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Nokia Steel HR is a fitness tracker that could pass for a wristwatch

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Fitness trackers are a hot item – they track daily motion, motivate wearers to stay fit, and help keep up to date on a users fitness routine. Up until now, however, most of them have tended to look like a piece of gear – bulky, ugly plastic and metal bands that look “techy” or “futuristic”, showing off the fact that the wearer is oh-so-cool and concerned about their health.

In stark contrast to the traditional techy fitness tracker market, Nokia (Formerly Withings) has taken the tracker concept and packaged it inside a slick, classy looking wristwatch, with a discreet OLED screen, and traditional analog hands. Sure, a number of other companies have had the same take on the product – but in my opinion, Nokia does it particularly well.

The Nokia Steel HR is a heartrate, motion, step, activity, and sleep tracking fitness tracker watch which is almost indistinguishable from a sleek and stylish wristwatch, and sports a solid month of battery life. Find it in both 38mm and 40mm versions direct from Nokia. 

First Impressions

The packaging of the Nokia Steel HR is sleek and minimal – a basic cardboard box, with the watch anchored by a small piece of foam. Also included is the USB charging cradle – but no extra straps, or power brick.

The unit I received came with the black silicone strap – it’s very soft rubber, flexible, and has a good amount of stretch on the wrist.

The actual watch is slick – a shiny stainless steel case, lightly domed crystal, and minimal styling. I’m also immediately struck by the nice simplicity of the dial – Minute, Hour, and step progress hands, with a black round window at the top that glows blue only when pushing the crown button.

Setup of the Nokia Health Mate app on my iPhoneX was a breeze – quick installation, seamless pairing, and immediate tracking.

Fit and Finish

Given that this thing is a waterproof sports watch, it looks pretty darn good. Smooth polished stainless steel, with no rough edges. A soft, pliable strap, nice buckle, and overall premium feel.  The domed crystal is nice – but there’s one small issue – looking at reflections in the domed crystal, there’s a good amount of visual distortion – either the crystal isn’t perfectly curved, there’s a flat spot at the top, or the finish of the inside of the crystal isnt as precise as the outside. In any case, it’s a minor detail that only takes away slightly from the general feel.

The black face is nice, and is contrasted by the shiny hands. Of note, on the 40mm Silver/Black dial version, the main hands are silver, the middle spindle is silver, and the step tracking hand is white. On the 38mm Rose Gold/Black dial version, the main hands are rose gold, the middle spindle is SILVER, and the step tracking hand is rose gold. That silver middle spindle on the rose gold model irks me – it’s a design detail that seems to have been overlooked, and once I noticed it, it was hard to forget.

On the Wrist

Wearing the Nokia Steel HR is easy easy easy. The strap is a soft, stretchy silicone. This makes wearing the watch cinched somewhat tight against the wrist a bit easier – important for getting good heart rate readings. However, I usually wear my watches a bit loose – and the silicone does get a bit floppy. That said, as for rubber watch straps, this is about the nicest I’ve seen. The buckle on it is also great. I would have loved to have tried out the Nokia leather strap, had one been provided.

I initially tried out the 36mm model – on my medium sized wrists, this model immediately felt way too small – especially with today’s somewhat larger mens watches. However, on associate reviewer Hilary’s small, female wrist, the 38mm model looks just perfect.

The 40mm version I’ve been wearing feels and looks great – it’s a bit bulkier of a design, and certainly more “manly” feeling. Additionally, the weight is just right and reassuring, without being too heavy to weigh me down during activities.

Tracking on the Steel HR is easy – the watch automatically counts my steps, occasionally takes my heart rate, and seamlessly transitions to tracking my sleep. For those basic functions, there’s literally no setup – just wear the watch and everything happens automatically.

However, the watch can track a bit more – hold the crown button down at the start of a run or other activity, and the watch will continuously track heart rate, and try to guess what kind of activity you’re doing.

The step counter hand continuously show how close to your daily goal you are (settable in the app), and is easy to look at in a glance. Delving deeper into the OLED screen displays, it’s easy to see your distance, steps, alarm setting, and time. Additionally, when setup, the watch shows incoming call and message notifications – but just the sender of the message.

These basic tracking and display features worked great for me over two weeks of wearing the watch almost daily, sleeping with it, and working out with it. However, there are a few features notable absent, detailed below.

Feedback

As well featured as the watch is, there are a few features notable absent.

  • For a sports watch, it’s certainly useful to be able to track seconds on the clock – for timing workout sets, timing intervals, and even manually taking heart rates and other metrics. However, a basic display of seconds is notable absent on the watch. Sure, seconds are visible when in “workout” mode, but those are displayed in the smallest font possible, and not related to the time – the seconds displayed only relate to the workout elapsed time. I think it would be easy enough for Nokia to add a screen to the watch that simply ticks off seconds. It could be one of the configurable screens (along with distance, steps, heart rate, battery, etc), and the user could select to display it with the app, and also set the duration to show the seconds display – either for 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, or maybe 15 minutes or indefinitely (which may be dangerous for battery life if a user forgets to turn it off). Nokia, this seems like a no-brainer, easy feature to implement, that will add lots of functionality to the watch, with a basic software update.
  • This watch has a heartrate monitor in it, as well as a bluetooth connection. However, it’s only able to track your heart rate and the display on the screen, and upload the data to the Nokia app. But how about those times when I’m running with my iPhone and tracking my run with Strava? I’d love to be able to use the watch as a heart rate monitor to feed directly into strava and be added to my strava stats – much like the way the heartrate monitor in my bluetooth heartrate monitor chest strap works. Additionally, when spinning at the gym, or using other gym equipment, it would be great to have the watch represent itself as a simple bluetooth heart rate monitor, and be able to show up on the gym equipment display.
  • Since the app can send and receive data between the watch, how about another configurable screen with any other metrics? Like, number of unread emails, the price of a given stock, number of facebook notifications, time until your next calendar item, local temperature, or any other piece of info?

Should You Buy It?

If you’re looking for a slick, stylish fitness tracker watch that can track basic stats over the course of a day, then yes, go grab this. However, if you’re looking for more advanced workout tracking functionality with GPS, a seconds display, or a simple heart rate monitor, keep looking. Overall, I think this is a great watch for what it is, and certainly can recommend it.

Final Thoughts

Nokia has an almost perfect fitness tracker – the Nokia Steel HR is sleek and stylish looking, has a good list of features, and has great battery life. Add in that seconds display, and maybe a few other features, and you’ve really got a great piece of gear.

  • Brand & Model: Nokia Steel HR (36mm & 40mm)
  • Price: USD$180
  • Who we think it might be for: This fitness tracker is a great choice if you’re looking for a well-featured fitness tracker – steps, heart rate, sleep quality – but don’t want to walk around looking like you’re wearing a fitness tracker. It looks like more like a real everyday watch than any other fitness tracker out there.
  • If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: Provide more customization and screen features, including a seconds display. 
  • What spoke to me the most about this watch: It’s a fitness tracker – but it looks like a normal watch, and can certainly be worn every day in almost any circumstance.

Specs

  • Dimensions and weight
    36mm model: 36.3mm diameter (1.4’’), 13mm thickness (0.51’’), 18mm wristband width (0.71’’), 39g (watch only)
    40mm model: 39.5mm diameter (1.6’’), 13mm thickness (0.51’’), 20mm wristband width (0.79’’), 49g (watch only)
  • Conditions of use
    Water resistant up to 165 feet deep (50 m, 5 ATM)
    Operating temperature: -10°C to 45°C (14°F to 113°)
    Storage temperature: -20°C to 85°C (4°F to 185°)
  • Silent Alarm
    A slight vibration to wake you up at a preset time.
  • Sensors
    Heart rate infrared sensor
    Day & Night motion sensor
    High precision MEMS 3-axis accelerometer
    Low power consumption
  • Single battery charge lasts
    Up to 25 days in normal use
    Up to 5 days in workout mode
    + 20 additional days in power reserve mode (time and activity tracking only)

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