Xiaomi Watch S1 review: elegant looks, awesome battery life, reasonable price
Xiaomi Watch S1
- Classy, elegant looks
- Sharp, crisp hi-res display
- Solid health & fitness tracking
- Accurate heart rate during exerise
- Excellent battery life
- No third-party software support
- No advanced performance stats
- GPS could be better
Watch S1 is the latest Xiaomi smart timepiece. Retailing for $269, it looks gorgeous loosely resembling a traditionally styled watch. In this review I look at its design, technical specs, functionality, value for money and more.
The company introduced the wearable in late March alongside a sporty, lower-cost version of the same called Xiaomi Watch S1 Active. They both come with the exact same functionality but S1 is the more premium of the two.
Xiaomi also unveiled Buds 3T Pro at that same launch event. In my review I found them to be a pretty good sounding pair of earbuds. They provide a very comfortable wearing experience and excellent sound – a great option, particularly if you own a Xiaomi branded smartphone.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
Another wearable we are expecting will land soon is the Mi Band 7. Rumours are Xiaomi will be increasing the screen size of its flagship fitness band once again. Look for that one to drop in the weeks ahead, most definitely by early June.
But what about Xiaomi’s latest timepiece? It is not just a looker. The device comes with all day blood oxygen, more than 100 fitness modes dual-band GPS and more. It is Xiaomi’s answer to the likes of the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch and Fitbit high-end devices.
Can it compete against these established players? It’s been sitting on my wrist for the past 10 days. Here’s what I made of it.
Design & hardware
Xiaomi Watch S1 review: : Design & hardware
- Classy masculine design, beautifully crafted
- High res AMOLED display – great visibility in or outdoors
- Calfskin leather and flurooubber strap in the box
- 12 day battery life, which can be extended
Premium look and feel – a masculine watch
Starting off with one of the highlights of Watch S1 – its looks. The device really is beautifully made and looks and feels very premium on the wrist. You could say this is a traditionally styled watch.
It is offered in black and silver 316L grade stainless steel frame options. The choice gets wider as far as straps with black, brown and blue Calfskin leather strap variants. Because that type of material is not really suited for exercise, Xiaomi has also tucked away in the box a dirt and sweat resistant fluororubber strap. I found myself quickly switching to this option as I found it had better contours around my wrist and was the more hassle-free solution.
Need to look the part for an important client meting or date? No problem. Switch it back to the leather variant. The process is easy thanks to the quick release mechanism so many brands are sporting these days. Move the small pin to the side and the strap goes in or out. It takes about a minute to do the swap. With a bit of practice, you can probably cut down this time.
The diameter of the watch is 46.5 mm so this is a fairly sizeable device. Xiaomi puts its depth as 11 mm, but in reality it is a millimetre or two thicker as that number doesn’t include local protrusions. I would definitely consider the watch as something more suited for men than a unisex device.
Having said that, the weight is not too bad. At 52 grams it doesn’t really feel heavy on your wrist – particularly when you take into consideration its steel frame. But you definitely feel that it is there. It’s worth noting, the back of the device is made of plastic which helps to keep the weight down.
Sometimes, watches with a steel build move a bit on the wrist as they can be very heavy. That makes it difficult to capture precise stats, particularly when you are exercising. I did not find this to be the case with Watch S1.
Stunning AMOLED display
The premium design continues as far as display. You get a very high resolution (466 x 466 pixels 326 PPI), 1.43 inch AMOLED. It is incredibly sharp, crisp and clear regardless whether you are in or outdoors thanks to the 60Hz refresh rate. The visibility is also helped by the watch’s auto-brightness adjustment (up to 450 nits).
It is actually one of the best screens I have come across on a smartwatch. Its Sapphire Glass should protect against accidental drops and bumps. Xiaomi says this is one of the most durable watches it has ever made. For info, Watch S1 Active uses normal tempered glass which is not as robust.
The Sapphire Glass also helps to protect against smudging. And it has the effect of slightly glittering from every angle which contributes to the overall premium look.
This is actually the same quality display that can be found on Watch Color 2. No huge bezel around but there definitely is one. However, it is not an eye-sore as Xiaomi has disguised it well. You hardly even notice it.
The touch-functionality works great and the swipes and taps are very responsive. Zero lag time or glitchiness. Mind you, the touch functionality works only when the display is on. And this is achieved by a raise of the wrist or by pushing one of the two physical buttons on the right. The top one takes you to the home page and a screen with shortcuts to all apps. The bottom one acts as a shortcut to the scrolling list of exercises. Both buttons rotate but it’s for show as the rotating doesn’t trigger any actual functionality.
Some of the screens have something akin to the complications you can find on the Apple Watch. Tap on that area of the display to be taken to further information. I also liked the page with all app shortcuts – again Xiaomi has taken a leaf out of the Apple Watch’s book.
All of this is, of course, stamped with a good water-resistance rating. At 5 ATM you can swim with it down to depths of 50 meters, shower with it and run with it in heavy rain or a snow storm worry free.
Xiaomi Watch S1
All the usual suspects under the hood
As far as sensors, you get all the usual suspects including PPG heart rate (which also spits out SpO2 data), 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, geomagnetic sensor and air-pressure sensor. A complete list that doesn’t really have any glaring omissions.
The company says it has upgraded the hardware and algorithms which contributes to more accuracy. Blood oxygen is around the clock so you don’t need to rely on manual measurements. Sure you don’t get things such as ECG but you are covered with more than just the basics as far as monitoring health and activity.
For more precise tracking of outdoor activity, the S1 comes with a dual-band multi-system GPS. In theory, this allows for more accurate and faster positioning data. It means that depending on the quality of the signal, the chip can tap into and automatically switch between GPS, Glonass, Galileo, BDS and QZSS.
There’s also an ambient light sensor on-board, along with a microphone, speaker and NFC chip. Apart from that, the watch has 5.2 Bluetooth compatibility and Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz.
As with all Xiaomi wearables, battery life does not disappoint. The watch has a massive 470mAh LiPo battery which allows for 12 days of autonomy and double that in battery saver mode.
I cannot vouch for this figure but it seems do-able. After about a week of wear, my watch was down to around 30% at which point I decided to top it up. Which is a rather painless process as it took a little more than an hour to get it back to 100%.
If you’re running low and the charger is nowhere to be found, choose power saving mode. This will disable all day heart rate and stress monitoring and some other functionality, but it will provide you with 24 days of battery juice.
Of course, there are things you can do that will impact the time between charges. One of these is enabling the always-on display. Unsurprisingly, this will greatly shorten the battery life. You can also tweak some other options which have an impact.
Unlike Xiaomi Watch S1 Active which only uses a magnetic dock with 2 pin connections, its more premium brother has proper Qi charging. So you get more charging options. Overall, Watch S1 offers solid battery power.
Xiaomi Watch S1 review: Functionality
Fitness and health monitoring
- Supports iOS and Android using Mi Fitness app
- Fairly accurate tracking – resting heart rate on the high side
- Blood oxygen measurements, standing reminders work well
The iOS or Android Mi Fitness app is what you’ll need to download to set up and pair your new watch. This is also the repository of all the fitness and health info. The app feels rather bare bones and I’ve definitely come across better software. But it does the job.
As with most such apps you get a tile-like dashboard which can be customised. Tapping on any widget takes you through to more detailed info.
The general health-tracking features are quite solid. I found the stats to be on par with the Garmin watch on my other wrist.
Steps were within a few hundred on a daily basis, sleep tracking was in a similar ballpark, and you can also enable all-day stress tracking and all-day blood oxygen tracking for more insight. The last on this list typically averaged between 97% and 98% which is where I’d expect it to be. You can also do manual SpO2 readings.
The all-day heart rate also does a decent job. I found my resting heart rate values to be about 4-5 bpm higher than on the Garmin. But different brands use different algorithms to calculate this metric – it is not an exact science.
You also get info on standing time. Reminders to get up and move around will ping your wrist. If this gets too annoying like it has for me, simply switch the functionality off.
I liked the stress metric which is based on heart rate variability measurements. You not only get a chart showing how this is changing throughout the day, but you also get an overall daily value with a descriptive classification. This allows you to determine at a glance whether you should take a chill session. To help lower your readings there are guided breathing exercises on the watch that can be tapped into.
Overall, I would give health and activity tracking a positive assessment. One area where the app lacks, though, is in terms of insights. You don’t really get many so are left on your own to draw conclusions. Some might like that, others not so much.
- Support for hundreds of sports
- Auto-recognition of activity
- Heart rate during exercise is accurate
- GPS could be better
- Little in terms of advanced performance stats
Xiaomi Watch S1 is a comprehensive sports watch with support for a total of 117 different sports modes. Nineteen of these are professional modes with detailed performance statistics. The others, you’ll find are not as detailed. They pretty much consist of heart rate derived statistics and workout duration.
The device also comes with auto-recognition for a number of exercises, including treadmill, outdoor running and walking. This works well. When it detects you are engaged in one of these activities, a message will pop up on the S1 asking whether you would like to track it. If you say yes, the watch includes retroactive data. So pretty much your full workout is captured.
As far as the satellite connectivity, in theory this should be accurate and fast thanks to the dual-band, multi-system GPS support. In reality I found that it was slower to connect than my high-end Garmin Forerunner. Sometimes a minute or two slower. To be fair, there were times when it was just as quick. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I was tracking in a heavily built-up area of London.
The GPS accuracy also left a bit to be desired. Here’s a comparison of a 5K run around a London block. As you can see the Garmin had me mostly running on roads, whereas the Xiaomi cut corners in places. While neither of the devices was perfect, the Garmin was better.
A glitch that I found was that for some reason the detailed map of my exercise activity did not show up in the smartphone app. I’m not sure why this was the case. Having looked at some of the other S1 reviews, they do not mention this bug. So perhaps it was a glitch with my installation. But the device definitely was tracking with GPS as the map did show up when the activity was synched up to Strava. Probably a bug that will be rectified by a software update.
What I was very impressed with. was the accuracy of the heart rate monitor. Typically the average value was spot on as compared to a chest strap for a run lasting at least 5K. There was a slight discrepancy of one or two beats per minute as far as the max heart rate value which is perfectly acceptable.
Just make sure the strap of the watch is nice and tight against your wrist. I typically moved the strap up one notch when exercising, then returned it to the looser setting afterwards.
Unfortunately, you do not get much beyond the basics as far as run tracking. In the sense that you don’t get advanced performance data such as recovery and Firstbeat-type metrics. What you do get is time, calories, pace, heart rat, steps, elevation gain and loss, cadence and an overview of your heart zone information. Here’s an example.
Watch S1 runs on a proprietary operating system especially designed for Xiaomi watches (MIUI Watch 1.0). This is not wearOS-based so you will not have the option to install third party apps. But on the bright side, the operating system is slick and blazingly fast as it has been streamlined for the hardware.
The look and feel of the software on the watch appears as a blend of what you’d get on the Apple Watch and Amazfit watches. So not as fully featured as the Apple Watch but with more functionality than on Amazfit watches. You can pick from around 200 watch faces via the Xiaomi Wear app and the user-interface is customisable.
I’d classify the device as more of a fitness watch than a smartwatch. It has some nice elements such as smartphone notification support, Bluetooth calls support, alarms, timers, weather and camera shutter control. You can also use it as a flashlight and as a Alexa voice assistant. But features such as mobile payments do not work in all countries. You can only use MasterCard payment types through Xiaomi Pay.
Also, there’s no built-in music storage but you are able to control smartphone playback. And you can only read smartphone notifications – you can’t respond to them. The same is the case for calls from your wrist. You can only receive them.
Xiaomi Watch S1 review: The verdict
Xiaomi Watch S1 presents itself as a solid performer if you are looking for a fitness watch. It might be a more attractive replacement for a Fitbit or Amazfit. But purely on the smartwatch front, Apple and Samsung still have the edge. Xiaomi, though, is closing the gap.
There really is lots to like about what is now Xiaomi’s flagship watch. It offers a decent set of fitness and health tracking features at a price that is competitive. This is coupled with excellent battery life and a premium, elegant, minimalistic design. The high-res AMOLED touchscreen and sapphire glass help to make this a really gorgeous looking timepiece.
The negatives are the lack of advanced performance metrics, GPS could be better, the app is rather bare-bones and there’s limited smart functionality. So clearly the device has room for improvement.
Xiaomi Watch S1
Buy Xiaomi Watch S1 if you want an elegant fitness watch that is affordable and gives you a bit of everything. The other option is to opt for S1 Active, the more sporty version of the same. It skims on some of the high grade materials but shaves around $60 off the asking price.
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