Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review: a potential winner

Rating

The new generation of Xiaomi smartwatches is here. The Xiaomi Watch S1 targets the users who are more interested in the design of their wearables, while the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is aimed more towards sports and health enthusiasts. In this review, I take a closer look at the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active. It has an impressive list of features and a balanced price. But we all know that technical specs don’t tell the whole story. Is the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active worth buying? Read this review to find out:

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: who is it good for?

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is a great choice for:

  • Fitness enthusiasts who want more from their wearable tracker
  • People in need of round the clock tracking of their vital signs
  • Users who want a feature-rich smartwatch at a correct price
  • People in need of a rugged device with a big screen and extended battery life

Pros and cons

My testing revealed a number of qualities of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active:

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  • Its battery life is excellent, just like most Xiaomi wearables
  • The 60 Hz AMOLED screen is bright, with great color reproduction and viewing angles
  • The feature list is extensive
  • Workout monitoring is good
  • All-day monitoring and health features make the device useful for people who focus on health
  • Full calling capabilities make it a great companion for your phone

However, I also found some negatives:

  • Some features are not yet fully functional (the headset connection, NFC payments are not available in most regions)
  • The software has minor glitches
  • The automatic brightness adjustment is coarse, making the smartwatch difficult to use in variable lighting conditions
  • Sleep monitoring isn't as precise compared to the best devices on the market
Product rating 4/5

Verdict

Giving a straight verdict for the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is not an easy task. The smartwatch is sturdy, weather and shock-proof, the battery life is great, the screen is beautiful, the adjustability and ease of use are good as well. The smartphone app allows a great degree of personalization and displays data in a relatively user-friendly way. The price of the device is excellent for the impressive number of features that the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active theoretically has. However, the key word here is theoretically because several crucial features are not yet available in most regions. At launch, Watch S1 Active is a good smartwatch and fitness monitor, but it has the potential to be an excellent one - for fitness enthusiasts and classic smartwatch users alike. I hope Xiaomi moves swiftly to enable the missing features in all regions.

Unboxing the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active comes in a high-quality white box, with an embossed picture of the smartwatch on the front. Before going any further, I must point out what I consider to be a debatable design choice: the picture of the device is slightly smaller than the product. It’s not smaller, it’s slightly smaller. The difference is just enough so that it looks like it’s in actual size, but it’s really not. And this is not because there’s no room for a full-sized picture, as the box easily fits the device. Moving on, apart from the brand name, logo and the smartwatch model, there is no other information on the front. The package dimensions are 11.02 x 2.67 x 1.34 inches (or 280 x 68 x 34 mm).

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active's box is sturdy and well-built

Both the sides and the back contain information about the specs and the features of the watch.

The first thing you notice when you attempt to open the box is that the cardboard is really thick and sturdy - it should protect the smartwatch inside even in the event of rough handling. Inside, the smartwatch is safely secured in a cardboard mold. Underneath it, there are two separate compartments, one containing the usual documentation and one which houses the charger (not a wireless one, sadly).

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: the package contents

The unboxing experience for the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is pleasant. The contents are well packaged, in separate compartments, the box is made of thick, high-quality cardboard, and the embossed picture of the device gives it a premium look and feel.

Design and hardware specifications

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is quite large and sturdy-looking. If you want a similarly-sized but slightly more elegant smartwatch, you should instead consider the Xiaomi Watch S1, its sibling. The S1 Active measures 1.83 x 1.86 x 0.43 inches (46.5 x 47.3 x 11 mm) not including the strap and local protrusions, while its weight is 1.27 ounces (36 grams) without the strap.

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is lighter than its size would suggest

The design of the Active tells us that it is clearly aimed at sports and fitness enthusiasts, and the glass-fiber-reinforced polyamide frame fits the intended purpose perfectly. The watch is water-resistant at a depth of up to 165 feet (50m) and 5 atm. The strap is either made of silicone (the white one) or TPU (the black and the blue ones). The strap has plenty of holes for ventilation, and its length can be adjusted in a wide range. As mentioned, the three standard colors for the strap are black (Space Black), blue (Ocean Blue), and white (Moon White). The frame color matches the strap.

There are three colors available for the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active

If, however, you’re not satisfied with one of the three standard strap colors, you can find other (like yellow, green, or orange) afterwards. The smartwatch has two physical buttons:

  • the Home button wakes up the device, enters or exits the widgets menu, starts Alexa (if available in your region), and powers the device on and off;
  • the Sport button starts the Workouts widget and can be configured with the Mi Fitness app as a shortcut for your favorite workout.

The buttons are large and easy to differentiate

The screen on the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is simply amazing. It’s a 1.43-inch color AMOLED display with a refresh rate of 60 Hz, a resolution of 466 x 466 pixels (326 pixels per inch), and a maximum (measured) brightness of 650 nits. It has auto brightness adjustment and always-on capability.

60 Hz refresh rate on a smartwatch screen is rare

The amount and quality of features are steadily increasing from one generation to the next. The S1 Active has the following sensors:

  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • 3-axis gyroscope
  • PPG (light-based) heart rate sensor with SpO2 measurement
  • Geomagnetic sensor
  • Air pressure/altimeter sensor
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Compass
  • Dual-band GPS sensor with GLONASS / BDS / Galileo / QZSS

Connection-wise, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is fully loaded as well, with Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and Wi-Fi. The dual-band GPS should make locating the device faster and more reliable. Another piece of good news is that the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active features a speaker and a microphone, so you can answer calls with the smartwatch, provided you are connected to the smartphone. Using the microphone you can also interact with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant.

The back contains the sensors for pulse and SpO2, as well as the charging contacts

The battery has a 470 mAh capacity and, according to Xiaomi, is good for approximately 12 days of normal use or 30 hours with GPS tracking active. It’s clearly less than the numbers declared for the Xiaomi Mi Watch, but when you compare it to the competition, it simply demolishes Apple and Samsung smartwatches. The charger is magnetic and only sticks to the smartwatch in the correct position. The S1 Active doesn’t have wireless charging. If this is a dealbreaker for you, you can check the Xiaomi Watch S1. The cable is 19.68 inches or 50 cm long, enough for charging on a desk. Further technical specs can be found on the official website: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active.

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active has an excellent set of features and impressive specs, especially for the screen, battery life and connectivity. The design, as the name suggests, is aimed at active individuals, but it doesn’t look plasticky and cheap. The reinforced frame and the water resistance should make the smartwatch more reliable for a longer period of time.

Setting up and using the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active

Setting up the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is easy, just like any other Xiaomi smartwatch. You turn on the device, select the language, then you’re presented with a QR code for downloading and installing the Mi Fitness app for Android or for Apple devices. After starting the app on your smartphone (I used a Xiaomi 12 as its companion), select the type of watch you want to connect to, confirm some privacy settings, and that’s it!

Setting up the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is super easy

The Watch S1 Active is quite big. This can be a problem for people with smaller wrists. It’s bulky, and you will feel its presence when wearing it, especially if you plan to sleep with it on your wrist. Thanks to the large number of holes, the strap is very adjustable, so at least you don’t have to worry about it not fitting.

The strap is relatively comfortable if tightened just right

The strap has two loops for fastening the band (after passing through the buckle), and one of the loops has a small notch on the inside that fits on any of the holes in the strap. However, the system doesn’t work as well as on the Xiaomi Mi Watch, as the loop is slightly loose and the notch doesn’t lock with the strap. The strap of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active can be removed without the need of tools, by shifting the position of a retractable pin.

Navigating through the menus and tapping on menu items is pretty snappy, I didn’t notice any major lags. The interface borrows visual cues from a certain brand with a certain fruit as its logo, and sometimes it does so successfully.

Each page contains several widgets

The gestures are simple and effective: you swipe sideways to cycle through several “Home Pages” with widgets, swipe up to access the Control Centre (Xiaomi’s version of the Quick Settings), and swipe down to access the notifications. As I mentioned before, pressing the Home button opens the widgets drawer. You are then presented with a grid of nameless icons which can be difficult to navigate at first. Thankfully, it seems Xiaomi is learning fast from its mistakes: as opposed to the last generation of smartwatches, you now have the option to change the grid to a list view which contains the names of the widgets, as well as the app icons. The entire interface is now clearly better, and I am very pleased with the progress.

Let’s now talk about the screen. If Xiaomi keeps on improving at this pace, soon we’ll have Xiaomi smartwatch screens that have higher refresh rates than iPhones.

The screen is superb, with high brightness and good viewing angles

Joke aside, the display has very good viewing angles, excellent pixel density, and definitely enough brightness for sunny days. The automatic brightness adjustment is a little erratic, though, and only seems to have two settings: bright and very dim.

You can ornate the screen with one of the watch faces listed online via the Mi Fitness app. Xiaomi advertises over 200 of them, but I couldn’t locate half of them, probably because they were not available in my region. The physical buttons help with navigating through the menus, and the feedback feels ok. The Sport button has a red line on it, so that you can locate it more easily.

Watch faces are available to download for free in a dedicated section

The raise-to-wake function works, but not always. You can increase its sensitivity, but this will negatively impact battery life. You can also activate the screen by pressing either button. Tapping on the screen will not wake it up, though.

I used the smartwatch in various scenarios, including physical activities and night-time sleep monitoring. As with the old Mi Watch, many of Xiaomi Watch S1 Active’s sports activities are very similar to each other in terms of monitoring. Location tracking is very good, heart rate monitoring is ok, clearly better than on the last generation, but definitely not perfect. I encountered several minor bugs, one of which was that the smartwatch recorded my physical activity, but reported it for the following day. I literally had 3500 steps and a workout completed in the future. A good thing is that you can monitor vital signs throughout the day and even set up alarms for when the heart rate exceeds a preset value. Sleep monitoring is a hit-and-miss affair, as it tends to be optimistic, especially if you’re sedentary, like someone I know. It’s clearly better than on the Xiaomi Mi Watch, though. As for notifications, the same old issue persists even with the new generation of Xiaomi smartwatches: sometimes notifications work perfectly, sometimes they appear with a delay or they just register silently.

The Mi Fitness app displays a lot of data, but doesn't do a great job at explaining it to the user

Now, for the new features. Xiaomi Pay is great news, as you can use the NFC module on the smartwatch to pay without having to carry your wallet or your smartphone. Sadly, it only works with a handful of European banks, none of which are in Romania, our current location. Also, it doesn’t work in the USA or Canada either. Bummer.

I also used the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active for calls, and the connection worked very well. I could call recent numbers directly from the smartwatch, answer calls, and of course, reject them. Notifications were loud and clear, as was the audio on both ends.

Call handling is very good on the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active

I then tried a pair of headphones, since the smartwatch can connect to them via Bluetooth. The pairing process went without a hitch but after this step, I wasn’t able to use them for anything. During calls, audio was still sent to the smartwatch speaker and the voice was picked up by the smartwatch microphone. I could not find any app that could make use of the headset, so in the current state, for my current region and software version, using a Bluetooth headset is not possible. Also, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active can connect to the 2.4 GHz wireless band, but then what? There are no visible features that can take advantage of this connection. Maybe Amazon Alexa uses it, but I couldn’t test this, as Alexa isn’t available in my region. The pattern is clear when considering all these issues: the software is not mature yet, and market penetration is spotty, as most of the features are only available in some countries.

There are few widgets available, and none of them are able to make use of the headset connection

Syncing with the watch only takes a few seconds, downloading a watch face or installing a new widget is similarly fast. I encountered no sync issues, apart from the ones mentioned above, regarding notifications.

For the final test, I enabled basically all the features: always-on display, increased raise-to-wake sensitivity, measurements at a 10-minute interval (heart rate, SpO2), and every other monitoring available. With this setup, the battery lasted four days. With only heart rate monitoring, the projected battery usage (based on a two-day consumption average, since I couldn’t keep the smartwatch for that long) amounted to about 7-10 days. An excellent value, even though it is smaller than the advertised one. My significant other has an Apple Watch, which requires daily recharging, so I am very satisfied with the results. Oh, and charging the battery takes around one and a half hours.

Using the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active was a very pleasant experience. I really like the bright screen, the battery life, and the fact that I can route phone calls through the smartwatch. However, some important features are not yet available in many regions, which is a bummer, as having them would have put the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active very high on my wishlist. The Mi Fitness app is good, but it could do with a bit more guides and analysis of recorded values.

The features of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active uses a proprietary operating system that now supports installing apps, but only four were available in my region at the time of the review: a notepad app, a radio streaming app, a calculator, and a minigame. The number of workout modes is bonkers: 117, of which 22 are in the default Workout menu, and the rest can be added if needed. Some workouts monitor the same settings, but I guess some variables are different. You can remove the workouts you don’t need, and you can also configure the Sport button as a shortcut to your favorite one. The health and fitness tracker features of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active are:

  • Heart rate monitoring: automatic/manual heart rate monitoring, resting heart rate, and heart rate curve
  • SpO2 monitoring: automatic and on-demand monitoring of the oxygen level in the blood
  • Sleep monitoring: Deep sleep, light sleep, rapid eye movement (REM)
  • Stress monitoring: A stress score is calculated using the HR sensor and other data
  • Breathing exercises: The smartwatch guides you for breathing exercises
  • Idle alerts: The smartwatch can be set up to vibrate and notify you periodically if it detects no physical activity; furthermore, it can guide you for stretching exercises
  • Workout history: You can see summaries of past workouts directly on the smartwatch
  • Step counter: Counting the number of steps on a daily basis
  • Emergency SOS: rapidly pressing the Sport button three times can activate an emergency call, provided the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is connected to your smartphone

Additionally, the device can monitor the burning of calories and can track menstrual cycles (based on user input). You can also export the data to Strava and Google Health.

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active has a good number of health and fitness features

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active has a good number of smartwatch features, too:

  • Weather reporting
  • Alarm clock with stopwatch and timer
  • Flashlight
  • Notifications from your smartphone
  • Phone calls - answering, rejecting, initiating calls
  • Find my phone
  • Media control (play/pause, previous/next, volume control)
  • Camera control
  • Integration with Amazon Alexa - limited availability
  • Xiaomi Pay - limited availability
  • Bluetooth headset connection
  • Proximity smartphone unlock

Additionally, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active can measure atmospheric pressure and act as a compass.

The Watch S1 Active Lite has an impressive number of features. However, some aren’t yet available everywhere or have limited functionality. If and when all the features become functional in more countries, Xiaomi Watch S1 Active will become extremely competitive, especially considering the excellent battery life which can tip the scales in its favor.

What do you think of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active?

This was my experience with the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active. I think it’s a huge step forward compared to the last generation of Xiaomi smartwatches, and at this pace, Xiaomi will be up there with the best of the best in as little as two years. If only they can sort their software issues, that is. If you have anything else you would like to know about the smartwatch, do not hesitate to write a comment. Also, I’d love to know your opinion on the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active. What other smartwatches are you considering at this price point?

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