Review: the Withings Activité Pop

Back in December, I wrote this about my Apple Watch, after not having worn it very much in the weeks leading up the article:

The Apple Watch can do a lot of neat things, and I miss its fitness tracking, but so much of it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore. It’s not super useful for work, apps are still miserably slow and at times, its an additional distraction.

Since then, I can count on one hand the times I’ve powered up the Watch to wear it, but as I mentioned, I have missed the fitness tracking way more than any of the other features.

So let’s talk about what I have been wearing instead: the Withings Activité Pop.

I picked one up — in “Shark Grey” — on Amazon about a month ago, and I’ve really come to enjoy wearing it.

(Can we all take a moment to realize how awkward photos of the human hand are when you crop out the fingers?)

At first glance, it looks like a normal — even plain — wrist watch. In grey at least, it’s an inoffensive watch with a basic face, white hands and a simple rubber strap. It’s very light weight, and a good bit thinner than the Apple Watch. While some may say it looks cheap, I like the simple design this watch brings to the table.

My first design quibble with the design is that crystal — the piece of glass that covers the watch face — is more convex than I’d prefer. As a result, weird reflections can be seen around the edges of the watch depending on the light. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but it can be a little distracting at times.

My second is that the Activité Pop doesn’t have a complication to show the date. Almost every watch I’ve ever owned has had this feature, and it’s annoying to look at my wrist while signing something just to have to dig out my phone to get the date right.

However, it’s way smarter than that Timex my dad gave me in high school.

The subdial is labeled 0-100 and is designed to show progress toward a daily step count goal. For example, if your goal is 5,000 steps and you’re at 2,500, the hand would be at the 50% mark. It’s a clever way to show a flexible goal on a device with no display.

The Activité Pop has a Bluetooth radio that it uses to sync this data back to the iPhone a few times a day. The Withings iPhone app is used to set the step goal, as well as administer other functions on the watch.

When setting a step goal, the app tries to be helpful, giving recommendations for what may make sense for the user. For example, currently, it tells me that on my best day, I clocked 6,500 steps, while a basketball game would earn me 5,000 steps or so. My current goal — 4,000 steps — is on the low side, and the app reminds me of that every so often.

While the step counter is nice, I’d like to see the subdial be even more flexible. The Apple Watch pushes users to stand once an hour, and it’d be nice to track that progress, or be able to open the app and move the hand every time I drink 8 ounces of water during the day.

The app is also used to set the time on the watch. It has you make adjustments to the hand placement in the app and then they move around — on their own — to the right location. It’s pretty wild. The watch will sync with the iPhone’s clock every so often, so it should stay correct when you change timezones.

The Activité Pop is powered by a standard watch battery (Withings says it’ll go 8 months between changes) so it can be worn to bed. Here’s a bit from the company’s marketing page:

Withings Activité Pop automatically detects when you are asleep. It keeps track of light and deep sleep stages, the number of times you wake up during the night and the total duration of sleep.

I can’t really speak to how accurate this data is compared to other systems like it, but it seems to capture data without any problems.

Additionally, the app allows users to set an alarm. At the given time, the watch will vibrate. I’ve found this to be virtually silent, and it hasn’t once bothered my wife if my alarms goes off before she wakes up.

The alarm isn’t perfect, however. Here’s a bit of copy from the
Alarms FAQ:

At this point, it is not possible to stop the alarm once it has started. Your Withings Activité will vibrate 12 times before stopping on its own.

We are aware that not being able to stop the alarm may be frustrating for some users. We are working on introducing a feature that would allow this.

Double-tapping the watch will cause the hands to spin around to show the time of the current alarm before returning to their previous position. If no alarm is set, they simply make lap around the face. It’s oddly satisfying to watch.

(Frustratingly, only one alarm can be set at once, so this sort of scenario isn’t possible using the Activité Pop.)

Despite its flaws, I’ve come to really like the Activité Pop, not only as a watch, but as a fitness tracker. It’s more or less a glorified Fitbit, and that’s fine with me. The longer the Apple Watch sits on my nightstand, the more I think that a a regular watch with just a little bit of technology is a better solution for me than a full-blown computer on my wrist.