Fitbit Ionic review: Best buddy for any workout

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By Paisal Chuenprasaeng
The Nation

The Ionic from Fitbit integrates fitness tracking, heart monitoring and smartphone functions – and still plays music

Fitbit’s Ionic is an all-in-one smartwatch with GPS chip that lets you stay healthy by tracking your activities, monitoring your heart rate in multiple sports while keeping you connected to your smartphone.

You no longer need a separate tracking watch, chest-strapped heart rate monitor, fitness tracker or smartwatch, because all these functions are integrated.

To start with, you can use it to track your runs, bike outings, swims and others forms of workouts. You have your music on the watch ready to play, and with other apps you can read the news, monitor the weather and other things.

The Ionic has a sleek, bright and colourful display, 1.15x.83 inches and 1.42 inch across diagonally and 348×250 pixels. I found it bright enough to easily read during outdoor exercise under bright sunlight.

 You get a small wristband (140170mm) and a larger one (170206mm), and there are more fashionable ones for sale at Fitbit.com, including perforated leather, sport and classic, each in various colours.

The storage is a hefty 2.5 gigabytes, enough for up to 300 songs and minute-by-minute details of your motion data for up to seven days and daily totals for past 30 days.

The lithium-polymer battery will last five days per charge even if you’re using the watch daily. Use of the builtin GPS to track runs and biking will reduce that to about 10 hours, though, so a recharge is recommended every few days to ensure nothing gets missed. It takes two hours to fully charge.

The Ionic will automatically record any form of exercise if you keep at it for at least 15 minutes. Use the Fitbit app to lower or increase that default time if you wish.

Forgetful runners will appreciate the new Run Detect feature, which kicks in GPS tracking if you haven’t switched it on manually. Just start running and you’ll see real-time pace and distance displayed. When you pause, this function pauses too.

A builtin antenna transmits data to and from the GPS and Glonass satellites above you, ready to record all that’s been mentioned as well as elevation climbed, split times and a map of the territory covered.

Heartrate monitoring is essential for improving your exercise performance and is useful for your doctor to check retroactively if problems arise. The Ionic uses Fitbit’s enhanced PurePulse tracking technology to measure calories burned and provide realtime heartrate zones so that you can optimise the intensity of your exercise.

A new Relative SpO2 sensor estimates blood-oxygen levels, another solid health indicator.

To use the Fitbit Ionic, you must first download and install the Fitbit app and create an account at Fitbit.com. That’s where your data will be stored for life, free of charge. You can also connect to other Fitbit users via the website to compare performance and boost motivation.

During setup, you need to add a four-number pin that’s displayed on the Ionic. Use the app to link the Ionic to a home Wi-Fi router. The Wi-Fi connection is needed to upload music to the Ionic.

The touchscreen and three simple buttons are intuitive to use. Press the left button to review menu layers, while the buttons on the right have contextual functions depending on current function or app being used on the watch. For example, the bottom button can be used to pause or resume an exercise and the top button to end it.

You can also navigate by swinging the screen. In clock mode, swipe up to see notifications, down to control music playback and right to view shortcuts. If you want to scroll through the apps installed, swipe left.

Depending on the clock face you choose, you can also tap the clock screen to scroll through your daily statistics. Swipe to find the right app and then tap it. More than 80 clock faces are available via Fitbit app.

By default, the notification function will display SMS messages sent to your phone, calendar events and incoming calls. Use the Fitbit app to set which apps on your phone pass on alerts.

You might want the iconic to pick up alerts from Facebook, Line, email and Instagram so you don’t need to carry your phone. But I found that the Ionic can’t display messages in Thai. Hopefully Fitbit will release firmware to fill that gap.

Among the installed apps are Music, Wallet, Exercise, Strava, Alarms, Weather, Today, Relax, Timers and Coach.

Strava is a social network that tracks millions of runners and cyclists. With a Strava account, you can use the Ionic to record and store your activities to compare with other users.

The Weather app displays current conditions, but swipe up to see forecasts. Wallet is for making electronic payments.

Today is for monitoring the current day’s activities thus far – how many steps taken, kilometres travelled, calories burned, steps climbed and how many minutes you’ve remained active.

For the nine hours of monitoring, from 9am to 6pm, the Ionic will prod you to walk at least 250 steps, equal to three minutes of walking. This can be useful for office workers who don’t realise they’ve been sitting for ages, possibly leading to chronic joint or vertebral injury.

The Ionic also tracks how well you sleep. I found that, although the watch is large, it wasn’t uncomfortable to wear in bed because it’s lightweight and the band is comfortable.

When you achieve the daily goal of 10,000 steps’ walking, the Ionic will “celebrate” by vibrating and displaying animated fireworks.

I used the Ionic on an 11.37km bike ride. The GPS satellite data arrived fast and rendered an accurate map of my neighbourhood. At the end of the ride, the Ionic reported an average speed of 16.33 km/hr and average heart rate of 117 beats per minute and said I’d burned off 269 calories.

Next I had a 100-metre swim, adjusting the setting according to the pool’s length. It recorded the distance, time elapsed, lap distance and calories burned.

There’s a Coach app that offers guidance for three kinds of exercises – 7-minute Workout, 10-minute Abs, and Treasure Chest.

The first covers 13 exercises, each lasting 30 seconds. It starts with jumping jacks and ends with forearm pranks left and right.

To play music from the Ionic, you need to connect to Bluetooth headphones. I had no problem hooking up Sony’s MDR1ABT. Next, use the Fitbit app to upload tunes from your computer to the watch, both connected through the same Wi-Fi router. This too was easy to do. You must use iTunes to create playlists for uploading, even on a Windows PC.

I found the music quality really good.

For all the purposes it covers, I think the Fitbit Ionic is really worth the going retail price of Bt11,690.

KEY SPECS: Fibit Ionic

– Display: 1.15×0.83 inch (1.42 inch diagonal) with 348×250 pixels

– Sensors: Three-axis accelerometer, three-axis gyroscope, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, vibration motor

– Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0

– Memory: 2.5GB for storing 300 songs, seven days of detailed activities

– Water resistance: 50 metres

– Operating temperature: Minus4 to 113 F

– Maximum operating altitude: 30,000 feet

– Battery type: Lithium-polymer, full charge time two hours

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