Fitbit’s new smartwatch, called Ionic, doesn’t hit stores until October, but the company gave me a pre-release version to try out over the weekend. The software on the lightweight, square-display watch isn’t ready for primetime, so I can’t fully review the Ionic. But here are a few first impressions after a couple of days of wearing the watch full time.
Form over function
Plenty of smart design decisions went into the Ionic, such as the tapered shape on the bottom panel that gives the watch a better fit to the wrist for more accuracy in measuring heart rates. And the super bright screen can be read easily outdoors on a sunny day. But overall, the device looks pretty high tech, not high fashion.
The watch’s three buttons have raised patterns to make them easier to locate and push with a sweaty finger, but they don’t look as nice as some of the smooth and shiny buttons found on competing devices. And none of the included watch faces look anything like a traditional watch. All are digital counters of one variety of another, with most emphasizing fitness tracking stats (although developers will be able to create new faces in coming months).
Wearing the Ionic seems like a statement that you’re into fitness, that you like gadgets, or maybe that you just love Fitbit. But unlike the Apple (aapl) watch or some of the new luxury brand Android Wear watches, the Ionic seems like less of a fit in a business meeting or at a fancy dinner party.
Top notch fitness functions
Fitbit’s engineers have focused lots of attention on the health and fitness functionality and its shows. There’s a cool set of exercise workouts that include tiny but realistic animation prompts to help you learn all the right moves–no stick figures here. The watch can automatically start measuring some exercises. When I jumped in the pool, it switched to swim tracking mode. And of course it’s integrated with all the stats in the Fitbit app on your smartphone, so it counts steps, measure sleep quality, reports on your heart rate and all that.
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So much less
Fitbit (fit) bought failed smartwatch startup Pebble to help create a software environment on the Ionic that includes third-party apps. But to start, there aren’t many. And even most of the built-in apps are pretty limited. The watch does get notifications from your phone, so you can read a text message, but you can’t respond. You can download songs you own or use Pandora (p) playlists (if you pay for one of Pandora’s subscription plans), but that’s it for music services. Forget about ordering an Uber or checking on sports scores. And there’s no microphone for summoning your favorite digital assistant, be it Siri or Google or Alexa. Fitbit is giving developers a software tool kit next month to enhance the initial offerings.
Great battery life
Again, I’m using a pre-release model but the battery life is amazing. After charging the Ionic once and wearing it for a couple of days, I’ve still got almost half the battery left. I can wear it to sleep for sleep tracking no problem and don’t have to worry, as I did with all previous smartwatches, about forgetting to charge it for even a single day. That’s great peace of mind.