TECH
26/02/2015 14:49 GMT | Updated 26/02/2015 14:59 GMT

Withings Activité Pop Review: Elegantly Invisible

The Withings Activité Pop exercise tracker is £119

Key Features:

  • Eight month battery (without charging)
  • Fitness tracking (steps, running, swimming pending an update)
  • Handsome, elegant design
  • HealthMate iOS app with heart-rate monitor feature
  • Sleep tracking
  • Alarm clock

activite

Verdict:

The Activité Pop is such a well-disguised smart watch that it wasn’t long before I forgot it actually was one. And, eventually, I forgot about it altogether and just stopped wearing it.

Before I got to that point, however, I found it easy to love this minimalistic take on activity tracking.

Like its (much) more expensive sibling, the leather-and-metal Activité, it’s a classic, clean-looking watch which hides a range of sensors under its casing. These sensors track things like your daily step count, the vigour of your exercise and your sleep pretty much entirely in the background, only letting you dive into the detail of your data via an iOS app (support for Android is coming, details TBA).

But for a quick take on your status, the Pop also has a secondary, smaller dial on its face which ticks around from 0 to 10,000 steps as you move through your day, and starts another loop as soon as you smash through that WHO-approved barrier.

The result is that you can stay aware of your exercise level passively, but consistently, and thus avoid descending into oblivious ignorance or actively narcissistic obsession.

And in this sense the Pop works well - though as tends to be the case with most bands of this type, eventually you’ll train your brain to stay so aware of your step count anyway you’ll probably not need to look at it at all.

withings activite pop

Fortunately there are other features which make the Pop a more useful life companion. It comes with a vibrating alarm, which works well and is reliable. If you double tap the watch face the hands will swing around to show you when it’s set for too — which makes for a nice party trick at the dinner table. As mentioned it works as a sleep tracker, though the science behind this type of motion-based sleep monitoring is debated. It’s also, well, a watch.

The fitness tracking it offers is also more in depth that you might realise at first. It’s able (or will be able) to track a number of different types of activity, including running and — purportedly, pending an update - swimming. The Health Mate app through which you sync the device over Bluetooth keeps a log of everything for you to peruse later. The app itself is relatively well designed, and can do some neat stuff like testing your heart-rate using the iPhone’s camera and LED flash. But it’s also a little clunky, and we had some problems syncing the device including a couple of instances of lost or missing data — annoying when you’ve gone to the trouble of running to work at 6am specifically to test it out. Since the Pop also lacks GPS, you’re also going to end up with less interesting data than you will with other exercise devices, including most recent Android Wear watches. That said, Withings also makes a range of connected sleep and weight trackers, and they all feed into the same place -- so if you invest in the platform, you'll get more out of it.

The Pop is very much from the ‘active’ school of watch design, which means the strap is made out of silicone and is washable, and comfortable to wear for long periods. (The only snag is that I found it tends to flap loose after a few hours’ use.) The watch itself is made of stainless steel and mineral glass, and is durable and very pleasing to the eye, even compared to the leather Activité.

Even better, there is no unsightly charging port of cradle, because the watch doesn’t need to be charged. It runs for about eight months, according to Withings, on a simple watch battery, and should be relatively simple to replace (though obviously since we only had it for a month, we didn’t have to). The overall effect is that of a watch which has been carefully made, is focused on doing a few key tasks well, and doesn’t aspire to run your digital life, merely run alongside it.

withings activite pop

For me, ultimately, that was the problem; the Activité Pop just didn’t do enough to fit into my daily routine, and I found myself willing it to learn new tasks - to vibrate based on my Calendar appointments, or point a hand to 12pm when I received an email - and there are no signs Withings has any aspiration for it to do that. By lacking GPS and a heart rate monitor, it doesn’t work for me as an exercise tracker, and in my own experience closely following the ’10,000 steps a day’ metric is only effective in short bursts. Eventually you’ll either learn to stay aware of how much you move, and go out of your way to walk an extra Tube stop each day, or you won’t. The real-life difference between walking 9,800 steps and 11,200 steps is probably slight, day-to-day.

Regardless, it’s hard not to recommend the Pop if you’re in the market for a simple fitness tracker. It’s not expensive, it’s beautiful and well-designed, and is both reliable and convenient in terms of battery life. If you want a watch that looks as good as any normal watch at this price, but which has some other tricks up its sleeve, it’s an excellent choice. But you might also find that it ends up as a gateway into more complex smart watches, or exercise trackers, or both - or that you simply stop checking the HealthMate app either way. Ultimately you might just end up forgetting about the Activité Pop completely. That’s a mark of both excellent design, but also limited aspirations.

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