Back in September of 2017, Fitbit was thinking big. They had acquired smartwatch maker Pebble at the start of the year and were looking to join the likes of Apple and Garmin with a big step into the general watch market. And so, they presented the Fitbit Ionic smart watch to consumers.
The watch sought to combine Fitbit’s renowned fitness features and accurate analytical power with additional smartwatch functionality. The Fitbit Ionic fitness tracker was to run in direct competition with the Apple Watch 3 and Garmin Forerunner 935. So how did it compare? And how does it stack up against the more modern smartwatches?
In this Fitbit Ionic review, we’ll take a look at how successful the company’s efforts were. And also judge whether the smart watch is worth a purchase now. It is safe to say the Ionic is one of Fitbit’s most daring devices, but upon review, does it still impress now, with newer iterations like the Fitbit Versa series available?
The Fitbit Ionic came out on the 1st of October 2017, with a starting price of $299.95 that failed to undercut the Apple Watch 3. Released over two years ago now, the Fitbit Ionic is no spring chicken, and its age is a factor in its overall usability.
There has been only one additional release of the Ionic, and that was the Fitbit Ionic: Adidas Edition, which came out in March 2018 and featured as the most stylish Fitbit for women in our best Fitbit for women list. The Ionic Adidas edition differentiated itself from the original version with a breathable Adidas-designed sports band and some extra dedicated modes for specific workouts and activities.
The original Fitbit Ionic is still purchasable from Fitbit’s site for $199.95. This price tag is around the same as the Apple Watch that came out around the same time. The Ionic GPS watch is also available from online retailer Amazon and general electronics stores like Walmart and Target.
The Fitbit Ionic’s design is one of its most prominent features. The screen is a sizable 1.42”, meaning the design tries its best to reign in that large surface area in a wearable style. The result is effective, but definitely on the bulkier side. Especially if you look at smartwatches like the Apple Watch, which opts for a similar design, but a much more compact build. The Apple Watch series manages to have a larger screen than the Ionic as well.
The Fitbit Ionic’s design is more streamlined and attractive than the Fitbit Blaze, however. The size of the watch can be an asset, as we laid out in our Best Fitbit for Seniors article, but many people will find its size a drawback and a nuisance to wear.
Watch Design & Build Quality
Nothing to complain about in terms of build quality. The aluminum body is incredibly lightweight yet sturdy. The silicone watch band is stylish and durable, as well.
Corning Gorilla Glass protects the screen from breaking or scratching. It’s always great when a company like Fitbit understands that exercising means getting a bit rough.
The Fitbit Ionic is waterproof up to 50m, meaning that you can wear it out in the rain, in the shower, and swim with it. Please note, however, the watch’s heart rate sensor does not work when you are submerged in water. Making this robust fitness tracker water-resistant helps it to be one of the more dynamic and hardy Fitbit watches.
Screen & Display
The Fitbit Ionic’s screen is one of its main selling points. Its size helps the user to see reminders/analytics/workouts easily. With 1000 nits of brightness, the screen is easy to see in both the light and dark. Unfortunately, the watch doesn’t come with an ‘always on’ screen mode itself. However, according to some users, a certain watch face available from an app does feature an ‘always on’ mode.
The screen itself is a solid rectangular shape. The real shame when it comes to Fitbit’s choices on the screen is logo placement. Fitbit’s logo appears at the bottom of the watch face and therefore lessens the size of the display. But, this was a mistake that they have soon put right in their more recent watches like the Fitbit Versa.
Bands & Accessories
The main accessories available for the Fitbit Ionic are interchangeable watch bands. The Fitbit Ionic’s standard watch band is great but is very much suited to sporty wear. To counteract this, Fitbit offers a small selection of leather bands that you can use. Though there isn’t as much as an Apple Watch, there is enough to tide over most peoples’ style choices.
Coming in colors Cognac and Midnight Blue, the leather strap does do a great deal to make the Ionic look more presentable. Just don’t forget to swap back to the silicon band if you’re going swimming.
Third-party accessories such as charging docks and screen protectors are available from online retailers such as Amazon. A screen protector is great for those who fear their activities will be too much for the Gorilla Glass. There are also several third-party straps available, giving you even more choices than Fitbit allows you.
Features & Performance
Like all useful Fitbit devices, features based in exercise are where this fitness watch grabs the top spot. The first thing to mention is its built-in Ionic GPS. The only Fitbit device with a standalone location tracker, you can go outside and start running armed solely with your GPS watch.
Its “run detect” programming will kick in and begin to track your movement and location, all without your phone. The GPS antenna resides in the Ionic’s bezel case, so there’s no fear of damaging it. Not even the newest Fitbit watches like the Fitbit Versa 2 has GPS, causing this watch to stand out considerably.
The heart rate monitor provides users with a more in-depth and detailed analytical experience. It’s no secret that knowledge of changes and fluctuations in your heart rate can be beneficial for your journey towards wellbeing.
The sleep tracking that the Ionic offers is excellent. It allows you to review your activity throughout the night on your Fitbit app afterward. Sleep is an integral factor in health, so sleep tracking is an addition to the Ionic that fitness enthusiasts will love.
The Fitbit Coach app allows you to have workouts personalized to you in your fitness watch. The screen will also help to instruct you exactly how to carry out the exercise. The waterproofing is a massive asset to the Ionic, allowing you to track your swim time and distance easily.
Despite it being somewhat dated compared to the Fitbit Versa series, the Fitbit Ionic still holds up as a smartwatch that allows you to separate certain processes from your phone. The Fitbit Pay app works wonderfully on the watch, so there’s no need to get your card or phone out to pay your bill.
The built-in GPS can track your location, so all you need to do is check where you are on the watch face rather than looking on your phone’s map. And the wealth of Fitbit apps available on the fitness tracking Ionic certainly puts some iPhone and Android apps to shame.
Unfortunately, Fitbit Ionic lacks cellular connectivity. However, if answering calls and texts directly from your phone is what you are looking for, the Apple Watch 3 released at the same time as the Fitbit Ionic does offer this.
Fitbit OS and Apps
Having already written on the Fitbit app selection available to users, I feel comfortable in saying that there is a great deal of them available on the fitness tracking Ionic.
Many of the third-party apps center around the synchronization of fitness analytics with external programs like Peloton app or Habit app. Apps like Strava allow users to sync data from their Fitbit app and share their achievements with a wider community. Others like the Starbucks app helps users to do more using their watch connected to their smartphone via Bluetooth connection.
The only disappointment is the lack of non-fitness based apps. There are not any games or apps like Uber that would push the Ionic to be a generally pleasing smartwatch. With devices like the Apple Watch, the app selection is inevitably bigger and, therefore, more inclusive, but this does not hinder the Fitbit’s mastery of sports and fitness.
As mentioned, the contactless payment app works like a dream on the fitness tracker. Tap the app and hold the watch face against the card machine. It is fantastic to touch your wrist on the payment device rather than fumble around for your credit card. This feature still puts it up there with the Apple Watch and other well-renowned wearable devices.
With the Ionic, Fitbit also provides the user with the chance to receive call and text notifications straight to their wrist as well. The Ionic even lets users reply quickly from the watch face via Bluetooth. Though this last feature is only available for Android users annoyingly, also, third party messaging services are not supported. They will not show up, only calls and texts directly to your phone.
The Fitbit Ionic lets your review notifications from popular services like Facebook and Gmail as well. Just another reason not to have to pull your phone out.
Battery Life & Charging
Battery life isn’t the watch’s most fantastic aspect. Four-day battery life is a length of time that a lot of modern smartwatches have long since bested. However, the Apple Watch 3 only boasts a ‘day-long’ battery life. One must also remember that this four-day charge does not factor in when the watch is in GPS mode. When the GPS is active, you will see the battery life of the smartwatch drain quicker than four days.
You charge the Fitbit Ionic by plugging a magnetic charging cable into the back of the watch face. The charging port is located just above the heart rate monitoring hardware. This does mean that the watch has to lie in a face-down position when charging, which is somewhat annoying and could potentially be damaging to the screen. There are plenty of docking stations available from third party suppliers, though.
Value for Money
Value for money is not one of the Fitbit Ionic’s strong features. Since 2017, the market has exploded with a multitude of different fitness bands and watches. Some have undercut the Ionic, offering similar features for a comparable or lower price. Some companies also have introduced smartwatches that do more than the Ionic does for an equal price or a little bit more. You can get an Apple Watch for around the same price, a fact that probably stifles the amount of Ionic’s being sold these days.
But, simply because it is the only Fitbit that supplies a standalone GPS, it’s the best value Fitbit when looking for something that will track your movements and location.
Who is it for?
You will love Fitbit Ionic if you…
Want built-in GPS – the only Fitbit offering location and movement tracking straight from your wrist.
Want an easy-to-read screen – its large LCD screen make it a perfect choice for those with impaired vision.
Want personal coaching – the Ionic’s coaching features are a great way to stay in shape.
You might not like Fitbit Ionic if you…
Want a compact wearable – the Ionic is in no way small or understated.
Want a good battery – the short battery life brings down this Fitbit device.
Back in 2017, the Fitbit Ionic gave huge wearable companies like Apple a real headache. The smartwatch grasped the need for fitness features and analytics much quicker than the Apple Watch. A built-in GPS was a daring addition, but one that made it feel like a real smartwatch, as opposed to a fitness tracker.
In this review of Fitbit Ionic, it is fair to say that the watch has been surpassed by the Apple Watch, Garmin’s various releases, and also by new Fitbit devices. The company has strayed away from the bulky, rectangular design in devices like the Fitbit Versa and smaller still in the Fitbit Charge and Alta HR. This indicates that it wasn’t a fantastic choice. We can see a similar design still employed by Apple in the Apple Watch, but with a more rounded, friendly style that users love.
However, the Fitbit Ionic is definitely still worth a look. Great fitness features, a large readable screen, and a build quality that is more than sufficient.
Liam writes articles for a myriad of sites and publications. With a deep-set love for electronics and music, often finds himself drawn to writing about the latest bands and gadgets. He has a degree in Drama and English, enjoys acting, producing music and writing in a number of formats. He also works as a copywriter, providing content for clients around the world.