I've tried just about every smartwatch and hybrid watch there is in my six-plus years as a tech product reviewer, and I always come back to Withings watches.
I've been a fan of the brand's hybrid watches since the first one came out in 2015. It was the first wearable I'd tested that I actually loved. Since then, the company has grown its range of wearables to include several great watches, including the Steel HR.
The Steel HR is truly innovative in the world of hybrid watches in that it incorporates a heart rate monitor and a small digital screen without compromising its analog design. The watch isn't bulky, it's comfortable to wear, and it blends in like a normal watch would.
It's the perfect hybrid watch for someone who wants an attractive timepiece that happens to be nearly as smart as a smartwatch, minus the bulk and futuristic look.
I've been wearing one every day for the past year, and I don't imagine I'll be replacing it with a different smartwatch or hybrid watch any time soon. It's my favorite wearable to date, and here's why.
- Dimensions and weight: The 36mm model has a 36.3mm diameter and is 13mm thick. The 40mm model has a 39.5mm diameter and is 13mm thick
- Weight: The 36mm model is approximately 1.4 ounces (39 grams) and the 40mm model is 1.7 ounces (49 grams)
- Wristband: Bands come in silicone and leather — 18mm for 36mm model and 20mm for 40mm model
- Water resistance: Up to 165-feet deep (50 meters, 5 atmospheric pressure or ATM)
- Silent alarm: A slight vibration to wake you up at a preset time
- Sensors: Heart rate infrared sensor, day-and-night motion sensor, MEMS three-axis accelerometer
- Battery: Recharges with a charger. Lasts up to 25 days of normal use, up to five days in workout mode, 20 additional days in power reserve mode (time and activity tracking only)
At first glance, the Steel HR looks like a normal analog watch. It has a classic round face with hash marks around the edges to mark the hours, two hands, and a button on the side. However, once you look at the watch face more closely, you can see a few extra features.
At 6 o'clock, there's a small round dial with its own tiny hand and hash-marks counting up to 100%. This is where you can see how close you are to achieving the fitness goals you set up in the companion smartphone app, Withings HealthMate (iOS and Android). There's also a small, round digital screen at 12 o'clock on the watch's face that turns on when you press the button on the side of the watch. You can see the date, time, your metrics, and any notifications you set up on this small screen. The screen, which uses a display technology called OLED, is what sets the Steel HR apart from most other hybrid watches and makes it closer to a true smartwatch.
My favorite thing about the Steel HR is its design: It's the only hybrid watch that looks like a traditional wristwatch but also has a small digital display on its face. It's the perfect mix of tech and style because it's not large, bulky, geeky, futuristic, or overly techy looking. In fact, no one will know that it's not a standard watch from a quick glance.
It has all the elegance of a wristwatch with most of the smarts of a smartwatch, thanks to the small display.
The Steel HR comes with a silicone strap, but you can choose to add another one if you'd like a leather or metal Milanese band, too. Withings has 12 different band colors in total: four are leather straps, seven are silicone straps, and one is a metal Milanese strap.
The bands use a pin mechanism to snap in and out of the watch casing. Changing straps requires patience and a delicate touch. I swapped the silicone strap mine came with for a nice blush leather one in less than 10 minutes.
When it comes to the watch casing, Withings gives you two color and size options: rose gold or silver in 36mm or 40mm sizes. The watch face color is either black or white. I personally prefer the black watch face because it hides the tiny round black OLED screen for a more subtle look. The white watch face is also quite nice, though, if you dislike dark color schemes.
The watch is also water-resistant up to 164 feet or 50 meters (5 ATM), so you can go swimming with it.
Perhaps the biggest standout feature of the Steel HR is its heart rate monitor, which keeps track of your heart rate 24/7. While most hybrid watches offer basic step tracking, they don't have the ability to track your heart rate or fully track workouts. In that regard, the Steel HR is more like a full smartwatch or advanced fitness tracker.
The watch automatically recognizes and records certain exercises, including walking, running, and swimming. You can also select 30 more workout types, including everything from soccer and pilates to ping pong. I use it to track my runs and yoga sessions.
To start logging a workout, you just long-press the button, and the watch will start timing your workout and recording your continuous heart rate. Based on that information, the watch calculates how many calories you've burned. The Steel HR connects to the GPS on your phone to tell you the distance you've gone, the location of your workout, and the elevation at that location.
In the app, you can get a post-workout summary that shows you how long you were in light, moderate, intense, and peak heart rate zones. You can also view a map of your workout in the app.
In addition to the activity tracking, the Steel HR can also keep tabs on your sleep. The HealthMate app will give you a Sleep Score based on how much light and deep sleep you got. The Sleep Score is based on your overnight heart rate and any interruptions to your sleep. You can also set a silent alarm to buzz and wake you up. I've always found this much more peaceful than the blaring of an alarm clock.
You can get notifications from more than 100 apps on Steel HR, including exercise apps like Fitbit, Run Keeper, Runtastic, Lose It!, MyFitnessPal, and more, as well as messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, Facebook Messenger, and your phone's standard messaging app. Other apps like Uber, Facebook, Twitter, and more can send you notifications, too, if you want them to. However, the more notifications you get, the quicker your watch's battery life will disappear.
I personally prefer getting as few notifications as possible, so mine only sends me alerts for calls, texts, WhatsApp Messages, and Google Calendar Events. If I had Slack and Facebook Messenger notifications turned on, my watch would buzz continuously and its battery would die a rapid death. I would also be much more anxious.
When I get a notification, my watch buzzes, and it scrolls across the small OLED screen. I love being able to see either my calendar event's title or see who's calling or texting me at a glance, and I can even read the start of messages as they scroll by.
With other hybrid watches, you only get the buzz at your wrist, and there's no telling who's trying to contact you or what's happening, so you get driven to look at your phone much more often. With the Steel HR, you can glance at your wrist, see what's up and decide whether you need to break out your phone to see the full details. In that way, it's much more like a fully geeked-out smartwatch.
The screen is much smaller, of course, so it's less disruptive when you get a notification in public or in a dark space like a movie theater. The brightness auto-adjusts to your settings, too, so it's easily visible without being overbright. You can summon the screen anytime you want by pressing the button on the side of the watch. It'll show you the date and time automatically, and if you want to see other metrics like heart rate, steps, distance traveled, or calories burned, you simply keep pressing the button to cycle through them.
The bottom line
Withings Steel HR is a unique hybrid watch that straddles the line between a smartwatch like the Apple Watch and a hybrid watch like the ones from Fossil.
- Should you buy it? Yes. I've tested just about every hybrid watch and smartwatch that's come out over the past five years, and Withings has long been one of my favorite brands. Every hybrid watch the company has made since its first model — the Activite — has been great, and the Steel HR is the best one yet. It's ideal for people who don't like the look of smartwatches but want useful smartwatch tech like a heart rate sensor, good fitness tracking, and notifications.
- What are your alternatives? The Steel HR occupies a unique niche in the smartwatch world, so it's hard to find a comparable product. It has the look of a traditional watch like other hybrids, but the addition of the small screen and heart rate monitor make it more high-tech and similar to a smartwatch. If you don't want your hybrid watch to have a small screen or a heart rate monitor, you can pick up a more simple hybrid watch from Fossil, Skagen, Kate Spade, and several other brands. We've tried hybrid watches from these brands, and they're all attractive and well made, albeit less techy. If you want to go in the opposite direction and get a full smartwatch, we recommend the Apple Watch Series 4 or one of the great Android-based WearOS smartwatches, which we've also tested.
The Steel HR takes Withings watches to new heights technologically, thanks to its built-in heart rate monitor and small screen that can display metrics and notifications. It's a great choice for anyone who's always wanted the features of a smartwatch in the form of a traditional, analog watch.
Pros: Heart rate monitor, small digital display, buzzes with notifications, good activity and workout tracking, silent alarm, nice design, multiple color options and finishes
Cons: Pricey, leather bands cost extra