The good people at Withings were kind enough to send me an Activité Pop smartwatch for review, and I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to take it for a thorough test drive over the last several months. Activité Pop is clear on its point of view, and as such it won’t be all things for all people. That may be its biggest strength.
To my knowledge, the Withings Activité Pop was the first smartwatch to adopt an analog face rather than a digital display.
The innards might all be digital, but what you see from the outside looks like any old watch. In fact, no one who’s noticed me wearing this device knew it was an activity tracker until I told them. I suppose there are pros and cons to that.
Activité Pop has two dials: a standard watch dial (without numbers, to my three-year-old’s dismay), and another underlaid dial on the lower right that runs 270° of a circle and shows how far along you are on your daily steps goal, whatever you’ve designated it to be. Subtle and slick.
At $150 retail, the Activité Pop is the least expensive of the Activité line. It’s stylish, but not so fancy that I don’t want to wear it while I run. This is compared to the Steel and Activité models, which are far more formal to my eye. The Activité model actually retails for $450 (!).
To Withings’ credit, you can buy extra bands, and they’re super easy to swap out. A tiny slide lever on each band pulls a pin from the case, releasing itself. I could definitely see myself switching from a leather strap for work and then over to one of the plastic bands for a run when I get home.
Having come from the charge-once-every-five-days Fitbit world, the nearly 8-month battery life of Activité Pop is a breath of fresh air. Yes, the entire Activité line uses a standard CR2025 battery, and man, those things are cheap.
So, in the six or so months I’ve been wearing this watch, I haven’t had to think about charging it once. Nada. No times whatsoever. And that’s really awesome compared to the days when I was worried about keeping my Fitbit Charge — ahem — charged.
Well, as I’d alluded earlier, there’s no magic to this lengthy battery life. It should come as no surprise, but the reason Activité Pop’s energy lasts so long is simple — it just doesn’t do as much as other smartwatches. However, I believe it does what it does quite well.
Before I go too much farther on this review, let me take a moment to address the actual Activité Pop setup process.
The tracker comes fully assembled in typical watch packaging, where the band wraps around a center piece so the main case can be featured.
A small tool is included to help with activating the watch via a tiny, tiny button on the backside. Once pressed, the Bluetooth radio becomes active and your smartphone (iOS or Android) can see Activité Pop via the free Health Mate app.
One thing I found both odd and enjoyable was the method for setting the time.
First of all, I was kind of surprised that a smartwatch like this even needed to be set. I figured it could set itself based on the time information coming over from the app. For whatever reason, that’s not the case.
Instead, you’re asked to calibrate the watch via a bit of Bluetooth magic. Turning a virtual dial on the screen of my iPhone makes the three dials on my Activité Pop turn as well. By this method you calibrate each hand to zero — hours, minutes, and activity.
The secondary dial on Activité Pop is useful, but it’s the underlying data that syncs back to iOS and Android that make the watch so great to have.
The free Withings Health Mate app communicates with Activité Pop in the background and parses information like steps and activity, weight (from user-entered data or Withings’ own WiFi scales), sleep, and nutrition.
From the app you can also configure the silent alarm feature (Fitbit offers this as well). I’ve tried this feature a couple of times, and I’m afraid I just haven’t been able to make it work reliably for my day-to-day.
Health Mate’s interface is clean, and background activity sync is reliable. (You can force sync by opening the app, and that’s fast as well.) You can choose to share activity and other health data with the stock Health app, which opens up integration with many, many other health & fitness apps.
I use Activité Pop for tracking these activities:
My strongest impression: compared to my prior Fitbit Charge, I’d estimate Activité Pop logs about 20% fewer steps. And if I had to say, I’d guess it’s Fitbit that over-tracks activity. While it was a jarring change at first, in thinking about my actual activity, I suspect Activité Pop is far more reliable for steps tracking.
And it’s steps tracking that matters most to me about wearing this watch. The automatic sleep tracking is great, but it’s not data I reflect on often. No, it’s physical activity that interests me most as I look to shed my dad bod by watching my calories and increasing my daily activity. Activité Pop excels in this area.
As for running, I was uncertain about wearing what looks like a regular watch for any kind of real distance. It’s just a little less natural than the sporty look of the Fitbit, the Apple Watch, and certainly any GPS watch from Garmin.
The truth is, I’ve actually gotten used to it. And since I rely on my iPhone for distance tracking and audio entertainment while running, Activité Pop ends up playing a slightly lesser role.
All in all, I find Activité Pop to be an excellent compromise between form and function. It’s both attractive for work and play, and performs as advertised. I’m pleased.
I’d like to make a few comments about what Activité Pop is not. Again, a main point of reference in writing this has been my prior Fitbit Charge, and to be fair, it had some nice features. In particular, I liked receiving notifications about incoming calls on my wrist. Many, many fitness trackers offer this as an ancillary feature, but it’s just not part of what you get with Activité Pop. Certain limitations come when there’s no digital display available.
Nor does the Activité Pop include a GPS for distance tracking. It can make some guesses based on number of strides and stride length, but that’s as accurate as it can be. Any kind of distance running will require a separate GPS watch or smartphone running app to acquire that kind of data.
If you’re interested in basic steps tracking and appreciate the aesthetics of a traditional watch, Activité Pop is an excellent choice. For me it’s as much the right style for shorts and a t-shirt as it is for a suit and tie. And at around $129, the price is right as well.
Bottom line: it’s good to have choices.
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