Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Xiaomi's sporty smartwatch is another solid sub-$200 option
Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
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The Xiaomi Watch S1 Active isn't a new smartwatch, but it is being given a wider release along with the Watch S1 after the duo were first launched in China at the back end of 2021.

The S1 Active is the sportier of the two, but does offer all the same features as the Watch S1. That includes over 100 fitness modes, dual-band multi-system GPS for accurate outdoor location tracking and smartwatch features like Amazon Alexa and NFC payments via Mastercard.

Essential reading: Best budget smartwatches to buy

The S1 Active isn't a smartwatch you'll have to break the bank to get on your wrist either, though it's currently not one that's easy to get hold of in the US. It's currently available in Europe for €169 (around $185/£140), which puts it in and around smartwatches like the Fitbit Versa 2, Amazfit GTR 2e and the TicWatch E3.

We've been putting the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active to the test to see if Xiaomi has come up with a great budget smartwatch. Here's our comprehensive verdict.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: Design and screen

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

The S1 Active unlike the standard Watch S1 is clearly aimed at people who want something to wear in the gym or out on a run and that's reflected in a pleasingly light and more colorful look.

You're getting a 46.5mm sized watch case with two physical buttons that's made up mainly of polymer with a metal bezel circling the touchscreen display. It weighs in at 36g, so that bezel doesn't add any noticeable weight and at 11mm thick, it's not a chunky watch to wear either. We've found it comfortable to wear all day and for tracking sleep and it's been no problem for tracking exercise indoors and outside.

If you like your color options, Xiaomi offers the S1 Active case in white, black and blue looks, which can be partnered up with six different strap color options. Those straps are the silicone kind, which use a simple pin mechanism, making it very straightforward to whip them off and clip on a new strap.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left) and Xiaomi Watch S1 (right)

Front and centre is a 1.43-inch AMOLED touchscreen display with a 326 PPI resolution and a screen brightness up to 450nit. That's an overall jump up in quality from the Xiaomi Mi Watch, which packs a 1.39-inch, 454 x 454 resolution AMOLED display.

There's a slither of a screen bezel surrounding that display, but it's certainly not as bad as some of the black bezels you'll find soaking up screen estate on pricier smartwatches. It's a good quality AMOLED as well, with deep blacks, punchy colors, strong maximum brightness and we found viewing angles indoors and outside in bright sunlight were good overall.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

You can also set the screen to be always-on, though that will understandably have an impact on the kind of battery life you'll get out of it in between charges.

This is a smartwatch you can take for a dip as well. Xiaomi has given it a 5ATM water resistant rating, which makes it safe to be submerged up to 50 metres depth. There's support for both pool and open water swim tracking modes, so it's built to hold up for indoor and outdoor swim time.

Much like Xiaomi's Mi Watch, it's a light, comfortable watch with a very good screen given the price. It's not the most exciting of sporty smartwatch looks, but it does deliver where it matters most.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: Sports tracking

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Active is in the name and Xiaomi is offering a fair amount in terms of what you can track on the fitness front.

We'll start with the sports tracking, with Xiaomi offering 117 fitness modes, with 19 of those offering activity specific metrics. So that's the likes of running, swimming and indoor workouts like rowing and skipping. Xiaomi does also offer automatic exercise tracking for indoor and outdoor running as well as walking if you forget to do it manually.

Sensors-wise, Xiaomi has packed in the typical accelerometer and gyroscope motion sensors along with geomagnetic and air-pressure sensors for an additional hit of outdoor data. You've also got a PPG heart rate sensor, which does support the ability monitor blood oxygen data here as well.

The big news here though is that Xiaomi is including dual-band, multi-system GPS support. This is a feature we've seen crop on other watches recently including the Huawei Watch GT Runner. Along with being able to communicate with GPS, Glonass, Galileo, BDS, QZSS satellite systems, this also means it can use extra signals from those supported systems to deliver more accurate location tracking.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

GPS tracking compared: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left) and Garmin Epix Gen 2 (right)

Our running experiences though found that the Watch S1 Active tended to underreport on distance tracking in general when we put it up against the very accurate multi-band GPS support on the Garmin Epix (Gen 2). The tracked routes did generally seem to match up, but core running metrics like average pace were definitely off.

Heart rate tracking during running and exercise in general had its good and bad moments too. During an interval training run, it held up well against a MyZone heart rate monitor chest strap for maximum and average readings. In some steady paced runs, it produced average and maximum readings that were generally lower than a chest strap monitor.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Exercise HR tracking compared: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left) and MyZone MZ3 (right)

Outside of outdoor and treadmill running, we put it to the test for indoor rowing and HIIT workouts and found the experience good overall. For indoor rows, stroke counts were similar to indoor row tracking support on a Garmin. Though again, heart rate average and maximum readings were low compared to a chest strap monitor.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Indoor rowing compared: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left and centre) and Garmin Epix Gen 2 (right)

Something that is missing from the S1 Active, which did appear on the Mi Watch are the training insights powered by Firstbeat. So if you're hoping to learn more about optimal recovery time or understanding the effects of your training, those features do not make the cut this time.

All of your data lives inside of Xiaomi's Wear app, which it's fair to say isn't the slickest-looking app and hasn't evolved much since we last used it. Thankfully, you do have support to fire data over to Strava and Apple Health if you want to spend less time in Xiaomi's own app.

On paper, Xiaomi promises a strong sports tracking experience. In reality, it's good but not perfect and doesn't beat what you can get from a similarly priced Garmin or Polar watch.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: Fitness and wellness tracking

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

If you don't care about HIIT or tracking lengths in the pool, the S1 Active does work as a fitness tracker. It will track steps, sleep, stress, heart rate and blood oxygen levels 24/7. Xiaomi also includes women's health tracking features here as well to track menstrual cycle and ovulation phases.

For fitness tracking, you can head to the little flame widget on the watch or swipe from the main watch screen to view steps, calories burned and time you've spent moving during the day. We found step counts were largely in line with the daily step counts recorded by the Garmin Epix Gen 2 and the Oura Ring 3.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Step tracking compared: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left), Oura Ring 3 (centre) and Garmin Epix Gen 2 (right)

Switching to sleep monitoring and you can view your most recent night's sleep on the watch, letting you view sleep duration and heart rate and blood oxygen stats if you've enabled the advanced sleep monitoring support in the companion phone app.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Sleep tracking compared: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left) and Oura Ring 3 (centre and right)

In that app, you'll be told if you've had a good or bad night's sleep with a breakdown of deep, light, REM and awake time. We wore it alongside the Oura Ring 3 and found that sleep duration times were very similar with a difference of around an hour for the different sleep stages it can capture.

Sleeping heart rate was generally higher though, but we'd say on the whole that the core sleep tracking stats recorded felt useful and reliable.

Sticking with heart rate and you can choose to continuously monitor heart rate, with the Active capturing maximum and minimum heart rates for the day as well as resting heart rate and average heart rate. We found resting heart rate data and average heart rate data were typically 10-15bpm higher than the Oura Ring 3, a chest strap monitor and monitoring from the Garmin Epix.

So we'd say continuous heart rate monitoring isn't one of the Active's strengths and closely mirrored our experience with the Xiaomi Mi Watch.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Heart rate tracking compared: Xiaomi Watch S1 Active (left) and Oura Ring 3 (centre and right)

You can monitor blood oxygen levels here too with support for on the spot measurements and continuous monitoring. The experience of checking that data on the watch works well, letting you see average readings along with highest and lowest readings. We took some on the spot readings against a dedicated pulse oximeter and were happy with the reliability of results.

Outside of tracking and plotting that data on graphs, there isn't a huge amount done with the data and helping you understand why it's useful to track.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

If you want to monitor stress levels, you can do that as well, which like most smartwatches is powered by heart rate variability measurements. From the watch, you can see your most stressful moments of the day, broken down by severe, moderate, mild and also relaxed moments. From the app, it's easier to pinpoint the most stressful points of your day to try to understand why it peaked.

Xiaomi's approach to stress tracking isn't groundbreaking, and based on the inconsistent heart rate sensor performance, it feels a little hard to fully trust even if it did seem to largely pinpoint stressful moments in our day.

Much like Xiaomi's Mi Watch, the bases are well covered here from a fitness tracking perspective. It's now time for Xiaomi to take things further and put more actionable insights behind the data it can track to make these features more useful.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: Smartwatch features

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

While Xiaomi doesn't promise anything we haven't already seen on a smartwatch, it does aim to deliver all of the staples you'd expect to find.

It's using its own operating system to run the software show and it does work with both Android phones and iPhones. Some promised features are not available for Apple's smartphone right away, so pairing it up with an Android phone like we did, will get you the most complete experience.

On the watch, the software is relatively easy to get to grips with. From the main watch screen you can swipe from all directions to navigate to notification feeds, quick settings and screens that come packed with widgets. Hit the top physical button and that gets you to the main app grid. The bottom button offers a shortcut to exercise tracking out of the box. Xiaomi does let you tinker with the look of the interface if the default setup doesn't work for you.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active review

Almost everything you'd hope would be here does make the cut. You can view notifications, control music playing on your phone and make calls over Bluetooth. Xiaomi is also promising Amazon Alexa on the wrist too and NFC payments via Mastercard, though those two features weren't available for us to test. Xiaomi does also say support for those features vary based on region.

The notification support hasn't changed from the Mi Watch, where you can receive third party notifications, which are well optimised to the screen, but you can't respond to messages. The music playback controls are well implemented and features like weather forecasts and setting up alarms worked without issue.

There's a nice array of watch faces to pick from, which make good use of that sharp AMOLED screen, with plenty more available via the Xiaomi Wear phone app. As we've already mentioned, the phone app certainly isn't the prettiest and we're still not the biggest fans of the giant avatar character towering at the top of the main status screen.

It does let you get a snapshot look at your health and wellness data and tinker with key watch settings, but beyond that, there's nothing in the way of useful social or community-centric features to make you want to spend lots of time in the app.

Xiaomi Watch S1 Active: Battery life

The S1 Active isn't a smartwatch that you need to think about charging everyday. What you do need to be mindful of is that some features can drain the battery a little quicker. Ultimately, this is a smartwatch that's capable of going for over a week between charges.

There's a 470mAh capacity battery that Xiaomi says is capable of delivering up to 12 days with typical usage and 24 days in the battery saver mode. It's clear that features like continuous heart rate monitoring, advanced sleep monitoring and blood oxygen monitoring does shorten the battery life.

We found that without those more power hungry features in use, daily drop-off was around 5%. When you start to enable those features, it's more like 10% and above. That would work out to about 10 days of battery life with the same level of daily drop-off.

Xiaomi doesn't state a number for GPS battery life on the Active, but we found that 30 minutes of outdoor running saw the battery drop by 5%. That means the Active should give you around 10 hours of GPS battery life, which isn't a bad showing given the price, but not the best GPS battery numbers you'll find at around this price.


Xiaomi Watch S1 Active
By Xiaomi
As a sub-$200 smartwatch, the Xiaomi Watch S1 Active offers a lot for the money. It's well built, with a great screen and is comfortable to wear 24/7. As a sports, fitness and wellness tracker, it performs well, but isn't going to rival a Garmin or Polar watch. As a smartwatch, it covers the basics with headline features currently absent. If you take that same money and spend it elsewhere, the Fitbit Versa 2 will give you a better software experience on and off the watch while Amazfit can offer a much sleeker design. Xiaomi hasn't surpassed what else is out there, but does offer another solid option at this price point.

Hit
  • Light, comfortable design
  • Good AMOLED screen for the price
  • Mostly good fitness tracking skills
Miss
  • Payment support not live yet
  • Outdoor tracking accuracy
  • Companion app is not pretty