Wayne Khan

Technology musings...

2018 Smartwatch Head-to-Head

Of late I’ve come to use two very different kinds of (smart)watch. Currently I prioritize heart rate and step tracking, so I’ve opted to eschew the typical smartwatch-y things.

The Contenders

2018 Apple Watch Nike+ Series 4 (44 mm). Apple’s device sports a beautiful, fully digital face, and must be paired with iPhone. Apple Watch is pretty much an iPhone for the wrist, supporting such things as making and receiving calls, text messages, and turn-by-turn navigation. Good thing is that the Watch can also function as a heart rate sensor and pedometer.

2018 Withings Steel HR Sport (40 mm). Withings bills the Steel HR Sport as a hybrid smartwatch; i.e., it’s mostly an analog face, and won’t be able to do most of the things Apple Watch does. However, it’s supposed to be health-focused, so heart rate sensing and step tracking? Check.

The watches, side by side.

Companions

I paired the devices to a different iPhone 8 running an up-to-date version of iOS 12. Apple Watch syncs data to iOS’s Health app. Meanwhile Withings supports Health Mate, which itself can write data to Health.

Specs

Following is a curated list of device specifications:

  2018 Apple Watch Nike+ Series 4 (44 mm) Withings Steel HR Sport (40 mm)
Maker Apple Withings
Release date 2018 2018
Price (USD) 429 199.95
Face shape Rounded rectangle Circle
Display Digital Mostly analog
Case materials Aluminum/Glass Stainless steel/Glass
Band material Fluoroelastomer Silicone
Dimensions 44 mm (44 mm x 38 mm 10.7 mm) 40 mm (39.5 mm x 39.5 mm x 12.5 mm)
Weight 36.7g 49g
Battery life Up to 18 hours Up to 25 days
Water resistance 50 m 50 m
Steps tracking Continuous Continuous

Apple also sells a smaller (40 mm) version for $399, but I prefer the look of a larger watch. The Steel HR Sport comes in only one size (40 mm).

Price

Apple Watch is much more expensive, albeit it is a full-fledged smartwatch with features and functionality far above the Steel HR Sport.

Winner: 1-0 to Withings.

Materials

Withings built their device out of stainless steel, and it feels nicer, albeit heavier relative to Apple’s aluminum. Apple does offer a stainless steel/sapphire option w/ cellular (eSIM) support, but at $699, it’s a bridge to far.

Winner: 2-0 to Withings.

Watch face

Apple Watch’s digital display use a high-resolution, full-color organic light emitting diode (OLED) in a rounded rectangle. It’s not always-on, so I do find myself exaggerating wrist flicks lest the display remains turned off. I also find that the display turns off too quickly (5-6 seconds) even when my wrist is correctly rotated you know, to read the time.

Meanwhile, the Steel HR Sport is mostly an analog face with two sub-dials (only one is digital). Reading the time is slightly more difficult than I’d prefer, the width of the numerals are a tad too thin for my (subjective) legibility. This is exacerbated in strong sunlight. Furthermore, neither the clock hands nor the hour markings are luminous, so it’s less useful in the night.

Winner: It’s a wash (2-0 to Withings).

Straps

Apple Watch’s straps are easily interchangeable, albeit they do cost a pretty penny if you do get ‘em, ranging from $49 for a basic 40 mm Sport Band to almost $500 for a top-of-the-line Hermès Leather Double Tour.

On the Withings end, I read that the Steel HR Sport’s bands are industry-standard and interchangeable too. Personally though, I found the mechanism a challenge, and I’m far less likely to actually do swap ‘em out.

Winner: Apple (2-1 to Withings).

Integration

I prefer the seamless integration between Apple Watch/Health. Steel HR/Health Mate takes a noticeably longer time to eventually become visible in Health; e.g., T+45 minutes when I checked. There appears to be no way to force an update, further reducing timeliness. This is the case even on-device; e.g., the step count indicator doesn’t update as frequently as I’d like. This might be a design trade-off, as there is a gulf in aforementioned battery life.

Winner: Apple (tied at 2-2).

Battery life

I found myself charging Apple Watch pretty much on a daily basis, whereas I charged the Steel HR Sport once.

Winner: Withings (3-2 to Withings).

Privacy

Apple Watch’s sensor data makes its way into Health. I use iCloud, so the data does eventually make its way into Apple’s server(s) as part of my iCloud backups.

From my use of the Withings device, the data makes its way into Health Mate, and optionally, Health. Eventually, said data is transferred to a Withing’s server(s); e.g., there are online dashboard(s), plus there is an API.

It’s hard to tell which might be more secure. My guess is that it’d be much harder for an attack to access Apple rather than Withings data.

Winner: Apple (tied at 3-3).

Summary

Overall, these are very different kinds of smartwatch, and tied at 3-3, are both excellent devices in their own regard. (In my mind, at least.)

Wearables have matured tremendously over the past few years, and it really depends on what kind of device you might consider for your personal use case. Fitness tracker? Hybrid smartwatch, like the Withings Steel HR Sport? Full-fledged smartwatch, like the Apple Watch? Check, check, and check.