Withings is no stranger to beautiful design. Its original Activité fitness tracker was one of the most wearable wearables of 2015, which is probably why the cheaper Activité Pop and newer mid-level Activité Steel both adopt a similar design.
All three models have a simple premise: to act as a watch and a step-counter to aid fitness. None of the full ins and outs of a detailed smartwatch here, rather more a focus on classic design.
We have been wearing the latest Activité Steel, which was announced in November 2015, on our wrists for a couple of months to see what we make of it. Does it do enough to make it more desirable than the cheaper Pop, yet still desirable enough to buy compared to the more expensive and glitzy original Activité?
Withings Activite Steel review: Design
The Withings Activité portfolio is differentiated by design only - functionality across the range is the same. The Activité Steel is like a combination of the Pop and the original Activité, pulling in design features from both while also adding a couple of its own points.
It has a polished stainless steel case, like the original Activité, but rather than a leather strap the Steel adopts a slightly thicker interchangeable silicone strap, just like the Pop. There are a total of nine models with various strap colours available. Black or white faces are available, just like the original Activité, but the black-faced model only comes with a black strap. For the coloured options, it's the white-faced model you'll need to opt for.
The Steel's 36.3mm diameter face is covered in double-domed responsive glass and the sensors along with a button cell battery are housed beneath. This makes the Activité Steel, like its predecessors, a little thicker than your average watch. It's not too noticeable when on the wrist, however, and with an 8-month battery life it's certainly something you learn to live with. The curved glass also makes the face a little reflective but, again, it's not a huge issue.
The Steel's face adopts the same principal as the Pop and original Activité but there are a few slight variations. Minute increments have been introduced to the main clock face, along with one per cent increments to the activity-tracking dial. These additional lines make the face of the Steel look a little messier than the original Activité and Pop, but they are useful for estimating a more accurate measure of steps without having to open the app.
A percentage symbol has also been added to the activity dial, both at zero and at 100. We aren't sure this was a necessary addition and we prefer the cleaner finish of the original Activité and Pop but it isn't something that would bother everyone.
Branding is once again subtle, like it is on the original Activité and the Pop, with the Withings Activité logo sitting just under the 12 o'clock line. The Swiss-Made marking of the original has of course been removed as the Steel isn't made in the Le Locle watch village.
There is a standard buckle fastening to keep the Steel firmly on the wrist, which has a debossed Withings logo on it.
When we reviewed the original Activité we said there are plenty of activity trackers for counting your steps and calories burned, but there are none quite as beautiful as the Withings. That remains true in most part for the Steel, even if we prefer the cleaner face of the original design. The Activité Steel looks cheaper than the original Activité, but then it is by £180 - so, you know, give and take.
Withings Activite Steel review: Features
When it comes to features, the Activité Steel does less than other activity trackers such as Fitbit, and nowhere near as much as a smartwatch - whether Android Wear, Apple or other lesser known platforms.
The Activité Steel fulfils the basics of monitoring how much you are moving in terms of steps, how many calories you've burned, the distance you have travelled and how much or little you're sleeping. Its main focus is on steps taken, hence the physical display on the watch itself, but it will also recognise running and swimming, in theory.
There is no heart-rate sensor or altimeter on board so the Activité Steel won't provide an accurate calories reading nor elevation recording. There is also no way of tagging an activity that isn't walking, running or swimming, although occasionally the app will mark something as "other".
Like its companions, the Activité Steel is all about making you think about how much you are moving using a device that doesn't look like a glorified rubber band and might actually be something you want to wear. It isn't a device you take to the gym to record an hour workout, or a device you take running with the hope of more data than you could possibly know what to do with, or even a device that will connect to your phone for notifications.
The Activité Steel is not a smartwatch. It won't do any vibrating when you receive a text message or an incoming call like the Fitbit Charge HR does, nor will it keep you up to date on email or Twitter notifications like the Microsoft Band 2 will. The only vibrating the Steel does is when the alarm you have set using the Health Mate app goes off – more on that later.
The watch itself shows step-count data as a percentage progress of your changeable step goal. As we mentioned previously, the dial is in 10 per cent increments with smaller one per cent increment lines used to work out and estimate steps to the nearest 100. To get an exact step count to the step, you'll need to open the Withings Health Mate app.
Withings Activite Steel review: Tracking accuracy
As we mentioned, step counting is the main feature of the Activité range of trackers, and the Steel does this job pretty well. We have always found Withings devices to be a little harsher when it comes to step count in than devices like the very accurate Fitbit Charge HR. The same goes for the Steel, but we'd rather it make us work harder for our goal than give us an easy ride.
The analogue dial can only cater for the step goal you have set a day, whether that be 5,000 or 20,000. Exceeding the goal set means the dial returns to zero and begins again. This is a little frustrating as it can be a little demotivating to think you're back at the beginning - but there isn't really a way around it in this design format.
It's worth noting that moving your arm can also count towards total steps - just like not moving or putting your arm in your pocket means steps don't register. It means you are rewarded for things that use just arm movement, like cleaning or rowing at the gym, for example, but all of this will just be recorded as "steps". So if you want to hit a certain step goal that could be a frustrating problem.
Distance is very accurate on the Activité Steel, which is great, plus you also get a ballpark figure for how many calories you've burned - but we wouldn't take this for gospel without a heart rate measurement. The Health Mate app will provide you with the number of calories burned by being active and the total caloric expenditure, which is good for those counting. If you link with a MyFitnessPal account then information is transferred directly across.
The automatic running detection feature didn't work as well as we would have liked, with the Activité Steel recording walking more often than running. This was a little frustrating but, as we said, we wouldn't advise using the Activité Steel as a primary running watch anyway.
In terms of sleep tracking, the Activité Steel will offer you a breakdown of time awake, time in deep sleep and time in light sleep. It will also record how often you woke up during the night and give you a completed percentage of your sleep goal. The breakdown is easy to understand and it offers a good indicator.
Withings Activite Steel review: Health Mate app
The Health Mate app is where the majority of the information collected by the Activité Steel appears. Without the app - which is compatible with iOS and Android, and you'll need one of those devices to initially set it up - the Steel is just a lovely watch that will show you the time and your step-count to the nearest 100 steps.
The app is great, easy to understand, depicting detailed graphs of your sleep and activity, plus you can change your sleep or step goals and set your own healthy reminders such as going for an after-dinner walk.
There are also virtual activity badges that you unlock as you work harder or exercise more. Just like there is with Fitbit and Jawbone, Withings offers a community base for those who want to challenge friends or family.
The Timeline aspect of the Health Mate app is where a summary of the information collected by the Activité Steel's sensors is displayed. It's also where information from other Withings products appears if you have invested in the Withings ecosystem, such as the Withings Sleep Aura or the Withings Smart Body Analyser scales.
Depending on the devices you have connected will depend on the amount of data you not only see in the Timeline but also at the top of the Health Mate app when you open it. If you only have the Activité Steel, you'll see activity and nutrition, as well as the option to set an alarm on your device. Swiping left or right takes you to each section of data and clicking on them will display more information. Nutrition is a recent addition after Withings partnered up with MyFitnessPal and it's a great one if you are calorie counting.
The Activité Steel connects to your smart device using Bluetooth LE, so it will sync with your device's time once you have used the app to align the hands on the watch. This means that if you change time zones the watch will update when your phone does. We experienced a few connection issues at times and it could be a little slow syncing - but closing the app down and re-launching it solved any issues.
As we briefly touched on above, the Health Mate app allows you to set an alarm, which results in a silent vibration on your wrist at the respective time. If you have forgotten what time you set the alarm, triple-tapping on the watch face will flick the hands round to show you the alarm time set before they return to the current time.
There is no way to snooze the alarm, though, so be sure to set it for a time that you actually need to get up as it will buzz for 30 seconds before turning off. It also isn't a smart alarm like some other trackers, so while the Activité Steel monitors your sleep, it doesn't use the information it collects in conjunction with the alarm to wake you up at a time you are in light sleep like the Jawbone UP3 does.
The Activité Steel is another beautiful and well-made activity tracker from Withings. For the £180 saving compared to the original Activité, you do have to make a couple of compromises - but that's to be expected. There's no sapphire glass, no leather strap, and the face is a little fussier than it probably needs to be due to the step-counter redesign, but overall it's a lovely device.
The Steel is all about managing expectations. If you want a step tracker that you can wear everyday as a replacement for a watch then it's the ideal companion. But if you're looking for a smartwatch or sportswatch that will reward you at the gym, give you accurate calories or even decent running data then this is not the answer, nor does it claim to be. It's all about the steps.
The Withings Activité Steel is a great device for getting you up, moving and looking good while you do it. As long as you are aware of its features and limitations, it's a perfect half-way balance between the original Activité and the Pop.