Meet Fitbit Ionic: A little smartwatch, a lot of fitness tracker

Meet Fitbit Ionic: A little smartwatch, a lot of fitness tracker

With Fitbit’s new Ionic fitness tracker, health and fitness still take center stage, but Ionic is more of an all-around wearable than any Fitbit that came before. Ionic represents the first fruits of the company’s Pebble, Coin, and Vector shopping spree: You can now install third-party apps, make payments, and you can store hundreds of songs for offline listening.

The biggest change for Fitbit is the new open system, as the company has leveraged its Pebble acquisition to create a platform for third-party apps. Only a handful of apps will be available at launch, but Fitbit will soon be opening up an software development kit so developers can tap into Ionic’s sensors to build apps and watch faces just like they on watchOS and Android Wear.

fitbit ionic appsMichael Simon/IDG

Yup, those are apps on a Fitbit tracker.

But even with all that, Ionic is still a Fitbit first, smartwatch second.

Thin is in

The first thing you’ll notice about Ionic is how much it doesn’t look like a Pebble or a Vector watch. It’s sort of a mash-up of the two top-tier Fitbit devices, Blaze and Surge. Ionic has a simple square face rather than Blaze’s odd octagon, and it packs a bigger 1.42-inch screen, too, with much slimmer bezels. (There’s still enough space for a Fitbit logo beneath the screen, however.) Its 1,000 nit, 348×250 LCD touch screen is crisp and bright enough to be visible in direct sunlight, which is good because anyone who buys an Ionic will likely be using it outside a lot.

fitbit ionic profileMichael Simon/IDG

The profile when wearing the Fitbit Ionic is quite thin.

The watch comes in three colors, black, gray, and orange, each with bands built to complement the “space movie” motif. (For example, the orange watch is paired with a blue band to somewhat mimic the intersection of Mars and Matt Damon in The Martian.) For a more personal touch, Fitbit has developed an easy swapping method via a button on the underside of the band that quickly snaps and unsnaps it in place. It’s the best method I’ve used so far—even easier than Apple Watch’s push-and-slide method—with a foolproof release and a hearty click to let you know it’s connected.

fitbit ionic sensorsMichael Simon/IDG

Ionic’s convex designhelps hide the bulk of its hear-rate sensor.

When you hold the 12.2mm Ionic, it looks as chunky as an Android Wear watch, but much of that goes away when you strap it on. Ionic has an aggressive convex design that pushes the heart rate monitor into your wrist. It sounds uncomfortable but it’s not, and the resulting wrist profile is only about six or seven millimeters, significantly slimmer than the 10.5mm Apple Watch Series 1 or 10.8mm LG Style Watch, two of the thinnest smartwatches out there. Its extruding lugs might still make it a bit too big for small wrists, but Ionic has hit on a design that melds the classic Fitbit style into a full-fledged fashionable smart wristwatch.

Training days

Once you’re wearing it, Ionic functions like a supercharged Fitbit. An array of sensors are constantly in use to track your every movement, and you can see them all (steps, BPM, calories) by repeatedly tapping the default face. On-board GPS (a feature available on Surge but not on Blaze) reduces your reliance on your phone.

fitbit ionic sunlightMichael Simon/IDG

Even in direct sunlight, you can still see Fitbit Ionic’s screen clearly.

A new Fitbit Coach service powered by Fitstar lets you get personal training on your wrist with step-by-step visual instructions for a variety of workouts. Also on board (though not available at launch) will be audio coaching with more than 40 indoor and outdoor running and walking workout sessions complete with audible cues and encouragement while you exercise. Rounding out the guidance coaching system will be a paid service launching next year for $8 a month or $40 a year that will construct a complete, personalized lifestyle plan for sleep, exercise and nutrition based on your specific goals and needs that adjusts to fit your routine.

Ron Kerr

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