Surprise! Fitbit has made a new smartwatch. Who saw that one coming?
While the Fitbit Ionic has been rumoured since the dawn of time itself, what’s new is it’s finally official. I’ve tried it on, seen how it works and can happily report that this smartwatch looks to be the business.
Better than the Fitbit Blaze? Certainly. Better than the Apple Watch? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.
From first impressions, the ionic is Fitbit’s best wearable yet by some margin. Here’s how it's shaping up so far.
Fitbit Ionic design: looking sharp
Fitbit has a distinctly mixed pedigree when it comes to design. Most of its products are comfortable to wear and look… alright if nothing special. Some of them - such as the Blaze - are a bit of an eyesore. In a rather dramatic turnaround, the Ionic is trim, smart and the kind of thing you’d be happy to have sitting on your wrist on the regular.
With a lightweight aluminium body and a chunky interchangeable elastomer band - a classy leather alternative is available - it’s taken some obvious inspiration from Apple’s Watch. Thanks to its flatter profile, sharper lines and edges, the Ionic doesn’t seem quite so bulbous and cartoonish.
The fact that its heart rate scanner sits flat on its back - rather than protruding out - should also help with how pleasant it is to wear. This apparently doesn't affect the accuracy of its readings either, though we'll have to see that for ourselves during testing.
Just like the Apple Watch Series 2, the Ionic’s touchscreen serves up 1000 nits brightness so that it should be easy to read on even the brightest of days. That means no squinting to make out your vital stats as you might have done with the Blaze.
Having seen the Blaze and Ionic side-by-side, the difference between them is night and day. I reckon a lot of the Fitbit hardcore are going to be making the upgrade this Christmas.
Fitbit Ionic features: smarter than your average tracker
Of course, it doesn't really matter that the Ionic is quite the looker if it performs as well as Vincent Janssen when given the opportunity. With GPS, waterproofing up to 50m and heart rate tracking, this Fitbit has all the capabilities you’d expect.
It’s also got a whopping great four day battery life, which trounces the Apple Watch’s two day offering but still falls some way short of what you’d get from a sports watch with a lower resolution screen.
Since this is a smartwatch we’re talking about the Ionic also gives you a slew of different watchfaces to chose from, which will display texts without you having to take your phone out of your pocket and allows for contactless payments via NFC.
Yep, thanks to the new Fitbit Pay service you can link your American Express, Mastercard or Visa card to the Ionic and use it as you would a smartwatch with Apple or Android Pay. At the time of writing, no specific banks have been confirmed for the service, indicating the rollout will be a gradual one.
As much as Fitbit is proclaiming the Ionic to be a master of all trades, it’s runners and cyclists who’ll get the most from it. With clever features like run detect and auto-pause - for when you have to stop at a traffic light - alongside wireless Bluetooth music playback, you can happily take the Ionic out with you while leaving your phone at home.
The only issue? That playback is done via MP3s from 2.5GB of internal storage rather than a streaming service such as Spotify or Apple Music.
Fitbit Ionic software: lacking in apps
The Ionic runs on the brand new Fitbit OS and claims to run a suite of apps. How many of these you’ll actually want to download is unclear right now.
The only names I managed to squeeze out of Fitbit’s representatives were AccuWeather and Strava, which doesn’t bode especially well for a bountiful platform. Google Maps, WhatsApp and Uber certainly weren’t mentioned, and you’d want them all to feature.
In principle, the Fitbit OS platform seems to work similarly to the recently deceased Pebble OS. It works with Apple’s iOS, Android and Windows 10, and allows you to download apps to the Ionic without having them installed on your phone first.
So far, so standard for a smartwatch, but the Ionic does have a special trick up its sleeve in the shape of Fitbit Coach: a guided workout service with that plays straight from your wrist.
Replacing Fitbit’s previous Fitstar platform, Coach similarly has free and paid tiers with a holistic approach to health that includes exercise, meditation and nutrition. As standard Ionic users get three static workouts, plus a dynamic one that reacts to your week’s activity. So if you’ve been running the day before, you’ll be prodded towards back and arms exercises to give your legs a rest.
Does this mean you’ll have to pay extra to get the most out of your Ionic? In all likelihood, yes. Is that a bad thing? That all depends on how much functionality is gated behind the Fitbit Coach and how much a subscription costs.
As it is, the Ionic is very reasonably priced at £300 - that’s at least £70 less than an Apple Watch Series 2. Still, it's possible that Apple's Watch pricing and lineup will change following its big event on September 12, so we'll have to wait to see if that's still a bargain come October.
Fitbit Ionic initial verdict
Honestly, I’m surprised it took Fitbit so long to make a proper smartwatch. Now it’s here, the Ionic feels as though it delivers almost everything that you’d expect from it. Aside from a plentiful roster of apps and music streaming support.
In the the meantime, you’ve got a gadget that has its fitness fundamentals sorted and that’s the most important thing. How will Fitbit’s Ionic shape up in the long run? There’s not long until we find out. It’s due for release in October.