(Pocket-lint) - The Withings Activité was announced in September 2014, pitched as the wearable that you'll actually want to wear. It resembles a standard analogue watch, but there is a lot more on offer than just the ability to tell the time.
The Swiss Made Activité isn't just a good-looking watch, it's a good-looking watch that will track your activity, calories and sleep with the aim of inspiring you to live a healthy lifestyle.
We have had the Withings Activité permanently attached to our wrist for a couple of weeks to see whether it manages to strike the perfect balance between elegant watch design and activity tracker, or whether this wearable is more about form than function.
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There are plenty of activity trackers for counting your steps and calories burned, but there are none quite as beautiful as the Withings Activité. It is simply stunning and we love the way it looks. Finally a company has focused on making a device that doesn't look like a wannabe sci-fi prop.
The watch case itself is made from 316L stainless steel and the face is covered with responsive sapphire glass, delivering a device that looks and feels high quality. The face is curved, which does lead to some reflection, but it's not too noticeable.
The 36.3mm diameter we found was a good size for both men and women, plus it's water-resistant to 50 metres and weighs a reassuring 37g overall.
It is a little thicker than your average watch as it houses the sensors beneath the face, along with a button cell battery capable of delivering eight months (yes, months, not hours) of battery life. We loved that we didn't have to charge the Activité every night or every other night and the slightly thicker build is barely noticeable when on the wrist.
Branding is subtle; a small Withings Activité logo sits at 12 o'clock under the line marker and the all-important 'Swiss Made' is shown at the bottom - the watch case is made in the Le Locle watch village - straddles the 6 o'clock marker. If you needed justification for the £320 price tag then that's it.
The secondary dial on the face is the most interesting part of this device though. A three-quarter circle takes up around a third of the face itself and it marks the completed percentage of your daily step goal with a coloured accent, which matches the Activité logo. If you buy the black model, not the white one as reviewed here, then there's an orange accent instead.
There are 10 per cent increment lines between the zero, 50 and 100 markers and the circle has a ribbed texture within it to help differentiate it from the rest of the face. Although at first we mistook 20 past the hour as having nearly completed 50 per cent of our step goal, we soon got used to the third coloured hand.
The secondary dial is the only real giveaway that the Withings Activité is more than a traditional watch. No digital dials and watch faces to be found here. The attention to detail is refreshing and while it may be a little simple and boring looking for some, we liked the fuss-free approach.
Two sets of straps come included, a brown French calf leather one for day-to-day wear (it's black with the black version), and a silicone option for sweatier sports activities. Both straps are comfortable to wear and are fastened with a traditional watch clasp, ensuring the Activité feels secure at all times. It's certainly preferable to the two-pin clasp many activity trackers feature, making for no complaints when swapping for the silicone option each time we went to the gym.
The Withings Activité is certainly a more formal-looking activity tracker than a sporty option like many of the others on the market. But we think its simple approach has been executed brilliantly and the design is sublime.
Not your average smartwatch
When it comes to features, the Withings Activité does a little less than other activity trackers, and nowhere near as much as the average smartwatch, but it fulfils the basics for monitoring how much you are moving.
Don't expect your wrist to vibrate when you receive an email like the Samsung Gear Fit would, for example, as the Withings Activité isn't about smartphone notifications. The only vibrating the Withings Activité does is when the alarm you have set on it using the Health Mate app goes off.
Instead, the watch itself shows all the step-count data as a percentage progress of your (currently unchangeable) 10,000 step goal. As we mentioned previously, the dial is in 10 per cent increments and therefore you'll know when you are close to 4,000 or 7,500 steps by using the segments to work it out, but you won't get an exact step count until you open the Withings Health Mate app.
It's within the app that the Withings Activité further shows off its capabilities. It will show you the data collected from the sensors in the watch including number of calories burned, distance travelled and sleep patterns. From March, you'll also be able to track swimming and there is also talk of the ability to change the step goal - an essential that really needs to happen - but these features aren't available as yet.
Step counting is the main activity tracking feature available, although the analogue dial can only cater for the default 10,000 steps a day display. We were happy with this preset goal, but it was frustrating to see the dial return to zero and begin again once we had achieved it. It doesn't even wait until the stroke of midnight. 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. Which is a little disheartening and the Activité's biggest sticking point.
We also found that the Withings Activité tended to make you work harder to achieve those steps than other devices. We found it counted a lot less than the Fitbit Flex we had on our other wrist, and a little less than the Withings Pulse Ox we also had attached to us.
Above: Withings Activité (left) vs Fitbit Flex (right) step count
We would certainly rather it counted fewer steps as we wouldn't want to reach our daily goal if we hadn't actually succeeded, but we were mindful that it was clearly a ball park figure rather than a definitive indication of how many times we had put one foot in front of the other.
It's worth noting that moving your wrist or arm can also counts towards total steps. When on the rowing machine, for example, we continued to head towards our step goal because travelling through space in such a fashion will make the on-board accelerometer consider the motion, often as step-based activity.
However, other tasks such as cleaning also added steps, whether polishing or washing up. Granted, we were still moving and working, therefore we liked that it rewarded that but if you are after a pure step tracker, you might find this frustrating. There is also no support for the elevation feature of the Health Mate app, as the Activité lacks an altimeter.
Withings claims the Activité will automatically detect running but we had a couple of issues with this too. Our steps went up as we ran, which we expected, but when we looked at the Health Mate app, the running time period was logged as "walking" or "other" rather than running.
The distance tracking seemed accurate, although the calories burned didn't always match with what the treadmill told us. The Health Mate app has more information about us - such as age, sex, height, weight and so forth - so has capacity to be the more accurate. In terms of calories, the app will provide you with the number of calories burned by being active and the total caloric expenditure, which is great for those counting and if you link with a MyFitnessPal account the information is transferred directly across.
The Withings Activité will also track your sleep to provide you with a plethora of information, including how long it took you to go to sleep, how long you slept for and whether you were in a light or a deep sleep.
We found this to work quite well but it's not flawless. There were times when we had woken up during the early hours, checked our phone to look at the time and gone back to sleep, but the sleep pattern didn't reflect this when we checked the Health Mate app in the morning. Some nights we were apparently asleep in zero minutes, which is an impossibility, unless we had passed out between standing up and lying down.
But there were more accurate reflections too. The nights when we struggled to get to sleep were reflected with an orange bar on the graph showing us as awake, so the Withings Activité is good enough at detecting sleep patterns, we just wouldn't trust it wholeheartedly.
Another good aspect compared to its rivals is that the Activité detects sleep automatically, so there's no need to open the app and tell it you plan to sleep.
Health Mate App
The Health Mate app is where all the magic happens for the Withings Activité. Without it, it's just beautiful watch that won't work - not even for telling the time. The app is available for iOS only, so it's iPhone or iPod compatible only. The Android app is due before March, but that will mean, for many, the product isn't viable.
Activité 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 will mean that if you change time zones the watch will update when your phone does, which is handy.
Through the Health Mate app you can 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, double tapping on the watch face will flick the hands round to show you the alarm time set before they return to the current time, which is a clever little feature. However it didn't always work first time, as it seems fussy to respond to screen tapping.
Aside from that, the app or online via a browser is where you will find all the information the Withings Activité records using its sensors. There are detailed graphs of your sleep and activity, plus you can set your own healthy reminders such as going for an after-dinner walk and the app will alert you to do it.
Additionally, Health Mate has virtual activity badges that you unlock as you work harder or exercise more. We didn't find we paid too much attention to these but we have a lot of love for the Timeline aspect of this app, especially as we have other Withings products that all collate in here.
The app is brilliant and although we had a few connection problems every now and then when it asked us to move our Withings Activité closer to our iPhone, we found it very easy to navigate and get to the information we wanted.
If we had one complaint about the Health Mate app and general Withings ecosystem, it would be that you can only have one activity tracker linked to a user's account. We have a Pulse Ox but we had to create an entire new user to be able to wear it and the Withings Activité at the same time.
Granted, you might not want two activity trackers but as the Pulse Ox can be used for heart rate and blood oxygen levels, whereas the Activité can't, there's logic is having both. So that's an area Withings could improve.
The Withings Activité is a beautifully designed device that, without a shadow of a doubt, delivers on its promise of being a wearable that you'll actually want to wear. It looks fantastic and we have happily replaced our standard watch with it. But its Swiss Made stamp means it isn't cheap, at nearly £100 more than the expected starting price for the Apple Watch.
We could accept the price if it wasn't for a few issues that need ironing out. There's automatic running detection and sleep tracking accuracy glitches, the inability to change your daily step goal from 10,000, frustration at the percentage dial resetting once the day's goal is achieved, and the lack of Android support, among other foibles. It also offers less features than some of the competition.
But what really sells the Activité is just how good it looks. It's made from quality materials that exude a premium feel, the effort that went into designing this device being more than apparent. The Health Mate app is a true delight to use too - assuming you don't want to sync more than one Withings device - delivering all the detailed information you need.
If you're after a stylish activity tracker, the Withings Activité hits the nail firmly on the head. It's simple, subtle and the perfect balance between form and function.