Review: Withings Activité fitness tracker

A (pricey) wearable that might actually count as wearable – who knew?

Here’s the sad truth about fitness trackers: most of them don’t look all that great. With the exception of a couple, they’re mainly black silicon, which is fine for the gym and more casual occasions but not that suited for more formal settings and can even look a bit out of place in the office.

That's changing though. Withings is one of the manufacturers that has come up with a new fitness tracker that doesn't immediately stand out as a smart device. An activity tracker in disguise, if you will.

The Activité looks, for all intents and purposes, like a regular watch. There’s no touchscreen or flashing lights; there’s not even a digital display. The only thing that might give it away is the small secondary dial on the face of the watch with the numbers 0, 50 and 100 on it. That’s per cent, and how you know how close you are to reaching your daily activity goal. It’s subtle.

The rest is done on the app. The Activité teams up with the Healthmate app to control everything; it connects over Bluetooth Low Energy to your phone so you can keep your tracker synchronised throughout the day, set your goals and add your food or weight information. Healthmate acts as a hub for all this data, and you can also feed it into Apple's Health app and Google Fit, depending on your operating system of choice.


The good

The fact that the Activité is so subtle means that you can get away with wearing it every day, on almost every occasion and no one would ever know you were obsessively counting your steps. There are two straps included in the box: the leather version for everyday wear and a silicon trap for sports wear. Changing between the two is easy, with a slide catch that pops the strap off the watch in seconds. While the leather strap looks better, it’s not really suitable for any activity that will involve water (or possibly sweat). The Withings Activité will not only measure your steps, it will distinguish between a walk and a run, and a software update allows it to track swimming too. The fact that it does all this without any intervention from you is a major bonus - it just works, and from our tests, it’s accurate too.

You can set alarms that will deliver a subtle vibration directly to your wrist; strong enough to wake you, but not anyone else.

By far the biggest advantage of the Activité is the fact that it doesn’t require charging. It’s powered by a CR202 button cell battery, and a spare battery is provided in the box. You should get more than six months out of the battery, which is better than remembering to charge it weekly or even daily in some cases.

The not so good

If you look at it purely as an activity tracker, it’s quite pricey. At €390, it’s more than three times the price of the Jawbone UP24 and almost four times the price of the Fitbit Flex, both of which will measure activity and sleep.

However, the Withings Activité also functions as a watch and will measure sleep automatically rather than needing to be put into a special mode. That’s a slight advantage over other trackers, but the price tag might be a bit too rich for those looking for a simple device, particularly when you can pick up a smartwatch for a similar price.

It’s also slightly thicker than you first think, but all the bulk is at the back of the watch casing so it’s not as noticeable.

The rest

The Activité was originally designed to work with iOS, but as of March, the company added compatibility for Android. It still seems to work a little better with iOS, just in terms of how it connects and syncs, but unless you have an iPhone to hand to compare the performance, you may never realise.

It will also change the time automatically for you if you move to a different time zone – whatever time is displayed on your paired phone is what the watch will adjust itself to. So that handily covers daylight savings time too.

The verdict

**** A wearable that’s actually wearable, though a little on the pricey side. If you’re a fan of nice watches though, the price may seem almost reasonable.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist