If you’re counting calories, or just want to keep an eye on your health in general, there’s something you really need to know first.
How active are you, really? Because for all the points, syns and steps you count, if you don’t know how much energy you’re burning up you could be in for a shock when you look at the scales in the morning.
But without monitoring your heart rate it’s incredibly hard to estimate your daily calorie burn with any accuracy at all.
The gap between “estimated” and “recorded” calories can be vast – trust me, I’ve seen the difference with the same tracking device on the same cycle ride with and without a heart rate monitor.
Which brings us to the Nokia Steel HR.
Having been out for over a year now, this device offers something that is almost unique in the marketplace – an always-on heart rate monitor, step counter, sleep monitor and more that looks classy enough to wear at a wedding and at the same time can handle a few laps of the pool.
But at £149.74, it certainly doesn’t come cheap. So can it live up the the hype? I was keen to find out.
I was reviewing the Rose-Gold version, with a black silicone strap.
The black face meant the digital screen at the top was discreet – it looks like a dress watch if anything – but still easy to read.
It’s definitely classy, wearing it with a shirt and jacket to a friend’s birthday it looked entirely at home in smart company.
Smaller than the current trend for men’s watches, a couple of people felt it was more appropriate for women then men – but the main comment I received was that it looks good.
And there’s a bigger, 40mm version with a steel surround that looks more – well – manly, if that’s something that concerns you.
The watch is a bit thicker than a standard watch, but the curved nature of the back means this isn’t something that obvious when it’s on.
You need to download the free Nokia Health Mate app, and link it to your watch over BlueTooth, but once you’ve done that everything else is straightforward.
A couple of minutes later – and after filling in some details of my age, gender, height and weight – the watch had automatically set the right time, while the app analysed all the readings tailored for me.
I was ready to go.
There are two ways to interact with the watch, through the device itself, and through the app.
The watch itself has a single button. This lets you scroll through steps, heart rate, distance covered and then check on the alarm (if any) and current battery life.
There’s also a smaller dial on the bottom of the watch face that shows how far through your daily steps count you have got that day (you can adjust your goals through the app).
The app is where you can review your figures, daily goals, set the alarm and manage notifications from your phone.
It’s all very self-explanatory, and anyone familiar with a smartphone should have no problems at all.
The phone and watch sync using BlueTooth, a process which worked simply and effectively every time I tried it.
The data breakout is great, especially on the app. Letting you see sleep, heart rate, steps and more both for the day, and rounding up for the week.
It also gives you the all-important calories burned per day, as well as notifications when you hit milestones, reach then beat goals and telling you when you’ve been inactive.
The watch charges using an included cradle that plugs into a USB port.
But how long the battery lasted was a big question for me – with other fitness trackers I’ve used before needing weekly (at best) charging.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Nokia Steel HR, in more than a month of use it had only lost half its charge – well above the stated 25 days.
This is the area I have most concerns over: Is the heart rate accurate, and does it accurately track activities and steps?
Neither question was exhaustively answered.
In common with many LED-based heart rate monitors, it needs to be tight to your skin to get an accurate reading.
Wearing the watch loose resulted in a heart rate about 10bpm lower than wearing it tightly did.
There were also questions over its ability to pick up “activities”.
While a session of cricket training was picked up automatically and tracked (most sports and activity types are included but there’s no setting for cricket – although I’m unsure whether that’s thanks to the Finnish origins of Nokia or cricket’s popularity as a ‘fitness’ activity), my morning cycle in to work wasn’t.
Not necessarily a big deal, but seeing a “distance covered” of 6km when you’ve cycled 25km, and missing your steps goal despite spending 90minues on the bike is a bit galling.
Comfort in a watch that’s meant to be worn from bedtime, to the office, to the pool is important.
This is where the need to wear it close to the skin creates a problem.
While not uncomfortable, it is tight. Worse, the silicon strap trapped moisture under my wrist (especially as I was wearing it 24-hours a day).
There were two problems here – first, smell. There’s no way way to put this other than that, even including daily showering in the watch, there was definitely a faint pong emanating from my wrist.
Secondly, the strap started to cause problems with my skin. A combination of trapped moisture (be it from sweat or the shower) and the tight fitting saw what looked like eczema break out on my writs around the strap.
I switched wrists for a few days to see if it cleared up, and my right wrist started displaying the same symptoms before the left had fully healed.
Now, I hesitate to blame this entirely on the watch. It’s possible my skin is overly sensitive and others wouldn’t have a problem.
It’s also possible a different strap (there are leather and woven options along with the silicon ones) would have eliminated this problem entirely.
It’s almost there.
The ability to have one watch that you don’t need to swap – day or night, work or play – is great.
That works as a sports watch, in the gym, pool or track while at the same time and looks good on a night out puts it in a class of its own.
Especially as there are enough styles to find one that suits you, male or female, and the battery life is great.
The data is clear, comprehensive and easy to compare. Interacting with the watch itself also couldn’t be easier.
There are two things stopping me from buying it though. Firstly, the activity monitoring needs to get sharper.
With an activity tracker, you need to – well- track activities. It had intermittent success in that in the month I wore it.
Secondly, the need to wear it close to your skin to accurately track heart rate created problems for my skin.
Now if you’re not fussed about heart rate, there’s nothing stopping you wearing it looser. But that will also mean your calorie count is less accurate.
It’s also possible that this is something that’s more to do with my skin than the watch’s design – and a different strap would solve these problems instantly.
However, at the moment I’d hold off buying one until I was certain on those points being resolved.
Amazon currently have it for £169.95 – the cheapest price we could spot online.