realme Watch S: Low cost fitness tracking with superb battery life
Quick verdict: The realme Watch S isn’t the best fitness tracking watch, but it stands out for its affordable price point and exceptional battery life.
- Amazing battery life
- Low price
- Simple operation
- Heart rate tracking is poor
- Phone registration is intrusive
- Lacks the apps to make it a true smartwatch
The realme Watch S looks for all the world like a fully fledged smartwatch, but that's not really the market that the low-cost Chinese maker is targeting. Instead, it's going after the fitness watch market with a device that performs the smartwatch basics with a varying degree of accuracy at a very low price point.
What makes the realme Watch S stand out is its battery life for that price point. If you're someone who likes the idea of wearing a smartwatch but struggle to keep it charged it could be the ideal match, because you'll have to forget to charge it for a very long time before it becomes a truly pressing issue.
- 1.3-inch circular display
- Removable bands (with a little difficulty)
- IP-rated water resistance, but not swim or shower proof
The design of the realme Watch S is essentially basic; a 1.3-inch circular display within an aluminium alloy case, available in Australia in black only. There's no smaller option for those who prefer that kind of look, and you've got to live with that black circular display with a seconds counter around the outside, no matter which watch face you opt for.
There you at least get a wide choice of watch faces to pick from, whether your style suits digital or analogue faces, although not all of them mesh quite perfectly with that outer ring in an aesthetic sense.
At the side, the realme Watch S features two buttons for quick launching of the apps menu or app of your choice. The default there is for fitness tracking, and this is very much a fitness-focused watch so I suspect few users will change that up anyway.
By default, the realme Watch S comes with a simple black strap, although realme does sell a variety of "Vegan Leather" straps in brown, blue or green locally for $24.99 each. I was sent the brown leather strap from realme to test, and I liked the look a little more than the basic black, so I set about swapping them out.
The realme Watch S uses a small sliding latch to keep each side of a band on, and this works well to secure the band. What it doesn't do so well is make it all that easy to effortlessly swap straps if you did want to change up your style between the gym and, say, that classy formal evening event you have later, because it's all a bit of a process to get it happening. In the end, I just went jogging with the vegan leather strap on, but maybe you're not as lazy as I am.
The realme Watch S is advertised as being IP68 rated for water resistance, which is genuinely a little surprising for a watch that costs this little. Surprising that is, until you dig into the details. Typically for an IP68-rated device you'd expect to be able to immerse it in water for a length of time, although it's not a concrete guarantee that you can keep it underwater.
While the realme Watch S is IP68 rated, realme advises that it's not suitable for swimming or wearing in the shower. While there's probably a wise point there about other substances such as pool chlorine or shampoo, it's also not much of a vote of confidence in the watch's immersion-proofing technology. I certainly sweated a whole bunch on the realme Watch S and rinsed it off under a tap, but only cautiously given that advice.
- Registration requires phone number
- Basic app and notification control
- Heart rate tracking is poor
- Lacks onboard GPS
Setting up the realme Watch S is an unusual process relative to most smartwatches and fitness trackers. Like other devices, you have to download an app to your phone.
However, where most smartwatches look to registration via email and password, realme instead wants your phone number. In fact, it insists on it, and that can't help but feel a tad intrusive if you're private about your communications and who you share that number with.
It also means that the fitness data that the realme link app saves is effectively siloed, because unlike full smartwatch platforms, there's no easy way to export your workout data to other more socially popular app platforms.
The realme Watch S doesn't do the full app thing of more expensive smartwatches like the Apple Watch, so the hook into a wider app array simply isn't there, although you can set notifications as simple single line affairs that pop up on the watch screen when they come in. However, there's no way to reply to those on the watch itself if that's important to you.
Fitness tracking is where the realme Watch S should shine, and for its price it's fair, but not without some issues.
The first issue is GPS, or the lack thereof. In order to maximise battery life, along with using a raise-to-wake screen instead of an always-on one, there's no onboard GPS at all. If you do want map tracking for your workouts, you'll need to take your phone with you, pair it and allow persistent location access as well.
Once you've leapt that hurdle, there's the question of tracking accuracy. Over my standard 5km run, the realme Watch S tended to slightly under-record the typical number of steps I'd expect to take relative to other devices. That's maybe not an issue if you were going to only use the realme Watch S, given the whole idea is checking those numbers over time.
What's more concerning is the heart rate sensor, which can wobble wildly during workouts. In more that one instance it decided my heart rate was spiking above 170bpm, which seemed fair enough given I was working out. However, stopping to slow down and catch my breath saw it drop instantly to 100bpm or less.
I know I'm getting older, but my heart's not actually ricocheting around my ribcage with that much speed, only to halt its progress that fast!
You do at least get a pretty wide variety of exercises to track, with the obvious basics like running and walking joined by more specific exercises such as cricket and badminton. Lacking cricketing skills – or if I'm honest, any interest in cricket at all – or a badminton partner I can't say how well it tracks the specific motions of those sports.
- 14-day battery life – or maybe more
The realme Watch S isn't a fancy watch at a fancy price, but its one standout feature is the onboard battery life, which realme rates as being good for up to 14 days.
They're not wrong, either, although the lack of onboard GPS, eSIM or an always-on display no doubt plays into how lightly the realme Watch S can sip from its 390mAh battery. While my usage varied during the review period, some days I'd only see its battery percentage dip by just a few points, making that 14-day battery life eminently achievable.
The one note of caution here is that recharging is via a pogo-pin based magnetic circular disc on a fixed USB cable. If that starts breaking down over time, you could be left with a watch that's rather hard to charge.
Should you buy the realme Watch S?
- Buy it if you want a low-cost fitness tracking watch with great battery life.
- Don't buy it if you want accurate heart rate tracking.
The realme Watch S makes some real compromises in the name of affordability and battery life, and it's an interesting device to judge on that basis. There's an obvious comparison point here between the realme Watch S and Huawei's Watch GT range, because both target that ideal of long battery life at the cost of smartwatch flexibility.
The difference for realme is that it prices accordingly, and that tradeoff for what is a low-cost fitness watch is one that I suspect many folks who want a watch but don't have a lot to spend will find worthwhile, even given its limitations. Just don't put too much stock in its heart rate tracking.
Pricing and availability
Images: Alex Kidman
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