Steel HR brings brains, brawn and battery to fitness smartwatches

More than a fitness tracker but not-quite-a-smartwatch, the Steel HR fits a sweet spot for me during my daily sweat sessions.

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I spent a lot of years wearing a lot of smartwatches. Until I didn't. At some point,m I just gave up having one more thing to charge every night. Or maybe being able to swipe away an email at a moment's notice just wasn't important anymore. And, so, I went analog. (Thanks to my lovely wife for this Christmas present.)

But I screwed up ... I wore my Shinola (this one, since folks will ask) to the gym, twice, and very quickly ended up with sweat stains on the leather. (Let that be a lesson to you!) Time to be smarter about things. And one of the best pieces of advice I think there is when it comes to fitness tech is to try to stay in a single ecosystem. I was already using the Withings Body scale and Wireless Blood Pressure Cuff.

Time to try the company's fancy watch, too. This is the Steel HR.

See at Withings{}

Short version: The Steel HR is what I'd call a "semi-smart watch." It has an analog face and an indicator for activity level gauge, dialing up from 0 percent to 100 percent (or beyond) as you go throughout your day. It also has a small digital display for basic notifications.

On the underside is a heart-rate monitor — the "HR" part Steel HR.

It'll check your heart rate once every 10 minutes or so when you're just walking around. But if you hold down the button on the side of the watch you enter "workout mode," and the watch starts taking heart-rate measurements continuously. Press the button again and you can see how hard your pumper is pumping, and how much time has elapsed in each session.

You're forgiven if you look at the Steel HR and don't see it as a smartwatch. I don't. For one, it doesn't have the telltale color display. That's actually a good thing in this case, for two reasons. The first is that when I'm doing the fitness thing, I don't want to be futzing with the watch all the time. Back when I was wearing full smartwatches I was always swiping at the darn thing. The Steel HR, however, doesn't bother me much. It tells the time, it tracks me in the background, and it notifies me of important incoming events — but those are few and far between.

Steel HR

The other thing is that because it doesn't have a big, color display lit up all the time, the battery lasts for what feels like forever. As I type this, I honestly couldn't tell you the actual capacity of the battery, because I simply don't care. I haven't gone less than a week before I even thought about getting near a charger. The actual runtime will vary a bit depending on how much you're using the active workout mode. The literature says you get up to five days of use in workout mode, and up to 25 days in normal mode. And that's not an exaggeration. The only time I charge is when I feel like it — not because I have to. And the watch charges pretty fast, too, quoting up to 80 percent in an hour, with another hour to hit 100 percent.

Hardware is nothing without software, of course. And so this all (like the scale and BP cuff and other products) ties into the Health Mate app, available on Android, on iOS, and on the web.

When you use the "active workout" mode, the watch will sync back to the phone and try to figure out what it is you were doing. Walking and running are the obvious ones. It does swimming, too. I usually have to edit things when I'm on the elliptical, but that's sort of the point. It makes importing your workouts seamless. You just need to double-check the activity, and maybe the calories expended. Elapsed time and heart rate are handled for you.

(The Nokia folks tell me the Steel HR also will try to automatically recognize tennis, ping pong, squash, badminton, weightlifting, basketball, soccer, volleyball, dancing and boxing. And if it doesn't figure those out, it has a bunch more you can select from yourself.)

If you workout without the Steel HR on your arm, did you actually exercise? OK .. yes. But it's just not the same.

I've been wearing the Steel HR for a few months now. I don't wear it 100 percent of the time (I don't wear my Shinola 100 percent of the time either) but almost every time I exercise. I'm to the point where I kind of kick myself a little if I forget to strap it on in the morning when I walk — gotta have my steps counted!

But the Steel HR absolutely comes with me to the gym, every time I go to the gym. I love having a log of my exercises and how hard (or not) I was working.

But mostly, I love having a semi-smart connected watch that can stand up to my sweaty body (I'll let that visual sink in for a minute) and run for weeks at a time. That it looks decent — more than decent, actually — is an added bonus.

See at Withings{}

Modern Dad


Phil Nickinson

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!