensions mean alerts for incoming messages offer little to no info, past who the sender is or what app it’s from. You also don’t have any quick reply options, which makes them more of an annoyance than aid when you’re exercising.

On its bottom you’ll find the same photoplethysmography (PPG) heart rate monitor as the original Steel HR. As before, the sensor reads your heart rate every few minutes when your not exercising to help preserve battery.

Lack of serious external changes aside, the design is pretty nice. The 40mm case is fairly compact compared to more serious trackers, like the Garmin Forerunner 645 music. This coupled with the premium-feeling 316L stainless steel casing and sports-focused rubber strap make it feel suitably comfortable to wear both in and out of the gym.

The 5ATM rating also means it’ll survive aquatic adventures at depths up to 50 meters, in theory. I didn’t get a chance to dive to depths of 50 meters but the Steel HR Sport easily survived the odd excursion in a swimming pool with zero hassle.

Battery life also remains a key selling point. Using the watch to track my 30 minute morning workout and two 5km runs a week, the HR Steel Sport easily lost a measly 25-30% of its charge per week.

Related: Best running watch

Withings Steel HR Sport – Tracking

Sports tracking is the area that’s had the biggest overhaul on the Steel HR Sport. The feature set isn’t as advanced as more expensive smartwatches, like the EKG-enabled Apple Watch Series 4 but compared to other hybrid watches the HR Sport’s tracking options are pretty solid.

Out of the box the the Steel HR Sport can track over 30 different workouts. These range from the staple running, swimming and cycling options to more esoteric activities, like snowboarding, boxing and zumba.

On paper this puts it up there with super expensive trackers, like the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus, when it comes to sheer volume of tracking options. But before you get too excited, be warned, it isn’t anywhere near that level and features a radically reduced number of sensors and collects far less data than more expensive dedicated alternatives.

The biggest omission is the lack of in-built GPS. The addition of connected GPS is a nice step up from the original Steel HR, letting you get more accurate distance measurements and collect and store the routes you take. But the fact you still need to pair it to a smartphone to take advantage of the feature puts it a step behind similarly-priced dedicated trackers, like the Vivosport and Vivosmart HR+.

The only issues I had stemmed from its new connected GPS. Even when you enable it the watch doesn’t clearly mark when its found a GPS connection. Even when it did it would occasionally drop out mid-run and not alert me. This meant distance data was occasionally off kilter with the Vivosport and Fenix 5 Plus trackers I tested it against.

Running a track I know is roughly 5.3km the Withings Steel HR Sport could be up to 40km off the actual distance I covered if the connected GPS dropped out. This is a little annoying as it also impeded the accuracy of its biggest upgrade: the ability to offer V02 Max estimates.

For non-hardcore athletes, V02 Max is a measurement of how much oxygen your blood can store. Science aside, a higher VO2 Max indicates your overall fitness/stamina, so it’s a nice metric for gauging performance improvements.

The Steel HR Sport isn’t the only tracker to offer a VO2 Max estimate, equivalently-priced Garmins like the Vivosport and Vivosmart HR Plus also do it, but it’s a nice step forward nonetheless.

Be warned though, VO2 Max estimates are notoriously hit-and-miss, as getting a true measurement requires proper lab equipment and controlled settings. So at best the figures offered by trackers will be useful as a vague approximation, assuming they remain consistent workout-to-workout.

The location inconsistencies can throw off the estimates impeding the metric’s usefulness in short-term progress tracking.

Thankfully outside of this the watch ticks most of the right boxes for newbie runners and more casual gym-goers.

The heart rate monitor is fairly reliable and wasn’t ever vastly out of whack with the HRM strap I tested it against. It also remained uniform and only occasionally threw up anomalously high or low results mid-run.

The step and calorie counting features also worked well enough and made it quick and easy to keep on top of any fitness or activity goals I set in the My Health app. Sleep tracking is also pretty good. The app clearly marks the overall amount of deep and light sleep you get each day and highlights, whether you’re sleeping well or not.

Why buy the Withings Steel HR Sport?

If you’re a casual gym-goer or runner looking for a discrete tracker that doesn’t look like a chunky, rubbery mess, then the Withings Steel HR Sport is a great choice.

The analogue watch face and OLED smartwatch screen give it a classy feel lost on most dedicated trackers. Its stellar battery life, easy to navigate menu system and app, and diverse range of tracking options also make it wonderfully easy to setup and use day-to-day.

The lack of an inbuilt, reliable GPS will be an issue for more serious athletes. Even semi-serious runners and gym-goers will be better off picking up a more feature-packed but ultimately uglier, dedicated tracker, like the Garmin Vivosport.

Verdict

A discrete hybrid smartwatch that’s ideal for fashion conscious joggers and casual gym-goers.

Score