Fitbit Ionic smartwatch: everything you need to know

Powerful new smartwatch from the activity tracker experts

A few days ago Fitbit announced its first true smartwatch, the Fitbit Ionic. While the brand's previous activity trackers and watches have supported Bluetooth connections to your phone allowing for on-wrist notifications and-over-the air uploads to the Fitbit app, the Ionic is the first to offer third party apps through the Fitbit App Gallery, contactless payments, onboard music and more.

The new watch looks great and is feature-packed to boot. Here's everything you need to know about the new Fitbit Ionic.

Fitbit tracking

While the Ionic isn’t the first watch from Fitbit with built in GPS, the Ionic sees a built in GPS and GLONASS antenna, meaning it does not need to piggyback a connection to your phone like the Blaze and Charge 2.

It doesn’t have a built in barometric altimeter for ultimate accuracy when it comes to altitude, though there is an onboard accelerometer. Fitbit says the device will show speed, pace, elevation climbed, split times and of course a map of your activity in the Fitbit app.

The Ionic gets Fitbit’s new PurePulse optical heart rate sensor
The Ionic gets Fitbit’s new PurePulse optical heart rate sensor

The Ionic also sees a brand new PurePulse optical heart rate sensor which Fitbit explicitly claims is more accurate during cycling, intervals and running. The new sensor features three coloured LEDs — green, red and infrared — which are paired with three sensors in an effort to improve accuracy.

As with previous models, the on board sensor records 24x7 heart rate during your activity, and Fitbit has worked hard to improve its algorithms for tracking your heart rate from your wrist.

Also new is the introduction of the SpO2 sensor, which estimates blood oxygen levels in real time, and is even claimed to measure sleep apnoea.

According to FitBit, this is the first device that was designed fully in-house

According to Fitbit the Ionic has a "4+ day" battery life in watch mode, or 10 hours with GPS or playing music. The watch also sees Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Training software

There are a few new additions to Fitbit's in-built training software, though at launch none of them appears to be cycling-specific.

A while back Fitbit acquired Fitstar and now the workout creation software has been integrated into the Ionic in the form of Fitbit Coach. The training app is pitched as your very own personal trainer, with workouts on the device that adapt based on feedback you provide on your wrist. With the colour screen, users can be guided through a workout, and even watch videos of each specific exercise.

At the beginning of next year a firmware update will also add "expert designed" audio coaching sessions targeted at endurance, speed and form. However, it appears these workouts will be for walking and running, with no mention of cycling.

With Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity the Ionic has full access to the Fitbit app
With Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity the Ionic has full access to the Fitbit app

There will also be an Adidas special edition watch, similar to the Apple Watch’s Nike+ version which, according to Fitbit, “will leverage Adidas’ robust performance program expertise with Fitbit data and insights from millions of global users to help athletes of all levels perform better, play better and feel better.”

The Ionic also features 'Run Detect' where the watch will start the GPS automatically when you start running and pause if you stop at a light or for some water. There is no indication of whether this auto-pause feature will extend to the cycling side of things.

Fitbit claims the Ionic is water resistant up to 50m and have also added a new auto-lap counter for the swimmers and triathletes among us.

Fitbit Ionic smartwatch features

The new Fitbit Ionic runs on the brand’s new Fitbit OS which the company says will be the platform for its current and future watches. This also means that developers can easily create apps for the new App Gallery — more on that later.

There is always that one person on a group ride who always ‘forgets’ to bring cash or a card with them and when you stop to refuel needs to borrow a few bucks. Fitbit is aiming to give ‘that guy’ one less excuse with the addition of Fitbit Pay to the Ionic.

The straps are interchangeable. Here is the perforated Sport strap
The straps are interchangeable. Here is the perforated Sport strap

Set to be available for American Express cards, as well as Mastercard and Visa credit and debit cards from big banks around the globe, including ANZ, Banco Santander, Bank of America, Capital One, HSBC, KBC Bank Ireland, OCBC Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, UOB and US Bank. If your bank isn’t on the list Fitbit says it will be adding more soon.

As you’d expect given the Ionic is billed as a smartwatch, it can show call, text and calendar alerts on your wrist, as well as from popular smartphone apps like Facebook, Gmail, Instagram, Slack, Snapchat and more.

While riding with headphones isn’t something we encourage here at BikeRadar, the Ionic sees 2.5GB of storage on the device (about 300 songs) and can be used with wireless Bluetooth headphones, including the newly launched Fitbit Flyer.  You can upload music from your personal library or from your favourite Pandora station — you’ll need a Pandora Plus or Premium subscription to sync from the streaming app.

Fitbit Ionic apps

Speaking of apps, along with the announcement of the Ionic, Fitbit is announcing its App Gallery, where users can download apps and watch faces to customise their device.

And here is the handmade leather strap
And here is the handmade leather strap

Through the Fitbit's software development kit, developers will have access to the web-based Fitbit Studio tool starting in September, and apps can be created using JavaScript and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Developers will also have access to the watches' full outfit of built in sensors when creating apps.

At launch, the App Gallery will offer a range of health and fitness apps from Fitbit like Exercise, Fitbit Coach, Relax and Time as well as third party apps like Strava. 

The App Gallery isn't just restricted to health and fitness, and will feature apps from Starbucks, Accuweather, Flipboard, Surfline, and Nest with many more on the way, apparently.

Build quality

According to FitBit, this is the first device that was designed fully in-house, and the brand focused on creating a watch that's comfortable to wear all the time, lightweight, and that would stand up to some abuse.

The watch case is made from nano-moulded aerospace grade aluminium which allows it to double as a Bluetooth and GPS antenna.

The watch features a full-colour spherical glass touch screen
The watch features a full-colour spherical glass touch screen

It's also got a colour display and spherical glass touchscreen which, according to Fitbit, is up to 1,000-nits bright and offers sharp graphics for the best readability in bright sunlight or a dark room.

Fitbit Ionic price and availability

The Ionic will be available in three colours: silver grey tracker and clasp with blue grey band, smoke grey tracker and clasp with charcoal band, or burnt orange tracker and clasp with slate blue band. 

Should the stock colour combos not tip your fancy there are also Sport bands ($29.95) available in three colours and hand-made perforated Horween leather bands ($59.95) available in two colours.

Fitbit is taking preorders for the Ionic now and the device is set to cost $299.95, available in North America beginning in October. International pricing and availability are to be announced.

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