Fitbit has long been a leader in the activity tracker market, and is now taking on the smartwatch market with its new Fitbit Ionic. With a health and fitness focus, the Ionic sticks to what Fitbit does best, but takes things to a new level with on-board music, built-in GPS, contactless payments and more.
We spent some time with the Ionic at IFA 2017 to bring you our first impressions of the wearable. You can find out more about the rest of the Fitbit range and how the Ionic compares in our Fitbit buying guide.
Fitbit Ionic price & availability
The Fitbit Ionic is the most expensive Fitbit yet, priced at £299 / $299.95. Our current chart-topping smartwatch is the Huawei Watch 2, which is priced at just £30 more than the Ionic, so Fitbit is aiming to compete with the best here.
Whether it will achieve that, we’re not sure. It’s a high price tag for a smartwatch that, while feature-full, is a little clunky and doesn’t feel as premium of those its directly competing with. You buy the Apple Watch Series 1 for £269, for example.
For those in the market for a a fitness-first tracker with some cash to splash, the Ionic is going to be an appealing option with a brand name that we’re all familiar with. It’s available to pre-order now and will begin shipping in October.
There will also be a special edition Fitbit + Adidas Ionic next year, but we don’t have any further details on that just yet.
Fitbit Ionic: Design and build
The Fitbit Ionic definitely looks and feels sporty, designed to be lightweight and comfortable, although there are additional bands available if you’d like to wear it on an evening out, for example.
It’s available in three colours:
- Silver grey body with Classic blue grey band
- Smoke grey body with Classic charcoal band
- Burnt orange body with Classic slate blue band
Fitbit has used nano-moulding technology to pack sensors and antennas into the body of the watch without causing it to become too bulky, and we found that its curved design helped keep the watch flush to the wrist for comfort and practicality.
The screen is available in just the one size, but it comes with two sizes of strap for smaller wrists. The screen measures 1.42in diagonally, and like many other smartwatches felt too big for the daintier wrists. However, for most it should fit comfortably. If you have small wrists we’d recommend popping into a store when the Ionic is released and trying it on. You’ll be able to do so in stores such as Currys PC World.
Fitbit Ionic: Specs & Features
The screen of the Ionic is an LCD touchscreen that we found to be bright, crisp and brilliantly colourful, and is designed to work even in bright sunlight. It’s a little TOO responsive, though, sometimes registering a tap as a swipe and visa versa, but we imagine over time we’d become more familiar with how to interact with the smartwatch to prevent this from happening.
That touchscreen offers access to a wealth of features, but let’s start with Fitbit’s main focus: health and fitness.
You’ll get everything you’d expect from a Fitbit, including tracking of steps, distance, calories, floors climbed and active minutes, as well as automatic sleep and activity tracking.
More than that, though, there’s an improved PurePulse heart rate monitor and a new relative SpO2 sensor that can measure blood oxygen levels. The latter is a future-proofing sensor more than anything, as it could lead to the ability to offer a deeper insight into the user’s health and even detect sleep apnoea and arterial fibrillation.
A key feature that fitness fanatics will love is built-in GPS, which means you can track a run or bike ride in detail without requiring your phone while you’re out and about. You’ll be able to take advantage of the GPS for tracking your pace and distance as you run or ride, as well as elevation, split times and a map of your route.
For swimmers, the Ionic is water resistant up to 50 metres, and swim tracking includes the ability to count laps and how many calories you’ve burned.
Plus, the Ionic can track lots of other activities including gym-based workouts such as running on a treadmill or weight training.
Additional Fitbit apps on the Ionic include Relax and Timer, and with the Ionic comes Fitbit’s new Coach app, a rebrand of the Fitstar Personal Trainer App. It offers more than 40 on-board workouts that you can complete without needing to dust off an old fitness DVD or look for a video on YouTube. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete workouts such as a 7-minute workout prefect for starting your day, or audio-based coaching such as power intervals for runners.
The downside is that access to the workouts and auto coaching in the Coach app will cost £7.99 per month, which on top of the £299 you’re already paying for the watch itself is quite a significant amount.
On top of all of those health and fitness features, the Fitbit Ionic also offers a plethora of smartwatch features. There’s 2.5GB of storage that allows you to store 300 songs right onto the watch to accompany you on your workouts. To compliment the new on-board music feature, Fitbit has also launched new Fitbit Flyer Bluetooth headphones, priced at £109.99 / $129.95.
You can also get notifications from your phone straight on your wrist, such as incoming text messages, emails and phone calls, as well as push notifications from third-party apps like Facebook and Snapchat.
It’s easy to make contactless payments using the Fitbit Ionic, too. Register your card, and then press and hold the left button on the Ionic until an outline of that card appears on screen. You can then touch it to a compatible card terminal to may a speedy payment without needing to find your purse or wallet in your bag.
Fitbit has opened up the Ionic to developers, which can create their own apps for the new Fitbit App Gallery. There are already apps for Starbucks, AccuWeather and music services like Pandora, but we expect to see lots more apps available over time.
The Ionic works with Android, iOS and Windows, so developers will like that their apps will be accessible to the masses.
There’s a lot going on with this watch, which is both fantastic and a little bit daunting at first. It’s not completely intuitive so will take a bit of getting used to, and some time spent playing around within its menus and settings to become familiar with where everything is and how everything works.
When it comes to battery life, the Ionic should last for four days on one charge, which is more than some of its rivals. However, when you start using GPS you’re looking at a dramatic loss in battery life, down to 10 hours, which is something to keep in mind.