Withings Activité disappoints: A less-than-smartwatch
The Activité is a brave attempt on an alternative smartwatch from French wearables firm Withings – but is it good enough to take on devices with a digital display? After 10 days of extensive testing, we have concluded that the Withings Activité is too flawed for regular use.
We’re delighted with the Activité’s looks but that’s about as far as it goes. The Activité is a great looking wristwatch, but a poor smartwatch, and this is why it’s out of the game as a potential replacement for our trusty Fitbit Flex (RIP).
Most of all, we’re disappointed by the Activité’s movement tracking. This is a fundamental part of any wrist-worn wearable. The Withings’ shortcomings have led us to conclude that the Withings Activité is a less-than-smartwatch.
We tested the $150 Activité Pop model, which is mechanically identical to the $450 Activité except that Withings has taken away the leather strap and removed the “Swiss made” logo. It has only just gone on sale in the US and Europe, having been announced at CES in early January 2015.
Looks aren’t everything
As we commented when Withings unveiled the analog smartwatch last July, the Activité is simply a gorgeous-looking device.
Withings is taking an alternative approach to the digital display with a classical analog face, plus a single dial showing progress for a movement target – with the default being the World Health Organization’s recommended 10,000 steps a day.
That’s all you get from the analog interface: All other data is tracked via the Withings Health Mate app, or on the Withings website.
It’s easy to set-up the Activité, just download the Health Mate app, create an account, and it will automatically pair with a smartphone via Bluetooth.
Once you’ve calibrated the dials, the hands automatically move to the correct time – and by staying in sync with your smartphone, if you change timezones, so will the watch arms.
The Activité Pop comes with a silicon wristband, and feels comfortable on the wrist. Even after 10 days of non-stop wearing, there is no sign of any skin irritation or rash.
Under the surface, the Withings Activité disappoints
The Activité will frustrate users with as-yet-unfinished functions. For example, there’s a vibrating alarm, but no way of turning it off (it will buzz 12 times, whether or not you move, tap it, or whatever).
Nor is there any choice of setting different alarm times for weekends – which for us, renders the alarm function essentially useless, and we’ve turned it off.
Although the firm promises a free firmware upgrade in March that will add extra sensing capabilities such as being able to “identify and log your swimming workout”, it’s the sleep tracking in particular that lets the Activité down.
Sleep monitoring is, frankly, worthless
Withings claims “Activité watches over your sleep patterns to provide comprehensive monitoring. In the morning you will have a detailed picture of your night.”
Our tests have concluded that the monitoring is certainly less than comprehensive, since there are huge, hour-long gaps in the data – which Withings has been unable to explain.
It’s a story that repeats itself night after night – revealing the flaws in Withings’ automatic sleep tracking. The Activité is usually slow to detect that the user has fallen asleep – for example last Thursday, when Pop claimed I’d only been in bed for 95 minutes all night. Nor did I have any steps logged, so no evidence of sleepwalking…
Sleep tracking just does not work properly
At first, Withings suggested “disassociating and resetting your Activité to factory settings”. Tried that. It didn’t help.
The next response was that the product manager “confirmed that in addition to the other update, the development team is working on an update to improve the sleep tracking function of the Activité”.
We requested further information, and even offered to sign an NDA, but were met with this response: “I am not able to disseminate sensitive proprietary information. I can tell you that the developers are working to improve how the unit translates movement (or lack of movement) into the appropriate category of sleep, activity, or neither.”
In summary, sleep tracking is flawed, and there’s no way to manually edit sleep data, another option that is offered by Fitbit.
So for us, time’s up with the Activité. We’re returning the Pop, no questions asked … and the search for our replacement for the Fitbit Flex continues. Maybe when Withings has finished developing the product, we’ll consider buying one again.
In conclusion, it’s a nice analog wristwatch, but for $150 you can buy a nicer one AND a Fitbit Flex to more accurately track your movement. Until Withings is able to improve the accuracy of the Activité Pop, it’s not able to live up to its promise as an activity tracker.