The Nokia Steel HR is the Withings Steel HR aside from some very minor differences, and quite frankly we don’t have a problem with that. This is still one of the best hybrid watches out there and while we favour the discreet secondary screen on the Garmin Vivomove HR, the Steel HR still shows that analogue-style watches can get smarter while retaining those charming good looks.
- Same, sleek design
- Solid run tracking performance
- Reliable heart rate data
- Some swim tracking issues
- Nokia Health Mate is a work in progress
- No third party app notification support
The delayed arrival of the Nokia Steel HR completes the rebranding of Withings’ hybrid smartwatches since it was snapped up by the Finnish tech giant earlier this year.
After deciding to whip the Withings name off the Steel hybrid, Go fitness tracker and its smart scales, it’s now the turn of arguably its most exciting wearable. According to Nokia, there’s a bit more to this relaunch of the Steel HR than a new name. Minor improvements have been made in the design and software departments too.
Ultimately though, this is every bit the same hybrid. There’s still that analogue watch-style look with a digital display baked into the watch face and a heart rate sensor in the casing to keep an eye on your BPMs throughout the day and during workouts.
So is the Nokia Steel HR still a standout hybrid smartwatch to own? Here’s our comprehensive verdict.
The easiest thing to do here would be to point you in the direction of our Withings Steel HR review, because these two watches are built the same. It still comes in two sizes (36mm and 40mm) and even on our skinnier wrists the 36mm seems a little on the dainty side, so 40mm might be the best size option for men.
You still get that stainless steel casing and the soft interchangeable black silicone strap combo along with a solitary button where you’d normally find the crown on a traditional watch. This button lets you switch between data fields on the digital sub dial with another dial below indicating your fitness tracking progress.
It’s waterproof up to 50 metres so you can go swimming with it and while you’re not going to notice it, Nokia has added sapphire glass to ensure that the waterproofing lives up to its billing. Something you will notice is that the Withings name is gone. It’s now replaced with Nokia, which might not seem like a big deal aesthetically speaking. But it does initially feel a bit weird looking down at your wrist and seeing the Nokia name there instead.
As for the monochrome screen, it functions exactly the same. It’ll serve up fitness tracker data, which it’s best optimised for. It’ll also display calls, and let you know the source or contact for a notification or message, but doesn’t display the details. In fairness, with the time it takes for text to scroll through, you’d be better off going to your phone instead. As we mentioned in our Withings Steel HR review, it would be nice to see the introduction of third-party app support as well, even if it is just giving you a nudge to let you know someone has Whatsapped you.
When it comes to features it’s more of the same. Nothing new to see here folks. Fitness tracking remains at the Steel HR’s core as far as smarts are concerned. So you can expect to keep an eye on step counts, distance and calories burned as well being able to check your heart rate from the watch.
There’s also sleep monitoring on board, but it’ll do this automatically and relay that data to the Nokia Health Mate app as opposed to displaying it on the watch itself.
Step tracking compared: Nokia Steel HR (left) and Fitbit Alta HR(right)
To test its fitness tracking accuracy, we put it up against our Fitness Tracker of the Year, the Fitbit Alta HR, to see how it fared on step counts. What we found is that the Nokia tended to be over or under the Alta HR by around 500-1,000 steps.
We didn’t expect them to be identical, because while the motion sensors might be similar, the algorithms that calculate the data are most definitely not. There wasn’t really anything here to raise suspicion that the Steel HR was delivering wildly inaccurate data.
Sleep tracking: Nokia Steel HR (left and centre) and Fitbit Alta HR (right)
When it comes to sleep tracking again in comparison to the Alta HR, the Steel HR tended to take a little longer to detect when we’d fallen asleep, which meant sleep duration recorded was often off by just under an hour at times. That’s quite a lot in monitoring terms.
When you look at the breakdown of the sleep it tended to be more consistent when representing light sleep and generally suggested more time was spent in deep sleep. As a sleep monitoring experience overall, while the data is easy to digest, there’s clearly room for improvement on the accuracy front.
Sports tracking and heart rate accuracy
Along with fitness tracking the Steel HR does also automatically detect a range of activities including running, swimming and a host of other sports. Running and swimming will give you the greater insights of all those activities, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re getting anything as detailed as a GPS-packing sports watch. It does mean that if your active life goes beyond steps, it will still get factored into the data stored in the Health Mate app, though.
For running, you can simply head out and let the recording commence or press down on the button beside the watch face to manually start a session. The latter means you can get a better sense of your heart rate zones. When a run session is completed and synced (which is pretty seamless), it’ll record duration, distance and calorie breakdown. With no built-in GPS or connected GPS support, you’re relying on the motion sensors to record distance, and it does do a pretty good job. On most runs it correctly registered the correct workout time and distance recorded was only around 200 metres out from the Garmin Forerunner 935 watch we put it up against.
Run tracking compared: Nokia Steel HR (left and centre) and Garmin Forerunner 935 (right)
With swimming, you can expect the same level of data although in our experience while it tended to correctly pick up the duration with no issue, it did fail to record distance on every swim. So clearly there are some problems here that need to be addressed.
The other unique aspect of this hybrid is the optical heart rate sensor, which is not only present for on the spot readings, but also for adding another layer of data for anyone that wants a greater insight into their workout intensity. Think doing HIIT training but without having to don a chest strap. We had a surprisingly good experience with the heart rate monitoring on the Withings Steel HR and Nokia says it’s tweaked algorithms on this watch to improve the accuracy of the sensor. What we found is that you get more of the same. It’s a really good performer. For high intensity interval training it was generally never more than 3-4 BPMs off the reading of a Polar H10 chest strap. Like a lot of optical sensors though it’s not perfect, but it’s one of the better ones we’ve had the pleasure of using recently.
Heart rate monitoring compared: Nokia Steel HR (left) and Polar H10 chest strap (centre and right)
For a hybrid that doesn’t claim to be a sports watch replacement, it does a pretty good job of it. The data is a little basic, while swim tracking didn’t work perfectly for us, but it’s proof that you can make a slim, stylish hybrid watch that can offer more than basic fitness tracking.
With the Withings takeover, Nokia seized the opportunity to revamp the platform where all of the data from its wearables and connected fitness devices lives. That place is Nokia Health Mate, replacing the Withings Health Mate app we named our Health and Fitness Platform of the Year at the 2016 Wareable Tech Awards.
Now it’s time for change and that involves making the UI cleaner, more streamlined and easier to get to grips with the information that matters. So once you’re all paired up, each time you launch that app you’ll see a stream of information giving you a snapshot of your day. That’s your daily steps, sleep, yesterday’s performance, average heart rate, logged activities and those all important badges are still there too. It’s a layout that works for Fitbit, Polar and Garmin with its new Connect app, so it’s no real surprise to see Nokia follow suit.
There’s also the dashboard to collate data from Nokia’s other devices like temperature data from the Aura sleep monitor or weight from its smart scales. A new feature is the Programs section where you can complete different wellness programs that sees the Health Mate delve deeper into the health realms. Health Mate is filled with potential, but in its current state it’s pretty basic. That’s not necessary a bad thing, but we hope that things do begin to get more insightful in the not too distant future.
While Withings watches were predominantly powered by standard coin cell batteries to ensure you wouldn’t have to think about the battery for at least 6 months, that changed for the Steel HR and it’s the same for the Nokia edition. But it’s nothing to be too concerned about because you’ll still get an impressive 25 days of life before you need to attach it to that rather clunky-looking magnetic charging pad.
We’ve been using the Steel HR with full notification support, continuous heart rate monitoring and sports tracking for a couple of weeks and it’s yet to show signs of powering down. It’s a great performer, which makes up for the charging setup you’ll need to grab when it does hit 0%.