Withings is back with the Steel HR Sport, but don't call it an Apple Watch competitor

Withings is back with the Steel HR Sport, but don't call it an Apple Watch competitor

Update 9/18/18: This article has been updated with comments from Wtithings CEO Eric Carreel.

Withings couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to make its return. With the Apple Watch Series 4 set to release in just a few days, interest in wrist wearables couldn’t be higher, and to celebrate its re-arrival, Withings is launching a new Sport version of its popular Steel HR wearable.

And whether it was good planning or a happy coincidence, CEO Eric Carreel couldn't be happier that Withings chose this week. “With the relaunch of Withings, we are as enthusiastic as ever to deliver on our original mission to help people better manage healthy lifestyles. So the new Apple Watch and Apple’s new focus on health is great news for us.”

Apple fans are intimately familiar with the French maker of high-end devices such as scales, baby monitors, and sleep trackers, but for the past two years the company has been languishing under the Nokia Health umbrella with no new product to speak of. Now that the company is independent again, it’s putting a renewed focus on design and intelligence, and the Steel HR Sport is the first fruits of the company’s new direction. A hybrid watch with a classic style and swappable bands, the Steel HR gives you the benefits of a smartwatch without any of the drawbacks: It has 25-day battery life, an analog display, heart-rate monitor 50M of water resistance, and connected GPS, a first for the line. 

Why this matters: Withings made a name for itself by designing products worthy of being sold in an Apple Store, but it lost much of its mojo when it decided to sell to Nokia. Now that it’s back in co-founder Carreel’s hands, Withings is hoping to regain its standing in the health and fitness world. The new Steel HR Sport isn’t a huge product, but it could be an intriguing option for people who don’t want to spend $400-$500 on an Apple Watch.

Tracking rest and activity

When paired with an iPhone or Android phone, the Steel HR Sport will track “pace, distance, elevation and map their workouts while walking, running or cycling,” all visible on the watch’s circular alert screen at the top of the device. Additionally, it can track more than 30 different unique activities, including yoga, volleyball, and skiing.

Additionally, the device is the first Withings product to offer “fitness level assessments”called VO2 max, which measures the heart and muscles’ ability to convert oxygen into energy during physical exercise. Withings says the Steel HR Sport will calculate users’ individual fitness levels using pace, heart rate and personal data following a run to “optimize their training, increase performance and achieve long-term fitness objectives.”

But the Steel HR Sport’s biggest selling point is its design. Even with advanced fitness and sleep tracking, it doesn’t look like a typical smartwatch or tracker. Its 40mm analog face mimics a classic 16L stainless steel wristwatch, and the display, while way smaller than traditional smartwatches, deftly blends into the face like a sub-dial. You can also swap out the bands to change up the look.

But even with an Apple-like focus on design and advanced fitness tracking, Carreel doesn’t see the Steel HR Sport as an Apple Watch competitor. “In terms of design and capabilities, Steel HR Sport and the new Apple watch are positioned differently," he said. "Steel HR Sport brings an elegant hybrid analog watch design option to the market with a 25 day battery life and important insights into personal health and activity levels.

And that means people might buy both, but for different reasons. Since you can wear it for nearly a month without needing to charge it, the" Steel HR Sport includes advanced sleep tracking, which will monitor the “length and quality of sleep and providing an overall Sleep Score in the Health Mate app that is based on sleep duration, depth regularity and interruptions.” That means you can wear it while your Apple Watch is charging after a long day.

While it doesn’t have an app store like the Apple Watch, the Steel HR lets you receive notifications “from over 100 apps,” as well as calls, text messages, and calendar events. It also connects to the Health Mate app as well as Apple Health, Google Fit, and others. The Steel HR Sport is available for $200 at Withings, Amazon, and other retailers. It is available with either a white or black face with a dark grey silicone band.

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