There are a couple of problems inherent with modern smartwatches that are very hard to get around (see Top 5 Problems with Smartwatches). We are deep into the second generation of wearables and companies have not been able to solve them at this stage, or at least in the case of large, bright-screened smartwatches.
One of those big annoyances is that you still really can‘t use it with just the arm it is on ““ you‘ll need your second hand most of the time. They demand a lot of interaction, from your other hand and from needing to react to notifications. Because of this reason (among many others), many people aren‘t ready to take the jump into the smart wearable pool just yet.
There are many people who may prefer smart devices and activity trackers that require far less interaction and our Withings Activité Pop review is aimed at those people.
Design and Comfort
At first glance, you wouldn‘t think that this device is a smart wearable at all. It looks like an ordinary watch, and I‘ll be willing to bet that is what many people will like about it (including myself). The design is gender neutral, and very simplistic, harkening back to the simpler days of affordable analogue watches.
Small when compared to other smartwatches, the 36mm diameter round watch face is simple yet elegant, somehow. The feeling on your wrist is always comfortable with just the right amount of heft that you won‘t forget it is there. It isn‘t very often that a smartwatch sits this nicely on your wrist (as most are too large). In our opinion, it’s as good-looking as affordable fitness trackers come.
It is a little thicker than your average watch, though, but that’s because of the button cell battery housed within. The big difference to analogue watches is of course the activity tracking dial at the bottom right part of the watch face, neatly disguised as any other dial you expect to see. It is in fact a dial showing your percentage of steps taken to your daily target.
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 on its more expensive cousin. That being said, it still looks good and I have no complaints about the fit and finish.
Battery Life
The Pop uses a standard cell battery so it doesn’t ever need to be charged, and in a world where we regularly have to charge several devices on a nightly basis, a watch that doesn’t need recharging is a breath of fresh air. The batteries are also very cheap to replace.
Withings claims that the battery will last 8 months, which means there are no worries in terms of battery life, chargers and the like.
Activity and Sleep Tracking
The main functionality of the device lies in its activity and sleep tracking. Wearing it for a couple of week, compared to smartwatches and even other activity trackers, just highlighted how unobtrusive it is. Sure, you won‘t get the interested glances and questions from passers-by, as it looks like a watch, but that it why it was created. It is a watch first, with activity and sleep tracking cleverly added to the mix.
As mentioned before, there‘s a small dial on the watch face that measures progress towards a daily activity goal (which is customizable), but aside from that, all activity information is conveyed through your smartphone. Setting the connection up via the app is extremely simple, and it sends information to the accompanying Withings Health Mate app throughout the day.
Just as with the Jawbone Up2, I had no issues having to look at my phone to get more detail with regards to daily activity and trends in exercise and sleep. The syncing happens in the background, but if you haven‘t done it in a day or so, it will take up to 30 seconds, which could be frustrating for some.
At midnight, your activity dial will automatically reset to zero, so no input is needed from you to do any tracking. And that is one of the biggest strengths of the Withings Activité Pop. It automatically picks up most types of exercise (other than bicycling) and does it very accurately. It picks up when you have gone from a walk to a run and back as well (and show it separately in the app).
Without a doubt my favourite feature is the fact that it is waterproof and automatically detects swimming motion. It doesn‘t do that by knowing you are in water, it calculates time spend swimming by looking at the motion of your arm and the rhythm thereof ““ very smart. Not only that, the accuracy is impressive. It know (almost to the second) that my 1km swim over lunch took 16 minutes and 45 seconds.
On the sleep tracking side, it is also fully automatic. The ability to know when you are sleeping without any input is a must these days (something we bemoaned about the Jawbone Up2). It was mostly accurate, with also knowing when your sleeping pattern is broken. Sometimes though, some oddities crept up. One night it only realised I was asleep at about 4 AM, and it threw out my entire week‘s objectives in this regard.
Other than that, though, we have no qualms with the tracking on this device. The activity tracking is accurate (though not quite on par with the Jawbone Up2), but its swimming tracking is the standout and better than any other we have used. Sleep tracking needs a couple of tweaks, which should come with firmware updates, but it only acted up once or twice the entire time we were using it.
Withings HealthMate App
The companion app used with the Jawbone Up2 is definitely still the best out there, but others have noticed and picked up their game, including Withings. The app nicely breaks down your activities into clusters of days or weeks, and on the day mode you can even see bursts of individual activities and the time of day that they occurred.
It is also very simple to use, but that was an overall theme we found with regards to the app ““ overly simple. The app looks very nice, though, and in the same vein to those of Fitbit and Jawbone. They are friendly, yet bright, with your health data at the forefront.
The timeline has activity at the top, including your day‘s number of steps and the percentage towards you daily goal. You also have a plus sign to the right where you can add your weight, heart rate or blood pressure reading. Swiping to the right brings up the app’s menu, with the four other main pages: Dashboard, Leaderboard, Profile and Reminders. Dashboard is much like the home page Timeline, with dedicated widgets for each statistic that you can move around to your preference.
The real interesting part is the Reminders. Here you can set the app to alert you of healthful habits at a certain time on certain days. The reminders are broken down into categories: weight, activity, heart and sleep. Each reminder explains why the activity is important, and when or how often you should be doing it.
Unfortunately you can‘t input additional exercises, which is quite disappointing. It has some nice features, but is just a bit too simple and has a couple of features lacking from the competition. This will only be a problem for the very dedicated and hard working person.
Subtle but effective, Withings have created a smart wearable that will probably appeal to a wide variety of people. Its activity tracking is very accurate, sleep tracking only has some minor hiccups (but will hopefully be rectified soon), and importantly it looks like a watch. It also feels like a watch.
The battery life is eight months, so no need to charge every night like smartwatches (or every week like the Jawbone Up2), which is a major boon for a device of this type.
The Withings Activité Pop is not the activity tracker for intense athletes. It’s for those who are style-conscious, are curious about how much they move and who want to develop healthier habits. And for that reason, it was very close to perfect for all my needs, and I suspect many others. The price of around R2,300 is very much worth the investment.
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