Smartwatches aren’t for everyone. Unlike regular watches, they need charging, they’re not cheap and a couple of years down the line you might be looking at shelling out more for an updated version. These are not investment pieces that will last you for 15 years or more; they have a shelf-life. And for some people, the look of a smartwatch just isn’t for them.
But there is a trade-off. Your traditional watch can’t flag heart abnormalities. It can’t tell you how well you’ve slept, or how active you were the previous day. It can’t read your blood oxygen and tell you how your heart rate is doing overnight. It can’t keep you tethered to your phone – delivering notifications – and your power cord.
There has to be a middle ground somewhere though, and Withings may just offer it. The company has put out a number of hybrid activity trackers in recent years that have, for all intents and purposes, looked like a traditional watch. They only giveaway is the small extra dial that tracks your activity level. There are no batteries to remember to charge – they use a small coincell battery to power the device for six months – and there are no apps to grab your attention. Simple, clean and sticks to the basics.
The latest addition, the Withings ScanWatch, comes with a bold claim: it says it is the world’s most advanced wearable. So what does it have to back that up? Plenty, it seems.
The ScanWatch still keeps things simple, with a traditional watchface as the main focus, and long battery life, but it adds some new sensors and a rechargeable battery. You get up to 30 days of battery life from a full charge, which blows most of the current generation of smartwatches and activity trackers out of the water.
But that alone wouldn’t make it the world’s most advanced wearable. It will detect atrial fibrillation, something the Apple Watch has made a feature of in recent years, with a built in ECG that was added for the previously released Move ECG. You can still track your activity and exercise, choosing a specific workout such as running or swimming, or check in on your resting heart rate.
But what sets the ScanWatch apart is its ability to record your oxygen saturation level while you sleep and, with the Respiratory Scan feature, flag conditions such as sleep apnoea.
Respiratory Scan monitors oxygen saturation, heart rate, breathing frequency and movement throughout the night, crunches the numbers in its algorithm to measure breathing disturbances. Those disturbances can be an an indicator of sleep apnoea.
It does all of this silently in the background; you don’t have to set it every night, and the data is automatically synced with Withings’ Healthmate app on your phone so you can easily digest it.
The ScanWatch adds one additional element that other Withings watches did not – a small screen that allows you to check your heart rate, blood oxygen level, steps or choose your workout. You can scroll through the menus and select your choices using the digital crown; that crown is also a multifunction button that can be assigned to workouts, oxygen saturation readings or recording an ECG. It’s easy to use, and feels natural.
The battery life is impressive, with Withings’s claim for 30 days from a single charge. That depends on what you do with it, but it does easily last several weeks, which is more than enough for most people’s every day use.
The biggest appeal of the ScanWatch is that you set it up and then forget about it; if there is a problem, the watch will let you know.
It goes without saying though that we shouldn’t rely 100 per cent on wearables to keep us healthy. While the ScanWatch is advanced, it won’t pick up everything including heart attacks or stroke. So if you feel unwell, and the watch isn’t flagging anything, don’t ignore it.
The ScanWatch looks like a normal, everyday watch with a few hidden surprises. It’s clinically validated when it comes to the oxygen saturation level, and with the heart rate, sleep and activity monitor, the Respiratory Scan feature is a powerful addition.
Battery life is excellent too, so you won’t need to keep charging the device too often.
The not so good
While the ScanWatch looks like a regular watch, it is a little thicker than the Move ECG, probably to account for the rechargeable battery.
This isn’t your standard smartwatch, so you won’t be able to add your favourite apps or store music. The screen is a very small part of the watchface, which has a good impact on battery life but limits what you can do with it. What you see is what you get with this one; you are dependent on Withings to add new features.
While there are plenty of sensors built in, there is one missing – GPS. For the ScanWatch, the GPS is connected rather than built in, so you will need to keep your phone with you at all times when you are running.
The app is a powerful complement to the ScanWatch, allowing you to control some of the functions and atrial fibrillation-detection is available, but you have to enable it through the app.
There are plenty of workout options for the watch, with the default ones including running, swimming, cycling and walking. You can have five on the watch, but you can customise them to including indoor activities, hiking, yoga, tennis, equestrian activities, ice skating, even snow boarding.
You can send notifications to your watch from your phone, so phones calls, text messages and other alerts are never missed. That is a double-edged sword though, as you will never be able to switch off.