Withings Puts Fashion First with New Fitness Tracking Watch

I’m very interested in the idea of wearables, and have reviewed several of them on this website (the Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex and Jawbone Up 24 and the Nike+ Fuelband. I’m interested in the idea of these devices, not so much because I’m very active, but because, if used regularly, I find they can motivate me to be a bit more active.

But let’s be honest: these devices are ugly. With the exception of the Fitbit One, which you can wear on a belt clip, they simply look dorky. I’m not bowled over by the design of the Apple Watch either; it looks too big, too loud.

Unknown.pngSo when I saw that Withings had announced a new activity tracker/watch, I was very impressed by the way it looks. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK; the price currently shown on Amazon is not the actual price of the device) Available in black or white, with leather wristbands, this device is very attractive; it looks like a watch, not a fitness tracker. And it’s not cheap: $450, or £320, when it starts shipping at the end of the month. (The company had a limited pre-order batch last week, and sold out in one day, but they didn’t say how many units that represented.) However, I’m surprised that there’s only one size. While they show both men and women wearing them on the company’s web page, either the men have thin wrists or the women have beefy wrists. Not having two sizes seems like an oversight.

I think the future of the wearables category will depend on a subtle balance of features and aesthetics. The Withings Activité’s weakness may be its lack of features. It doesn’t offer things such as notifications, which will be very useful in a smart watch. You can’t control music, respond to text messages, and it won’t even vibrate when you get calls. It also doesn’t record your heart rate, which many fitness trackers do (including one from Withings, that is, more or less, a competitor to the Fitbit One). On the other hand, it gets eight months of battery life, because it doesn’t do much. It uses a standard button cell battery, and only shows the time and the percentage of your daily goal that you’ve attained.

The device offloads the rest of its features to its Health Mate app, which shows you data, but which, alas, isn’t great. The interface is poorly designed, and you can’t even change the daily goal: it’s set to 10,000 steps, whether you want (or are able to) do more or less. The Withings Activité also tracks your sleep, and this data is available in the Health Mate app, but I’m not yet convinced that this is even a useful metric to measure.

We’re clearly at the dawn of the smart watch era. We’ve seen the Pebble, which is such a ludicrous device that I haven’t even bothered to review it here (I bought one recently, kept it for a few days, then returned it). We’ve seen what the Apple Watch will do, which may turn out to be too much. And, in between, we’ve got Withing’s ambitious watch/activity tracker, which people won’t be ashamed to wear.

I don’t know if the smart watch will become a viable product category. I think, at a minimum, fitness trackers will live on, but whether enough people want to pay the price for more powerful devices, such as the Apple Watch, remains to be seen. I like the idea of the Withings Activité. I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay that much for a combination watch/fitness tracker; I could by a watch, just as nice, and a fitness tracker, separately, for the same price. But this one would sure look nice on my wrist.