Our search for the perfect tracker continues (as Withings Steel HR fails)

It’s starting to look like an impossible quest: The search for the perfect fitness tracker. After a strong performance over the last weeks, our Withings Steel HR has failed in a spectacular fashion. You could say it “fogged up”.

The Steel HR (Withings seems to have dropped the Activite brand) promised everything we needed: A waterproof smartwatch with heart rate tracking, a small digital display for providing at-a-glance notifications of incoming SMS (but not WhatsApp), steps and distance covered so far, alarm time, battery life – and on top of that, it even looks good. We opted for the black model with the smaller 36mm bezel, partly on looks but partly also because the larger model wasn’t available anywhere.

The first disappointment was to discover that unlike the Fitbit Charge HR, the Steel HR doesn’t actually track heart rate in real time, but in occasional bursts, just like the Apple Watch. And just like Apple, you can activate continuous monitoring for recording bursts of activity.

Although the HR hasn’t been a stellar performer in sleep tracking, one of our testers is a very fidgety sleeper and it’s fair to say that *all* wearables have the same problem: The under-mattress Emfit QR is still our favorite, and seems to be the most reliable.

Since the Steel HR is “water-resistant to 50 meters”, we’ve worn it in the shower – and found that it’s great for tracking how much and how long you scrub, although this is classified as “unknown activity” by the Withings app.

A foggy day in Withings land
However, we’ve experienced the dreaded fogging which appears to plague this first-generation Steel HR. If you’ve got a Steel HR, you will likely experience it sooner or later. For us, it was sooner – we first noticed fogging on a sunny day just a couple of weeks after purchasing, and under very odd circumstances – while the watch was outside, without any sudden changes in temperature or humidity.

Withings brushed this off, telling us: “This condensation or mist can occur when you go from a cold environment to a warmer environment, which often occurs in the winter season. Condensation can also form in other situations with large temperature changes, such as taking a shower or swimming. The condensation will disappear naturally as soon as the air inside the watch returns to room temperature, which typically takes up to 30 seconds. However, if it doesn’t clear on its own, or if it worsens over time, please get in touch with us again and we can investigate further for you.”

However, since then we’ve noticed a slight opaqueness to the glass, and after fogging sporadically a few more times, usually for a few seconds at a time, the latest fogging for our Steel HR also knocked out the display. On this basis, we are returning our Steel HR as “not fit for purpose”. The logic being that if it fails so fast, then it’s hardly going to outlive the warranty.

It’s a real pity – the Steel HR was close to being everything we wanted in a tracker. Sleek, good looking, waterproof (!), a good two weeks of battery life between charges, comfortable to wear …

We’ve already said pretty much all there is to say about the disappointing reliability of smart wristbands and smartwatches. Our search for the perfect tracker continues. Once again, we are on the lookout for real-time heart rate tracking as well as something that’s more than just a cheap-looking silicon band, which rules out another Fitbit Charge. The new Fitbit Alta HR looks promising, but having experienced so many Fitbit failures, we’re reluctant to take the plunge.

/WTW

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