REVIEW: Fitbit ionic smartwatch


Fitbit have released their latest device and it is a fully-fledged smartwatch offering.

The Fitbit Ionic is a clean, classic looking device focusing on health and sport with some unique features. Steven Ambrose runs swims and trains to see what the Fitbit ionic can do.

Fitbit has a long history of fitness trackers and has over the past few years gobbled up a number of competitors, not least Pebble. Pebble made a low cost and very functional smartwatch, and it appears the acquisition has given birth to Fitbit’s first smartwatch offering the ionic.


The ionic is a classic looking watch with a sharp clean design in aluminium. The overall look is functional if a little geometric with little in the way of fashion cues. Overall it is clean modern and mostly inoffensive. The ionic does come in a number of colours with a burnt orange likely to be the colour that stands out. A detachable strap is provided and a range of leather and sports bands in several colours are available.

In my opinion, the band included as standard is way below what a smartwatch should offer and below many competitors who offer leather or a high-quality rubber at similar prices. The band is functional but essentially identical to what a standard Fitbit Charge 2 offers at half the price.

The size is a good compromise for both large and small wrists and the overall lightness, and clean design makes this watch easy to wear 24 X 7 and no issue at all when running or exercising, unlike many other heavier smartwatches.

A single main button on the left with two function specific buttons on the right are the only controls on the ionic. The ionic body is subtly curved and fits well with the scratch resistant screen smoothly integrating into the body. The curve makes this the best fitting Fitbit to date, and it helps to keep the heart rate tracking consistent during exercise, one thing that is a challenge with some of the other trackers I have used from Fitbit.

The screen is bight sharp and has good colours. Overall the screen is responsive and easy to use with swipes and touches working well. It is also bight enough to be read in direct sunlight, which is key for activity tracking outdoors. Gorilla Glass 3 on the screen offers substantial scratch resistance and a smooth feel.

The ionic includes a built-in GPS, is water resistant to 50m so you can track your swims. The ionic includes and an upgraded Purepulse heart rate monitor and offers a cardio fitness snapshot as well. There is also the ability to store 300+ songs and connect to a set of Bluetooth headphones, so no phone is needed when running or cycling outdoors. The ionic will also automatically identify your activity and start tracking as needed. This function worked well for running biking and swimming.

The ionic also includes a payment system with NFC. Fitbit pay will in all probability not come to South Africa anytime soon and can be ignored.

The software

The Fitbit app on your smart device is a must to give you full insight into all the activities, including your resting heart rate and sleep activity. It is a simple well thought out app that can be easily customised to highlight your key fitness and wellness metrics. Setup via the app is simple fast and intuitive.

The ionic features a fully-fledged smartphone operating system, but one that is proprietary to Fitbit. All smartphone functions are there. Once paired with your phone, notification messages and call alerts come through seamlessly.

There is an app store, and you can add a limited number of apps for now. There is a Strava app a news app and a few others. Also included is the Fitbit coach app which does offer some workouts that are timed and monitored via the ionic. The issue I have with this is that all the good workouts require additional subscriptions and following a workout program on a tiny screen on your wrist can be a little challenging.

Upgrades are handled via the app as in all other Fitbits. The Fitbit OS is light and easy to use and does offer good functionality. What is lacking is the extensive app stores from Android and Apple.


The Fitbit ionic is a great activity tracker. It is the most comfortable Fitbit I have worn, and the ability to keep it on in the pool and shower and to sleep with it with no discomfort cannot be underestimated. The health and wellness information and activity tracking are first rate and the app and the information it offers make this by far the best activity tracker Fitbit have made.

The question I get asked is does it compete with other leading smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch and various Samsung devices. The simple answer is no.

The ionic is more of an advanced activity tracker than a smartwatch. It is not elegant enough to be worn out as a dress watch, yet who wants not to track their activity on the dance floor. The competition for good looking activity-based watches from Garmin Suunto and others is also fierce.

If you love your current Fitbit and want more, then the ionic is a good choice. Its price puts it firmly up against some fully featured smartwatches and other well-regarded sport-oriented watches. My advice is to try the ionic and see if it meets your needs

Available countrywide at around R 5,395.00 |

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