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Withings Activite: Is it better than an Apple Watch?

Over the last couple of years I’ve tried a couple of smartwatches (though not the Apple watch, yet). I started off trying out the Moto 360, which while better on Android, had a frustrating battery life and brought negative side effects along with the benefits. So in contrast the Withings Activite line seemed to be a perfect choice which combatted many of the issues with smart watches without adding the downsides.

If you have wondered about a smartwatch but the Apple watch didn’t seem right for you, then perhaps the Withings activite line will speak to you better. What follows are my thoughts on the withings activite watches including some issues I faced and why I found them to be a great smartwatch.

Key advantages of the withings activite line

There is one issue above all which deters people from smartwatches. The battery life. If you ask most of your friends, I’m sure this would be the key point that holds them back. A secondary argument against smartwatches is “not seeing the point” but this is the sort of issue that certainly disappeared with time and was certainly felt around the initial smartphones. Battery life, however, matters.

Whereas Apple watches and similar full featured smart watches can last a day, (maybe a very generous two days) at best. The Withings can go 8 months on a single battery or potentially as little as 3 months if you use the silent alarm feature. That’s a significant difference and even though you need to buy a replacement battery (which can be a bit of a hassle to keep track of), keeping a back up battery in your draw will keep your devices always on. When your device runs out of juice, you can use your phones motion tracker (lacking certain features).
I don’t know what the length of battery life that an smartwatch really needs, but three months is long enough that you don’t really remember the last time you charged. It is also long enough that you don’t feel regularly inconvenienced by the watch running out of juice. I’d love to see a similar level reached with a rechargeable battery but that might require a long time to recharge and also fewer features on a smartwatch.

All day tracking

Another huge advantage of this lack of charging is your data is constantly tracked. When you don’t have to take your watch off, you can track your sleep patterns as well as walking, sitting and more. The other benefit is you have fewer opportunities to forget to put your device back on. That means you’re more likely to take it with you everyday and track all your activity.

No notification

Notification are both a blessing and a curse. My withings has two notifications in reality. What the current time is, what my current level of activity is. These serve to keep me on track and encourage me to go for another walk or run. So it’s not really no notifications, but it is no interruptions. There are no buzzes for “urgent” emails, phone calls, and more.

For some people the lack of notifications is a terrible loss, for others this is the greatest advantages and I’m sure you know which side you fall on already. Personally, I prefer fewer notifications and I can almost always wait till I get to my next destination or meeting to pull out my phone.

Classic style and design

Although analogue watches are harder to initially read at a glance, there is something beautiful about the hands on a clock. I’ve received several compliments on the way my watch looked from different people. Including one person who was disappointed when it was revealed that my watch was a smartwatch.
The withings activite, in particular the sapphire activite, looks good and subtle at the same time. It doesn’t stand out as a smartwatch and you won’t need to tell anyone what it really is, if you don’t want to.

My not so good experiences with the Withings Activite line

However, not everything has been good with my Withings activities, and it is only right I share my bad experiences too. I should point out that I’m not certain where the majority of the blame lies here.

Water resistance

My biggest issues have been connected to the water resistance of the Withings Active. It is claimed that you can swim with the Withings active and it even has stroke tracking built in to the app. I’ve seen this feature in use but unfortunately, that meant the end of my Withings devices. While I am sure that the Withings activite is water resistant up to the specifications stated, I was not able to use it in that way. There is a water sealing around the battery case. With my initial device, I couldn’t properly reattach this element and the device let in water during a swim.

With my Activite Pop a year later, I took extra precautions when replacing my battery and before going for a swim. Initially I had no issues but after I replaced a battery, I went for another swim and ruined my device. While this may have been an error on my part, the fact that after already damaging a device due to water led me to take extra precautions. Still had the same result, this suggests to me that this is a bigger problem than it should be.

[Update: after leaving my Pop for a while, I put a new battery in and it is now working…for the moment at least.]

Syncing

I’ve also had some issues with syncing data between my watch and phone. In theory you should regularly open your phone to check on your data and so track your fitness and update your sync data. While background sync does occur, it isn’t fully detailed and sometimes it doesn’t occur for one reason or another. As such, sometimes you’ll find that you haven’t walked for the last week…although you have. Mostly this is connected to battery life, but that doesn’t appear to be the only occasion when these issues have occurred.

Partially locked data to the Withings App

The Withings app is decent, it has a minimal interface which present useful data in a chronological order. There can be a few little tricky user interface interactions when you wish to look at your weight or your heart rate date, but apart from that, it isn’t a problem.

Unfortunately, some of the data is locked into the Withings app, in particular sleep data. This doesn’t get shared into your general health app despite it being useful information. Further, the ability to challenge friends isn’t as great as some rivals as fewer people use the Withings products. Fewer still use the app without Withings products (unlike some competitors like fitbit). This means you don’t get that same level of gamification that you do with some competitor products.

My final thoughts on Withings

I have truly loved my Withings products. The Withings Activite (original, now also called saphire) is truly beautiful and has a price that matches! The pop is more subtle but still charming. The steal looks like it could strike a good balance in between. The data it provides is highly useful and the lack of notifications is something I am very satisfied with.

At times I wish the Withings line features more info like heart rate tracking or an interface for my music player. Yet that would take away the charm and simplicity of the device.
Despite all this, I don’t know if I could truly recommend one to someone else. The fact that I have lost two to water damage really puts me off getting another, despite my love for the device. When you add in the possibility of getting greater data and more interesting interactions from an Apple watch (for a similar price to the sapphire model), I am definitely considering an Apple watch as a replacement…someday.

Check out the withings activite products

About Chris Wilson

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