Withings Activité Review

Activity trackers conceptually appeal to me but I have never found one I liked. Unfortunately, every tracker I tried had a fatal flaw that prevented me for lasting more than a couple of weeks with it.

To me everything I tested had a combination of three major flaws:

  1. No external feedback. The twoJawbone versions I tried drove me nuts because I had to sync with my iPhone just to know how many steps I took. The Misfit kind of gave some kind of indication but, let’s be honest, that systems sucks.
  2. Ridiculously short battery power. It happened to me regularly that I was out on a long activity (e.g., hike or ride) and the tracker died. Also, I noticed that my biggest drop-off point was when I took it off to charge it then never bothered again.
  3. Bad design. They are all cheaply made plastic/rubber contraptions that range from barely ok (Jawbone) to awful (Misfit). The worst part is that I have to wear/carry yet another device with me. And no, I will never use a FitBit as my main watch.
When Withings announced their Activité, I was curious but not immediately sold.

Was it a desperate attempt to just put out something on the market before the Apple Watch came out?

Who came up with that pricing — are they nuts?

Is it really nice enough to wear as my main watch?

I can’t answer the first two questions but the third is a resounding YES. Let’s break things down:

Pros:

  • Great design. This is purely subjective, but I just love how the Activité looks. It is elegant and uncluttered. I have received a lot of compliments on my watch from people who had no idea that it’s also an activity tracker. In fact, they thought I was pulling their leg when I told them that the second sub-dial showed my steps for the day.
  • Build quality. While other trackers are flimsy, this watch is made exceptionally well. I don’t think the Swiss Made stamp means anything for a non-mechanical watch but, regardless, the build quality is irreproachable.
  • Battery. The included battery is supposed to last eight months and there is a spare one included in the package. I am pretty happy with 16 months. Sure beats in the three-seven days in the other trackers I tried.
  • Simplicity. The Activité tracks two things visually: time and steps (% of daily goal). I don’t have to cycle through multiple screens to find. The information on the analog display couldn’t be clearer. It also tracks sleep and swimming but I don’t really use those features.
  • Alarm. You can set an alarm (via the phone) and the watch will vibrate when it’s time. Simple but useful.
  • Easy setup. The initial setup took less than three minutes and it was dead simple.
  • Timezones. The first time I travelled with this watch, this feature blew my mind. I landed in Frankfurt and the watch automatically adjusted to the right timezone by syncing with my phone. The hands just swiftly ticked into the right position. Very cool.
  • Bands. The Activité comes with two bands: leather and silicone. The leather one is beautiful, very comfortable and has tasteful stitching. Haven’t tried the silicone band but I imagine it can be useful if I plan on getting the watch yet.

Cons:

  • No cycling tracking. As of today, the watch does not recognize cycling activity. Chatter on the Withings support forum suggests that it is something they might bring down the line via an over the air update. I really hope they do that soon. Please Withings, hook a brother up.
  • Small. The Activité only comes in one unisex size measuring 36.3mm. The small size is not a dealbreaker but I would have preferred something over 38mm.
  • Price. The price on this product (USD 450) is bordering on outrageous. It doesn’t make sense that I can buy an Apple Watch or Swiss Made fully automatic Tissot for less than that. I hope Withings revise this decision.

Conclusion:

I consider the Activité the only acceptable activity tracker for me, despite its price. In the end, it is the only wearable that I stuck to and that’s what counts the most for me.

Apple Watch Work Edition

I am often asked what I think of the Apple Watch and the truth is that I am torn. As a mechanical watch enthusiast, I am fearful that the minority of us who care about these marvels of craftsmanship will further shrink. However, as a technologist, I am excited by the endless possibilities that the Apple Watch will unleash, especially in healthcare/fitness applications. I have tried and been strongly disappointed by the last few generations of wearable and I believe that Apple will finally do it right. They always do. And that’s why I will definitely buy the Sport Edition when it becomes available.
I have no doubt that the Apple Watch will do spectacularly well. But I think the Apple Watch will truly shine brightest at work. 

I can imagine a multitude of settings where not having access to a smartphone is a hinderance to productivity. Two categories that immediately pop in to my mind:

  • On the move: The growing armies of on-demand/delivery workers who need information on the move. Smartphones have largely replaced walkie-talkies as the primary dispatching device and it is common for 1099 workers to bring their own data-enabled devices. Recruitment ads often even specify “iPhone with iOS 6+ or recent Android phone”. It is difficult and dangerous for a courier to glance at their phones while riding on two wheels. I know that at FreshMint we often have an issue where the dispatcher sends a courier a change of plan while the courier is between points A and B and the message doesn’t get seen until they get to B. An Apple Watch will solve that.

  • Clean/dirty hands: There are many situations where you need to keep your hands clean or wear gloves. I can think of healthcare professionals in non-sterile environments (nurses, dentists, etc), cleanroom, lab or kitchen workers. With notifications correctly setup to avoid unnecessary distractions, I can see how the Apple Watch could be very useful in these environments. No more awkward “please reach into my pocket and answer the phone” situations.

So how is this solely relevant to the Apple Watch and not Android wearables? It’s not. I think the above applies to smartwatches in general. But I have absolutely no doubt that the Apple implementation will be more elegant and therefore used more broadly. Apple will bring an impossibly geeky product to the mainstream. They always do.

Marvin Malton 160 M117 review

I bought my first “nice” watch in 2006 with the first bonus I received after 6 months at McK. It was a Panerai Luminor Marina 40mm (PAM00048) that I picked after two or three months of research and seeking opinions. I found a pre-owned version of the exact model I wanted and authenticated it with Chateau d’Ivoire, a reputable Montreal-based jeweler. After receiving the watch, I immediately got rid of the stock leather bracelet to replace it with a black diver-style rubber band. I started with an original Panerai diver band but when that was worn out, I’ve had a series of generic bands mostly purchased on Panatime.

The original plan was that would be my “sporty” watch and that I would buy a “dressy” watch later. However, I was so happy with the Marina that I never ended up buying the other watch. Anyone who knows me will tell you that this watch essentially never left my wrist for over seven years. I am still deeply in love with my Marina as I find it to be the perfect every day watch that fits well with my lifestyle. I went to school and work with it. I sailed, cycled, skied and bummed around on the beach with it. I wore it at weddings and black-tie shindigs. It worked so well for me because it isn’t too bulky (remember I have the less popular 40mm), the rubber strap is supremely comfortable and it’s rugged (I’ve banged it on more door frames that I care to admit). Most importantly, it’s relatively discreet for Montreal, where Panerai is not really a trendy brand. It’s not nearly as conspicuous as walking around with a Submariner or bulky Navitimer.

But as much as I loved my trusty Panerai, my eyes starting wandering. I started longing for a simple white-faced dressier watch that I can wear occasionally. Since I don’t have the same kind of extra cash lying around as I did when working for my corporate overlords, I decided that I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on my new purchase. This budget constraint obviously eliminated a few of the usual suspects (IWC, JLC, etc) right off the bat.

My criteria were:

  • Provenance: Real Swiss-made watch with Swiss parts and Swiss craftsmanship. Not one that was made in HK and assembled in Switzerland just to get the “Swiss Made” stamp.
  • History: A manufacture with an interesting history. This eliminates a few of the newer brands.
  • Movement: Solid automatic movement with at least a date
  • Design: Simple white face, preferably with blue hands
  • Band: Leather
  • Glass: Saphire
  • Case diameter: 40-42mm
  • Budget: Under $1k

After looking around for a while, I settled on the automatic Marvin M117 in the Malton 160 family with white face and blue hands (exact modelM117.13.22.68). It was slightly above my budget at $1,220 but exactly fit all my other criteria.

I have been now wearing the new M117 almost daily for over two months and I am thrilled with my purchase. Let’s see why:

Strengths:
  • Discreet. I have received very few comments from strangers since I got the Malton. To me this is a feature, not a bug. One of my pet peeves is when people make assumptions about others based on the watch they are wearing. Yes, I like nice watches. And yes, I will also negotiate my lease agreement to the last detail. They are not mutually exclusive.
  • Beautiful. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I find the M117 absolutely stunning. To me, the proportions of the face are perfect even if the case could use a slight haircut as I explain below.
  • Interesting history. Marvin was founded in 1860, went through some tough times in the middle of the last century and had an interesting story of rebirth. I sent some questions to the new owners and I will post the answers in a new post when I receive them.
  • Attention to detail. Marvin watches all have some details that are fun to discover: a red marker dot at the 8 o’clock position, a stamp with the founders’ initials on the left side of the case, the Marvin crown on the stem and bracelet clasp and a red lining inside of the leather band.
  • Push-button straps. The push button mechanism allows you to change the straps very easily with no tools necessary. I bought an additional black leather strap to supplement the dark brown one that comes with the watch and it is I had heard of this feature before but never seen it in action. I like it!
  • Solid movement. The Sellita SW200 powering the M117 is a standard, if not boring, movement. It is essentially a clone of the ETA2824 workhorse and there is really not much to add here. It does the job, does it well and without fanfare. Expecting anything better at this price range is just not realistic.
  • Great value for money. When you take into account the history and craftsmanship of this watch, I think that you are definitely getting superb value. Of course it’s all relative and I am fully aware that spending $1.2k on a watch is kind of frivolous but we all have our sins.
  • Service. Last but not least, the customer service was spectacular. I emailed the general mailbox with some questions and got an answer in less than an hour. For the following two weeks, Francisco in customer service answered my follow-up questions with speed, first-class competence and empathy. I ordered the watch on a Friday and it arrived on Monday. An impressive feat for a Neuchâtel-Montréal shipment.
What I would have done differently:
  • Leather band. The leather band is slightly uncomfortable because the edges are too thin and not well rounded. I would have personally chosen a broader, more supple band with a better edge finish.
  • Case. The case is ever slightly bulkier that I would have liked. Of course this is pure subjective but I would have preferred to shave a millimetre or two from the diameter and depth of the case. I am not sure if that is technically feasible with the size of the movement but it would have given the watch an even more refined look.
  • Hands. Again this is subjective but I think feuille style hands would work better than the lancette ones currently on the Malton 160.

Verdict:

I am very satisfied with the Marvin Malton 160 M117 and would recommend this watch without reservations. If you are looking for a well-built, well-designed watch with an interesting heritage but without breaking the bank, you should seriously consider the M117.

I must say that now that I have a taste of the Marvin brand, I am lusting over the M115 regulator (exact model M115.13.24.68). She is a beauty powered by a Dubois-Dépraz regulator movement and I will try to get my hands on one for a review.

Feel free to ask if I have left a detail you’re interested in. Thanks for reading!