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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab), on iOS (opens in new tab), and on the web (opens in new tab).

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!

  • I can see Phil is very pleased with Withings products, from the scale to the HR. I'm waiting for the Summer to buy a bunch of them...once the Withings branding goes away and is replaced by Nokia's brand. So do keep the Withings reviews coming, Phil...they're actually being pretty helpful for me to build my shopping basket ;)
  • Another gadget to consider when switching to Android from Windows Phone and the Band 2.
  • It work with windows 10 mobile and it's also nokia btw.
  • It doesn't mention W10M on their website.
  • No it doesn't. No app or any way to sync your watch with either windows desktop or mobile
  • It does not work with any Windows products; stop spreding BS when you can't even be bothered to look up basic facts.
  • Bad luck, google just announced the closure of androob
  • I really like the clean design of this watch. Although given that I wear an analogue watch I'll probably look at getting a new fitness band instead of this. But definitely a great device.
  • These clocks can connect with Windows Phone? Or I got on androidcentral? Preparing for evacuation?)
  • Windows Phone/Windows 10 Mobile are dead, all the coverage of ios and android should be a huge hint.
  • That coverage has no place on Windows Central, when it does not work with anything Windows; it should scurry off back to Mobile Nations Android and Apple sites, and if people switch they can follow those sites for Android and iPhone news.
  • I tried out the Withings Steel HR (40mm) and ended up returning it. I really did like it, but these were the reasons it didn't work for me: - I bought during the presale so it's quite possible I received a watch out of the very first batch. My particular watch had waterproofing issues. I never showered with it and nearly always took it off while washing the dishes and other activities that would have gotten it barely wet. Despite that, condensation built up inside of the face. This could very well have just been an issue with my production lot though
    - If you're coming from a Microsoft band, the step counting is WAY different. The Steel HR undercounted by a good bit. I noticed a few people complaining about this on Amazon reviews as well, so I'm not sure if it was a defect in the watch (again, possibly related to an early production run), or the algorithm used didn't count steps the way the Band 2 did. For what it's worth, I ended up settling on a Samsung Gear Fit 2, and while the GF2 undercounts the B2, it's only by maybe 5%. I found the Steel HR to be off by up to 50% sometimes, normally off by 33% on most days
    - Notifications... or the real reason I bought this watch... aren't all that great. At the time, all you got was calls (I almost never make calls on my phone), SMS (I use 90% Whatsapp) and calendary (didn't work with Outlook on my Android device). So, notifications as they were, were pretty much useless. I prefer how it works on my GF2 and the B2... use the app to pick which notifications come through. I don't really care if I can't respond or interact on the phone, but it's nice to be able to just quickly glance and decide if it's worth taking the phone out of my pocket. The battery life did live up to claims, but I'd give up 50% of the life for more notifications any day of the week
    - Sleep tracking. Definitely not as good as the B2 or GF2. Both of those devices are pretty accurate (the B2 was almost scary accurate). It certainly seemed to know if I was in bed, but not if I was actually asleep. I tested on a trans-pacific flight from LA to Tokyo. Had a seat in business with lie flat but I didn't actually sleep much, despite me trying. The B2 was pretty much dead on with how much I think I actually slept, while the HR thought I was asleep while I was just lying there motionless #1 on the list was worthy of an exchange and #2-#4 could have been fixed through software updates, but everything together made me feel like it wasn't quite fully baked yet. I did really like the watch though. Much more comfortable than the B2 and battery life was as good as advertised. Plus, it looked pretty darn good to boot. Personally, as soon as a V2 of this watch is out, I'll probably be lining up to buy it.
  • The design is eloquent and clean, yet like the other fitness wearables I just cant seem to find one that provides me with all the things that I've grown to love about my Band 2.  As long as it's still ticking along I'm going to stay with it.
  • If you're scared about ripping, get some black gorilla duct tape and cut it to lay along the outside of the bands. Round the corners to prevent it from catching and peeling off. I'm doing this and hoping to prevent a 7th-time rip :(
  • Stick with 950 and Garmin
  • Have you gotten the Creators Update on the 950, and is GATT making SMS/email/call notifications better on the Garmin?
  • Have 950xl on creators update. Notifications are still broken. They haven't updated the app since the creators update, so hoping that's why
  • Sounds nice, but I'll stick with my Fitbit, since I have the scale, and it works with my Moto X and my 950. Also works with iOS, though I'm extremely unlikely to buy an Apple product.
  • Now we play a game: How long until they get bought out by FitBit?
  • Nokia already bought Withings.
  • They already got bought by Nokia and FitBit certainly doesn't have the money for that acquisition.
  • Well, yes, but I was attempting to be humorous, since FitBit just bought up others. I realize the outlandishness of the statement, which is why I said it. How about this instead... Now we play a game: How long until someone finds a way to break it? :-D Better?
  • The only thing which was awesome was Pabble , Hate you FitBit!
  • I bought Vector Luna and within a month they were bought out by FitBit. Now, months later, haven't seen any update and now the VectorWatch app doesn't work properly with anything newer than Anniversary edition.
  • I'm in a similar spot. Vector says they are aware of the issue, and will be making an update to the watch to bring it to functionality around the midpoint of May. I assume because they gave out 2 year warrenties, that they have to, but we'll see, right?
  • Why are we reading this on windows central? I have a withings pop but there is no support for either windows 10 or windows 10 mobile!
  • Smartwatches for Android and iOS on WindowsCentral? I'm officially done with you. I've warned.
  • My band 2 just died, looking for a replacement on kijji. So far no luck. Going to wait until later this year, see what happens with msft or jump to the Android ecosystem. like the other guy said"can't find a single device that that can do what the band can. When its works.
  • I'm kinda struggling to work out the "windows" connection here. Couldn't you review technology compatible with windows desktop or phones, or tablets, or Microsoft app, or something with the even vaguest connection to the website branding instead?
  • A lot of Windows Central stories are shared with their sister Android Central
  • Do you want them to shut down??
  • My Band 2 is still performing great and I've put a lot of workouts on it, although my 950XL gives me a weird background message when syncing, until I resync. I'll flog it until it quits. When the Band 2 croaks, I want one with all its features plus Blood Pressure.
  • What's the relevance to Windows? Just because Withings have a website doesn't justify it being on Windows Central surely? Perhaps I'm missing the connection...
  • What a waste of a post on a Windows site.  There is no way to use this phone even with a Windows desktop. Please stop cross-posting worthless articles unless there is SOME connection.
  • How many alarms can i set with it?
  • The only reason I clicked for this was because I thought it was another windows alternative smart watch. Thanks for wasting my time windows central..
  • Why the hell would you post about any Withings products on a Windows Central site when those pricks can't even be bothered to make a Windows desktop app or a Win10 app so Windows users could also use their products. As it is right now if you don't have an Android or Apple smartphone you are **** out of luck and can't use Withings products at all. Until that changes why would any Windows and Windows Phones users give two craps about their products. I would rather support Fitbit who know that Windows is an important customer segment and develop and constantly improve the experience with Fitbit on Windows.  
  • They have currently retrenched, I'm sure they will make an windows app.