- Some good fitness chops
- That price
- Good battery life
- Built-in GPS
- Terrible UI
- Poor screen
- Music playback sucks
- Heart rate struggles at high intensity
Xiaomi sub-brand Huami has been on a roll these past few months, and the Amazfit Stratos continues a growing line of wearables that match competition on specs – and sometimes copy design outright – but undercut on price.
It tracks a wide range of activities – running, cycling, swimming, tennis and more – with built-in GPS, optical heart rate, a lengthy battery life and a rugged design. And yet it does all of this for just $199. While that's topping out the Amazfit range, it's significantly cheaper than, say, the Fenix 5.
Read this: Best GPS running watches
This thing is absolutely filled to the brim with features and a couple of notable partnerships for extra support. And it works as a smartwatch in its time off too, serving up notifications for your apps and displaying a few other things, like weather forecasts. All this for $200 – it sounds too good to be true, right? Read on for our full Stratos verdict.
Amazfit Stratos: Design
The Stratos manages to tick just about every box in the "generic sports watch" design manifesto. It's 46mm wide, chunky, and gives off the impression it could take a fair beating without much trouble.
There's a 1.34-inch 2.5D Gorilla Glass display and surrounding ceramic bezel that you'll be able to knock (trust us, we've done so) and not see any damage. But at 70g it's comfortably weighted for the size, weighing a little less than the Garmin Fenix 5 – where the Stratos not-so-subtly draws a lot of inspiration. We wish it were a little smaller, but that's how we feel about most sports watches right now.
The Stratos has three buttons on the right of the case, which you'll use to navigate the somewhat awkward OS (we'll get to that), but they're useful during workouts where sweaty fingers can cause mischief on the screen.
Speaking of, it's the display that really lets the show down here. The 300 x 300 resolution is often difficult to read and fares dreadfully when lighting is poor. Colours look faded while, more peculiarly, text often appears uneven when displaying notifications.
There's also a flat tire along the bottom, which while not as large as the ones we used to see on older Wear OS watches, is still a blemish on the overall look. In summary, if you're wondering how Huami is keeping the cost so low, the screen is a good place to start.
The watch comes out the box with a silicon strap but it's a universal 22mm fitting, so you can simply swap it out for something more to your tastes. Perhaps something leather for more formal occasions, though I'm not sure I could pull this off with a suit.
The Stratos is water resistant to 50 metres, and there are modes for tracking both pool and open water swimming, making it more durable than the Amazfit Core and the Pace.
Amazfit Stratos: Fitness and sports tracking
Let's start with sports modes, which make up the meat of the Stratos. There's a lot here to play with: you've got walking, running, cycling, triathlon, swimming, elliptical, mountaineering, trail running, tennis, soccer and skiing. In fact a few of these were rolled out via an update while we were in the midst of testing. The watch comes with built-in GPS and GLONASS (Russian satellites which should offer a faster lock-on) support, which you'll be able to use on some – but not all – of the workout modes.
We'll start with running, for which we tested the Stratos against the Garmin Fenix 5S and the Polar H10 chest strap. The first time we tried to connect GPS it took around five turns to get a lock. Granted, we were in a built-up area, but that's still longer than most. Once we were locked in though, we were away, and the results were consistent with our actual route and the Fenix 5S on every occasion.
Huami's partnership with Firstbeat is worth highlighting, as this brings VO2 Max to the watch, along with Training Load and recommended recovery time – features you'll find in a lot of the high-end sports watches. These are good metrics of overall fitness, and having them on board means the Stratos can give you a deeper analysis on your progressions, which you'll be able to pore over in the app.
The Stratos does a solid job of tracking moderately intense runs: the GPS was accurate in testing, and heart rate was generally consistent with Garmin and the chest strap. However, when we pushed up into the higher intensity bracket, the Stratos buckled, and the final average and maximum heart rates were off as a result. Time and time again we see this, and despite having Firstbeat's algorithms pumping away, the physical sensor just isn't up to snuff for those who want something that can really be pushed. That's a shame, though we can't say we're hugely surprised.
Stratos above (Avg 148, Max 167); Chest strap below (Avg 156, Max 177)
Now for the good news: the Stratos allows you to pair a chest strap using Bluetooth, and we tested it out on a run with the Polar H10 doing the HR work. It worked absolutely fine, with no cut-offs, and made a more consistent live readout than we got when using the onboard optical HR (more aligned with the Garmin Fenix 5S we ran with too). Pairing is pretty simple, requiring you to pair it as an "accessory" when you enter your workout mode of choice.
That's good news for runners who want to get more serious about heart rate training and VO2 Max, particularly with it paired with the brains of Firstbeat. The only problem right now is that you can't set custom heart rate zones, so you're stuck with the pre-sets on the watch, but we hope this is something that comes down the line.
We also took it out on the court to put the tennis mode to the test. This is a partnership that Huami has rustled up with tennis tracking company Zepp Labs, integrating Zepp's algorithms into the watch. It will track your shots, heart rate and movement, giving you a post-game breakdown of your forehands, backhands and serves. Sadly this didn't prove to be as accurate as we'd hoped. We did a session of serve drills and at the end it told us we'd been doing a mix of forehands and backhands in there too. That wasn't true.
It fared better when differentiating between forehands and backhands during play, but we often found it failed to pick up a lot of swings entirely. You can sync your data with the Zepp app too, but you're not getting the same level of feedback you'd get if using Zepp's own sensors. So all-in-all, it's fine for when you're sweating it out on the court and want that acknowledged, but it's not going to do much to improve your game.
Climbing and trail running will let you import GPX files (which contain lat/lon coordinates) via the computer and onto the watch, get altitude data and pair other Bluetooth sensors as well. Skiing gives you these and also lets you see your speed, though we haven't been able to test the accuracy of that.
The soccer mode doesn't do much other than track your movement and heart rate. The only thing that distinguishes this mode is that you can tell it when the second half of the game has started – but you won't get any feedback on technique.
The third and final partnership we should mention is Strava. You can connect your Strava account in the Amazfit app and sync your workouts across. There are a lot of Strava junkies out there, and though this only goes for running data captured on the watch, it's a tie-in that definitely works in Huami's favour.
Amazfit Stratos: As a smartwatch
The Stratos offers a lot of features, but we wish it presented them all a little better. The biggest problem we've had in testing has been with the interface, which is a proprietary OS of Huami's making. The navigation system is needlessly complicated and unintuitive, hampered by some poor translations, cut-off text and ambiguous buttons in both the watch UI and the smartphone app.
That goes for the physical buttons on the watch too. The top power button is used to wake the watch up and select fitness modes, but it also becomes a directional button when you're scrolling through menus. What's that, you've started a workout? Cool, now the top button is for pausing and the middle button is for scrolling through the menu. Yeah, it's confusing. You can also use a finger to swipe left and right, which we've often defaulted to out of frustration. Even now after a couple of weeks, we still keep getting it wrong.
Not helping matters is the poor touch display, which seems to fail at registering taps and swipes more often than it succeeds. It's particularly troublesome when you finish a workout and see how small and perilously close to each other the 'Save' and 'Discard' buttons are, as you dare a finger in their direction. Our advice is to not be a chancer and use the buttons for these sorts of inputs instead – if you can remember which does which, that is.
As we said earlier, you're going to get smartphone notifications popping up here too, but this is just mirroring what comes through on your phone and you can't reply to messages or take calls from the wrist. There's also no app store, but Amazfit has a selection of widgets including a stopwatch, compass, alarm, weather forecast and music you can enable or disable as you please.
Ah yes, music; the Stratos comes with 4GB of storage data that can be used for loading on your music files, as you can with the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music.
PC users can do this by simply plugging in the watch docked in its charging cradle, while Mac owners will need to go via Android File Transfer. Once you've dropped your music in, you can pair Bluetooth headphones to the Stratos for smartphone-free music listening.
A long press of the bottom button will bring up the music player although – again, why make this so complicated? – this doesn't work when in the middle of a workout, so you're stuck listening to all the music loaded on the watch with no ability to control it.
Finally, we should touch on battery life. Huami says you'll get around 20 hours in GPS and five days in regular smartwatch mode. That's more or less what we've seen in testing, and that's not bad at all. Of course some of it will come down to how you're using the watch, but there are ways to squeeze out more power, like turning off the continuous heart rate tracking.
How we test