Getting an activity tracker can be a life-altering experience. Prior to receiving my first fitness wearable, an Apple Watch, I always wanted to get more into running, but had never really taken my cardio outside the gym. Having the ability to track my runs without bringing my phone along in a bulky armband was a gamechanger; once I had an easier way to track my performance, I was able to develop a routine that eventually led to me completing my first half-marathon, something I never thought I could accomplish.
I wish more people could experience a fitness transformation like I did, however finding a feature-rich affordable fitness tracker isn’t easy. Now, Huami, one of the most successful wearable manufacturers, has brought their smart expertise to a wider audience with their Amazfit line of watches and bands. My time with the Amazfit lineup rocked my perceptions of what a more affordable smartwatch can deliver.
On Your Marks, Get Set, Download
Mi Fit (left) is a more fully realized app than the sparse Amazfit Watch app (right)
Huami created tech giant Xiaomi’s massively popular line of Mi Bands, which jockeys for the position of most popular wearable with Fitbit and Apple. As a result of the strong foundation built with their Mi Bands, some of the Amazfit devices use the same Mi Fit app as Huami’s Xiaomi products.
In an odd move, the Amazfit Stratos and Pace ask you to use a separate Amazfit Watch app, while the Bip and Cor ask you to use Mi Fit. Attempting to pair the Stratos or Pace in Mi Fit will simply kick you over to the Amazfit app — a real shame because I preferred the Mi Fit app far more. Mi Fit is packed with many more features than the Amazfit app, like connecting with friends to compare stats and a framework for setting and tracking long-term fitness goals.
Mi Fit also compares your stats to its vast user base for a big picture look at your health. For instance, the app told me I got better sleep than 66% of Mi Fit users, which was rather shocking considering my reliance on constant caffeine consumption to function. Thanks to integration with Facebook and Instagram, you can show off your fitness achievements to all your non-Mi Fit user friends too. These features are currently absent from the Amazfit Watch app.
While the Amazfit app is seriously lacking in features compared to Mi Fit, it still does a good enough job of highlighting your fitness performance and it works reliably. I just wished it included the social features and goal tracking that you find on Mi Fit. Hopefully, Huami will eventually unite all their devices under the Mi Fit app so that Stratos and Pace users can unlock the full potential of their watches.
The Starting Line: Amazfit Pace
It’s tough to say that any manufacturer has really set the standard for smartwatch features, but the $129.99 Amazfit Pace is decked out with what has become the de facto suite of functions for its contemporaries, like text, call, and email notifications as well as a pedometer. Oh, and I guess it goes without saying it tells time too.
But stellar activity tracking is the real feather in the Pace’s cap. With the help of its built-in GPS, the Pace measures such data as the distance, pace and time of your runs, walks or bike rides. Its heart monitor helps measure your heart rate through your workouts and ensures more accurate sleep tracking.
If you need motivation to go that extra mile, load music on the watch’s 4GB of storage and stream it to your Bluetooth headphones. The built-in GPS and music storage means you can ditch the bulky armband and leave your phone at home, while the IP67 water-resistance makes the Pace splash proof and resistant to light rainfall.
One of the best features of the Amazfit Pace — and most other Amazfit watches — is its always-on display. Its 320×300 screen utilizes transflective display technology to let in ambient light sources to illuminate its screen. It looks best out in the sunlight, but still looks fine under indoor lighting. A backlight is still included for low light environments, but I personally felt like the backlight didn’t clear the high bar of quality set by the rest of the Pace’s features; it was a bit dim even on the top brightness setting, and washed out a display that looks beautiful out in the sunlight.
I loved having an always-on screen, something you don’t find in most smartwatches; it made the Pace and the other watches I tested feel more like a traditional watch, and it felt like more of a fashion accessory since it could show off my watch face without having to actually walk up and raise my wrist to show someone. And there’s plenty of watch faces to show off: through the Amazfit Watch app, you can choose from a variety of faces, and even set your own custom background on some using images on your phone. And it does all this while still delivering an impressive five days of battery life.
Developing an active lifestyle is easier with the help of the Pace’s software. If you’re looking into developing a training plan for an upcoming race or marathon, the Pace has you covered. The “Training” function allows you to select a running plan between Beginner (getting into running), 3.1 miles (5k), 6.2 miles (10k), half-marathon and marathon, delivering you workout instructions and reminders each day leading up to your event. This is a great convenience feature I wish I had when I trained for my first race, instead of having to constantly consult a running plan I left open on one of my phone’s browser tabs.
I put the Pace through its, uh, paces (sorry) on Thanksgiving morning. A nice early run made me feel a little less guilty about gorging myself and napping during the holiday festivities. I loaded some music from my Macbook on to the Pace, paired it with my Bluetooth earbuds, and was on my way. The music connection was reliable for the duration of my run and I didn’t experience any skipping or disconnections. Using the Pace was easy; I was able to find my way through the menus and settings in a matter of minutes after setup. Swiping up displays your notifications, while swiping down brings up the control center with basic options for toggling airplane mode and brightness. Swiping left and right will navigate you through the menus, and tapping the button on the side of the hardware will take you back to the home screen.
While using the run tracking on the Pace, the screen displays elapsed time, distance traveled and average pace. You can also swipe over to control your music and check the GPS route and compass. I ran the same route I usually run with my Apple Watch, and the measurements on the Pace were right in line with what I get on my normal runs. I didn’t have the chance to test the Pace in the rain (thanks Southern California) but I ran it under the sink and didn’t find that it had any issues in functioning afterward.
Huami has created a great affordable option for fitness fanatics and anyone looking to take their first steps to a healthier life. The Pace gives you everything you need to implement and stick to a plan for better living. It would be my de-facto recommendation as the premier Amazfit watch, had Huami not topped themselves with their next iteration on the Pace.
Picking Up (and Reinventing) the Pace: Amazfit Stratos
Iterating and improving on the strong foundation established by the Pace, the Amazfit Stratos is Huami’s premium smartwatch. The Stratos is functionally identical to the Pace, sporting the same UI and screen as its predecessor. Still, Huami incorporated some new features to justify the upgrade and higher price point to $199.99.
The most immediately recognizable difference is the design; the Stratos sports a thicker, more rugged body than the Pace, and much stronger waterproofing rated at 5 ATM — equivalent to 50 meters of full submersion, making it a perfect swimming companion.
If a thicker body sounds like a downgrade to you, you’re not alone, I thought that the Stratos would feel much heavier and unwieldy compared to the light and elegant Pace. But the fact is that I barely noticed the difference. The Stratos was even comfortable to wear to bed; I just forgot I was wearing it after a while. On the side of its new tougher body are three buttons, two more than the Pace. These additional buttons allow you to launch into workouts or other menus with a single button press, rather than having to navigate through the menu as you would have to do on the Pace. It’s a small change on the surface, but it really does make navigation much easier.
You’ll find more points of data to measure with the Stratos than on the Pace. One of the most prominent pieces of data surfaced on the Stratos is VO2 max, a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise. VO2 max is automatically measured whenever you initiate a running or walking workout on the watch. I appreciated the Stratos pushing this information to the forefront, since it showed me that my body is actually working a lot more efficiently than I thought. I guess I have less excuses for the embarrassing run performance shown in the picture below.
I took the Stratos with me to the gym and on a run. Although the Stratos doesn’t include support for tracking weight lifting — which isn’t supported on any fitness trackers I’ve used, Apple Watch included — I was able to use it for running on the treadmill and working out on the elliptical. The results recorded by the Stratos were in line with the treadmill and elliptical measurements, so I think it’s safe to say that the technology in the Pace is still a winner inside the Stratos.
I didn’t get the chance to take it for a swim, but I did test the waterproofing by submerging it in my bathtub for half an hour, and it worked without any issues after retrieving it. I did take a look at the swim tracking functions, and was surprised by the breadth of options available.
For swimming, you can specify whether you’re swimming at sea or in a pool, and can set the pool size for more accurate results. The Stratos will measure the distance, pace, number of strokes, and more. Those more aquatically inclined than me will likely appreciate all the options the Stratos offers swimmers.
The Stratos is a smart upgrade on the Pace. It’s not a radical redesign, but if you’re a swimmer, or desire measuring as many data points as possible, then upgrading to the Stratos is well worth it.
Crossing the Finish Line: Amazfit Cor
The Amazfit Cor ($59.99) can best be compared to fitness trackers like the Fitbit Charge or Garmin Vivosmart. It is less of a watch and more of a band, if you want to split hairs. Just like the Stratos, the Cor is can be fully submerged in water and is rated at 5 ATM.
As with the other Amazfits, the Cor displays call, text, email, and app notifications. It of course also tracks workouts and your sleep. The Cor also features a heart rate sensor, something I never expected to find in a band in this price range.
The Cor’s 1.23” color touchscreen is the most vibrant of the watches I tested. Although more pixelated than the others, the colors popped more and the screen was much brighter. This is likely due the omission of a transflective display on the Cor. While this means you won’t see any sort of miraculous battery life results, it does mean a more pleasing display, at least to my eyes. In any case, the Cor still turns in an impressive battery life of up to twelve days, beating out most similar fitness bands.
Unfortunately, the vibrant display is hindered by a far lower resolution display than the other Amazfits I tested. Text looks pixelated in most areas, even at a glance. Normally I’m not a stickler for pristine image quality on wearables, but the pixelation on display here was particularly egregious. Your mileage may vary, and text never gets to the point of unreadability but it’s an unfortunate mark on an otherwise excellent display.
Exercise tracking on the Cor is a bit lacking compared to the other Amazfits. Instead of multiple workout types, everything is handled through a single “Exercise” function, which displays the time elapsed, calories burned, and current heart rate. You don’t get the data granularity found on the other Amazfits.
I used the Cor on a couple excursions to the gym, but it was hard moving from a fully-featured fitness tracker like the Stratos or Pace to something more bare bones like Cor. I would say that the Cor makes for a fine low price option to jump on the fitness wagon, but in my opinion, the next Amazfit watch I’m going to highlight makes a much stronger value proposition.
A Triumphant Victory Lap: Amazfit Bip
Over the course of testing Amazfit’s fleet of watches and wearables, I spent the most time with the Amazfit Bip. Although it was the first Amazfit device I tested, I wanted to save the best for last in this review. In this case, being “the best” doesn’t mean the most killer specs or feature set — the Stratos and Pace are both better on paper, with higher resolution displays, music playback, and tracking support for more exercises. In this case, I consider the Bip to be the best because of what an insane value it is compared to other smartwatches in its class at only $79.99. Nowhere else in a price range even close will you find GPS, sleep tracking, an always-on display, a rich variety of workout tracking options and an astonishing 45-day battery life.
While Huami hasn’t endowed the Bip with a striking appearance, it does seem to take inspiration from another popular wearable: it looks a lot like my Apple Watch. So much so that I don’t even think people would have noticed I changed watches if it wasn’t a different color. That said, the screen is not as nice as the displays of high-end competitors like the Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa, though it still looks just as good or better than other sub-$100 watches, with a transflective display like the Stratos and Pace that looks best out in sunlight. What you get in return for this dimmer screen is a battery life that absolutely shames its lofty competitors. With my Apple Watch, I can maybe go a little over two days before it’s time to hit the charger. I tested the Bip for a few weeks and it’s still ticking away without any signs of dying.
Just like with the Stratos and Pace, you unlock the watch by pressing the button on the side of the Bip, but you can jump in the settings and switch to a “raise to unlock” mode, where lifting your wrist engages the backlight and unlocks the screen. After experimenting with the wrist unlocking functionality, I decided to go back to manually engaging the watch with the crown, since I actually prefer the way the watch looks with the backlight off; the backlight is rather weak and makes the screen look washed and out and showcases the flaws in the Bip’s image quality. It also ensures that you won’t inadvertently engage watch functions while tracking your sleep. The Mi Fit app also offers a compromise, giving you the option to set a scheduled time for when you can use the raise to wake feature.
Water resistance on the Bip is improved over the Pace with a rating of IP68, but doesn’t come close to the 5 ATM rating of the Stratos or Cor. Although you can get it wetter than the Pace, Amazfit still doesn’t condone swimming with it, nor does it include support for swim tracking. At best, it should stand up better to heavy rainfall or brief submersion better than the Pace. For what it’s worth, I left this one submerged in my kitchen sink for about twenty minutes and it performed fine afterwards, but I still wouldn’t recommend going against manufacturer guidelines and intentionally submerging it.
The heart rate monitor by default is set to sleep detection mode only, but can be set for continuous measurement — up to once a minute — or set to an increment up to 30 minutes. Using continuous heart rate monitoring comes with a major caveat – it’s a huge drain on the battery. For that reason, I mostly kept it set to the default of sleep detection only. In the time I used the continuous measurements, I got results on par with the other Amazfit watches and my Apple Watch, suggesting that the heart rate monitor on the Bip delivers reliable results.
One of the only big disappointments with the Bip was its lack of music support. Unlike the Stratos and Pace, the Bip doesn’t have internal storage, nor does it feature any sort of function for remotely controlling music playback on your phone. This means bringing a separate music player along on workouts. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy running in silence.
I never would have expected such a great watch at this price. I cannot recommend the Bip enough. I don’t harp on its affordability as some sort of excuse for shortcomings. I only mention it so much because of how incredible it is to see how the Bip trounces its competition. Other watches, and other Amazfits for that matter, may offer more features, but I would challenge you to find a better watch for under $100.
The Gold Medal Standard in Fitness Wearable Value
Each of the Amazfit watches and bands are possibly the best in their price range. Huami has done such an excellent job with these watches that I would love to see what they could do by taking a stab at the premium market, going toe-to-toe with Apple. I think each of Amazfit’s offerings make a compelling case for being the best companion to your active lifestyle. If waiting to find a quality affordable fitness watch was your excuse for not getting in shape, then you’ve officially run out of excuses.
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“Note, all prices and products are accurate at the time of article publication, although some may have changed or are no longer available.”
Amazfit’s smartwatches are the perfect companions for your active lifestyle
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