The Amazfit Bip is not a Smartwatch. The Amazfit Bip is a fitness tracker with some Smartwatchy traits and a whole host of possibilities. The Amazfit Bip is basic in many ways and lacks the features on many of its peers. The Amazfit Bip is cheap, fun and I love it. Intrigued? Read on!
Your first question might be ‘Who is / what are / Amazfit?’ – Amazfit is a brand of Huami who in turn are part of a company you almost certainly have heard of, Xiaomi – the Chinese Smartphone behemoth. As with many Xiaomi group products, the Bip majors on price vs performance and is only officially available in Xiaomi’s Chinese home market. The device is known as both the Bip and the Bip Lite and is available in both Chinese and (often slightly more expensive) English versions. If you’re buying, you can pick up either – if you end up with a Chinese version, it will convert to English the first time you connect it to the English Mi Fit app, which is downloadable from the Play Store. The Bip typically costs under £50 from the usual Chinese retailers (GeekBuying – where I bought mine, Gearbest etc.) and is available in 4 colours – black / black, grey / grey, orange / blue and green / green. I have the black, but I am very tempted to pick up a grey (near white) one too.
From a design perspective, the Bip feels like a cross between an Apple Watch and a Pebble. Certainly most people seem to mistake it for an Apple product, despite the subtle Amazfit branding on the front and the obviously inferior screen. The screen is where the Bip feels particularly similar to a Pebble – it’s a 1.28" 176x176px transflective LCD that has excellent visibility even when not backlit and performs particularly well in sunlight. A lift of the wrist activates the backlight and although the screen is basic, it serves its purpose well, has basic touch functionality and no doubt contributes to the device’s excellent battery life. Stamina really is the biggest selling point of the Bip – despite the fact that it’s very compact, claimed life from the 190mAh battery is 4 months of disconnected use, 45 days of normal use connected to a Smartphone and an incredible 22 hours of continuous GPS use. These claims sound outrageous and not remotely achievable but you know what? I don’t think they are far out, which is an incredible achievement. I use a Gear S3 Classic or a TicWatch E normally and much as I love those watches (and functionally they are mostly superior), having a watch I don’t need to charge every day or every other day really makes a huge difference, particularly as it’s small enough to use for sleep tracking without being uncomfortable.
The IP68 rated Bip is made from 'polycarbonate with zirconia ceramics' (I literally have no idea what that means) with a silicone strap and feels both very well built and comfortable to wear. I’m particularly impressed that the screen is coated with 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass. I’ve had many a problem with Pebbles scratching easily in the past and thus far, the Bip has escaped this fate. 20mm straps will fit the Bip and the included strap has quick release pins – I’ve picked up a metal mesh strap from Amazon for the princely sum of £2.99, which improves the style of the watch for non-sport use immensely. The watch clips into the included USB charging dock in a very satisfying way (although if you’ve changed the strap for one that doesn’t split in the middle it’s a bit awkward) and the watch charges very quickly. I like that the Mi Fit app shows a notification when charging is complete too.
Available for download from the Play Store, the Mi Fit app is the link between your phone and the watch. The app shows an activity log, last heart rate measurement courtesy of the PPG sensor (note: heart rate is measured periodically or continuously during activity, but not continuously otherwise – more on that later), sleep stats, weight goals (useful if you want to pair a Xiaomi smart scale) and a goals section plotting your progress against defined targets. A separate tab allows you to start outdoor running, treadmill, outdoor cycling or walking activities as well as viewing further detail on previous activities. The profile tab is where your goals, friends, personal details and a host of watch specific settings can be configured. A rather strange ‘behaviour tagging’ menu lets you select from a whole host of activities to tag your exercise, but it feels a bit lacking and would be better more tightly integrated into the activities section.
The watch section allows you to choose from a selection of watch faces, configure Android Smart Lock to use the watch to bypass the lockscreen, enable incoming call notifications, set alarms, toggle app notifications, enable idle alerts, find your watch, set which arm you are wearing the watch on, toggle the lift to wake functionality, enable more detailed sleep tracking by utilising heart rate (at the expense of battery life), set up your location for weather details and choose which items are displayed on watchfaces.
The Mi Fit app does a great job of maintaining a stable connection to the Bip. I’ve used many, many fitness bands and smartwatches where the connection just isn’t reliable enough – I half expected the same to be true of Mi Fit, but the company has clearly gained a lot of useful experience from the millions of Mi Fit bands shipped – connectivity was rock solid.
On the watch itself, most of the time you’ll be in ‘locked’ mode, where information will be displayed on screen (this is dependent on your watchface, I tend to have time, date, battery level and step count) and touches on the screen are ignored. Exiting the lock mode is as simple as pressing the button on the right of the device, after which a simple animation will ‘sweep’ across the screen indicating the device is unlocked.
Sweeping from top to bottom on the screen will open the quick ‘DND’ (Do Not Disturb) menu, where a tap on the screen will toggle between 3 modes – Off, On and ‘Smart’, which is where the watch will detect when you’ve fallen asleep and automatically enter DND. Neat and it works. Sweeping from bottom to top will scroll through any application notifications in turn and show a ‘Clear’ option at the bottom of the list (as of the latest update, individual items can be dismissed too - a big improvement and it's good to see the firmware is still being improved). Notifications are basic. You will see an icon and some information derived from the on-device notification (for Gmail for example, I see an envelope icon, a subject and a snippet of text) but notifications aren’t actionable. Still useful I would argue, but of course this is far from the featureset of a ‘full’ Smartwatch.
Sweeping Left or Right on the main screen will switch between the Bip’s main menus. The ‘Status’ menu displays steps, heart rate, distance, calorie burn and activity session length. The ‘Activity’ menu lets you start any of the aforementioned 4 activities as well as viewing history and an activity settings option lets you configure auto-pause (except for the treadmill workout), heart rate alert, pace alert and distance alert. After an activity is started, you can either wait for a GPS / GLONASS fix from the Sony module (which uses A-GPS to speed time to first fix) or start tracking immediately. When in an activity, the screen changes to display time, speed, distance and heart rate, with other stats a further sweep away. A favourite activity can also be started with a long press on the button, which is also the shortcut to pause or end an activity. The interface is intuitive and the display informative.
The Weather menu shows the weather for the location configured in the Mi Fit app for today and the next few days, the Alarm menu allows you to toggle the alarms configured in the app and the Timer menu includes both Stopwatch with split functionality and countdown modes. The Compass menu is exactly as the name suggests and the Settings menu allows you to configure some main watch options such as the watch face, button long press action and screen brightness. The device isn’t super powerful so everything isn’t silky-smooth, but it’s responsive enough.
The Bip is cool, but it’s a lot about managing expectations. If you’re expecting a top end Smartwatch for under $50 you’re going to be disappointed, but if you’re looking for something a bit different that’s surprisingly well supported by third parties, then you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised. So what does the third party app support look like?
I mentioned previously that Xiaomi / Huami have a lot of experience in this area thanks to their Mi Fit bands. The popularity and extreme low cost of the bands has also spawned a thriving developer community to enhance and expand functionality that in turn has also looked to support the Bip. I would normally warn against relying on third party developers for key functionality (and indeed this is a risk you’ll have to consider yourself), but the fact that there are multiple developers with multiple app options supporting the device not only helps to mitigate this risk, it also seems to have a spawned a healthy competition amongst the offerings. I’m currently using ‘Notify and Fitness for Amazfit’ which set me back a couple of quid from the Play Store (money well spent!) and the increased value it’s giving me from the Bip is substantial.
The key features of Notify and Fitness for me (and believe me, there are a lot!) are continuous heart rate tracking, track export to 3rd party applications (which enabled me to record my snowboarding directly on the watch as 'cycling' then upload to Endomondo and flip the activity type), a wider selection of watchfaces (although the actual process of switching is somewhat rudimentary as it effectively flashes the device!), improved notifications and button customisations.
So would I recommend the Amazfit Bip? Absolutely. It’s probably the best $50 bit of a tech I’ve bought in a long time and much more impressive than I expected. More fully featured alternatives do offer a lot of additional functionality (at a higher price), but also come with their own downsides. Now if only Amazfit would officially sell the device in the UK...
Edited by PaulOBrien