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.

FitStar

One of my biggest fitness challenges is how travel throws off any workout routine I manage to get into. It takes me weeks to get into a comfortable groove, then I travel a few days and it sometimes feels like I am back at square one when I get back. I've found that the obvious solutions of going for runs or using hotel gyms when away rarely work for me unless I am on vacation. It becomes an additional overhead on the trip.

About a month ago, I came across FitStar. It's an app with guided workouts. They have 4 programs: Daily Dose, Get Moving, Get Lean and Get Strong.

I started with Get Lean but found the workouts a bit too repetitive. I switched to Get Strong and I much prefer this program. 

FitStar is innovative because the workouts are adaptive. After every segment (e.g., 20 pushups), it asks you how it went (easy, ok or brutal) and the next workout will be tailored to that feedback. This means that it slows down the progression of segments you can't complete and it ramps up pretty quickly in areas that are too easy. This is an obvious improvement on video-based programs that are the same for everyone.

The workouts I've tried last ~30 minutes and burn ~300 calories. I am not too hung up on the number of calories but I find that working out in the morning drastically improves my day. 

On my last trip to Paris I just propped up the iPad on the hotel desk and did my workouts every day. I think it helped with jetlag but, most importantly, I didn't get derailed from my daily workout routine and was able to jump right back in when I got back home.

This morning I woke a bit late and didn't have time for the gym. I fired up FitStar, streamed it to my TV via AppleTV and I was done in 40 mins including getting changed and setting up. It doesn't get more efficient.

It's now on sale for 29.99/year, down from 49.99/year. Check it out, I think you'll like it.