Fitbit Ionic Review: The Fitness Tracker Gets Reinvented

Putting fitness tracking first, and smartwatch features second, the Ionic is a fitness-oriented smartwatch worth buying. 

After buying Pebble, many anticipated that Fitbit would be working on a smartwatch of its own. Now, nearly a year later, Fitbit is here with its own smartwatch, with Pebble's expertise behind it. Now the Ionic is not the first smartwatch from Fitbit, but it is the first smartwatch that actually acts more like a smartwatch and a bit less like a fitness tracker. The Surge and Blaze before it helped Fitbit in the smartwatch space, but still weren't the big sellers Fitbit were hoping for. So is the third time the charm with the Ionic? Let's find out.

Specs

Fitbit doesn't mention the exact size of the display on the Ionic, but it measures in at 29 x 12mm. It's covered in Corning's Gorilla Glass 3, so you shouldn't need to worry about getting it scratched or even shattered. The frame of the Ionic is made of Series 6000 Aluminum, and the company used nano-molding so that the watch looks like one piece. It also allowed Fitbit to cram a ton of sensors inside the Ionic. Speaking of which, the Ionic has an altimeter, 3-axis accelerometer, digital compass, GPS, optical heart rate monitor, ambient light sensor, and a vibration motor. There is also an SpO2 sensor inside, this measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. It helps Fitbit gain a more precise heart rate measurement on your arm, and in the future, Fitbit plans to use it to do other things. One idea that has floated around is the ability to check blood sugar levels for diabetics.

There's a Lithium-Polymer battery inside, which Fitbit says will keep the Ionic going for about 5 days, or about 10 hours of GPS. The Ionic will connect to your smartphone or PC using Bluetooth 4.0 for syncing data with the Fitbit app. There is also 2.5GB of storage available, for storing music offline.

In the Box

The Fitbit Ionic doesn't come with a whole lot of accessories, but in the box you will find the Ionic up at the top, wrapped in plastic as you'd expect. Then there is a packet of paperwork, which includes getting started guides, warranty information and so forth. There is also a charging cable included as well as an additional strap. Fitbit has the large strap on the Ionic by default, but if that is too large for your wrist, there is a smaller one included as well - these are fairly easy to remove and replace.

Hardware

Fitbit's Ionic is not the best looking smartwatch out there, but the Ionic is not looking to be a piece of jewelry that you wear on your wrist, like something from Fossil or Michael Kors. Instead, it's looking to be a fitness tracker that provides you with notifications and allows you to pay for things on your wrist. And that is exactly what the Ionic does, and does it quite well. The Ionic actually looks like a really large watch, but when it is actually on your wrist, it doesn't look as large.

There are three buttons on the Ionic. The one on the left side is to bring you back to the home screen. The one on the upper right side shows you all of your stats for the day, and the lower-right button brings you to workout tracking - which these workouts can be customized in the Fitbit app. These buttons are pretty clicky, almost satisfyingly clicky. So you'll have no issues clicking them, even if you are swimming, since this is a waterproof tracker. Underneath the watch, is where you'll find the charging contacts for the proprietary charger. Unfortunately, Fitbit is using a proprietary one here, and appears to be using a different charger for every single Fitbit tracker, which can be a bit annoying for those that use or have used several Fitbit trackers over the years. That is also where you will find a number of other contacts and sensors.

There are small buttons underneath the Ionic, near the strap that will release the strap, allowing you to swap it out for a new one. With our review unit, Fitbit also sent out the blue leather strap to check out. It definitely gives it a nice look over the gray silicon strap that is on the watch out of the box. It also feels much nicer on your arm, however, by switching to a leather strap, you immediately make the Ionic no longer waterproof, and you can't go for a dip in the pool with it. Which is pretty unfortunate, as it is a nice strap, but if you really do any workouts at all, it's not a good option. As sweat and leather don't go together too well. But there are some pretty cool "sport" straps available, if you find the default colors a bit boring.

Fitbit did include a color display on the Ionic, which is a bit surprising but nice to see. The display can go up to 1000 nits, making it easy to see outdoors, and it really is easy to see outside in direct sunlight. So when you're out running in the morning, you'll be able to see your Ionic and see how far you've gone and such. The display is also pretty responsive, definitely important on a smartwatch with a display this small.

Software

The software is truly what makes or breaks a smartwatch. And on the Ionic, well it's pretty clear that this is Fitbit's first smartwatch. There is an app store that will be available at some point in the future, but as of right now, it's not available. There are only a few apps available, including Starbucks and Strava. Starbucks is here so that you can use Fitbit Pay. And that works just as you'd expect, You can load on a debit or credit card to Fitbit Pay and then pay at Starbucks using your wrist. It does also work at other retailers that have NFC terminals, similar to Android Pay and Apple Pay. But Fitbit is still going to have the same problem that Google and Apple are having, which is getting users to start actually using Fitbit Pay. For many, it's still easier to just pull out their card and swipe it.

Fitbit does have an app to help you breathe better, it's something that we actually saw on the Apple Watch first, about three years ago. And most of us laughed at the fact that this was a feature, but now it's becoming standard on most fitness trackers and smartwatches these days. It's basically guided breathing, to help you relax. It does two-minute sessions, and actually really helps you relax, and it's good to try out at least once a day.

There is one music app on the Fitbit Ionic and that is Pandora. It's the only music app currently available for the Ionic, although more are coming soon. You'll be able do store Pandora stations offline, so that you can go out for a run with your Fitbit Flyer headphones (or any other pair of Bluetooth headphones) and leave your phone at home, but still have access to your music. It's a good feature to have, but the fact that only Pandora is available is a bit of a bummer. Now you can load up the Ionic with your own music, which it can hold up to 300 songs. But, the process of uploading these songs to your Ionic is pretty troublesome, and many have had issues uploading it to the Ionic. There are some other "apps" although for most smartphones and smartwatches, these are just built-in features. Like the clock app, so you can set alarms, which is done on the watch instead of in the Fitbit app. There's also a weather app, so you can see the weather without picking up your phone. A good way to determine whether you should go out for a run, since there could be rain coming soon.

A smartwatch isn't complete without notifications. We do have them on the Ionic, and like with most multi-platform smartwatches, they aren't really that great. You get the usual call and text notifications, which you still need to use your phone to really do anything with them. But you do have the option of turning on notifications for other apps. Fitbit was nice enough to turn all apps off by default, so your Ionic isn't buzzing every 2 seconds. Remember that notifications will deplete the battery faster, so it's a good idea to only turn on the ones you absolutely need on your wrist, like phone calls and text messages.

Fitness Tracking

The real reason that anyone would buy the Fitbit Ionic is truly for fitness tracking. Fitbit is one of the more popular fitness tracking companies out there, and the Fitbit Ionic does all of the fitness tracking you could ask for. Whether that is tracking sports, running, walking bicycling, or any other workout. Now one of the activities that Fitbit added to the Ionic is swimming. It was already available on the Flex 2, but having a screen on the Ionic makes swimming even more impressive. As you are able to see your laps, calories burned, the time as well as the amount of time you've been swimming and much more. Which can help you get a better swim without touching your phone.

There are plenty of built-in workouts, and with Fitbit Coach, you don't even need a gym. Fitbit Coach will walk you through different workouts, whether it's cardio or some bodyweight workouts. On top of that, you can track your workouts from the Ionic. These are customizable in the Fitbit app, and you can rearrange them too. So you can put the most common workouts towards the top, making them easier to access when you are at the gym or wherever you are going to workout at. It all works about the same as any other Fitbit fitness tracker, but the addition of swim tracking makes this rather impressive, to say the least.

Battery Life & Connectivity

Fitbit says that the Ionic can last around 5 days on a charge, that's similar to the Charge 2 and Flex 2, and in our experience, we found it lasting around 4 to 5 days on average. This all depends on how you are using the Ionic, we found that having it actually track workouts depleted the battery faster than having it auto-recognize the workouts. So keep that in mind if you are looking to get as much juice out of this one as possible. The battery life is pretty average for fitness trackers, and far more than most smartwatches, so that is definitely worth something. As far as connectivity goes, we did hav the occasional "looking" in the Fitbit app, where Fitbit claimed that the tracker couldn't be found (this happens, in our experience, with most Fitbits, and there's really no way around it). Otherwise, it did connect quickly and sync rather painlessly.

Wrap Up

The Fitbit Ionic is the company's most expensive fitness tracker ever, and for good reason. It sports more features than really any of its previous trackers, and is a full-fledged smartwatch as well. And while Fitbit has done two smartwatches before (arguably), this is still very much a first-generation product. It's also clear that Fitbit rushed this to market, considering there is virtually no app support available, and the app store isn't even up and running yet. So it's hard to recommend the Ionic right now, unless you are looking for a fitness tracker that can track swimming, then this is a good option. But Fitbit is also seeing more competition in that space with the Samsung Gear Sport having swim tracking as well, at the same price. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but the Ionic will likely get loads better with upcoming software updates (we got one during the review process that improved things), which is typically the case with products these days.

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About the Author
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Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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