FITBIT’S first flagship smartwatch, Ionic, got the bad raps when it hit markets globally in late 2017. Early adopters complained about its lack of aesthetic appeal and its laggy performance. For Fitbit fans, the Ionic was supposed to be their ideal smartwatch: it has GPS, it’s water resistant, and it can last almost a week without charging. The Ionic seemed to have failed to meet their expectations.
To rectify whatever Fitbit got wrong about the Ionic, the company launched its second smartwatch seven months later, the Fitbit Versa. The Versa sported rounded edges, was thinner and more lightweight, and it was loaded with a better operating system. It was also priced lower than the Ionic by about P2,000.
While the Versa has undeniably outrun the Ionic in terms of popularity, the latter is not about to bonk any time soon. After all, the Ionic and the Versa are two separate product lines, and rumor has it that Fitbit will announce an Ionic 2 within the year.
The good news is, the Ionic is getting better and smarter thanks to a series of firmware updates that Fitbit started rolling out in March this year. This review is meant to highlight the changes made since the Ionic received these updates.
When the Ionic was first released, there was not much about the display to write home about. With its operating system updated, the Ionic now has a more intuitive user interface, giving users more ways to interact with the watch.
Swiping up from the clockface will bring up an on-device dashboard called Fitbit Today, which displays a summary of one’s daily or weekly health and fitness stats, such as the number of steps, distance covered, and calories burned. Before the update, the fitness summary could only be viewed on the Fitbit mobile or desktop app. The Today feature also displays some useful health and fitness reminders as well as tips on how to use the platform.
Swiping down from the clock will display notifications from one’s e-mail, text messages and other notifications from apps like Instagram and Facebook Messenger. To keep the watch from vibrating every minute, notifications for all the apps synced with the Ionic can be deactivated through the Fitbit mobile or PC app.
In the course of this review, syncing the Ionic to the Fitbit app had been challenging. At times, the Fitbit app couldn’t locate the Ionic even if the watch was sitting right next to my mobile phone or laptop. Transferring music from the desktop app to the watch has not been smooth either. It turns out the last one is a common problem among Ionic users, which is why Fitbit posted on its support site ways to solve the issue. At times, the solutions worked but then there were days when the watch was just unwieldy. After a series of firmware updates, syncing the Ionic to the app somehow improved, although there are still hiccups every now and then.
As part of the update, Fitbit also added music streaming Deezer onboard the Ionic. However, only paying Deezer subscribers can use the app on Fitbit. Deezer offers a free three-month trial for users signing up on the music service through Fitbit for the first time. After that, Deezer will start charging your enrolled credit card.
Last May, Fitbit rolled out a second firmware update, which introduced a feature that made the Ionic more likeable. There’s now a quick reply option to e-mails, text messages and chat applications. Tapping the Reply button at the end of an app notification will show five pre-written responses. Users may choose to override the default responses and write personalized short messages. The quick reply feature, Fitbit notes, is only available on watches paired with an Android smartphone.
In an effort to broaden the Ionic’s appeal for female users, Fitbit also introduced a female health tracking feature, which allows users to track their menstrual cycle. For those trying to get pregnant, this feature also provides information about their estimated fertile window. Fitbit says it uses the data the users provide to estimate its predictions. Initially, it takes into account the average cycle and period lengths the user provides during setup. For more accurate predictions, Fitbit recommends to log your period consistently.
One of the best features of the Ionic is its battery life. This has consistently been Fitbit’s main selling point across all its fitness trackers. For most of the review period, the Ionic lasted for up to five days on a single charge. For days that didn’t include playing music on the watch and with e-mail notifications switched off, the Ionic was fully awake for about a week. It’s fast charging, too. Plugging it at empty-battery level only took about an hour to reach full battery level.
The Ionic also tracked most workouts and activities accurately. With GPS onboard, the Ionic showed me my running stats without taking my smartphone out. I took the Ionic for a jog around the University of the Philippines’ 2.2-kilometer Academic Oval on Sundays and, while I didn’t care much about my running stats at first, seeing my progress in terms of pace, the distance covered, and my heart rate during the run somehow motivated me to beat my stats in the succeeding sessions.
I also took the Ionic to swimming and it recorded laps accurately with additional insights such as calories burned and distance covered. The Ionic can also track other workout modes such as cycling, treadmill, weights, and interval training.
Besides measuring fitness activities, another great thing about the Ionic is that it’s also a sleep monitoring tool. It’s amazing to learn (and slightly creepy at the same time) that the Ionic gets to work the moment you doze off. Using a combination of body movement and heart rate patterns, the watch can record the number of hours your body enters into different stages of sleep: light, deep, and REM (rapid eye movement) stage. For someone who has an irregular sleep pattern, I learned a lot from looking at my sleep data.
While software updates can never change the Ionic’s unwieldy form, vast improvements in performance and onboard features still make this wearable hybrid a desirable choice for Fitbit followers. It’s still far from perfect but if Fitbit could bring more features into the device through software updates, the Ionic could get better and smarter through time. Fitbit Ionic now retails for P14,999 on B. Gloria