FITNESS TRACKER MAKER Fitbit is a company that is successful for its innovations in the wearables sector. It was one of the first firms to impact the fitness tracking space in a major way, inspiring people to record their movement data and improve on it to be more active.
However, the firm was never really known for its innovative, sleek design. Take the Fitbit Surge, a bulky, cumbersome and quite ugly piece of wristwear you’d probably feel ashamed to wear outside the gym.
But not anymore. With its latest release, the Ionic, Fitbit has moved away from the fitness band wearables and more towards the smartwatches a la Apple Watch and Android Wear, offering gym goers some innovative new features that aren’t just centred around making you sweat, such as contactless payments, music playback and detailed sleep tracking.
The Ionic is a slick, beautiful looking wearable with a gorgeous full colour display. But is it enough to give the Apple Watch a run for its money? Read on to find out.
As looks go, the Fitbit Ionic is not a million miles away from the firm’s last flagship smartwatch, the Blaze. With its square clock face and minimal, clean design thanks to its aerospace-grade aluminium construction, it’s rather understated in design.
Flipping it over reveals a smooth concave design which makes it appear slimmer when worn on the wrist than it actually is, alongside a very prominent heart-rate sensor and three connectors for the proprietary charging dock. Yes, it’s different again to that on the Blaze. And the heart-rate sensor is an always-on flashing green light, which you cannot choose to turn off, even when it’s not being worn. A slightly irritating quirk that – if fixed – would probably help save on battery life, especially for those that only want to wear the watch for exercise.
Nevertheless, the Ionic is generally very aesthetically pleasing. It’s also one of the most comfortable smartwatches Fitbit has made. It fits more securely and comfortably on the wrist than previous versions and because it uses a manufacturing technique the company calls nano-moulding technology, the smartwatch fuses plastic and metal together in the watch body for a lighter design. It also means it curves slightly to hug your wrist, so no matter what you’re doing, you forget it’s even there, helping you to focus on burning calories.
With a tough scratchproof gorilla glass touchscreen, we found you can really get down and dirty into your workouts without worrying about damaging the display.
Brightness is also high enough to see all the on-screen details, even in direct sunlight, and this dims automatically when you go inside to save on that much-needed battery life. It also works well underwater.
Fitbit is obviously feeling a little insecure about its product lineup against the like of Android Wear and the Apple Watch and so with the release of the Ionic, the firm is offering more lifestyle features, such as a built-in digital wallet and wireless music playback, which we will go into more detail later.
More importantly, though, the Ionic does what every Fitbit device did before it, only better.
It tracks steps, counts floors climbed, analyses sleep and measures heart rate, like the Fitbit Surge and Charge HR. But one thing the Blaze lacked was built-in GPS and complete waterproof swim tracking, with a dedicated swimming mode. Both these features are now included on the Ionic.
However, unlike the latest Apple Watch or Garmin Forerunner 935, you can’t use these two features at the same time, but it does still work brilliantly in the pool, accurately sensing when you’ve completed a length and updating the display with this information each time you stop to take the next length. This is thanks to the device’s new ‘Run Detect’ feature, which means the Ionic is clever enough to know when you’re taking a break, and automatically stops and starts tracking a run, swim or cycle by sensing the status of your movement.
We were also rather impressed with the Ionic’s heart rate sensor, which displays the corresponding measurements on the screen clearly, whether you’re exercising or not. On-screen icons are displayed clearly so not to confuse you. And thanks to new customisation options, you can also design your own watch faces to make the Ionic completely unique to you.
We also enjoyed how detailed the sleep function is, too. It works in the same way as the firm’s as previous devices, telling you when you were in REM, deep sleep or awake, and what level of quality sleep you had, offering you suggestions on how to improve it moving forward. The level of detail offered in the app here, summarising our sleep after waking up, was exceptional.
The Ionic is not all roses, though. When firing up the Exercise app to track running, we found that the built-in GPS can take a good few minutes to connect, however, so had to wait around for this to kick in before we began our run. A little irritating, but by far faster than many other GPS smartwatches we’ve used in the past.
Another annoyance is that completed workouts can’t be viewed on the smartwatch. While you’ll receive a roundup of your exercise stats right after your exercise, this will disappear once you’ve pressed “done”, and you’ll have to sync the watch with the app and view them on your phone to review them again. Nevertheless, what it lacks in some details it makes up in others…
The Fitbit Pay platform built into the Ionic means you to buy stuff without your phone or wallet and will include major credit card companies like AMEX, MasterCard and Visa. While this would be perfect for an emergency pit stop at the supermarket on a long run, the feature still isn’t up and running yet in the UK so we were unable to test it. However, we’ve been told this feature is due to go live sometime next month, so we’ll update this review once we’ve given it a go.
When Fitbit Pay does launch on the Ionic, it will include major credit card companies like AMEX, MasterCard and Visa, so far the smartwatch only supports those payment methods on three major banks so far in Europe. Those are HSBC, Santander and Capital One. Fitbit said more banks will be added over the coming months.
For now, though, there’s always the music playback function to keep you occupied, which means you can play MP3s from the watch directly to any Bluetooth earphones so you don’t have to take your iPhone out on runs with you if you want to workout with your favourite music. A big thumbs up here.
There’s also a new app store for the Fitbit Ionic, the first time ever on a Fitbit device, meaning lots of new functions will be coming to the watch very soon. It just might take Fitbit some time to grow its database and catch up with the likes of Android Wear. However, one app available now that we really liked was the Relax app, which guides you through breathing exercises when you’re feeling stressed.
But the biggest – and also one of the most crucial – questions still remains unanswered: battery life. How long will the Ionic last before you need to charge it again? This can be a make or break for a smartwatch these days because let’s face it; who wants yet another device to charge before bedtime every night?
Well, after using the watch for a good 24 hours, we were rather impressed with its stamina. Obviously, this is dependent on how much you use it for measuring workouts throughout the day, but after a full charge overnight and unplugging it at 7am, and, by 5pm it was at a rather impressive 64 per cent, and that was after four back-to-back, varied workouts.
Four days after the charge with minimal use, and the Ionic was at a respectable 31 per cent, draining by around 10 per cent a day for the three days it was used without tracking a workout. So battery life definitely does definitely depend on how much you make the Ionic work, and on average we’d say the avid gym goer should probably get a solid three days wear out of it.
With a retail price of £299, the Ionic is much more expensive than any of the firm’s previous wearable devices, but it is Fitbit’s most impressive and smartest wearable yet, so it does justify the price.
It might be brimming with features that make it brilliant for working out – as well as some that aren’t just fitness-focused – but unless you’re a health nut, the Ionic probably isn’t for you. Those looking for a smartwatch as an extension of their smartphones should probably look elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a wearable to track your health though, the Ionic is a great addition to any workout. Saying that, the Apple Watch starts at only £329, so for £30 more you’re going to get a much slicker bit of kit. That’s if you’re an iPhone owner, however. If not, the Ionic is a pretty decent alternative if you’re a gym addict.
Great design with beautiful colour display, continuous heart-rate monitoring, added waterproofing, built-in GPS, multi-sport tracking, comfortable, decent battery life.
Touchscreen could be more responsive.
Not for everyone, pricey.
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