Fitbit Ionic GPS Fitness Tracker – REVIEW

The Fitbit Ionic is another attempt at a hybrid smartwatch and fitness tracker – but does it fall short on the smartwatch?

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Fitbit once again attempts to make a hybrid fitness tracker and smartwatch in one.  When I reviewed the Fitbit Blaze a while back, it was a good concept but was still far away from smartwatches like the Samsung Gear S3 or the Apple Watch.  With the new Ionic, this is Fitbit’s second attempt in my opinion to blend the two, but this time, it’s after the acquisition of the smartwatch company, Pebble.  I personally paid for this at the retail price of $300 when it was first released.  Be sure to click on my affiliate links up above, those links will give you the most updated prices in real time.  You never when these things might go on sale.  


PHYSICAL FEATURES
Going over the physical features, first, the watch looks a hell of a lot better in person than in photographs.  Top down, or looking directly at it.  It does look modern and almost futuristic.  

For the side profile, it does look big, this looks like something out of Blade Runner with its sharp lines, but again, in person, you can’t see it or tell that it has a big casing.

Two straps come in the box, both small and large.  On the back of the Ionic, there’re quick release buttons that work much easier and faster than most other watches out there.  And the fact that the watch face or display itself is one unit, this makes the Ionic less cumbersome to handle vs the Blaze.  

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WEARING & COMFORT
The longest time I’ve had this on was 6-days straight, basically the time it took to drain the battery from full to dead with no GPS use or notifications.  I’m averaging almost 5 days with notifications on, this includes text messages, emails and such coming through.  Those initiating runs that kick on GPS and continuous heart rate tracking, I’m draining about 10% of battery life per 30 minutes of running.  

I did take it off during showers just to prevent soap scum build up and to let my wrist breath a bit.  You don’t want a patch of brown under the watch if you don’t wash.  But every other time, I wore this during the day while at work, and throughout the night to track my sleep.  

No question it’s been comfortable and I haven’t had any irritation on my wrist.  Let me know in the comment section below if you had the nasty red rash from an activity tracker before.  Was it with Fitbit or was it with another brand.  

 

Taking a closer look, all buttons are very tactile and clicky, also wearing this for the past several weeks, it hasn’t shown any signs of wear, nicks, marks or scratches on the side of the casing or the screen.  

Touching base on the display, I really enjoyed it.  The colors are vibrant, it’s also bright indoors but more importantly, bright outdoors as well.  The one issue I noticed, and this is me coming from the smartwatch experience, the animations are a little choppy.  Not a big deal, but it takes away from the experience a bit, and especially after paying $300.  Nonetheless, it’s still very much functional.

DISPLAY
With the display, Fitbit gives you 17 different watch faces.  Some more vibrant than others and most I actually enjoyed.  Big numbers, useful information like steps and heart rate are shown… down to a good selection of colors that help differentiate the info.   Finger response on the touch screen feels to be improved.  A bit more initiative and I don’t have to re-swipe several times to make sure the screen moves.

Tapping on the screen to give you guys a quick walkthrough.  Every watch face is a little different, but this is will give you an idea.  On the watch face from the factory, there’s time, of course, steps, heart rate – which is measured every 5 seconds when you’re not in a workout – and last is calories burned. Other watch faces will tell you distance walked and how many stairs climbed, and this one I know many ask me about, the Chronograph watch face works as a very simple, quickly accessed stop-watch.  

 

Tapping the top right button gives you, steps, steps per hour – which is new to me, current heart rate, again, measured every 5 seconds; plus resting heart rate, distance, calories burned, floors climbed, and active minutes.  

Backing out, pressing the bottom right button gives you several activities you can initiate to start recording and segmenting.  Running, Biking and swimming are some of the most popular ones.  But before getting deep into the fitness portion of the review, I want to touch base about the software and features built in.

SLEEP & ALARMS
Yes, you do get automatic sleep recording, and this is possibly a big reason why I love fitness trackers over smartwatches, they are more comfortable to sleep with on.  With Fitbit, for those who are new or haven’t used them, they provide some of the best sleep analysis differentiating Light Sleep, Deep sleep, REM and times you’re awake.  And my assessment, the Ionic is accurate.  As you can see, I’ve been working stupid hours and sleeping after midnight on some days.  

 

Piggybacking on sleep, right on your wrist, you can set up silent/vibrating alarms.  You can customize up to eight different alerts, all with different days of the week.  From my use waking up in the morning, I felt the vibration stronger than most others on the market, stronger than smartwatches, which was a huge plus for heavy sleepers.  There’s also an additional setting to turn vibrations up to max.

LOCAL MUSIC STORAGE
Moving on, and getting back to the physical watch, I love this feature, you’re able to store music on the Ionic and leave your phone behind.  There’s up to 4 gigabytes of onboard storage, and you pair it via Bluetooth to wireless headphones or earphones to work.  The only issue, transferring music over wifi to the activity tracker did not work for me, but I instead used the physical wire and downloaded the Fitbit app to my laptop.  At first, it was a bit cumbersome, but after the physical connection, it’s very much straightforward to transfer music back and forth.

NOTIFICATIONS
Similar but surely not the same as a Smartwatch, you’re able to receive Notifications on the watch.  This is one of the biggest reasons I like smartwatches as it makes incoming text messages, alerts and such… much more convenient than whipping out the phone.  Text messages show up, tapping on it does reveal the entire message.  (Older hybrid fitness trackers used to show only a summary) but…  the only thing I found missing for messaging, there’s no way to respond back, either text on screen or by voice which was a bummer.  One word of caution, when emails come through, the subject line is truncated so you might miss out on some info.  


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APPS

Going into the APPS that are available for the Ionic, this is where it’s severely lacking.  I’ll flip through the watch quickly… and you can see there’s a dedicated stopwatch feature, weather app, which looks gorgeous by the way, Pandora and Strava are offered and last, I’m assuming Fitbit has a partnership with Starbucks, that’s on there too.  And that’s it.  Although the Ionic is more of a hybrid, the Smartwatch features were very limiting.  It would have been great to see some more 3rd party apps, a lot more that is.  Since this watch has built-in GPS, how about Google’s turn-by-turn navigation.  If that’s too advanced, how about Yelp, maybe an Uber app, how about my calendar so I can see what’s planned for my day.

HEALTH & FITNESS
Alright, jumping over to the fitness side of things really quick.

Fitbit has always been one of the favorites, if not the favorites.  It’s because how simple they are, the screens and layouts are very much easy to read and their mid-tier to higher end bands offers a lot of value.  As stated earlier, this has GPS, which was accurate and found my location reasonably quick.  There’s a heart rate sensor on here which I’ve tested, and like most wrist-based heart rate trackers, it was still slightly off but accurate enough for average consumer use.  I’m still a fan of chest straps but I can see why some would say they’re uncomfortable. It’s seriously a tradeoff.  The Ionic is also water resistant up to 50 meters or 164 feet which is phenomenal and beats almost every mainstream smartwatch out there.  I dunked this into the water for a quick test and it still functions perfectly fine.  Going over running since that’s the most popular activity, you do receive step Counts, calories burned, real-time heart rate that samples every second versus 5 seconds, average pace, real-time pace which I like, distance, duration, and last is the actual time or clock.  From the workout screen, you can hold down the top right button and access your audio there to pause, play, shuffle, and skip songs.  

So overall with my assessment.  The Ionic like most of Fitbit’s line up has amazing Fitness tracking and one of the best sleep tracking features.  It’s comfortable, looks unique and pretty modern, but in the end, it’s very much lacking the Smartwatch features.  My conclusion, if you’re wanting a fitness tracker and want all the bells and whistles, also better battery life than smartwatches, the Ionic is great, but the Notifications, messages showing up and even Fitbit Wallet pay, it feels as though they’re just bonuses.  The reason being, dedicated smartwatches these days, around the $330 to $350 price range can be had with heart rate tracking, very robust health apps, more smart features, like controller your Nest thermostat, the 3rd party app support is vastly diverse…   in the end, smartwatches simply offer the best of both worlds and not just one, in my opinion.  Save a few dollars and get something fitness-focused with a few bonuses… or, spend thirty to fifty dollars more and get it all.  Comment down below, which one do you want for yourself.  

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