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Circuit Breaker

Withings adds digital functionality without killing the analog watch vibe

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Withings' wearables have always appealed to different sensibilities than other smartwatches and activity trackers. Instead of having a digital display or no display at all, they use analog clock faces, with one hand showing the time and another showing your progress on a daily activity goal. The company's latest is the Steel HR, unveiled at IFA today, and it fits this formula beautifully: it feels and looks (pretty much) like a regular watch.

This isn't something to be sniffed at. While playing with the Steel HR in Berlin I was reminded of Samsung's presentation of the Gear S3 earlier in the week. The company made a point of highlighting the new smartwatch's always on display, saying this was important as it tricks people into thinking you're wearing a regular watch. Another way of doing that is to use an analog clock-face — like Withings does.

Having an analog aesthetic obviously means cutting down on functionality. The Steel HR doesn't do even half the things the Gear S3 does (there's no GPS, no music player, no maps), but it does have a small, new secondary display. It's discrete, thankfully, otherwise the analog vibe would be lost, but it can cycle through various bits of health data (calories burned, steps walked, etc) as well as show notifications from your smartphone.

It's not the prettiest screen, and may annoy some people who prefer earlier Withings design, but it does add some extra tricks to the Steel HR. Another new addition is a heart-rate tracker on the back, which thankfully doesn't add too much extra bulk to the design, something that's also been a problem with the new S3. For more details on the Steel HR you can check out our earlier post, but if you're thinking about getting an activity tracker that doesn't draw too much attention to itself, Withings' latest is definitely a good place to start.