A technology and application crossover produce just emerged as the first product of a new health tech union. Earlier this year Finnish communications giant Nokia, searching for a new direction after selling its mobile phone business to Microsoft, bought French health tech company Withings. The brand new Withings Steel HR is the first analog activity-tracker combined with continuous heart rate monitoring. The Steel HR analog watch looks more like a smartwatch than a typical, often clunky, digital fitness tracker. The stainless steel case and chrome hands may not fool anyone who looks closely, but certainly at first glance it will appear that you’re wearing an attractive watch.
In fact, it includes a feature not included in all other smartwatches; it has the ability to monitor your heart rate. Heart rate sensing called photoplethysmography (PPG) uses green LED lights to sense the blood level in your wrist. (PPG is not as accurate and does not provide as much information as electrocardiography — ECG — sensors that rely on electrical contacts on the skin, according to some sources.)
A smaller dial with a single hand on the bottom center of the watch face looks like a day counter. That small dial actually tracks the percentage completed of your personal daily activity goal. You set the goal on the free Withings Health Mate smartphone applications (iOS and Android). A small digital screen area on the top center of the watch face displays health data and smartphone notifications. Users can control what data shows up in the digital screen with a multifunction button on the watch case side. Choices of health data for display on the Steel HR include calories burned, daily steps, distance, sleep duration, and alarms for calls, new email, text messages, and event reminders.
Several health and activity monitoring features kick in automatically. You can push a button to start continuous heart rate display, but it automatically starts if you begin to run. If the watch detects you’re walking or running it tracks duration, steps, distance, and calories. If you start swimming, the water-resistant Steel HR records time and calories. After exercize, you can check your heart rate variation on the smartphone app including a “time-in-zone” graph. When you sleep, the watch will automatically track light and deep sleep cycles and wake ups, with a full report for the night available on the smartphone app.
The Steel HR runs for 25 days on a rechargable battery with heart rate monitoring, after which it will continue for another 20 days with all features except heart rate monitoring. So the new Nokia is a double crossover. It looks like an analog watch but it’s actually digital with an analog face. The fitness tracker features are augmented by heart-rate-based health monitoring. And it frankly looks beautiful.