Complication - it’s a funny word. Unless you’re hearing it at the doctor’s surgery.
In watch-speak, though, it’s decidedly less panic-inducing. Here, complications are those tiny little bonus dials dotted around the main watch face on a chronograph.
I’m probably going to be using that word a lot in this review. It’s the crux of Withing’s incredibly slick Steel HR - an analogue smartwatch with decidedly digital innards.
It takes everything we loved about the Activité Pop, sticks it in a stainless steel chassis, and adds an LCD complication for notifications, exercise tracking, and pretty much everything else you’d hope to find in a wearable.
With slick yet subtle looks, plenty of fitness-friendly features, and almost a month-long battery life, I’m struggling to find anything not to like.
TOUCH OF CLASS
The Steel HR doesn’t look all that different from last year’s Activité Steel, which was already one seriously good-looking smartwatch. You get the same slim stainless steel case, only now it’s got numbers etched around the face for easier time-telling.
On my chunky wrists, the 40mm Steel HR looks just right - slimmer than just about every other smartwatch, and small enough not to demand attention when it peeks out from underneath a shirt sleeve.
There’s a smaller 36mm version for daintier wrists, and it’s available with a white watch face, in case black isn’t really your colour. You’ll save a tenner by going smaller, too.
It might be rocking a basic silicone strap out of the box, but quick-release pins mean you can swap it out for a different one easily enough. The larger watch takes 20mm bands, while the smaller one takes 18mm ones. Withings has a few of its own to choose from, including leather ones that’ll match the classic looks perfectly.
Regular runners will probably want to stick with the standard strap - it’s sweat-resistant, fastens securely and sits comfortably, even when you’re getting hot and sweaty during exercise. That means you’re covered for swimming or showering, too - the whole thing is water resistant down to 50m.
The whole thing is impressively light, too, at only 49g - you’ll quickly forget it has a smartwatch brain underneath the timeless facade, and won’t mind leaving it on at bedtime for sleep tracking.
At a glance, the Steel HR will tell you the time (kind of a must-have for any watch, really), and show how active you’ve been so far that day, courtesy of an analogue complication that slowly ticks up to 100% until you’ve reached your step goal. When the clock hits midnight, it ticks back down to 0, ready to start a new day.
So far, so basic, but it’s the second complication where things get interesting. It’s a monochrome LCD display, which blends in perfectly with the black watch face - you’ll barely notice it until you switch it on with a press of the crown.
One tap will wake up the screen, showing the date and time. Keep tapping the crown and it’ll scroll through different screens, showing your heart rate, exact step count, miles walked, and remaining battery life.
That’s right: Withings has somehow squeezed an optical heart rate sensor squeezed into the Steel HR, along with an accelerometer - yet it’s barely any larger than a regular analogue watch.
All this info flashes onscreen for a few seconds, just long enough to read, then the display shuts off to conserve power.
Pair the Steel HR to your smartphone and that screen will show notifications, too, with an accompanying vibration to get your attention. Right now, it only works with incoming calls, text messages and calendar appointments, which feels a little limited - but Withings told me that support for social media apps is in the works.
There’s not enough room on-screen to actually read out messages, so you just get an icon and the name of the sender whenever a text comes through. Honestly though, that’s enough to know whether to fish your phone out of a pocket, or ignore it and leave it for later.
For me, this is exactly what a smartwatch should do - gently remind you of what’s happening on your phone, without trying to replace it altogether. Otherwise it sinks into the background, handling things like step and sleep tracking automatically.