FitBit Ionic – A Review

I have been interested in the FitBit Ionic since I heard @ambermac mention it on Twitter some time ago.  I decided to preorder one towards the end of September and it shipped to my door on September 26th. So far I have been pleased with it, however, there are some major factors that consumers need to be aware of at this time.  As with the release of any product, there are some issues with the software.  There are also, much more to my displeasure, missing features.  These are the flagship features that really spurred a lot of the commotion over the Ionic when the marketing material hit the Internet.

As I unboxed the device, one of the things that stuck out to me was the quality of the materials used to display and ship the watch.  The construction of the box reminded me of an Apple quality box material.  The design of the packaging is as aesthetically pleasing as the watch.  The watch was cushioned extremely well and there was no way it would be easily damaged.  I have heard from some users in the FitBit community forums that they received a dead device.  Well, I have only seen one such mention and there is always a chance that a dud will slip past QA, so that does not turn me off of the device quite yet.

The Ionic is a beautiful watch.  I stop short of calling it a timepiece only out of respect to the classic watches of history.  This is not your grandfather’s watch, or your father’s smartwatch.  I admit that I believe Apple’s newest watch will squash this little jewel as soon as the two flood the market together.  The Apple watch is so much cleaner and the design is tested and proved with consumers.  That is where I will start this review.  The design of the Ionic is actually quite smooth.  Sure, there is the very squared off bezel which people will notice, not all of which is active screen.  however, the device sits close to the skin and it is extremely comfortable to wear all day, and all night.

This display is crystal clear and bright with a 348×250 pixel display.  one of my favorite features is the automatic backlight adjustment  The Ionic beats Apple in the speed at which the display adapts to changes in lighting.  There is no microphone or speaker on this particular smartwatch.  The Ionic receives notifications from any app that produces notifications on IOS devices  it will also alert to incoming calls and allow the wearer to accept or hang up on the caller.

It is hard to say where we stand on apps at this point as the app gallery still has not gone public.  The website says it is coming soon in the winter.  Time will tell how that goes, but the buzz around the SDK is pretty excitable.  Developers seem quite enthused about the ability to develop in Javascript.  Theming can be done with cascading style sheets.  It would appear that FitBit is attempting to recruit developers with web development experience.  This seems like a good simple approach, but will Javascript provide the robust scripting capability to build apps that compete with Apple?  My guess is no.

It frustrates me every time I hear someone say it, but the fact remains, that the Ionic is a fitness-first smartwatch.  Honestly, the comparisons between the Ionic and the Apple Watch are really unfair due to the fact that they appeal to different audiences. Either way, FitBit  better do what they can to spur on the development of quality apps if they want to capture the heart of the current smartwatch consumer.  Another flop with the release is the lack of NFC payment processing.  The watch has an NFC chip, but the app and guts to make it work, well they are not ready yet.  There are some purchasers complaining about this in the forums.  The consensus is that this was a major feature expected by buyers and they want to see it.

The current selection of clock faces is lacking as well.  You can literally count the stock options on two hands and maybe even have a finger or two left.  I am disappointing that the manufacturer chose to release this watch with such lackluster options for the most important aspect of a watch, the watch face.  I am a super geek and I love gadgets, but even I expect to get a watch when I buy a smartwatch.  It is clear, however, that the purchase of Pebble has led to some advancements within the FitBit family.  I hope the future shows more inclusion of ideas and intellectual property acquired from Pebble as it was an innovative company, albeit small and feeble.  For those of you who have been with me for a while, you may remember my frustration at the time FitBit bought Pebble.  I had just purchased a Pebble Time and I was not excited to see the company behind that device absorbed into another company who had clear intentions of shutting things down.  I am over that now.  I am excited to see what FitBit is able to do with this product.  We now live in an era of consumer electronics where we buy products and then find out what they are capable of as the manufacturer continues to develop core features after release.

In summary, the following thoughts put into perspective my current view on the Ionic:

  1. Design – Durable and clean
  2. Size – Just right for the average arm (whatever that might be)
  3. Features – Well, we’ll see
  4. Display – A bright light in an otherwise dim situation
  5. Battery life – The most important aspect of this watch.  4 day battery life is possible and I have too many notifications coming to my watch.  Apple will NOT be able to compete in this area

 


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  2. This watch grabbed my attention. I don’t have the cash to spare right now to buy one. Thanks for giving us your take on it, because I know at least one person who is trying to make a decision on this or the Apple Watch. Whatever I decide to buy, it will probably be around Christmas, and it will be my first “smart” watch.

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