Activity trackers and fitness gadgets are seriously in vogue. However, they have fallen into a certain category of looks. You either get a smart bracelet, such as Fitbit, or a smartwatch that is big and chunky. Withings, who are now owned by Nokia Health, had other ideas. With their Activite series, they changed the status quo by adding an activity tracker on to an analogue watch. A minimal interface on the watch and rest is visible via the app. With the Nokia Steel HR, they have taken this a step further. The watch not only looks and feels stylish, but it also throws in a heart rate monitor as well as give you sleep tracking. A screen on top also offers a display, giving you notifications and readouts. It is also easily the best-looking smartwatch on the market.
Nokia Steel HR – Features
- Bluetooth Low Energy
- Compatible with iOS devices, needs iOS 8 and above, works on iPhone 4s onwards, iPod Touch 5th gen onwards and iPad 3rd gen onwards.
- Android 5.0 and higher
- Heart rate
- Automatically detected: running, swimming
- Sleep: time to fall asleep, duration, sleep cycles, interruptions.
- 36mm model: 36.3mm diameter, 13mm thickness, 18mm wristband width, 39g (watch only)
- 40mm model: 39.5mm diameter, 13mm thickness, 20mm wristband width, 49g (watch only)
- Water resistant up to 50m, 5ATM
- Smart sleep alarm
- Heart rate sensor
- Day and night motion sensor
- 25 day battery life, up to 5 days in workout mode
In the box
- Nokia Steel HR with Silicone Strap
- Magnetic Charging Cable (plugs into any USB 2 port)
- Installation guide
Look and feel
This is by far the best looking ‘smartwatch’ I have ever tried. Withings were on to something good, and no wonder Nokia went and bought them. Rumours are that now Google is interested in buying the business, but that will be the subject of another piece.
The watch looks great. It is light. Interestingly, the way it is built means that it looks and feels a lot thinner than it is. This has been achieved by making the thickest part slope inwards at the bottom. You won’t know and you won’t notice and you won’t feel this one to be thick.
Under normal conditions, the regular watch tells you the time while the smaller dial gives you a percentage of your activity. If you press the button on the side, it brings up the screen, which cycles through the date and time, your heart rate, daily activity stats (steps, distance, calories), alarm (if set) and if enabled, the remaining battery. The screen is hidden most of the time, so you won’t know this to be a smart watch. It may be tiny, but it is perfectly adequate.
In keeping the design minimal, yet elegant, Nokia Health have made the best ‘compromise’ smartwatch that exists. The journey has already been good and I look forward to how it gets better!
Most importantly, this works in all circles of life – whether you are a top businessman sitting in a board room, an executive looking to impress others, or a nerd just nerding out!
The setup is pretty usual for any smartwatch. It all starts with charging your watch and downloading the app. The app is called ‘Health Mate’ and is available via both the Apple and Android app stores.
Once in the app, it walks you through the process of connecting to the app. For the purpose of our review, we used an iPhone, so the Android experience may vary.
You do need to set up an account with Nokia Health to be able to use the app.
Interestingly, it could not pair with the watch, as it was already paired to a different phone. Joys of reviewing devices, eh! However, the app happily guided me through doing a full reset and then finally pairing and syncing with the device.
Despite resetting the watch, it still remembered the ‘activity’ done by the watch, and put that into my timeline of activities. I am not complaining, but I did find this a bit odd. It only tells you steps and distance, nothing else, so there shouldn’t be any data breach here.
After that, you are good to go.
As expected, the watch picks up the time from the phone, and allows you to calibrate the hands if needed.
Using the watch for fitness and health tracking
If you walk, run or swim, the watch is pretty much a wear and forget kind of a device. You get on with your activities and it just detects that you have been doing these things. It automatically detects your heart rate at reasonable intervals meaning it maps it for you through the day.
If you do want to track a particular activity that is none of these, or you want your heart rate to be monitored more closely, hold the button down for two seconds till the watch vibrates. Now you are in measurement mode which will track your heart rate constantly. Press again to get out of that mode. You can then use the app to put in more details.
Using the app
When you launch the app, it takes you straight to the Timeline Mode. The Dashboard is similar, but it focuses on the current day and you can also add things such as BMI, Height, Weight, etc. Programs will allow you to set up personal challenges. Devices lets you add other Nokia Health devices, while Profile lets you track your ownself.
For most of the time, the Timeline is all you need to see. If you perform any specific activities, you will find that they appear here too. Click on any of the items on the timeline to get more detail.
Cycling – it just doesn’t work
So, as somebody who lives in Oxford, I cycle a lot, and I found that since cycling is a reasonably relaxed activity, it just didn’t do much in terms of calories or adding to my activity. In fact, when you add it as an activity, it asks you how you felt to adjust calories.
Personally, I think a software update should fix that, so keen to see that happen.
Sleep is another interesting one. If you look at the image above, you will notice a sleep followed by a nap.
I am one of those people you call ‘parents’, which mean my sleep is often broken as I go and get the little one back to sleep.
When you go back to sleep, it tracks that one as a nap. This means that my stats look bad. I admit that the gap there is big, but it would be nice if all sleep (including naps) were counted as one.
There have also been moments which meant I was sat very still while the little one was asleep on me and it thought I was in light sleep. I really hope I was not drifting off, and I have tweets to prove it!
Rock your baby/child to see the numbers rack up
Okay, this is more of a cheat than anything else, and will apply to pretty much every fitness tracker. Because of the exaggerated arm movement required in rocking a child or a baby to sleep (even if they are in a sling), you will see your activity shoot up.
Sadly, in the first week of reviewing the app, my little one was unwell which meant there was a lot of attention, cuddles and rocking back and forth. I racked up to 6 miles movement in a day, without leaving the house. In my defence, I was also walking for hours on end, so there will definitely be some truth to those numbers.
Also included in the app is a smart alarm, which looks at your sleep cycle and wakes you up when you are in light sleep. Happy to report that for me it worked quite well. For those who haven’t used this, a smart alarm such as this can be the difference between waking up gently and feeling like being hit by a bus when your alarm goes off.
The alarm operates by vibrating the watch in a very gentle manner. Always enough to wake me, but not to shake me.
This is probably what makes the Nokia Steel HR a smartwatch for me. It offers notifications. However, as of now, only calls, texts and calendar items are offered as a notification.
It offers these by putting those up on the screen. The screen is quite small, which means all the text doesn’t appear but it is enough to entice you to look at your phone.
The vibration is really gentle, which I prefer to some watches, that really shake your hand and make it an annoying experience.
You cannot add other apps to your notifications. For example, I would have loved to have been able to add Whatsapp to the mix. However, once again, something that can be added via a software update.
No night light
One thing I would add is that it would have been great if the watch hands were visible in the night, or there was a nightlight feature instead of having to press the button to see the time in the dark. I am being picky here, but definitely worth a mention as far as I am concerned.
One of the highlight features of the Nokia Steel HR is the amazing battery life. It promises up to 25 days on regular use and up to 5 days when measuring activities.
I had a mixed-use, and I got around 20 days before the battery hit 5% and asked me to charge it again.
A sure win.
More information on the Nokia Steel HR can be found on Nokia Health’s website.
It retails for £149.99 (down from £169.95) and is available from various online retailers such as Amazon.
The Nokia Steel HR gives you the best of all worlds. Some aspects may not be perfect, but it is well on its way to being the template all smartwatches should follow.