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Wednesday
Oct112017

Review: Fitbit Ionic

 

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Fitbit is the leading wearable company in the world. It has outlasted the competition in the entry-level and mid-range with a succession of truly transformative fitness trackers backed by the industry's best analytics and most comprehensive apps.

The only area where Fitbit has seemeed lacking has been in the higher end. The Fitbit Blaze was sorely lacking many of the touchpoints that made smartwatches popular. While it had the tracking aspect nailed, it didn't offer much in terms of apps and other functionality. Now we have the Fitbit Ionic, which leapfrogs its predecessor in many ways.

Fitbit's first smartwatch comes at an opportune time. Sure, the Apple Watch is seemingly popular but is now  approaching the functionality of a smartphone with its focus on LTE connectivity.

Google's taken down Android Wear devices from its online store and while many traditional watchmakers have embraced Android, none of these are particularly great activity trackers. The future of Android Wear is cloudy.

The Fitbit Ionic is an entirely different beast from the Fitbit Blaze. It is the first product coming out of Fitbit since it acquired Pebble and many of its engineers. It is the first Fitbit device that is water resistant, it is the first to offer a mobile payments solution via Fitbit Pay, it has a built-in GPS, stores music and has Bluetooth connectivity for headphones.


In terms of design, the Fitbit Ionic looks like a futuristic watch and offers a clear and bright display. Since Fitbit doesn't make smartphones or computers, their design for the Ionic isn't informed by this and it is quite elegant and dressy albeit on the masculine side.

Made from aluminum and Gorilla Glass 3 on a curved display, it is a design that contours around a wrist better. Below are these are the heart rate sensors. The Ionic has a traditional digital watch look and feel and the watchfaces they offer are clear and easy to read. Hoping to hear news of third party watchfaces coming soon.

Fitbit Ionic has the easiest strap replacement system I've tested. You simply plug in new straps and you are good to go. You do need to give a firm push to ensure the mechanism catches, but otherwise, it is easy to go from the sporty rubber strap to a dressy Horween leather strap.


Charging is done with a small magnetic dongle that plugs into the rear of the watch. It isn't a very secure connection and if you lose the dongle, there's no other way to charge the Ionic.

Battery life is impressive. I've experienced up to four days of use on a single charge. This is with gym routines every other day as well as using the Ionic to track activity and steps daily as well as sleep, something Fitbit has excelled in for some time now.

Having a waterproof Fitbit watch has been huge for me. My young son has started learning to swim and we spend a lot of time in the pool. The Ionic can sense the pool length and tracks activity whenever I am doing laps. Fitbit Ionic is water-resistant up to 50 meters and is sweat, rain and splash-proof.

It is also helpful to see notifications, messages and emails come in while I'm in the pool and away from my iPhone.


I can't act on these notifications, which is a limitation of the Fitbit Ionic. I can't really dig deeper (.i.e. read an email) or send a pre-prepared response which is somewhat frustrating.

For users of older Fitbit devices, this is definitely a huge step up, if you're coming from an Apple Watch or Android Wear device, however, you might miss being able to respond to notifications.

Fitbit set me up with Fitbit Pay using a prepaid debit card. I was able to install this on to the Fitbit Ionic quite easily and I was able to make a purchase simply by typing a four number PIN and bringing the Ionic close to the tap-to-pay terminal.

It is going to be a big deal for Fitbit users to be able to go on a run without their smartphones and their wallets and be able to buy a coffee or a danish (you know, to make up for all the calories they just burned) simply using their Fitbit.

Fitbit Pay is coming to Canada soon and will be the third major mobile payments platform after Apple Pay and Android Pay.

There doesn't seem to be a way to see your balance after you pay. Maybe this is because I was using a prepaid card (tied to another country, for test purposes). Apple Pay on the Apple Watch or iPhone send you a notification as well as an email receipt.

Being able to have a nice watch or even a smartwatch that you can wear at the gym is a great advantage. Fitbit Ionic works best when it is in this environment and you can access various exercise types, gym machines, and even guided exercises right from the Ionic.

I use an elliptical machine, stepper, weight machines and free weights and find that the Fitbit Ionic can automatically pick up exercises I am doing or I can simply start a set from the selection on the watch.

The only issue I have with the Fitbit Ionic when it is actively measuring exercises or gym routines is that it doesn't show the time.

I work out in a gym that's devoid of clocks, and do have a limited amount of time to get through my exercises, being able to see the time would be helpful, specially since this is a watch after all.


The Fibit Ionic is a great step up for Fitbit users wanting a more personal and all-round solution that doesn't scream 'fitness tracker,' and also serves as a watch.

Waterproofing and swim tracking features are huge, so is the ability to play 300 songs, make mobile payments, use a dedicated GPS and a battery that lasts for days.

The Fibit Ionic really shines in a gym environment or when used for running without an accompanying smartphone. Being able to switch bands easily is a bonus which also makes it all the more personal.

As a smartwatch, the Fitbit Ionic is ideal for user who don't want to be mired in watch apps replicating what is already on their phone. It does notifications, but with little option to respond or act on the notifications as they come in. The included apps, like Weather, leave a lot to be desired since they update only when you synch with a smartwatch.

The advantage of this is very good battery life that can last for four days with mixed use, something more sophisticated smartwatches can only dream of right now.


Fitbit is headed in the right direction with the Ionic. It focused on features that matter most to users.

I don’t see any influence or features that resulted from the Pebble acquisition, it will be interesting to see if Fitbit OS and the Ionic will receive other apps and features beyond what you get out of the box.

Right now, Fitbit Ionic presents the best hybrid between an advanced fitness tracker and a smartwatch geared for active people.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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