Fitbit Ionic review: Impressive but not quite iconic

FitBit Ionic
  • FitBit Ionic
  • FitBit Ionic
  • FitBit Ionic
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Battery Life
  • Great software

Cons

  • On-board music is annoying to setup
  • Inconsistent performance

Bottom Line

The Fitbit Ionic isn’t quite the slam dunk product that maybe the brand’s fanatics might have hoped it would be. However, it still manages makes a strong case that - despite their wearable roots - Fitbit absolutely have what it takes to compete with the big names in the smartwatch space.

Would you buy this?

Software

Despite these what feels like poor optimization for the menus, the FitbitOS used in the Ionic works well enough for most part. The biggest difference here is that you can pretty readily tell that the Ionic has been built with third-party app support in mind.

The Ionic’s default watch face for the device acts as a home screen and all you have to do is swipe right to access your app library. For better or worse, you’re locked to four apps per page. In order to rearrange your existing apps (or download new ones), you’ll have to use the Fitbit mobile app (which is available on both iOS and Android).

Whether or not Fitbit’s move to offer their own app store and SDK will pay off remains to be seen - the app library itself for the Ionic is pretty sparse at this stage. At the moment, there’s not a whole lot on offer here apart from the apps that ship with the device (Fitbit’s Music, Wallet, Exercise, Today, Alarm, Relax, Weather and Coach apps plus Strava).

Performance

In terms of its fitness tracking functions, I’ve nothing but nice things to say about the Fitbit Ionic. Like any fitness wearable, what you get out of it is going to vary greatly based on what you put into it. I used it for about a month and a half, wearing it almost everyday. I used it to track all my runs as well as everyday physical activity and sleep (courtesy of the Ionic’s improved Sleep Stages feature) and performed all the above without too much hassle.

However, one issue I did encounter from time to time involved the watch strap for the Ionic being either too tight or tight enough for the sensors on the underside of the device to properly gather data - specifically when sleeping. As a result, I sometimes lost about half a night or two’s worth of data to this before I would notice and then re-adjust the band. Still, for the most part, it was smooth sailing for the basic fitness tracking side of things. 

The water resistant-quality of the Ionic acted as a practical improvement here over older smartwatches or fitness bands. Through tricky to measure, it definitely felt like the ability to wear the Iconic in the shower helped cut down down on the amount of times that I would take off & subsequently forget about the wearable.

In terms of the advanced features that the Ionic offers - contactless payments and music storage - the results were a little more mixed. Despite Fitbit indication the service would be live at launch, it wasn’t until about a week later that we were actually able to get the feature set-up with one of my debit cards. Of course, your ability to do the same will depend on whether or not your bank is even supported. In this case, it pays to do your research.

Accessing the on-board storage on the Ionic proved equally quarrelsome. In the States, Fitbit boasts a partnership with Pandora. Unfortunately, this particular music streaming service no longer operates or serves Australian customers. This means the music-side of the Fitbit Ionic experience rest solely on the device’s on-board storage - which proved far from seamless.

You have to download the Fitbit desktop app onto your computer - sync it with the Ionic and then audio files onto the device using Wi-Fi. Much like Fitbit Pay, this feature proved very finnicky and, ultimately, disappointing. Pairing the Ionic with a set of Bluetooth earbuds was relatively straightforward by comparison. We were sometimes able to get the desktop app and the Iconic to connect with one another but were rarely able to actually move music over. When we finally did get this feature working, we were limited to transferring things a playlist at a time.

Battery Life

In spite of these shortcomings, it still feels like the Ionic is miles ahead of the competition on battery life. A full charge will net you about five days of regular use.

Unfortunately, while the charge cable does magnetically attach to the underside of the Ionic, it doesn’t really have any teeth - so the connection here often proved flimsy. It feels like there’s still room for improvement. However, it is already much better than the convoluted charger-case design of the Fitbit Blaze.

The Bottom Line

The Fitbit Ionic isn’t quite the slam dunk product that maybe the brand’s fanatics might have hoped it would be. However, it still manages makes a strong case that - despite their wearable roots - Fitbit absolutely have what it takes to compete with the big names in the smartwatch space.

They’re still learning, but they’re learning fast. It can’t be emphasized enough just how much of a difference there is between this and the Fitbit Blaze. Even if it still falls into the usual smartwatch pitfalls, it’s hands-down the best product on Fitbit’s roster.

As a result (and despite the trouble we had), it’s easy to imagine that fitness junkies might be able to get on-board with, and get a lot out of, the on-board storage and five-day battery life of the Ionic. As for everyone else, it might be worth remembering that slow and steady wins the race.


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Read more on these topics: Fitbit, smartwatch, Fitbit Ionic
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