In the last few years, fitness trackers and smartwatches are increasingly getting popular, and not just amongst fitness enthusiasts or geeks. The wide assortment of devices available to cater to every need and budget have aided quicker and wider adoption. And to take advantage of the market opportunity, a plethora of smartphone brands and domestic accessories players have thrown their hat in the ring.
While globally, Apple still leads the wearables market, it’s followed by Xiaomi which rode on its exceptionally value-for-money Mi Band series to gain not just the market share in India and other markets, but also enough mindshare to be regarded as an automatic choice in its segment.
But Xiaomi has competition now. From within. Enter Redmi.
Xiaomi’s value focused sub-brand—Redmi—has launched a couple of products this month to cater to users of both kinds—fitness band enthusiasts as well as smartwatch buyers.
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We use the term ‘smartwatch’ loosely, mind you. Wrist-based wearables usually comprise fitness bands and full-fledged smartwatches. And even though the lines between them are getting blurry, analysts reserve the ‘smartwatch’ category for wearables that run a full-blown extensible operating system (OS) and support third-party apps, like Google’s Wear OS, Samsung’s Tizen or Apple’s watchOS.
However, most brands market their fitness trackers that look like watches as smartwatches—with or without additional features.
The Redmi portfolio
The Redmi Watch 2 Lite and the Redmi Smart Band Pro SportsWatch are in many ways, siblings. The materials are the same (the usual TPU, or polycarbonate), much of the functionality is identical (the band is marketed as a ‘sportswatch’ and the watch is, well, ‘smartwatch’), the companion app features are the same (both use the very neat and functional Xiaomi Wear app; available for Android and iOS). You get the drift. Yet, they have their distinct personalities, and use cases.
The Redmi Smart Band Pro has a broader rectangular display, almost like a smartwatch squeezed along the breadth, which looks bigger than the quintessential capsule-like displays on most fitness bands. The ambient light sensor for automatic brightness control and an always-on display are nice touches. No need to jiggle your wrist to turn on the display (raise-to-wake) when all you want to do is check the time.
That’s also where it differs from the Watch 2 Lite. The TFT display on the latter misses out on this AMOLED goodness and even though it’s cheaper among the two, the Smart Band Pro takes the display honors.
The highlight on the Redmi Watch 2 Lite though is the built-in GPS. Let me explain. Most fitness trackers and smartwatches rely on your phone’s GPS to map your runs or cycling rides. It works well but you need to carry your phone along. Many fitness pros and those who prefer to be disconnected when they are out and about would rather leave behind their phones for a focused or relaxing run. A smartwatch with built-in GPS, like the Watch 2 Lite, enables that and maps your workouts accurately without the need of a connected smartphone.
The rest of the differences are obvious. The band is lighter than the watch and more comfortable to wear, especially to bed. The user interface and navigation on the Watch 2 Lite is better because of the broader screen estate available. The Redmi Smart Band Pro, even with a smaller battery, has a longer battery life of about two weeks, while the Redmi Watch 2 Lite offers about 8-10 days. That said, active usage, always-on display, automatic or continuous heart rate or SpO2 tracking, etc. define the battery life and about a week on the band and about five days on the watch is good mileage.
There’s the standard assortment of features like weather, stopwatch, timer, alarm, music control, etc. as well as a remote camera shutter feature, currently in beta. You can also mirror notifications from your smartphone as well as accept/reject calls from these.
Of course, there’s the full gamut of fitness features, including a heart rate sensor, stress monitoring, sleep tracking, as well as an SpO2 sensor (monitoring blood oxygen saturation has seen wider interest since the pandemic even though it has always been useful for trekkers, etc.). There’s also support for menstrual health tracking for women. Both offer 5ATM water resistance, so you’re safeguarded against sweat and splash and can also take it for a swim.
There are over 100 fitness modes available (the Watch 2 Lite comes with 100 while the Smart Band Pro has 110)! A lot of them are very specific and unnecessary unless you indulge in that activity (there’s kite flying too, for instance)—some of them I haven’t even heard of—but all the common ones are covered on both devices. There’s also auto workout detection for walking, running, and treadmill and it works very well.
So, which one to buy?
With the Mi Band, and now with both Redmi Smart Band Pro and Redmi Watch 2 Lite, Xiaomi has aced the recipe for an affordable, no-compromise fitness wearable. There’s a competent specifications sheet, comprehensive feature set, and reliable and accurate fitness tracking.
The only iffy bit is the user experience. Too many features sometimes get clunky to navigate through on a small screen. I often whack the screen more than once to get through things – not that it helps but that’s human nature. Maybe it can be a bit more intuitive, but I also understand that offloading some customization and settings to the companion app might not be ideal.
If you’re looking for an affordable wearable, both Redmi Watch 2 Lite and Redmi Smart Band Pro are great options on the table. And amongst the best in the market right now.
Priced at ₹3,999, you should pick the Redmi Smart Band Pro if you want a compact and comfortable fitness band with good battery life (the stunning AMOLED display is an add-on). But go for the Redmi Watch 2 Lite, priced at ₹4,999, if you want a large smartwatch-like display (good for reading your notifications) and the built-in GPS is an attractive proposition for you.
Snagging in a Mi Smart Band 6 (because it is ₹500 cheaper than the Smart Band Pro) too isn’t a bad deal, to be honest. If the two Redmi devices are siblings, the Mi one can be considered a cousin, and it’s all in the family.
However, if budget isn’t a concern, and yet you don’t want a full-blown smartwatch like a Fitbit Sense or an Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge 5 is a great gateway to a more evolved wearable ecosystem.
It’s sleek, quite good looking, and comes with the most advanced fitness and health tracking with features like an on-wrist ECG app for heart health and an EDA Scan app for stress management (mindfulness is a big focus area for Fitbit beyond physical health tracking and management). Also, a subscription to Fitbit Premium gives you access to guided fitness programs and workouts as well as mindfulness sessions. That said, at ₹14,999, it doesn’t come cheap but that blend of form, function, and aesthetics makes it quite attractive.
Whichever option you pick, remember, that fitness trackers will only count the steps. You’ll have to do the walking.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.
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