Release date: September 2017
Watch Type: Smartwatch (Fitness Focus)
Category: High-End /
Mid-Tier / Budget
Metarating based on proprietary weighted average of all experts reviews listed in the table below. Scores: Bad (0-49) / Average (50-64) / Good (65-79) / Very Good (80-89) / Excellent (90-100). Methodology for Metarating calculation explained here.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Executive Summary
- 2 Fitbit Ionic: List of Top Reviews
- 3 What Reviewers are saying…
The smartwatch Fitbit Ionic has obtained a 71 Metarating based on the reviews and scores published by leading tech and fitness reviewers.
One reviewer has written a statement which summarizes pretty accurately the consensus opinion of most reviewers about Fitbit’s new smartwatch (the reviewer is Scott Stein, from CNET, who gives the Fitbit Ionic a 72 score, almost exactly the same as the consensus 71 Metarating):
After a month wearing Ionic, I found myself wanting it to be better than it is. It’s not all there yet. I really like Fitbit’s main fitness app. But in this review, I’m looking at this question: What does the $300 Ionic do for you that the already fine $150 Fitbit Alta HR or Charge 2 doesn’t? You get GPS, swim-ready water resistance, onboard music, mobile payments and apps. It’s a deep package in theory, but it’s not all as excellently integrated as I was expecting. It’s best used as a basic fitness watch: The extra “smarts” have some pretty rough edges
Fitbit Ionic: List of Top Reviews
|Ars Technica II||Positive||Video||Comprehensive|
Below is a summary of the key features discussed by tech and fitness experts in their reviews of the new smartwatch Fitbit Ionic.
As a result when analyzing its price, design, functionalities and performance you should compare it with other premium smartwatches and not so much with previous Fitbit models which were dedicated fitness trackers but could not be categorized as true smartwatches.
What Reviewers are saying…
A divisive design. Some reviewers like it, although no one is blown away by the looks of the Fitbit Ionic, while others find it just uninspiring.
The Fitbit Ionic’s design remains divisive, especially against the now-established Apple Watch design that’s in its third generation. Some folks I’ve spoken to have been incredibly put off by the Ionic, while I like its retro charm. It’s a smartwatch that looks far better in the flesh than in pics, with many detractors softening on seeing it.
One widely acclaimed design feature is the Ionic’s extreme light weight. It’s lighter than any other premium smartwatch, which makes it comfortable to wear even when in bed or during exercise. Also the 348×250 LCD screen obtains a warm reception as it is generally regarded as crisp and sharp and has the same high level of brightness (1,000 nits) as the Apple Watch. On the other hand the the thick bezel at the bottom of the screen, with the Fitbit logo on, is explicitly highlighted by many reviewers as a big negative.
The Fitbit Ionic has a quick release feature to swap out the straps. A new watch comes with two silicone straps, of different size, to better fit male / female wrist sizes. There are plenty of additional bands in multiple colors and materials available in Amazon.
Daily Activity Tracking Features
The new Ionic provides an enhanced version of the traditional fitness tracking Fitbit experience, which is regarded as best in class by many reviewers.
Bear in mind that I am now referring exclusively to daily activities and not sports / exercise tracking which is covered further below in this metareview.
The watch tracks three main fitness areas:
- General Activity: this includes steps, distance, calories, minutes of activity and floors / stairs.
- Heart Rate: 24/7 heart rate tracking including daily graph, daily resting heart rate (an excellent forward indicator of fatigue and / or potential sickness) and time spent in heart rate zones.
- Sleep: automatic sleep tracking, no user interaction needed. Tracks different sleep stages: deep, light, REM and awake.
Sleep tracking is highlighted by many reviewers as a strong advantage vs. other smartwatches (not vs. other Fitbit fitness trackers) which either do not have this capability or if they do it is basically useless due to short battery life. The Ionic’s battery lasts for 5-6 days vs 1-2 days in most other premium smartwatches which makes overnight charging inevitable and therefore eliminates any possibility of regular sleep tracking.
All the Activity, HR and Sleep metrics are viewable in Fitbit’s smartphone app (available for iOS, Android and Windows) and you can compare your data to other people’s data within your age group. Also you can share it with friends and family within the very large Fitbit Community. You may even challenge your friends to some healthy Fitbit competition!
Incredible job of turning invisible aspects of my health—sleep cycles, heart rate, activity levels, and so on—into motivating graphs and coaching. And Fitbit’s phone app provides even more inspiration by showing my wife’s, my father’s, and my friends’ data alongside my own. There’s nothing like health through humiliation.
At the beginning of this section I used the word “enhanced” to refer to the fitness tracking experience in the new Fitbit Ionic compared to older Fitbit models. Almost everything mentioned so far, if not all of it, can be done with a Fitbit Charge 2 or a Fitbit Alta HR. The additional improvements are the following:
- Possibility to check your activity progress during the day, with some level of detail, through an app called Today.
- 50 meter water resistance: no need to take it off when going swimming or taking a bath.
- Improved HR sensor from previous versions in other Fitbit models. It also records SpO2 (peripheral capillary oxygen saturation, an estimate of the amount of oxygen in the blood), which Fitbit says that at some point in the future should allow to early detect sleep apnea and other health related stuff. Right now that data is not shown in any manner.
- Improved distance tracking thanks to new integrated GPS / Glonass sensor.
Taken as a fitness tracker, the Fitbit Ionic is as good or better than any that I’ve ever used, which is why I’ve switched to it full time as my daily driver. It has nearly all the features that you would want in a fitness tracker, the battery life is great, it’s reliable and the platform is easy to use and one of the best out there.
Sports Tracking Features
Sports tracking is controlled through and app called Exercise. It’s quite simple: you select a sport out of a default list of available sports (more sports can be added using the smartphone app) and you are done and ready to go. Some reviewers dislike that the watch may tell you to start before the GPS signal is acquired.
While you’re doing all that [selecting a sport], the unit is acquiring GPS signal. Once it has this, it’ll say ‘Connected’. Before that point it’ll say confusingly “Let’s Go!”. I don’t really understand the logic here, as telling people to go before GPS is acquired is about the worst possible thing you can do from a GPS signal standpoint. Not only will they get inaccurate data, but it prolongs the acquisition of GPS versus just standing there a few more seconds.
During the exercise, the watch will show one screen with three metrics. The user may choose which three metrics to show out of a limited list of available options. For running, these are time, distance, pace, average pace, heart rate, calories burned, steps and time of the day. There is no fancy metrics like cadence or heart rate zone graphs that you may find in dedicated GPS sports watches like a Garmin 235. You may also adjust auto lap settings and if you tap the watch during the run, the metric in the middle will rotate.
In addition to the standard sports tracking capabilities the Ionic has other built in smart tracking features:
- Run Detect: the watch will auto.detect when you are running and will record it as such, even turning GPS on automatically.
- Smart Track: the Ionic will auto-detect other activities like gym workouts, cycling and swimming and will track them, albeit with no GPS data.
Fitbit Coach: Your Personal Trainer
Fitbit Coach is the company’s try at installing a smart personal trainer in your watch. The goal is to have (video and/or audio) workouts available in the watch that will adapt based on your progress and fitness state.
The reality is that as of launch the watch only has three video exercises with no audio instructions. And also Fitbit intends to charge a premium subscription for the service (monthly or yearly options will be available).
As noted at the beginning of this metareview, the Fitbit Ionic has been presented as a fully fledged smartwatch, the company’s first model in the sector which aims to compete head to head with the new Apple Watch 3 and the top smartwatches from Samsung, LG, Huawei and others..
For this purpose Fitbit has decided to make the Ionic run on its proprietary but open operating system, Fitbit OS, and has created an app marketplace, the Fitbit App Gallery, just like the App Sore or Google Play Store. Let’s take a look at what the world’s leading reviewers think of the Ionic as a smartwatch:
Notifications and Messaging
The Fitbit Ionic does not have cellular connectivity. So no calling or responding calls from the watch. How about notifications? The watch shows notifications for calls, text messages and calendar events. Notifications for other apps like Twitter, Strava and Whatsapp are also supported. And you can access a feed of read and unread notifications. But no possibility to interact / respond or send a text message.
Compare that [the Ionic’s notifications system] to what Apple, Samsung and Google have to offer in this department and the Ionic comes up pretty short. It’s pretty much the same kind of approach that sports watches adopt with smart notifications, but even Garmin is beginning to introduce the ability to respond to notifications, so there’s definitely room for improvement here and some might be let down by the simplistic setup.
You can store music in the 2,5 GB internal storage of the Ionic or you may opt for syncing music via a Pandora account (the latter option only available in the US). But many reviewers complain that neither alternative is as hassle free as they should be:
- Transfer of music files has to be done from a PC or Mac (not possible via a smartphone) and the transfer mechanics are not too intuitive.
- Pandora syncing is a cumbersome process.
Seriously: You can only transfer music files from your computer, or via a Pandora subscription (who has that?). Either path is frustrating. It’s a pale shadow of how Apple Music now works on Apple Watch. Even Android Wear’s music solution is better. Samsung’s new watches, meanwhile, are getting Spotify integration. Fitbit’s music solution is a hassle, and I generally didn’t want to use it.
Fitbit Pay is Fitbit’s payment solution for its wearables. It is so far only available in this new Fitbit Ionic. It is quite simple to install as you just need to have the Wallet app installed in your watch and then in the smartphone app just go Account > Ionic > Wallet and register up to six cards. Once done (that includes your bank verifying the registered card), you set up a four digit pin number. And that’s it, you’re ready to pay! You will only be requested to re-enter your pin code in the watch after you have taken the Ionic off your wrist.
Reviewers like the simplicity of this payment solution (and its similarity to other available apps such as Apple Pay and Android Pay). Some reviewers though have expressed a concern: in order to use Fitbit Pay a bank has to reach an agreement with Fitbit to include its issued cards in the Fitbit solution. As of today (October 2017) the number of banks on board, according to Fitbit’s official list of Banks Supporting Fitbit Pay, is still pretty limited compared to Apple and Android’s more established payment solutions. A few American banks (including Bank of America), and then one or two scattered banks in each of Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. Please check the previous link whenever you are reading this Metareview to find out the most updated list of supporting banks.
It took Apple and Google a lot of time and effort to agree with banks to support their payment solutions. And both are huge companies with billions of users worldwide. Fitbit is nowhere near any of these companies in terms of size, users and resources. But we have all embraced the contactless payment revolution and that should make Fitbit’s life a bit easier when negotiating with banks.
Other Apps: the App Gallery
Apart from Fitbit’s own apps (Today, Exercise, Music, Wallet, Watch Faces and others) the Fitbit Ionic only has, at the time of launch, four third party available apps: Strava, AccuWeather, Starbucks and Pandora (and this one is only available in America). Fitbit’s SDK, software development toolkit for future Fitbit Ionic apps, is pretty developer friendly and opens the door to a lot possibilities.
Will it work? Will developers embrace the Fitbit ecosystem and start developing new apps for the Ionic? The future is never certain and many reviewers are quite cautious on this matter although others point to rumors that Fitbit may be working with large companies to have new high end apps completed for the Ionic before year end.
Battery life is excellent. Plain and simple. All reviews agree on this point.
Real life tests by reviewers show that the battery will last between four and six days depending on how much exercise/sports tracking is done using GPS. With GPS on continuously battery life extends to ten hours. That is more than double than most other smartwatches.
This outstanding battery life implies a key advantage vs other smartwatches. You can have real sleep tracking: no need for charging the watch every night. And sleep tracking is by all means a critical element for a proper 24/7 fitness tracker.
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