We recently reviewed the Withings Smart Body Analyzer WS-50 bathroom scales and were very impressed with their functionality. We mentioned in that review that Withings were soon to release an activity tracker akin to the Jawbone UP or Fitbit offerings. Well, I can now report that their Pulse activity tracker (shown in the pictures above) is available to buy and we have been using a review device for the last couple of weeks. Have a read of our thoughts below:
In the box
In the box is the Pulse itself, a silicone clip attachment which allows you to clip the Pulse to your clothing, and also a wristband which the Pulse slips into so you can wear it at night in order to monitor your sleep. At first I didn’t think the silicone material of clip would be strong enough to keep hold of the Pulse and that it would fall out during the day, but I have used it for 2 weeks now and have not had any problems at all, so I stand corrected!
The Pulse is very small and very light little bit of kit. Measuring just 2.2cm tall, 4.4cm long and 0.9cm thick, the first thing that surprised me when I first set eyes on the Pulse was how small and light it was, and yet how much Withings had managed to pack into it.
In order to distinguish themselves from the competition, Withings have worked hard to try to differ the Pulse from Fitbit and Jawbone, and improve on their shortcomings. One major bugbear about the Jawbone (and also with the new Fitbit Flex) is that there is no screen. Without a screen there is no way of quickly checking how your progress is for the day without plugging it into your phone (or connecting via bluetooth) and performing a sync to the app. The Pulse has a great little screen that allows you to quickly scroll through the various options using the button on the top so you can see the number of step you have taken, rough calculations on distance travelled, calories burnt etc. This is nothing new compared to some of the other Fitbit devices (the One and the Zip for example). However one very welcome addition that sets the Pulse apart from its competitors is that the screen is also a touchscreen, which gives it even more versatility. Now, not only can you can scroll to the different type of data using the button, but you can also then swipe backwards to see recent historical information about that data. For example, hit the button to take you to today’s step counter, and then swipe left on the screen in order to see yesterday’s and the previous day’s step counts too.
The Pulse has a surprisingly impressive battery considering its size. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Withings are expecting you to be getting a good week and a half to two weeks of usage between charges. During my two weeks of reviewing it I have found I needed to charge it up twice, but bear in mind I have been using the touchscreen, bluetooth etc a fair bit more that you would during normal use in order to fully test it out. The Pulse is charged extremely quickly (less than an hour to fully charge), and is done via a standard micro-USB cable (no fancy proprietary cables needed – HURRAH!) which plugs straight into the bottom of the Pulse.
The usual expected activity tracker functionality is built into the device and viewable on the device’s screen. For example you can view the number of steps taken, a calculation of the altitude/elevation that you have climbed during your day, as well as a rough idea of distance covered and the calories you have burnt. Withings have done well here to also iron out some of the problems that users have experienced with the Fitbit which recorded changes in elevation even when driving up a hill or going up in an elevator. The Pulse will only record changes in elevation if it also detects step activity at the same. The Pulse will also distinguish between normal activity and more strenuous activity such as running and give you a different display that is easier to read while you are out running. In addition, you will be able to see that run information separately within the app once you sync the data.
Similar to the Fitbit Flex and the Jawbone Up, the Withings Pulse can be used to track your sleep. Just slip the little guy into the wristband provided, tap the little moon icon on the screen to let it know you are heading to bed and wear it when you sleep. The Pulse will detect your movements during the night and will keep a record of how much decent restful deep sleep you got compared to the amount of light agitated rest. The wristband is comfortable, and you will barely notice you are even wearing it.
One very interesting feature that sets the Withings Pulse apart from its competition is that it also has a heart rate monitor built into it. Select the little heart icon on the screen and just place your finger lightly over the sensor on the back of the device and in a few seconds it will tell you an accurate measurement of your current heart rate. Very useful for runners who want to check their heart rate at various times along their route.
Of course, as we found with the Withings Smart Body Analyzer, the best functionality comes thanks to the ability to sync with Withings’ smartphone apps (available for iOS and Android) and to have all your historical data stored on your Withings account. This allows you to track your progress over time to see how your general health is improving and to see which areas you could be working harder on. We also loved the ability to tie in with many other popular health apps and services (for example MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper etc). If you haven’t already read our previous article which extolled the virtues of the Withings app and back-end systems, then I would highly recommend having at look at that once you have finished this. There is a link provided at the end of the article.
Viewing the data on the app gives a much more detailed view of how your activity was spread out over a single day. Instead of just getting an overall count for the day you can view your levels activity in 30 minute sections throughout the day. Sleep data is shown in much the same way, allowing you to see the periods of the night when you are getting your best sleep.
When we spoke to Withings, they were very keen to stress that they are still working hard on new functionality that could be built into the app. One example that I found particularly interesting was the ability to link the CO2 and temperature data collected by the Smart Body Analyser and match it with the sleep data recorded by the Pulse. That way you can see the effect that CO2 and temperature levels has on your quality of sleep.
Improvements I would like to see
As I mentioned, Withings are still working very hard on improving the Pulse and particular what new features could be added to their app that makes use of the Pulse data. One thing I would like to see introduced would be the ability to set your own step count target. At the moment the default target for all Pulse users is 10,000 steps. If you were particularly active, or perhaps the other end of the scale, then it would be nice to be able to change the target to stretch you just that little bit more, or perhaps be a bit more realistic for someone with more of a sedentary lifestyle.
Other than that I really cannot think of any other improvements that I would like to see.
Final comments and verdict
This really is a superb activity tracker. I was worried when I heard that Withings were going to be entering this already fairly saturated market, but I have to admit that they have come up with something that not only improves on the shortcomings of existing devices, but also adds some interesting and new functionality that no-one else has thought of doing. Put the Pulse together with their already impressive Withings account and smartphone app functionality and you have a winning combination.
View our facebook album showing more images of the Withings Pulse activity tracker here.
Read our previous article on the Withings Smart Body Analyzer WS-50 here.