July 31, 2015
Withings is a company that does connected things that I love. I start with this statement since I have personally purchased almost all of their products. From a WiFi connected scale, to a blood pressure monitoring device, to more recently, a lamp/sleeping pad combination to track my sleep, and even a connected WiFi home camera for security. I use their devices daily, and I will admit that I am a fan. I need to lay this out there, since as the company released their first connected watch last year, the Withings Activité and more recently, the cheaper Withings Activité Pop, it was not clear that this watch lover would continue getting their devices or take a pass on that one.
When Withings contacted us right around BaselWorld 2015 to offer a unit to do a review, I jumped on the occasion and waited for the white dial version to be available. I received it mid-May, and this review is a long-term opinion on using it periodically, mostly as a day-to-day watch, rather than a watch I use for any kind of dedicated sports activity.
First off, let’s discuss where the Withings Activité fits into the broad segment of “smart watch” category which exploded in the past year and a half with the introduction of the Apple Watch. The Withings Activité, as the name indicates, is a connected watch to help you track your daily activities. Unlike the Apple Watch or the Samsung Android Wear, it is primarily a regular watch, actually classically designed, that also happens to connect to your phone (via Bluetooth) and keeps track of various activities. Using an app on your phone (iOS or Android) you can get a summary of these activities daily, weekly, and for longer periods. The overarching goal is helping you stay fit and healthy. In principle, it is very similar to the Frederique Constant smartwatch we debuted here – although, of course, the Withings came to market considerably sooner.
The first step after getting the Withings Activité is to pair it with your phone. After downloading the free Withings Healthmate app (the same app used for all of their other devices) you need to add the Withings Activité to your list of devices and pair it with your phone. This app has various interesting features that I use often, but before getting into its features, let’s discuss the aspects unique to the Withings Activité.
First off, after pairing the watch come the calibration steps. This is where you not only have the watch get the correct time, but the hands (hour and minutes, as well as activity tracking) can be calibrated to correctly point to 12 o’clock or 0%. The process is sleek and well done. Using the app and your finger on the screen, you can easily make sure that the three hands are correctly lined up and adjusting as needed (see image below).
Once calibrated and paired with your phone, you can now just use your watch as you would any other watch. The main difference is that you have an analog subdial that keeps track of the number of steps you have taken during the day. The scale is from 0% to 100% so you get a percentage of your activity for the day. The whole notion from all these activity trackers is that anyone should at least walk or run 10,000 steps per day to remain in the “healthy column” for the day. Of course, as I tend to be quite active in the day (walking as much as I can) I tended to almost always do more than my 10K allocated steps, so at the end of the day, I’d be in the 7% to 10% marker and would need to remind myself this is 107% or 110% goal achieved. And that directly points to one of the drawbacks of the minimal design: no way to indicate more information that does not easily fit the 0% to 100% scale.
While the Withings Activité never failed to capture my daily steps, I never really used it for anything else, other than as a regular watch. The main problem for me is that when running, I typically always need more information (like pace, heart rate, distance, etc) and my Garmin 920xt is my current watch of choice for that activity. For sleeping, I have the Withings Aura which does a fabulous job and disappears, as all great technologies do. The Withings Activité can also track your swimming activities, but with the one I received, with the slim leather band, it would be a “crime” to submerge it in the cold water of the Bay Area or the chlorine waters of any pool. Besides, swimming is one of my weakest triathlon activities and when I do it, I tend to want to have a lot of information, so as to hopefully use that to improve. So again, my Garmin 920xt would be my first choice. However, for those less passionate or competitive than me, it might be great to know that the Withings Activité would also keep track of any swimming you might do in your day.
Now, while for activity tracking, all of my Gramin watches (including the latest 920xt) do a better job, they are also not the kind of watches I would wear to work or for day-to-day. And that is where the Withings Activité shines. It is one of those rare watches, like the Rolex Submariner, that works in pretty much every situation. I definitely could see myself wearing the Withings Activité for not only during business hours, but also for a formal event, as well as light hiking or other light sporting events.
The slim appearance of the watch is due to its small lugs and strap, as well as the absence of crown and its simple Bauhaus design. The easiest way to describe it is as a formal modern watch with sports aspirations. When not in use, the watch will go into sleep mode (with hands at 12 o’clock and 0%) – this, unsurprisingly, seems to only happen when you are not wearing it. This is a plus in my books since it’s how Withings is able to promise more than one year of battery life and, unlike other “smart watch,” it always at least shows you the time when you are using it. Anyone who has tried the Apple Watch or Android Wear knows what I am referring to here, since the screens of these go black as you wear them, and you need to flick your wrist to even get the time.
While I never had any issues while using the Withings Activité, after not using it for a week, it quickly was off by a few minutes and took a while to sync the time when I wore it again. I feel this is something Withings should address. I am sure if I wore it every other day or so the time would be synced. However, watch enthusiasts such as myself, with any kind of rotation, it is hard to accept an electronic watch to not be accurate after just a week of not wearing it. Heck, if anything, being accurate is their main benefit over their mechanical counterparts…
While, as I mentioned, I simply adore everything Withings has produced, I cannot say the same for this watch. I do not dislike it and believe it does what it does well, and it is exploring an area that all other smart connected watches are not: adding some “smart” to a classically designed watch. The problem is that for a watch enthusiast such as myself, that’s not enough. This is not to say there isn’t a segment of watch buyers for this one – because there definitely is. I know at least one friend who simply loved this watch and planned to purchase one. Not being a watch person and not necessarily active person, a programmer by training, this would be a great watch for him as he could at a glance see his daily steps; plus, more importantly, this is a handsome watch he could wear to work and for any other activities – and at US$450 for the Withings Activité, he’d do all this without breaking the bank. withings.com
>Size: 36.25mm wide x 11.5mm high (42.35mm lug to lug)
>Weight: 38 g on strap
>Would reviewer personally wear it: hard to say; I don’t dislike it, but I have too many alternatives to this.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Techy friend not into watches but wanting an all-purpose watch with technology but that is classically designed and is affordable.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Its small size. I feel a bit larger and with more functionality may make it into a watch I’d consider wearing more often.
>Best characteristic of watch: Bauhaus design. Just really nice and elegant.