10 June, 2022

"Xiaomi Watch S1" is a fitness tracker, not a smart watch

This is a post for those who are still wondering to buy the "Xiaomi Watch S1" or not.

I've been using multiple "Xiaomi" products for the past 7 years. I had three phones, all the "Xiaomi Smart Bands" (or "Mi Bands" in short) and multiple smart home devices, including smart sensor set, "Xiaomi Robot Vacuum Mop Pro" and other devices. I've always been a fan of "Xiaomi" products, because of the smaller price and great features, but not exactly this time.

So it's been two months since I bought "Xiaomi 12 Pro" phone and got "Xiaomi Watch S1" as an early pre-order gift. I can confirm that if I had bought it for my own money, I would have probably returned it by now. Yes, the battery of the watch is great, it usually lasts about a week, yes, the fitness tracking is quite good - GPS is accurate, I could say the same about the heart rate data and sleep information, but the main problem is that it feels like I'm using "Mi Band", just in a bigger form. It would be difficult to say that it is a smart watch - it's more of just a fitness tracker than a smart watch, and for the price "Xiaomi" is asking for the device, and what other brands are offering in terms of functionality at almost the same price... This is a bit unbelievable.

So, what is wrong? Let's go step by step.

"Alexa" usually stops working

Firstly, I was frustrated that "Alexa" was not supported in my country. I thought that I will use "Alexa" to control smart devices at my home, because there is no dedicated app in the watch for that (not even for "Xiaomi" own smart devices like robot vacuum cleaners, that can be added to "Xiaomi Home" - no support for them whatsoever). The problem was that once I set up the "Watch S1" and tried opening "Alexa", it showed that my region (Lithuania to be exact) is not supported.

This was a huge issue, but after a few days I found a workaround: since I live in Europe, I seached and found a list in what European countries "Alexa" is officially supported, so I changed the region in "Mi Fitness" app (Profile -> Settings -> Region) to Ireland and that unlocked the "Alexa" - the assistant started working, and I did not lose any data in my account.

Unfortunately, Alexa is very buggy on "Watch S1" - for me, after a few questions, it usually just stucks on "Listening" screen and the only way to make the assistant work again is to restart the whole device. So, at least for me, it's mainly unusable.

Also, you can't do very much with it - for example, if you ask to play something, it responds that playback is not supported, even though the watch has a speaker.

Lack of 3rd party apps - the biggest issue

There is an "Apps" section in "Mi Fitness", but for international users it only contains 4 apps. Two of them are quite good:

  • Calculator (it's called scientific, but it's actually just a basic one) - it's nice to count something small without taking the phone.
  • "NumPuzzle" - a small game, you won't be using this every day, but it's nice to have at least one game on the watch. 

But other two available apps are absolutely meaningless:

  • "My Tuner" - it let's you change the station in the "My Tuner" radio listening app - so you need to have the app on your phone, and it must be turned on, and them the app on the watch act just as a remote control for switching what's playing on your phone - you can't listen to radio through the watch.
  • "Noted" - a voice recorder. Sounds nice, yes? Actually, no, not at all. What I found - it starts recording sound, but not from the watch! Just from your phone, even though the watch, as we know, has a microphone. So, unfortunately, no voice memos from the watch itself. Basically, this app is also absolutely meaningless. It's much easier just to press record on your phone screen.

This is it. This is everything that "Xiaomi" is offering in two months after the release. You can connect the "Watch S1" to Wi-Fi network or to connect earbuds to the watch, but basically there is nothing that could use these functions! And even the simple apps are missing - there is no calendar, no events reminder, no maps or at least text navigation for walking/running, no voice memos recording on the watch, no relationship with the phone itself (can't, for example, change phone to silent mode or see if i the phone battery has charged), no way to control smart devices (even the once made by "Xiaomi"), no habbit trackers and so on.

I'm a developer myself, so if there was a way to publish and install custom apps, I would probably at least try to create something more useful. If someone knows anything, please write to me, but as I see it's probably just "Xiaomi" approved apps that are available and that they paid for, and there is no real app store for the watch, so if nothing changes the device will be stuck just with simple functionalities forever.

Calling is good. But you can't call

The problem in short - there is no contacts app available!

If you receive a call while using the watch, it will show you, you can answer and later you can call back from the call history. But if you haven't talked to that person from the watch (received or missed a call), you won't be able to call that person! I can't believe that synchronization of the contacts - absolutely basic thing - is missing in the device that has an ability to make "Bluetooth" calls.

Paying with NFC is inconvenient

Paying with NFC works here in Lithuania - "Swedbank" issued "Mastercard" bank cards are supported and can be attached to "Xiaomi Pay". So, at least I'm able to pay with the watch.

But there is no shortcut to launch a wallet app on the watch - you can't program, for example, that a long press of the button launches paying function, or at least add a widget that would act as a shortcut. So basically every time you want to pay for something, you need to scroll through all the apps, find the wallet app, and usually enter a 6 number security code that you set while adding the card to "Xiaomi Pay" (because the so called "session" expires quite quickly), so I found out that paying by a contactless bank card is usually way faster than through the watch, that is also very unfortunate.

No ability to reply to messages

Some brands let you write characters by hand, speak to reply, choose an emoji to send or they even implement small keyboards (numeric, like on older so called "dumb-phones"), but there is no option at all here, and that is pretty bad for a smart watch. You can only read the notification, and as you go back it will immediately dissapear, without the ability to at least read it one more time.

Even the devices that were released a few years ago usually have some kind of interaction with the notifications. But how they are handled on the "Watch S1" makes no sense at all - smart watch should be like a smaller version of the phone, that you could do such things without having to take the phone out of the pocker. Unfortunately, this feels just like using a "Mi Band". I perfectly understand why there is no way to reply on "Xiaomi" smart bands - the screen is way to small, but on the watch there is enogh space for these interactions.

Automatic "Do not disturb" mode is incomplete

Firstly, automatic "Do not disturb" setting usally stops working, and you need to reenable it on "Mi Fitness" app every few days.

Secondly, when you set a start and end times for DnD, on the start time that you set it will start automatically showing a reminder to go to sleep - it's a nice feature, but it might wake you up if you are already trying to sleep because it vibrates, so you must make it earlier in the evening than your exact time when you usually go to bed.

But with the end time of the DnD mode, you will receive an alarm! Yes, it will also show you the weather for the day, and basic information of how you slept, but it is impossible to turn this alarm off.

So you have two options - to have automatic "Do not disturb" mode, but also with the automatic alarm (that will wake you up no matter if it is a work day or a weekend - it is impossible to set different times for different days of the week), or to have manually enable DnD mode every evening and disable it every morning.

Some features of the "Mi Band" dissapeared

When I migrated from" Xiaomi Smart Band 6" to the "Watch S1", some features were missing. In particular, PAI is a personalized indicator calculated from heart rate data, daily activity, and personal physiological data. Although it has not become a very popular goal-setting tool among users, the abandonment of PAI seems like a step backwards - I would like the features to increase rather than decrease, and for me personally it was quite interesting to check the PAI information. Oddly enough, the new "Mi Fitness", which is mainly used with "Xiaomi" watches ("Mi Band" users can still use the old app, called "Zepp Life" now), has a PAI section, but it will only work with the "Xiaomi Smart Band 6" - no data will be displayed with the "Watch S1".

In the same way I missed the reminder app, that was featured in "Mi Band 6". For those who do something on a regular basis, say have to check or take medication at certain times of the day, "Xiaomi Smart Band 6" let users to set reminders for individual days of the week, and the reminder appeared on the screen at that time. Unlike calendar events, these reminders repeated every 10 minutes until the user confirmed turning them off. It was very useful if it was not possible to do the action at that time - a reminder after 10 or 20 minutes made me to go and do things. The "Watch S1" does not have this functionality, so you will need to rely on one-time, non-repeating reminders when using the phone's calendar app and plugging in its notifications.

In conclusion

So for me, the device feels like a bigger "Mi Band" with an added GPS, but not a smart watch - many features that other brands are offering for the same price are missing. If "Xiaomi" at least made an ability to publish customs apps, basically just create an app store for the apps for the watch, it would make the device much better.

If this issue is not fixed together with the problems with Alexa, difficulties with NFC payments, missing replying to messages and etc., it will forever stay more like a fitness tracker, but not a smart watch. And it really sucks, because the hardware of the device is amazing - the battery lasts long, GPS, the heart rate sensor, sleep data is accurate. It would be a perfect device, if they just released some software-based upgrades.

Everything could be fixed with software updates, but in two months the international version of the Watch S1 received only one update, that added two new languages support... and that's it. I don't believe Xiaomi has any more plans to make upgrades for the watch, and it is very sad, so if you are thinking of buying "Watch S1", just ask yourself if you want a fitness device or a smart watch.

The post will be updated if there will be any updates from "Xiaomi".

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Oh man, saddly i readed this review after buying watches. I also missed all these things! And started searching more reviews only for DND pissing vobrating alarm function. By price watches is on the same line with huawei or samsung, but functions.. cmon. Mi band 3 has more and better functions. My old old samsung gear fit2 pro has message reply, dnd turned quiet and turned off quiet, and can add more apps. I really dissapointed with Xiaomi watch s1
Bernardas Šliamka
Hi Vi, sadly, but yes, the watch is very disappointing. I wrote this article in June, but it is September now, and during this time there were like two updates, that were bugfixes - unfortunately, it doesn't seem that any bugs were fixed at all - still can't use Alexa, it still stucks on listening, and DND function has not been improved at all. It seems that Xiaomi abandoned this watch, and instead released Watch S1 Pro in China, where a lot of these things were improved (it has, at least from what I saw from the YouTube reviews, a completely redesigned software), but I don't think that people will buy any more watches from Xiaomi if they bought Watch S1 or Watch S1 Active, because they will understand, that lack of software updates might make their new device suck forever. People should only trust manufacturers that provide software improvements and new features for at least two years, not that abandon the community in a few months.