Activity tracking and wearable technology have hit their stride. More than a dozen of the largest retailers in the United States carry devices from manufacturers like Fitbit, Jawbone, and other large players. One of those bigger names is Withings, who late in 2014 released the Withings Activité, a simple yet stylish watch that also tracks steps and swimming. And just a few months later we now have the névo, a minimalist approach in a similar package. How do these two contenders stack up in this new, fashion-centric fold?
SIDEBAR: Normally I prefer to run my tests along side of one another. It gives me a chance to really compare products neck-and-neck, side-by-side. Please note that wasn’t ideal for this review, so my hands-on time with the Withings was in early December 2014, a few months ago.
Neither Withings nor névo are the first to attempt to bring fashion into modern fitness. Roughly one year ago Fitbit announced their allegiance with Tory Burch, and has since released some snazzy jewelry pieces that have the ability to contain your activity tracker within. And as these dominoes continue to fall we see more and more companies bringing similar fashion-based activity trackers to market.
Specifically, for both the devices in this review, the focus is that of a casual to semi-formal watch. Neither are particularly sophisticated in their design, focusing instead on basic, contemporary aesthetics. névo touts their watch as minimalist, though I’d argue that while the face lacks a step counter, the addition of buttons on the side makes it no more or less complex than the Withings.
It is fair to say that at face value (no pun intended) both of these devices are almost identical. Their feature set even mimics one another rather closely, with just a few elements separating them. But as you’ll see below, the pricing is perhaps the biggest differentiation here, and one that will probably keep the Withings out of many retails, and off many potential wrists. That did change, however, with the Withings Activité Pop which I’ll talk more about later.
Again, because of the fact that these devices were tested at different times I’m going to write a separate review for each watch separately below, and then add my final thoughts at the end. Let’s see how this battle stacks up for the best casual fashion watch 2015!
Withings Activité (Classic)
When first released in November 2014 the Withings Activité was offered up in a limited number of units, selling out in just a few days on their web site. Units were delivered right around Thanksgiving, with two variations/options: one white face with a tan leather band, and one black face with black band. Both versions featured quick-release springs on the bands, so that you can easily swap in the included silicone water-proof bands. Seeing as the watch is rated for 5 ATM swimming, the included rubber bands are a nice touch.
At the time of my review/possession of the Activité they did not yet have swimming metrics recording, though that was promised soon. Additionally, their app was limited to tracking 10,000 steps a day as your fixed goal, though this also was something that was touted as being customizable sometime after my review. In recent months they have updated to allow custom step levels, but they still do not have swimming metrics in place.
Right off the packaging impressed me, one of the nicest unboxing experiences of my activity tracking reviews to date. Here are photos showing the unboxing process, and other close-ups of the device. Click them for larger views.
As you’ll notice in that final photo, the small post on the battery tool that is meant to be used for resetting the device…. mine broke! To resolve this issue I tried to use something around the house but had no such luck resetting the watch from the back side. Instead, I had to pop open the back to access the battery area, then use a paper clip to press button to start the setup process, since no other tool I had seemed to cause a proper reset pushing external back button.
Once I finally got the software to recognize the presence of the watch, a firmware update almost completed but the app force closed, so I had to restart app. And since the watch wasn’t being seen again by my Bluetooth, I once again had to reopen back case with the tool and use a paper clip again to reset device. This second attempt completed the firmware update without a force-close of the app, but the device did not “restart” (or so said the app said, sorry no screen shot) so I had to try to re-add the phone a third time, though this time since firmware update was done it worked successfully. Finally! Let’s just say install took longer than it should have!
Hardware quality on the Withings Activité is nice and the device feels of superb quality and gorgeous packaging. The leather band is small in size, though okay for me (set to the second to tightest ring given my extremely small wrists). Still the silicone band is larger- it fits okay still for me but is at the tightest setting. I suspect the silicone band is better sized for most men, but it would be rather huge for many females or those men with small wrists, such as myself.
Both bands are of great quality with the silicone having some stretch to them being hence more comfortable for full-day wearing. Only issue with silicone band is the sliding guide isn’t super snug and the length is a bit excessive for my small wrist. In that capacity the size of the leather band is perfect for me– such that I wish the silicone band was shorter, but I enjoyed the materials on both. I also would have liked to see an ordering option for small vs large and hence the silicone being smaller like leather– perhaps something Withings will consider down the road.
Deciding what color of Withings Activité to get was a tough decision, as the Black was more masculine I felt, but I’m a sucker for white (my iPhone is white, for example). Regretfully, the silver hands on a bright white white face causes the time to often become hard to read in certain light conditions. I’d presume the Black face version may be easier to view in those same scenarios. Style is so simple which is a personal preference for certain, but I find the overall design a bit too boring at this price point. If you’re spending $450 USD for a watch, there are many similarly priced units that make a bolder statement than this one. And for its small size during a period where the trend is all about large watches, this unit just doesn’t stand out enough to me that it can justify the costs, even if the materials add up to make it so.
One feature the watch offers is a vibrating alarm, and it works quite nicely. The double tap to check when the alarm is set for works quite slick, and is visually stunning. And the silent alarm is bold, making sure you’re awake by vibrating gently about a dozen times. Bummer here, however, is that you cannot dismiss the alarm mid cycle however, and must endure the full ~30 second vibrating sequence. Guess that’ll make sure you don’t fall back asleep!
When you open the Withings HealthMate app your watch will sync, ensuring the data you’re looking at is up to date. As noted by Withings HERE, the sync should also occur every 6-hours, or 1,000 steps, approximately. I did not find this to be the case, going at times a full day during my testing with no updates. This is even with my phone having the app in the background, and most definitely sufficient time, and/or steps, to warrant a sync. No response came from the manufacture when I inquired to the cause.
Sleep tracking data shows light versus deep versus awake time. You just wear it to bed and it auto detects sleep, no need to start/end the sequence which I found pretty awesome. It even automatically correctly counted a nap I took for 90-minutes one day, quite impressively. The data is neat but is it really actionable? Defintely awesome that auto detection was so good, but I’m still not a sleep tracking lover. I just don’t see how the data will help, and in the case of the Withings Activité, the data was a bit lacking in depth.
One important feature to me (and perhaps to many others) is that Withings offers integration with MyFitnessPal. As such you can see your food intake and caloric expenditure over the course of day and make sure you get off your butt enough to justify that double-latte-chocolate-whatever-frappe-thing you had at lunch time. 🙂
At the end of the day I found the Withings Activité really solid, gorgeous, but seeming a bit overpriced for what you get. Sure, the quality of hardware supports the pricing but the feature set seems slim. Watches of similar quality can be had for $150-300 at most department stores. Though this unit adds activity tracking most watches lack, is that really worth the price hike? Perhaps it is though, if you happen to appreciate the style or be a Withings user/lover. For those folks, I think this unit can make some sense. Others may prefer to spend the same money for something smarter, such as the Apple Watch.
Withings Activité (Pop)
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2015 Withings went ahead and announced a new device called the Withings Activité Pop. What makes the Activité Pop special is that it hosts the same features as the original unit, but with lower grade materials and a much lower price. At $150 retail the price is 1/3rd of the flagship model, making it more of a bargain.
Although I had originally planned to test one of these units, scarce availability at time of release and more than adequate reviews amongst my friends/peers provided me ample feedback. At this time you can now finally more easily snag them online or in your big box stores quite readily. Sadly I did not get any photos from them, so instead I’ll just include these photos from the official web site for your enjoyment:
Overall the feedback has been positive for the Withings Activité Pop, mainly because the feature set on the original unit, as noted above, was a bit weak compared to other smart watches at the higher price. But at $150, the lack of smart-watch gimmicks doesn’t matter quite as much. If you like the style and are content with this limited set of features, the Pop might be right for you.
However, for the same price you can go pickup a Fitbit Charge HR (Heart Rate). That device adds heart rate tracking, so that when you workout during ANY cardio exercise you’ll get proper logging. Again, the Fitbit line of devices is geared more towards exercise, and the watches discussed here are more stylish time-pieces. Not everyone cares as much about their workouts, so it may come down to personal needs. Never the less, my gripes with the Withings app (and hardware) would apply to this unit, yet I can’t dismiss it entirely.
After months of waiting, the névo watch is finally here! Mine arrived with no indication of tracking from the Indiegogo campaign, even though they were sending off way too many updates/emails in the past weeks. Per my order the unit is a New York style, featuring a Blacksmith case and Coffee colored strap. They also offer other case and strap colors, per their site. Here are some photos of the unboxing process:
Like the Withings, the névo comes with two sets of straps. However, where I found the quality of the silicone on the Withings to be very nice, I was underwhelmed by the “sports” fabric bands on the névo. And the leather, while nice, was not quite as supple or beautiful here as with the Activité. Still, this watch has a larger size and more heft, and that added substance and overall volume do give it a bit more aggressive if not slightly more masculine feel. While my small wrists (by male standards) made the Withings quite acceptable, I suspect that the average “guy” would prefer the névo size overall to the Withings rather small/modest footprint.
One interesting thing of note here is battery layout. Where Withings uses a single battery to power the entire unit, the névo has two: one battery for the smart features (6 months life) and then another battery for the movement (5 year life). Both will require a battery change just about frequently as the other, however, making this dual battery setup seem almost silly to me.
After the setup woes I had with the Withings, I was greatly impressed with the simplicity in which the névo setup was completed. It was easy, though a bit uninformative along the way. Worse yet, it took me a few minutes to realize that the time was not in sync with your phone. That feature is part of the Withings, but here you must manually set the time dial yourself. Here are some photos showing the setup and configuration process:
You may notice there is no area to show sleep quality, or other metrics. That is because, like the Withings, there are still features “forthcoming” down the road. On the névo web site it says the device will track swimming and sleep time & quality — neither are active yet but should be part of an OTA update eventually. Sounds familiar, right? In all fairness névo is a new startup, but the app just felt a bit underdeveloped at this point. (I’d say it reminds me of the Misfit app, but even that felt a bit more powerful, and actually nicer).
But I digress- the features you need are there, even if they aren’t as pretty as other apps. And at least they are indeed intuitive. You can choose the color you want for the notifications you activate, so I set my emails, text messages, calls, and other features to each be a unique color. Nowhere in the app did it explain that there was just one (singular) LED on the watch face representing that color. But I did find that data on their support page HERE.
Below are some photos of the watch on my wrist- take note of the very last photo, showing the yellow indicator light illuminated at the 8 o’clock marker:
While the névo lacks sleep tracking (the Withings already has that feature), they both lack swimming. But what the névo adds most importantly are those notifications, which is a great feature in the eyes of many. I was happy to be able to see the colors illuminate for each specific item, however the vibrations (three of them per notification) were a bit too dull, where the Withings has a stronger (better?) vibrator motor. This made the alarm also felt weak to me. Also, while it was nice to know the type of notification you missed, not knowing if it was an important text or email made it somewhat worthless, at least to me.
Overall the névo does a good job being a “smarter” watch than most (especially the Withings), but at the $299 price tag, is it really the best option? Build quality seems solid, the app is a bit young, but is this the right buy in this group, or in the market overall?
Starting at $149 the Withings Activité Pop is the best bargain of the bunch here, and in truth it is the best purchase of this trifecta. It offers up the perfect blend of contemporary watch styling with smart features, packaged in a fun way (with a few fun colors, too!). And you don’t even have to hit a button to see your steps, it has a separate dial always on display. For thrice the price, the Withings Activité is a big step up for a fancier version with the same feature set, and I suppose most won’t go for that. Unless you’re a serious time piece collector who wants the “best” version, the Pop is the way to go.
So where does the névo fit in? It doesn’t really make sense to me at $299 — because while it adds some nice features over both of the Withings offerings, the price makes it hardly worthwhile. Being able to tell time with a watch is intrinsic to its purpose, but with all of these devices the end goal is to do far more. And for $349-399 at entry level, the Apple Watch (and many other smart watches at the same price point) will do FAR more than the névo will ever be able to do.
In the end if you really want a classic watch style, but you feel strongly you’ll desire notifications, then yes, the névo makes sense. However, the price makes me argue its “bang for buck” — so if you can deal without notifications, my top pick in this battle is the Withings Activité Pop. Enjoy!