First came the Swiss Made Activité smartwatch from Withings with its shiny metal exterior, curved circular glass, leather straps, and hefty £320 price tag.
For those struggling to justify such expense for what is effectively a very nice watch meets fitness tracker, the company has released the Activité Pop, a more fun and friendly (read that as cheaper) take for those who aren't swayed by the Swiss heritage.
Is the Activité Pop merely the same product in cheaper clothes, or have too many corners been cut in getting the price down to just £119?
The Pop's watch face design has a similar style to the original Activité. With the same 36.3mm diameter round watch face (which may be too small for some men's preferences), analogue hands, and the build-in fitness tracker - that's what the secondary set of analogue hands are for - that virtually disappears into the design to the untrained eye, it's as good-looking as affordable fitness trackers come.
Look closely and there are differences though. Although the Activité Pop comes in three bright colours - Bright Azure, Shark Grey, and Wild Sand - you lose the radial groves in the watch face within the activity tracker dial, as well as other small nuances. The materials also change: there's no sapphire glass, and the stainless steel shell is PVD-coated rather than polished. This isn't the Swiss Made option after all.
You also only get one silicone strap in the box, which makes it nicer for running without the need to swap straps, but the silicone clearly doesn't exude the same quality as the French calf leather option of the original Activité. If you do want to swap the strap, as you may buy a second for colour differences or for sporty activities, then it's easy to do thanks to a quick release spring bar.
Even without the polish and the leather, the Activité Pop doesn't look like a typical digital fitness tracker, because it's not a chunk of plastic like most wearables and discreetly hides the tech within.
It is a little thicker than your average watch, though, but that's because of the button cell battery housed within. But this provides power for eight months (not hours or days, months) so you don't need to worry about charging it every night or once a week. Even so, at 37g without the strap it's lightweight enough to not notice while wearing, even while sleeping for its sleep-tracking abilities.
Smartwatch or fitness tracker?
It might be a watch, but the Pop certainly couldn't be called a smartwatch. Well, not in its truest sense, as compared to the likes of the Pebble Steel, Samsung Gear models, Sony Smartwatch, or the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch.
The Activité can't receive your emails, or your messages, or anything really. The clue is in the name - Activité is French for activity - with the embedded 3-axis accelerometer on board tracking your daily steps.
Step tracking is relayed to you at a glance on the secondary analogue face on the watch itself. The hands move throughout the day showing how you are doing against your goal of 10,000 steps. The dial is divided into 10 per cent increments so you'll know when you are close to 4,000 or 7,500 steps, but you won't get an exact step count until you open the Withings Health Mate app (it's iOS only, with Android not expected until March time).
If you are fit enough to go beyond 10,000 steps then the counter resets back to zero. Or at midnight it reverts back to zero. Groundhog day springs to mind. It's frustrating that the 10,000 step goal is fixed, so if you do 12,000 steps in a day it will look like you've only done 2,000 on the watch, despite the Health Mate app showing the full tally. That really needs to change.
One of the other distinct features of the Pop is that if you wear it while you sleep it can record how well you slept each night. No need to put it into a special mode, no button pressing - just go to bed as normal.
Information includes how long it takes you to go to sleep, how long you slept for, whether you woke up in the night, and then how much light or deep sleep you get.
On the whole it works well, but isn't flawless, we'd call it an estimate. It doesn't always pick up every time you wake up unless you really move around - checking the time on your nightstand doesn't count most of the time. According to our stats we've not had more than three hours of deep sleep a night since wearing the Activité Pop, which made us wonder if we should be worrying about that.
The Activité Pop also features a built-in alarm, with Withings opting for a silent vibration rather than a beep. Setting the wake-up time via the app is easy and you can always double-tap on the glass front of the Pop to remind you of when it is set - the hands physically spin around to the alarm position temporarily - although we found that didn't always work. Cue repeat tapping and looking rather stupid.
The Health Mate app
The iOS Health Mate app is required for operation, meaning you need to have an iPhone and connect via Bluetooth. Without the app, the Pop won't even work as a watch - not even for telling the time. The Android app is supposedly due before March.
The accompanying app is simple and effective, although the barrage of feel-good messages or condescending retorts can get to you. "Taking only 6,750 steps is the least active you've been on a Wednesday." Grumble.
Aside from sounding like your partner after you've failed to take the bins out as you promised, you get a breakdown of your activity through a main timeline graph, along with sleep tracking data if you've not taken the Pop off when you jumped into bed.
Besides the scrolling timeline view there is a dashboard view that gives an overview of your weekly performance in terms of activity, sleep, distance, weight (if you are tracking it separately) and heart rate (again, sourced separately).
Beyond that there is a chance to unlock virtual activity badges and challenge your mates in the leaderboard area, while you can up the ante on the banter front from within the app by turning on reminders to get you running - but we recommend you don't.
Understanding that there are other apps that you might be using at the same time, Withings allows you to pair certain running and weight-tracking apps within the Health Mate app too, including Nike+, Runkeeper, and MyFitnessPal. When you do use those apps the data is then copied into the Health Mate app to help optimise the results.
On the whole though the app is very good at delivering you the information you need.
A tough tracker to please
However, the Activité Pop is really mean when it comes to dishing out steps.
In our case one step is worth 1-metre. Without a way to change the target goal, for us to make our goal every day that's 10km. Yes, the Pop wants us to walk 10 kilometres every day. Now we are sure that will do us the world of good, but trying to fit that much activity within a day is tough, even going for a daily 5km run doesn't mean we'll make it.
We also noted that the system isn't as accurate as we would have hoped. After wearing it for over three weeks we've noticed that the tracking is overly stingy in most situations. Understandably it's not going to be spot-on based on the way an accelerometer measures your motion, but in the case of one 4.1km run we tracked with Runkeeper the Activité Pop only measured 3.5km over the same distance.
Another longer 14km run strangely got broken down into six different activities which was recorded as either "running" or "other" as the watch failed to cope with measuring the nature of the activity or the distance correctly. In that instance it was within 100m of the Runkeeper equivalent though.
Distance tracking from the Activité Pop is a guide, and a mean guide at that.
The Withings Activité Pop is a lovely looking watch with built-in step-tracker that makes its digital fitness tracker competitors look bulky, clunky, and, well, ugly by comparison. The only better-looking device is the original (and pricier) Withings Activité.
Where the Pop falls down is in the software and the accompanying app. It's iOS only, so no Android support (yet), there's no way to change the daily 10,000 step goal (yet), and the step count could be a little more accurate (all fitness bands are calibrated differently). All these things have been promised in March, but that's not now.
If you're after a stylish activity tracker, the Withings Activité Pop hits the nail firmly on the head in the same way the Activité does, but at a cut price, and with a little more colour and fun at the same time. It is simple, subtle and the perfect balance between form and function.
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