Review: Fitbit's Ionic smartwatch

The Ionic is water-resistant in up to 50m and you can also track your swimming.

The Ionic is water-resistant in up to 50m and you can also track your swimming.

​Fitbit's latest fitness tracker is also their first real punt at a smartwatch. 

It includes tech from several companies Fitbit recently bought, including smartwatch makers Pebble and Vector, plus Coin, a contactless payment firm.

The result is the Ionic ($500). It takes the good stuff from Fitbit's earlier fitness trackers and adds a sprinkle of smartwatch savvy. The big appeal with the Ionic is its 50m water resistance and a battery life that leaves other smartwatches for dead.

DESIGN

Fitbit has dared to be different by opting for a square design with the Ionic. Some may say that a traditional circular watch design is best, but others argue that it's hip to be square. The Ionic's square design oozes retro charm.

A tapered underside also means that less sweat gets trapped under it when exercising. It also allows the sensors which track your heart rate to remain in contact with your wrist when you're on the move. It's a good job that it is so comfy to wear as its long battery life makes wearing it non-stop for 3-4 days possible (This is something I'm usually loathe to do with most other timepieces).

Ionic is available in three colours. My favourite is the striking burnt orange/slate blue combination. 

IN USE

The most noticeable feature of the Ionic is its display. It's sharp, bright and vibrant. Able to crank out 1000 nits, it is readable even when the sun shines brightly.

It's comfy to wear and is much lighter than most other smartwatches. Some feel like an alloy brick on your wrist. Not the Ionic. It is so light that I sometimes forgot I was wearing it.

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The Ionic doesn't support standard watch straps. Instead, it uses a proprietary quick-release design. Straps can get swapped out for others made by Fitbit. Both large and small silicone straps are included in the box.

It is also simple to use. A button on its left-hand side allows you to back out of screens. A top-right button provides access to fitness stats. The bottom right button fires up coaching apps covering running through to swimming. The screen is also touch-sensitive so you can swipe to scroll.

As is often the case with pre-release hardware, there were some minor glitches.  The mobile and desktop PC apps may be comprehensive, but they aren't intuitive. Tasks such as transferring music onto the Ionic required I use the desktop PC/Mac app instead of my phone. My review unit struggled to detect which Wi-Fi network it was on. This made music transfers next to impossible. Here's hoping this is sorted with the retail software updates.

MOBILE PAYMENTS

Following in the footsteps of Samsung and Apple, Fitbit has made good use of their acquisition of contactless payment specialists, Coin. They've joined forces with Visa so Ionic can perform contactless PayWave style payments.

Locally this has seen Fitbit partnering with ASB, which means that bank's customers can load up their Visa card details onto the Ionic. Fitbit says it's in talks with other banks and hopes to get it more widely supported locally in the near future.

The Ionic works with PayWave terminals just like a PayWave capable credit card for tap and pay purchases. 

Once you've added a credit card to the Fitbit Ionic you also enter a 4-digit PIN. This is activated when the Ionic detects it has been removed from wearers wrist as there is no longer a pulse to track. This sort of biometric security should, in theory, be next to impossible to spoof.

FEATURES

The Ionic is water-resistant in up to 50m and you can also track your swimming thanks to its in-built swimming coaching app. It's also great to be able to wear it in the shower too.

Sporty types will also like that using the Ionic can be a phone-free undertaking when out at the gym or on a run. It has GPS and GLONASS built in and can track your progress when running. It also has a media player and the ability to pair with Bluetooth headphones.

As well as step counting, the Ionic also tracks the wearer's heart rate. This mightn't be anything new, but it also has a SPO2 sensor, which senses blood oxygen levels. Fitbit has yet to take full advantage of this capability. Future updates could see the Ionic tracking issues such as sleep apnoea.

Speaking of which, its sleep tracking is hard to beat. Like other smartwatches, the Ionic can tell you how long you slept. It also takes things a step further. Using its gyroscope to track motion, and uses heart rate sensors to tell you about the quality of your sleep.

There's not a huge number of apps available for the Ionic yet. Then again, it has only been available for a few weeks. That said, the apps that really matter are probably already installed.

What is probably more important is battery life. With this, the Ionic has it over its competitors. Its battery can, in theory, last for up to five days. With typical use, I got four-and-a-half days. This is three days more than I'd get with Android Wear and the Apple Watch. It's a full day and a bit longer than with the Samsung Gear S3 too.

VERDICT

The Ionic is both a striking watch and a capable fitness tracker. It is comfy to wear, has an unbeatable battery life and is water resistant up to 50m. These are the features that really matter with a smartwatch. Combined with its clever step/sleep/heart rate and blood oxygenation tracking capabilities, the Ionic is the perfect companion for fitness fanatics.

 - Stuff

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