Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Fitbit Ionic Review

When I got the Fitbit Ionic, I got so fascinated by this fitness tracker that I decided to run even if I wasn’t scheduled to. You see, I got the tracker before the wife and I went out of town and, when we arrived in Iloilo, one of my favorite towns outside of Metro Manila, I was so happy to find out that the city has dedicated running and cycling tracks. You see, I was already done with my runs for the week (my training requires me to run three times a week) but because of the Ionic, I decided to squeeze in one more run. Ok, I squeezed in two more runs.

That is how much I liked this new smartwatch. And yes, this is a smartwatch, with smart capabilities. More on that later.

The Ionic measures your typical fitness metrics like your steps (of course), floors climbed, active minutes, calories burned and quality of sleep. Of course, these can also be done by my most favorite fitness tracker, the Charge 2, but the Ionic has one over the Charge 2: GPS.

You see, the Ionic has a GPS antenna and you can track your runs and bike rides (and hikes) with it. I’ve tested the GPS tracking feature and, if you are in a place that is relatively devoid of buildings and tall trees, then you will get a precise map of your activities. However, when I ran on my usual track, I once again got a map that shows as if I’ve jumped over tall buildings in a single bound.

GPS is rated at 10 hours and I got roughly that much out of the battery. Fitbit says the Ionic’s battery will last for 5 days but because of my fitness activities, I need to recharge about every three days or so. Of course, your charging frequency may vary depending on your usage.

Oh, the Ionic has another feature that the Charge 2 doesn’t have. Well, only a few fitness trackers and smart watches actually have this feature anyway: music storage! You see, you can store about 300 songs in to it. Then, just pair your favorite bluetooth headphones and you are good to go! No need to bring a phone in your next 42k run!

However, storing your music is not as straightforward as I would like. On a Mac, you need to make your playlist on iTunes and your Ionic and your Mac must be in the same WiFi network. Of course, your music must not be licensed, otherwise your songs will not play on the Ionic. Then, you need to download Fitbit Connect on your Mac. Then, connect your Ionic to its charger and in the Fitbit Connect app on the Mac, click “Manage My Music”... Yeah, it’s complicated...

(If you’re in the US, then you can download your most played station into the Ionic. Well, that is, if you have a paid subscription...)

Anyway, if you cannot be away from your phone, then you can use the Ionic to play, pause, advance or change volume of the music playing on your phone.

Aside from your basic running, cycling and hiking (and some indoor exercises like treadmill, elliptical and weight training), you can take this Ionic swimming! You see, this is the first Fitbit with a display that you can take swimming! I also have the Flex 2 and I am in awe of how it can automatically detect when I go swimming, considering that I am a terrible swimmer! But with the Ionic, you can set swimming as one of your favorite exercises and it will automatically detect your stroke and the distance of your swim (in laps) for you. As of this writing, I still haven’t taken the Ionic swimming so I can’t tell how it performs in the water. (I will update this post once I do swim with it.) But what I can tell you is that there is no GPS tracking when you go swimming so you cannot take this in open water swimming and expect to make a GPS map of your exercise.

Sleep tracking is another thing that the Ionic can do for you and you don’t have to do anything to activate it. You just wear your Fitbit to bed and it will automatically know when you have fallen asleep. For me, that functionality seems like magic! Also, with the Ionic, I have found out that I am not getting enough sleep and the quality is not that good, so I better stay off caffeine especially from mid-afternoon to evening. (To take things further, Fitbit said that, in a future OS update, they will be able to detect sleep apnea using the Ionic. As of this writing however, that feature is still not live.)

Part of the smartwatch functionality of the Ionic is alerting you to certain notifications. Notifications such as caller ID, text messages, calendar alerts can be pushed to the Ionic. However, you obviously could not, say, take a call in the device. You still need to answer the call on your phone, something that the Apple Watch straight up can do. Another smartwatch feature is being able to pay stores with your watch. However, this functionality is not available in the Philippines so I have no way of testing this out.

And what is a smartwatch without apps?!? There are already a number of first and third party apps available on the Ionic app store which you can access via the Fitbit smartphone app. There, you can select then choose to install the app on your watch. So far, my most favorite apps are Strava and HRPacing. Strava is already well known but HRPacing is an app that measures your heart rate and it changes color depending on what heart rate zone you are in.

Speaking of Strava, you can configure your Fitbit to push your workouts to the third party app. When, say you finish a run, you can then sync your Ionic to the smartphone app and, after sometime, you will get a notification from Strava saying that your workout is ready. Then, you can view your workout in Strava and see your PR or, in the case of cycling, if you are KOM (King of the mountain)! That is really neat!

With the Ionic, you can change the clock face that you want to see. There are a bunch made by Fitbit itself and there are a host of others made by third party developers. You can choose to your heart’s content, whether you want to see a lot of data at a glance or whether you just want one kind of data showing. Both the apps and the faces can either come for free or for a small amount of money.

But so far, as far as faces are concerned, my favorite has got to be Fitbit Labs! You can choose from several cute “pets” and you feed them with steps! Way to gamefy step counting!!! When you walk, you are essentially taking the pet walking with you! And you “feed” the cat by getting 10% of your goal. Which is a tall order for me since my daily goal is 14,000 steps so I have to walk 1,400 steps at least 8 times to keep the cat, in my case, fed!!! If you don’t feed it enough, then “the cat will leave”… Oh my! I am gonna get a lot of steps because of this…

Is there something that I wish added to the Ionic? Well, there is no multi-sport mode available. I am training for a short duathlon (yes, as I’ve said, I’m a crappy swimmer) and I wish there is an exercise mode dedicated for this. So what I do is, in transition 1, stop the running exercise, press done, then start the cycling app, wait for the GPS antenna to kick in even if I have just stopped the running exercise, then do my biking. This is such a tedious process… I wish that Fitbit will add this functionality in a future OS update…

The Fitbit Ionic is now my most favorite Fitbit to date. It has surpassed the Charge 2 as my most favorite. And, the 5 days stand-by time and 10 hours GPS have made this my most favorite fitness smartwatch! As a matter of fact, I have used my Apple Watch less since I got this Ionic… That is how much I love the Ionic!

The Fitbit Ionic is Highly Recommended!!!

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