Withings Activité review

We put this stylish activity tracker through its paces

Gaze upon the Withings Activité and what do you see? Most people don't see a fitness tracker, and it's certainly not “wearable tech" – they simply see a slick-looking Swiss watch.

That's the premise behind the Withings Activité. While the best fitness trackers out there are packed to the hilt with sensors, screens and flashing LEDs, Withings has taken its flagship band back to basics. It's hidden the tech and created something different; something you'd actually want to wear.

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This all comes at a cost of course: At £320/$450 it's one of the most expensive fitness trackers on the market, more so than even the Apple Watch.

That brings up an interesting question: Is the Withings Activité good looking enough to do battle with traditional watches? And what premium should be placed on smart features?

Read our review to find out.

Withings Activité: Design

The Withings Activité is a Swiss-made analogue watch, with the standard sensor tech hidden away underneath the unscratchable Sapphire glass dome. There are no OLED screens or LED goal progress indicators here, just a traditional watch face and a secondary dial, which shows how far you're away from achieving your daily activity.

The size of the face is in keeping with most men's watches and has a reassuring weight to it. It feels utterly premium to pick up yet becomes totally unnoticeable when placed on the wrist.

Turn the Activité on its side and there is a surprising thickness. The bezel itself is comparable to any other watch, but on the underside it sticks out, with a surprisingly prominent nubbin that houses the battery and all the sensors. That bit gets hidden by your wrist so that it's not noticeable when wearing; a real stroke of genius design.

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The face itself is available in two colours: white and black. The jury is out on which is best and both look classy, attractive and professional.

The only criticism of the watch face is the Withings logo. Logos are commonplace on Swiss watches, and to see the Rolex crest is the cherry on top of your $10,000 dollar cake.

However, while the delicate hands and minimalist hour marks ooze solemn class, it's undone by the medical Withings Activité logo. The logo is designed to make us trust its blood pressure readings and buy its connected scales, but it doesn't say high-end watch design.

The brown calves leather strap is again well designed, and its machine stitching wouldn't look out of place in any watch store. There's also a grey silicone strap in the box, in addition to the brown tan, which is designed for sports and with the easy-swap clasp there's no reason you shouldn't regularly change them over.

Being used to 22mm straps, we did feel that the 18mm strap was a little dainty for our male wrists, but it still looked great. Similarly, it looked just at home on the wrists of the female contingent of team Wareable, showing that perhaps Withings has finally made a unisex wearable.

Overall, we're huge fans of the Activité's design, and so were people we spoke to when using it. Often activity trackers are met initially with intrigue followed closely by derision, while the Withings was invariably complimented on, revealing its hidden fitness party tricks only served to impress.

Withings Activité: Features

When it comes to features, the Withings Activité has more in common with the Fitbits and Jawbones of this world than Pebble or the Moto 360. There are no notifications here and no screen either, and the watch itself packed with sensors that relay information to your smartphone.

The Withings Activité comes with a small tool, which you use to access a tiny button on the back. A long press puts it in pairing mode, which you sync using the Withings Health Mate app.

As soon as you pair, you're asked to set the time. Unlike normal analogue watches there's no movement inside the Activité keeping time; it's a digital watch operating analogue hands, and in that vein is quite unique. To set up, the app asks you to ensure the hands are pointing at 12, which means the software and watch hands are in sync. When you confirm the watch will sync with your phone's time. There's now no loss of time and no need to change your watch when you go abroad.

The Activité will now go about its business of tracking your life.

The step tracking is done through an accelerometer in the watch, there's no GPS on board. Using that, it will gauge the distance covered, elevation climbed and the calories burned by your activity.

Each burst of activity is also recorded, and it will gauge whether you were walking, running or swimming; the Activité is waterproof to 50m, so you can take it for a dip in the pool – although you should change out the strap for the silicone as the calves leather won't enjoy the water.

You set your daily step target on your phone, and the second dial on the Activité's watch face shows you how close you are to matching it. The dial itself is marked as a percentage, which flicks back to zero at midnight.

It's great having your daily activity goal staring at you at a glance, without having to summon with a button press or decipher it from a series of LEDs, and kudos to Withings for designing the Activité in a way that puts your fitness front and centre, without ruining the aesthetics of a Swiss-designed timepiece.

Sleep tracking is also a key part of the Activité, and the good news here is that unlike the Withings Pulse, it's done automatically. The watch will estimate when you're asleep and track your light and deep slumber and any periods when you wake up.

Another excellent addition is the silent alarm, which is set through the smartphone app, when you choose the time of your alarm. Unfortunately, it's not a smart alarm that wakes you up in the lighter parts of your cycle, a feature reserved for the Withings Aura sleep monitor.

The connection to the smartphone app was reliable, but can be irritatingly slow at times. That's not a big deal, because there's minimal need to connect other than to set the alarm.

A double tap on the watch face will show the time your alarm is set to go off. It's a nifty idea, but we found the watch to be unresponsive to our touch – as it turns out you have to be still for five seconds before the watch will register your touch, something that's not explained in the app. Nor is the fact that the silent alarm can't be cancelled until it's run its course, which at least reduces your chance of falling back to sleep.

As a feature set goes, the Activité's in line with the majority of its rivals, and the good news is that most activity tracking metrics are catered for. Yes, the latest models use extra sensors such as continuous heart rate monitoring, which clearly isn't present here, but very few of those have made significant advances in the insights offered to your day.

As a tracker, it's better suited for those two want to keep tabs on their life, not gym bunnies or runners – who are generally served better by dedicated sports wearables anyway.

Withings Activité: Activity tracking

Not only is the Withings Activité extremely well-featured, it's also impressively accurate.

Step tracking results were in line with other wearables on test and didn't produce any anomalies in our day-to-day testing. We tested the Activité at the same time as the Basis Peak, and both reported roughly the same results every day.

A telltale sign of a poor tracker is unusual peaks in your daily activity, but in the weeks of testing, the tracking was solid and consistent.

The only issue was that the Activité always displayed elevation climbed as zero in the Health Mate app. As the device can't track height without a barometer, we're not sure why that metric is included within our stats.

Just as impressive was the sleep monitoring. Not only does automatic sleep detection get a big thumbs up, it's also very sensitive. We actually tested in tandem with the Withings Aura sleep monitor, and when comparing the results of the same night's sleep found that the Activité registered more accurate sleep and wake periods than its dedicated sleep tracking partner.

However, we did have some problems with sleep being registered. One night tracking didn't kick in until 3am, and the next night an hour was randomly unassigned in the middle of our sleep. It wasn't classed as awake or asleep, just a blank white hole.

This is becomes especially irritating when the weekly map bawls you out for having a poor week of sleep, when you've been getting your full eight hours.

We're sure that this can be overcome via an update, because overall, the accuracy of the Activité was excellent, and gives any of the mainstream trackers a serious run for their money. Add to that the full set of features, and you get a lot of fitness features for your money – and given the price tag, that's a relief.

Withings Activité: App

The Activité syncs with the Withings Health Mate app, which is a powerful and well-designed fitness ecosystem.

The main page is a chronological breakdown of your daily activity, and users of the Withings Activité will see sleep and step widgets displayed. Tapping on these will open a detailed breakdown.

The step chart does the job, and you can see the total steps and distance covered at a glance. There's also a breakdown of bursts of activity underneath, which most days are too numerous to be useful, and generally overwhelm. The walk to the bus, the bus to the tube, the tube change, the office, the morning coffee are all listed here – and it becomes information overload. What's more, these can't be altered, so if your walk to the bus was actually a run, tough luck.

The sleep graphs are really well designed, and a press on the screen shows a line with the exact time of the incident on screen. Underneath is a breakdown of stats such as your total deep sleep, light sleep etc. REM and deep sleep aren't separated as they are on other trackers, but it's still a decent overview of your daily life.

At the end of the week, summaries of your activity are added to the timeline and it will give you a heads up if you're not active enough and award you random badges for milestones.

The app isn't as complete and rich as Jawbone's, but it becomes more powerful as you add more Withings devices. Unlike Jawbone, by using the Withings Smart Body Analyzer the app builds up an impressive view of your overall health, making it ones of the most powerful health ecosystems on the market. It's also compatible with Apple Health too.

There's one major downside however: At present the Withings Activité is only compatible with iOS, and not Android, despite there being a fully featured version of the app on Google Play. A big let down.

Withings Activité: Battery life

The Withings Activité comes with an integrated CR2025 battery, which the company claims to last around eight months. A special tool is provided in order to open the back of the watch, and it's just a case of swapping the cell out.

We're big fans of this method of powering wearable tech, and it makes the experience much more palatable and user-friendly, not having to put your tracker on charge every other day.


Withings Activité
By Withings
We’d have awarded the Activité a 9, but the lack of Android support and sleep tracking issues need to be overcome. However, the Withings Activité is a beautifully designed activity tracker that succeeds in being one of the first truly wearable devices of its kind. While it costs significantly more than its tracking rivals – and an eye-watering $150 more than the Apple Watch – the Activité’s design means it can proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with traditional watches, while still boasting an impressive array of fitness features.

Hit
  • Looks gorgeous
  • All activity staples recorded
  • A truly wearable wearable
  • Eight months of battery
Miss
  • How much?
  • No Android – yet
  • Elevation tracking doesn’t work
  • Sleep tracking patchy


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