• Paul Fingleton

Fitbit Ionic: First Impressions

How Smart is Fitbit's first Smart Watch?


Rumours have circulated for years about Fitbit releasing a smart watch, heightened by their acquisitions of Smartwatch firms Pebble and Vector. Confirmed earlier this year and released just last month, we have had our hands on the Fitbit Ionic for a little over a week now and are ready to share some of our first impressions.


Design

The Ionic is at it's heart a Health and Fitness Smartwatch and has a design that speaks to function over form. It is a simple looking device with a 38mm colour touchscreen, with brightness up to 1000 nits making it easy to read outside.


The body of the device is aerograde 6,000 series aluminum, according to Fitbit, which means that it is the same Aluminium used in planes and rockets.


The wristband that comes with Ionic is made of a flexible, durable elastomer material similar to that used in many sports watches. It is, like the rest of the devices appearance, functional rather than fashionable. One quirk we had found is with the design of the fastener to hold the 'tail' of the strap into the band - it is fiddly at best to close.


Navigation

There are three buttons on the Ionic, one on the left and two on the right.


The left serves as a general purpose Home or Back button, a single-click when within an app or menu brings you back one screen, if the display is off on the device a single-click will display the watch face. A long press of the left button will bring you to the new Fitbit pay screen, allowing you to use the NFC payment option of the Ionic to tap and pay for purchases up to €30, similar to a tap and go debit / credit card. Fitbit pay is not yet available in Ireland so we could not validate this functionality.


The top-right button acts as a shortcut to daily statistics summary (short press) or to your music on the device (long-press). US-based Ionic owners will be able to use their Pandora subscription to add music playlists to the Ionic. For the rest of the world, we will need to sync music manually using an old-fashioned file copy that takes longer than you would expect in this day and age.


The bottom-right button is a shortcut to your sports activities (short-press) or your notifications (long-press). Here, you can manually begin tracking or configure your individual sports activities: Running, Swimming, Weights, Treadmill, etc. The Ionic also automatically tracks exercise, so if it detects and activity that raises your heart rate, it will begin to track it for you.


The touchscreen is used to full effect by Fitbit for navigation also. From the home screen, a swipe from the right brings you to your apps, a swipe from the bottom brings up your latest smartphone notifications, a swipe from the top brings your music player into focus.



Customisation

The straps for the Ionic can be easily swapped out, in the box you get both a large and a small size watch bands. Additional sports or leather bands are available from Fitbit, to allow you to customise the Ionic to your own fashion taste or needs.


It is possible to add additional apps to your Ionic, but as yet we couldn't find a way to change the order in which the apps appear.


Summary

Our first impression of the Fitbit Ionic is that this is a Health and Fitness Smartwatch, rather than a Smartwatch with health and fitness capabilities.


What is the difference? Well, because it focuses first on Health and Fitness - steps, calories, activity tracking - it does these tasks extremely well and even automates the tracking of sports. However, at the moment there is little extra offered in the way of Smartwatch functionality. Now, this will change over time as the App SDK is now available to developers, but for now the App Gallery is looking pretty sparse.


As we have been looking for a replacement for Microsoft's brilliant, but discontinued, Band 2 it looks like the Ionic may be just the thing. However, we will continue to use the Ionic for a longer time and return with a full review at a future date.

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