Fitbit Ionic review: how objective can I be about a €350 freebie?


My review of the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch has been a long time coming – and, honestly, a whole host of factors have delayed its publication. Firstly, I think that any piece of tech – especially one that costs €350 – needs to be used comprehensively, for more than a few days, before a considered review can be shared. Secondly, I've been struggling with the knowledge that I was given my Fitbit Ionic as a press gift; taken away on an all-expenses-paid trip to Mallorca for the launch; and generally, have been treated really, really well by the Fitbit team. How unbiased can I be? And, more importantly, how will anyone believe me if I say I love it?

Bloggers and reviews – a change is gonna come

I think the second point stems from a general feeling towards bloggers that has been gaining traction over the past few months and years. Bloggers receiving gifts is no new thing, but Snapchat and Instagram Stories have given us two new, exciting ways to brag about our freebies – and people are getting (sometimes justifiably) miffed.

I've touched on this at various points on Twitter, but I do think there is going to have to be a shift in the way that brands deal with bloggers. The idea of throwing money at 10 different influencers to promote the same thing leaves a bad taste in a lot of mouths. Essentially: why should we pay for this thing if you're giving several of them away for free?

To be clear, though – I'm not in any way blaming bloggers for this. I, too, have taken money for collaborations, knowing that a dozen other people were doing it, mostly because I needed the cash. But I've also done collaborations that felt really relevant to my content and my interests (like this week's sponsored post on Black Friday), with brands I was already raving about, and I feel pretty good about those.

I think the change is going to have to come from brands because we can't really expect self-employed people to turn down decent money. What we can expect is for brands to try to partner with individuals whose interests and beliefs align with theirs; to me, it's what makes the most sense.

Back to this review, my Fitbit Ionic, and me – the fact of the matter is, I did get my Fitbit Ionic for free. I didn't have to shell out my hard-earned cash on it and I even got a free holiday to boot. So let's bear that all in mind while I try to be as objective as possible (within those parameters).

What even is the Fitbit Ionic?

The Fitbit Ionic is a smartwatch – a modern version of the original pedometer, with a whole host of added features that are meant to justify its €349.95 price tag. Sure, it still counts your steps, but it also has a heart-rate monitor; dynamic personal coaching (disclaimer: I haven't used this, but I must!); contactless payment functionality (currently only available in Ireland with KBC); built-in GPS; a super long-lasting battery; smartphone notifications; sleep insights; SmartTrack technology that recognises what exercise you're doing and logs it into your smartwatch and app; wireless syncing; it's water resistant (and even tracks swimming); and it also has a music player.

What does all of this mean, though? I guess we're so used to reading about all of these "incredible!" features on the latest piece of must-have tech that it can be difficult to figure out what's essential – or even useful – and what's not. So, let me break it down for you.

The deadliest apps on the Fitbit Ionic

For me, I still find the sleep insights the most interesting thing about my Fitbit Ionic experience – and, for those, you could also be wearing the Fitbit Alta HR, and saving yourself €200-odd. It gives you insights not just into how long you slept but also tells you what the quality of your sleep is like. I'm particularly interested in the end-of-week view, when I see how I end up making up for my five-hour weekday sleeps by snoozing for nine-plus hours on Saturday night.

Its music player is my next favourite thing – because it basically means that, once you have Bluetooth headphones, you don't need to bring your phone with you when you exercise. This feels like a major thing to me! No matter how many armbands I have for my phone, or leggings with phone pockets, it's just never all that comfortable to run, or even lift weights, with headphones attached to my phone, tucked away somewhere and tangling up with my hands every time I move.

The exercise logs are also pretty brilliant. You can tell your Fitbit what workout you're doing and it will tell you: how long you did it for; what your maximum and minimum heart rates were for the duration of that exercise; whether you were in fat burn or cardio zones; and how many calories you burned. I mean, this makes no real difference to my life because I don't then use that information to change up my workouts, but I just love knowing! And it logs it all in the app, so you can look back on your week and see how many active minutes you had and how many calories you burned as a daily average.

For runners, cyclists and swimmers, the exercise log functionality will also use the GPS technology to track your route and your speed – which would make zero difference for me as I honestly don't care about how fast I jog or cycle, but would probably be pretty damn helpful for the competitive runners out there.

...and the apps I'm not that into

The dynamic coaching function is just one that I would never be that interested in – I never really love YouTube fitness tutorials, for example, and, though I've purchased a good few exercise DVDs in my time, I never used a single one more than once. I have opened it up, found it less annoying than other online coaches, and then closed it down again, so it might be for you (it's just not for me).

Fitbit Pay is a really good function – and, if it worked for me, I would use it. But I'm with Bank of Ireland, not with KBC, and as far as I know, as of now, neither BoI nor AIB has got on board. (We were loaded up with €15 on our Fitbit Ionic devices when we received them, and I used mine to purchase a packet of chewing gum, some Caramel Nibbles and a bottle of wine in our local Londis – and it was super handy, because, once again, I didn't need to bring anything except my Fitbit Ionic with me.) So, to say that I'm not into Fitbit Pay wouldn't be 100% accurate but, as it doesn't work with my bank, I can't be into it.

The last app I haven't been using? The smartphone notifications. It might sound odd, but when I'm away from my phone, it's because I want to be away from it. I find it slightly irritating to get half notifications – i.e. "you have a text, here's half of it" – so I don't bother using this function on my Fitbit Ionic.

The overall verdict – would I buy a Fitbit Ionic?

Ultimately, I really love my Fitbit Ionic. I've worn it every single day since I received it (bar one heartbreaking day when I forgot to wear it and was raging). I love seeing how well (or badly) I'm sleeping; I love tracking my steps; I love using it to track my workouts; and I actually really like the look of it. Unlike, say, my Fitbit Alta HR, the Fitbit Ionic looks like a watch, rather than a fitness tracker – which I love.

I also love the fact that I can go out for a walk, or a run (ahem) and leave my phone at home, using my Fitbit Ionic to play music (and, potentially, to pay for snacks on my way back).

Would I buy it? Of course, any question of this type is coloured by a variety of factors. How much disposable income do I have? Is this high on my priority list? Do I have a holiday to save for, or a looming VAT bill?

But, say if my Fitbit Ionic broke, and I had €350 to spare, would I repurchase it? I definitely would. So I'm really hoping that (a) it'll be a while before I need to replace it and (b) when it comes to it, I'll have the cash.

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