Just over a year ago I took the plunge and bought myself a fitness tracker. Finding the right one was no easy task and after three months comparing style, size, battery life and activity tracking I settled on a Nokia Steel HR. One year later I’m still extremely happy with my watch and here’s why.
A big plus for the Steel HR is that it isn’t a chunky digital wristband – it’s a hybrid. This means that it looks like a traditional watch, and quite a stylish watch I might add, but it also does most of what you would expect from a traditional fitness tracker.
Before buying I wondered whether it would suit a smaller ladies wrist – it does, perfectly. The Steel HR comes in both white and black and at 36mm it is 7mm smaller than the Garmin Vivomove HR. I opted for the white version and coupled it with a brown leather strap. There are plenty of generic straps available on Amazon so it can be easily customised to suit your own style.
There are two additions to the watch face which in no way clutters the traditional look. The first is a small circular LCD screen which fits neatly between the 11 and 1 marks on the watch. It isn’t obvious that it is a screen and it remains off until you get a call, text or calendar notification. There is also a second circular dial between the 5 and 7 which tracks your daily steps up to 100% of your goal.
I didn’t think to compliment someone’s watch was a thing but I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from colleagues and friends. Of course, I enthusiastically show them it’s not just a watch which then leads to lots of “Oh wow cool!”.
Ok, so the Steel HR looks like a watch but does it live up to being a fitness tracker? It does, and it doesn’t.
The way I view the tracking functionality of the Steel HR is that it records that you’ve done certain activities and is useful for keeping track of the fact that you’ve done something active. This is what you could call “session recording”. However, the data recorded is not going to show your progress in enough detail for you to analyse.
Let me explain what I mean: I am an avid runner and I like to challenge myself, improve my times and track my run so I can see where I speed up or where I fall behind my average pace so I know what to work on. Unfortunately, this is not something you can do with the Steel HR. Although it automatically tracks running, there is no GPS built in so it is not 100% accurate. For example, a recent 5km run was recorded as 4.5km. While my Heart rate was tracked throughout the run and charted on a graph, my speed wasn’t recorded in the same way. In order to track my progress in the detail, I want I still use an independent app on my phone.
Another “session” I record with the Steel HR is weights. To record something like this, you just hold down the little button on the side of the watch which starts a manually recorded session. The watch vibrates to let you know the session has started and a timer appears on the small circular LED screen. When you’re finished you simply push the button again. The session is uploaded to the app with detail such as length of time and heart rate. Any time afterwards you just go to the app on your phone and pick the type of session it was. There are currently 36 activities to choose from which include the likes of basketball, golf, yoga and Zumba.
One of the most useful functions the Steel HR has is step counting. While this is the most basic function that every fitness tracker can do, the advantage that the Steel HR has over other fitness trackers is that you don’t take it off because it is your watch.
Fitness trackers often end up in the bottom of a drawer after a few months but you become dependent on the actual watch function of the Steel HR so you don’t take it off.
Steel HR Battery Life
Also encouraging you not to take the Steel HR off is the battery life. The fact that a single charge only takes around two hours and lasts almost a full month is kind of refreshing and removes your feeling of dependency of always having to be near a power source. As the battery nears 0%, it will start dialling down some tracking functions such as heart rate so that the battery will last another few days.
The Steel HR also has a sleep tracking functionality which breaks your sleep down into deep and light sleep. I’ve noticed that I feel tired during the day if I only get a certain amount of deep sleep the night before regardless of whether my total sleep was seven hours or four hours. I’ve found the breakdown of types of sleep to be quite accurate and although the watch doesn’t improve my sleep, being able to track it has made me realise the importance of “quality sleep”.
The only issue I have is that sometimes it doesn’t record the start of my sleep accurately – if I am lying on my bed watching Netflix it thinks I’ve gone to sleep and while you could forgive it for this, there is no ability to edit the recorded sleep data in the app.
Heart Rate Tracking
As the name suggests, the Steel HR tracks and graphs your heart rate throughout the day and night as well as during workouts. While I liked checking my heart rate at first, the novelty soon wore off and I don’t really find the Heart Rate function useful at all.
Remember the small LCD screen I mentioned earlier? This displays text, phone and calendar notifications and a subtle vibrating buzz alert you to new notifications. It’s unfortunate that there is no integration with the likes of WhatsApp or Gmail but then again do you really want all those WhatsApp groups buzzing on your arm every 2 minutes?
The small button at the side of the watch can be pressed to display and scroll through metrics such as steps, current heart rate, distance and battery life.
Health Mate App
Nokia has greatly improved on the original Withings design of the Health Mate App and the Steel HR syncs with it seamlessly in the background. The app itself is easy to navigate and there are daily and weekly summaries of sleep tracking, steps tracking and heart rate and workout sessions. Where the app could be improved is in providing more in-depth statistics about workouts. The Health Mate App also syncs with any of the Nokia Body Scales but you can also manually track your weight with it if you want. If you have friends that also have a Steel HR or a Steel then you can link them through the app and compete in a steps challenge.
Why a Nokia Steel HR? Simple, it doesn’t look like a piece of tech but still records workout and sleep data. Just be comfortable with the fact that you won’t get in-depth detail about your workouts. It looks great on both men and women and it’s easy to customise with interchangeable straps. It has a vibrating alarm and receives call and text notifications, however, there is no WhatsApp or Gmail integration yet.
The heart rate function works but I found it to be a bit of a novelty. The battery life is better than any other fitness tracker on the market with one charge keeping you going for a month. It’s also waterproof so it doesn’t matter if you forget to take it off in the shower or when you go swimming.
Nokia Steel HR: Pros and Cons
|At least 25 day battery life and only 2 hours to charge.||Have to use the special charger that comes with the watch.|
|Records exercise sessions with Heart Rate detail. Easy to start / stop workouts.||No GPS and does not record enough detail for fitness advocates to analyse.|
|Handy vibrating alarm function.||Can only set 1 alarm.|
|Notifications of incoming calls and texts.||Does not link with any other messaging app eg. WhatsApp / Gmail|
|Records and charts deep and light sleep.||Can’t edit sleep data afterwards – sometimes sees inactivity in the evening time as sleep.|
|Clear LCD mini display (updated when Nokia started making the watches – previous Withings versions had an issue with condensation).|
|Syncs with phone no problem via Bluetooth.|
|Stylish, looks like a watch and suits small wrists.|
|Interchangeable watch straps.|
|App much improved over the last few months and constant updates|
|Can record plenty of different activities.|
|Can manually record weight in the app or use one of the Nokia Body Scales.|
|You can challenge friends with Nokia tracking devices eg. Steps challenge.|
|Waterproof to 5 ATM.|