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Xiaomi Watch S1 Active in test: Sporty smartwatch with many strengths, but also some weaknesses

Room for improvement. Xiaomi's Watch S1 Active is a sporty-looking smartwatch with all sorts of features. How well these functions work and what the wearable has to offer is explained in our review of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active. Unfortunately, not everything is positive.

Only a few weeks ago, we had the Xiaomi Watch S1 in our review, in which the smartwatch revealed a lot of light, but also some shadow. Now, the sporty, and somewhat cheaper (MSRP of 179 Euros (~$180), Xiaomi Watch S1 Active has to be put to the test and show what the somewhat slimmed-down sibling has to offer.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
Display
1.43 inch 1:1, 466 x 466 pixel 461 PPI, Yes, AMOLED, glossy: yes, 60 Hz
Connections
NFC, Brightness Sensor
Networking
802.11 b/g/n (b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4), Bluetooth 5.2, GPS
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 11 x 46.5 x 47.3 ( = 0.43 x 1.83 x 1.86 in)
Battery
470 mAh
Additional features
Speakers: Mono, Silicone armband, charging cable, waterproof
Price
179 Euro

 

Case and features - Sporty smartwatch with flexible silicone strap

Instead of stainless steel, Xiaomi relies on a robust case made of glass-reinforced polyamide for the cheaper Watch S1 Active, which is available in three colors. The bezel is made of metal. The material choice is clearly less high-end, but more fitting for a sports model. One advantage of the material choice compared to the "normal" smartwatch is the lower weight. While the Watch S1 weighs around 65 grams (~2.3 oz), the Active version is lighter at around 54 grams (~1.9 oz) and is thus less annoying on the wrist during sports.

The design of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active, which measures around 47 mm (~1.85 in) in diameter, is sportier than the Watch S1. It comes with two larger buttons on the left side, which remind us of a classic stopwatch. In addition, the edge around the display is thicker and printed with a few keywords (Active, Outdoor and Home).

Xiaomi's smartwatch is held on the wrist with a TPU/silicone strap, which fits a sports smartwatch much better than the Watch S1's leather straps. The wristband is 22 mm (22 mm standard) wide and easily changeable. The silicone wristband with many small holes is a plus. These are not only for ventilation, but also allow fine-linked length adjustment and a large span. Thus, the watch can be adjusted to an arm circumference from about 15 cm up to 23 cm (~5.9 to 9.0 in), so it is quite versatile. In addition, the strap is pleasantly flexible and adapts well to the wrist.

Setup and operation - Simple, but a few limitations

To set up the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active, a Mi account and the Mi Fitness app, which is available for iOS and Android for free, are required. The device is then added in the app, which can optionally be done via a scannable QR code. In our test, there were no notable problems when establishing the connection between the app and the smartwatch. The setup was fast and reliable under iOS as well as Android.

Not only can the tracking data be synchronized and viewed via the app, but various settings can also be made. Among other things, the frequency of the pulse determination and the permanent SpO2 measurement can be set. It is noticeable that the range of functions differs between iOS and Android. This affects Alexa (see below), and also the option to install the app on the smartwatch. This is only available at Android, but the selection is currently very limited.

Besides GPS and Bluetooth 5.2, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is also equipped with Wi-Fi. Thankfully, the Wi-Fi key is entered in the app and not on the wrist. The smartwatch is then online. The watch only displays the weather when tracking and transmission are enabled on the smartphone.

The setup on iOS...
The setup on iOS...
worked in the test...
worked in the test...
quickly and without problems.
quickly and without problems.

Six different clock faces are installed. More can be downloaded for free via the app. According to the manufacturer, there are over 200 different dials in many different designs to choose from.

The touch display and the two buttons on the right side are used for operation. Swiping to the left and right switches through the three configurable widgets screens, where the music control is hidden alongside the activity targets, among other things. A swipe down brings up the latest notifications, and a swipe up brings up the quick settings.

The menu with many small icons is opened via the upper button. The individual functions are then called up via tap. A sport function can also be placed on the bottom button so that athletes can start their favorite sport directly - practical. A previously configured emergency contact can also be called by pressing it three times.

NFC via Xiaomi Pay is included in the wearable. However, mobile payments are only possible in combination with a MasterCard and a few banks. The support page does not list any financial institutions for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Adding a MasterCard from a German savings bank was not possible. Other services like Google Pay are not supported, so the feature is currently quite useless in Germany.

Telephony and notifications

Thanks to the built-in microphone and speaker, the smartwatch can be used for Bluetooth telephony - but only for incoming calls, not for outgoing calls. The connected smartphone has to be nearby. The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active does not offer its own cellular connectivity, not even optionally. The voice quality is sufficient.

Notifications from the smartphone pop up immediately on the watch, whereby the authorized apps can be selected more (Android) or less (iOS) precisely. The first lines of emails can be read. Emojis are partly displayed, but pictures are not. Unfortunately, there is no reply option. Notifications that have been acknowledged disappear from the list of inboxes.

However, it was a bit annoying in the test that the watch frequently synchronized numerous older emails again when it came within range of a connected iPhone 12 Pro and hummed like crazy. A cause for this could not be determined.

Voice assistant

Xiaomi equips the Watch S1 Active with the popular voice assistant Amazon Alexa, which can be used on the smartwatch directly via the built-in microphone. Before voice control, the user has to log into the Amazon account via the Mi Fitness app under "Amazon Alexa".

After activation, Alexa listens after a longer press of the upper button or after starting the app on the smartwatch. The voice recognition functioned relatively reliably in the test. However, the possibilities of use are limited since there is no voice output on the smartwatch. Thus, feedback is only available on the display, which is a pity due to the installed speaker.

In combination with an iOS device (iPhone 12 Pro), there was also a serious problem during our test period. Alexa was not available in the Mi Fitness app or on the smartwatch. It is possible that a recently installed update of the app and firmware removed this feature. Thus, it was not possible to activate voice control, but Xiaomi should (re)enable it soon. In contrast, Alexa was always usable in combination with an Android smartphone.

Health and fitness - Much, but more would be desirable

As a sporty smartwatch, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active offers a whole range of sports and health features, but does not differ from the Watch S1 here. An optical heart rate sensor is installed for 24/7 heart rate monitoring. The blood oxygen content (SpO2) is also measured, although permanent 24-hour monitoring (measurement every 10 or 30 minutes) first has to be activated via the app. The smartwatch also monitors sleep and optionally the stress level. There is no ECG function.

A total of 117 fitness modes are available for tracking sports activities, so the selection covers many sports. Of these, 19 training modes are particularly extensive. The measured data is not only displayed and edited in detail on the watch, but also in the Mi Fitness app. Furthermore, synchronization with Apple Health and Strava is possible, but not with Google Fit. Unfortunately, it is not possible to export the fitness data (GPX or similar).

Pulse over time
Pulse over time
SpO2 over time
SpO2 over time
Stress over time
Stress over time

Activity Objectives

The activity targets of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active include the actively burned calories, the number of steps, and the exercise duration. All daily goals can be customized via the app and are displayed in the usual colored bars. Depending on the selected watch face, they are displayed directly at first glance or in the widget area or menu.

Heart rate, heart rhythm and blood oxygen saturation

The heart rate measurement of the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is quite accurate. In our test of the sports smartwatch, we only found minor deviations compared to a Polar H10 chest strap as a reference device. The measured average pulse was 3 beats per minute lower, and the maximum value was 4. This results in a difference of around 1.6 percent. Even at higher dynamics, the curves run quite parallel.

On the other hand, the discrepancy was somewhat greater for the resting pulse, where the difference of 3 beats per minute (72 to 69) amounts to a difference of a good 4 percent. Overall, however, the deviations are quite small for a smartwatch, even though the Xiaomi Watch S1 performed a bit better in the test.

Heart rate measurement with Polar H10 chest strap as reference device
Polar H10
Heart rate measurement with Xiaomi Watch S1 Active smartwatch
Watch S1 Active

Sleep tracking

The smartwatch also reliably detects naps
The smartwatch also reliably detects naps

As is common today, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active also has sleep tracking in addition to stress tracking. It thus analyzes sleep, measures the length, and monitors the pulse and blood oxygen saturation (SpO2). The detection was reliable in the test, and even small naps were detected.

After waking up, the smartwatch provides an initial overview of the sleep quality. More detailed insights into sleep phases and are provided by the app. Unfortunately, there is no intelligent alarm depending on the sleep phase.

The usual bedtimes can be set in the app. During these, the screen is not automatically activated when the arm is moved to unintentionally light up the bedroom. However, this caused a few problems in the test.

Sleep tracking in the app
Sleep tracking in the app

Training recording

Workout Overview
Workout Overview

With its 117 fitness modes, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active can track almost all imaginable sports, and it also provides 19 particularly extensive training modes for popular sports activities like running, cycling, etc. The tracking has to be started before the workout, and running, walking, and cycling are automatically detected.

In our test, we primarily used the cycling and walking sports modes. In both, the smart sports watch provides a lot of data both during and after the workout, as the screenshots embedded below show. These can be viewed directly on the smartwatch, including the progression of heart rate and pace, the percentage breakdown across different heart rate zones, calories burned, and more.

What is not available, however, are goals/challenges and exercises. We would have liked more from a sports smartwatch, especially since no optional sports apps can be installed.

Cycling (Smartwatch)
Cycling (Smartwatch)
Walk (Smartwatch)
Walk (Smartwatch)
Walk (App)
Walk (App)

GPS and navigation

The smartwatch's dual-band satellite communication uses GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo and QZSS. The connection was usually established within a short time in the test, so workouts can be started without long delays

Xiaomi's sports smartwatch had to compete with the Garmin Venu 2 (approx. 310 Euros/~$311 on Amazon) as a reference model during a bike lap. The differences are small. While the Venu 2 measured a total distance of 9.16 km at 18.4 km/h (~5.69 mi at 11.4 mph) average speed, the Watch S1 Active comes to values of 9.12 km and 18.68 km/h (~5.67 mi at 11.6 mph). We can live with these deviations, especially since they turn out to be significantly smaller and do not show such large outliers as on the Xiaomi Watch S1 - although the software and hardware are probably identical.

GNSS test drive: Lake circumnavigation with the Garmin Venu 2
GNSS test drive: Lake circumnavigation with the Garmin Venu 2
Turning point with the Garmin Venu 2
Turning point with the Garmin Venu 2
Summary Garmin Venu 2
Summary Garmin Venu 2
GNSS test drive: circumnavigation of the sea with the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
GNSS test drive: circumnavigation of the sea with the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
Turning point with the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
Turning point with the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
Summary Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
Summary Xiaomi Watch S1 Active

Display - The AMOLED could still be a bit brighter

Like in the Watch S1, Xiaomi also installs a 1.43-inch AMOLED panel with a resolution of 466 x 466 pixels in the Active model. This results in a high pixel density of 461 PPI and thus a pleasantly sharp display of icons, text, and so on.

The determined brightness is 433 cd/m². That is not an outstandingly good rate. However, it is enough to ensure that the smartwatch is still quite legible in direct sunlight, even though this is quite difficult to capture in the photos below.

The smartwatch follows touch commands immediately, even though the glass surface feels duller than that of an iPhone 13 Pro, for example. The fact that a relatively large number of fingerprints and smears gather on the display after a short time is nothing unusual for a smartwatch with a touch display and a common evil.

In the settings, you can choose how quickly the display should turn black after use. It then turns on again after turning the wrist - but unfortunately not always as reliably as desired in our test. There is an optional "Always on Display" option, which saves the occasional fiddling with the arm, but naturally has a negative impact on the runtime. Convenient: Putting the palm of the hand on the display immediately darkens it.

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active...
The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active...
in the sun...
in the sun...
and in the shade
and in the shade

Performance and runtime - Smooth and with a solid runtime

Unfortunately, Xiaomi does not disclose information about the installed chip and memory. The operation is smooth. All inputs are responded to promptly, so there are no noticeable and annoying delays when using the smartwatch.

Battery life

Xiaomi specifies a battery life of up to 12 days in typical use (24 days in energy-saving mode). As is often the case, this is of course a rather theoretical value that is usually shorter in practice. Users who regularly use the smartwatch for sports activities and permanently activate heart rate, SpO2 tracking and the always-on display will have to connect the watch to the charging station every two to three days. A runtime of around seven to ten days is realistically achievable with moderate use.

When charging, a difference to the Xiaomi Watch S1 becomes obvious. While the more expensive model can also be charged wirelessly via Qi standard and is reverse-charging capable, the Active version only charges with the included and unfortunately quite short magnetic charging cable. Xiaomi does not include a power adapter. The charging process itself takes about two hours.

Pros

+ integrated GPS
+ relatively accurate readings
+ solid battery life
+ relatively short charging time
+ good workmanship
+ easy handling
+ many sport modes
+ good AMOLED panel

Cons

- NFC payment limited
- Software not mature
- more sports functions desirable
- hardly any apps

Conclusion - Solid sports smartwatch with room for improvement

The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active was provided by the manufacturer for the test.
The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active was provided by the manufacturer for the test.

In our test, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active does many things well - and even a few things better than its more expensive sister model. Compared to the Watch S1 there were no unexpectedly high deviations in our GPS test, for example. It also cuts a solid figure as a sports or fitness smartwatch in other respects, but it is definitely not free of points of criticism.

As expected, the battery life is not as good as the manufacturer claims. However, those who do not put the smartwatch under particularly heavy use can get through a week without a charging stop.

One or two weaknesses should not go unmentioned. Besides the Alexa problem in combination with an iPhone, we have to mention a not completely successful localization and the NFC function that is not really usable in Germany. We would also have wished for a bit more independence from the Mi Fitness app and thus the smartphone in some aspects. Overall, Xiaomi should improve the software and offer more sports functions, among other things.

The integrated GPS is nice, but does not enable navigation. Unfortunately, Xiaomi does not offer a version with eSIM and LTE connectivity. Here, other manufacturers like Samsung with the (still) current Galaxy Watch4 (from about 160 Euros (~$161) at Amazon) or Huawei with the Watch GT 3 (from about 175 Euros/~$176 at Amazon) are better positioned. Overall, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active left a rather mixed impression in the test, even though many minor flaws could be fixed quite easily.

Price and availability

At the time of our test, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active is available for about 160 Euros (~$161) directly from the manufacturer, among other things. Alternatively, it is also available from Amazon and other stores.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Xiaomi Watch S1 Active in test: Sporty smartwatch with many strengths, but also some weaknesses
Marcus Schwarten, 2022-07-12 (Update: 2022-07-12)