Review: Withings Pulse Activity Tracker
Following health-centric, wearable accessories such as Fitbit's Flex and Nike's Nike+ FuelBand, Withings has released its own contender: Pulse Activity Tracker ($100). Like others in the category, this small device is designed to be worn on the body, and tracks information such as steps taken, calories burned, and distance travelled. Compared to those two, the big differences are how it's worn -- a clip is included, instead of a watchband -- and its touchscreen display. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 for low energy draw, but is backwards compatible with older devices that don't support the newer standard.
Pulse is a small device, measuring 1.69” long, 0.87” tall, and 0.31” deep, and weighs only eight grams. The body resembles that of a second-generation iPod shuffle, although instead of metal, it’s housed in soft-touch plastic. One of our few complaints about the device is that the coating chips rather easily; within just a few days of use, we had two sizable chunks missing, with some roughness around the edges. Along Pulse’s top edge, aligned to the right, is a physical control button. Underneath there’s a Micro-USB charging port for use with a stubby, included cable. And on the back is one of the accessory’s most interesting features: a heart rate sensor.
Instead of building a clip or band into Pulse, Withings included two separate accessories for wearing it. The first is a silicone sleeve, which has a clip on the back. It’s easy to insert and remove the sensor, and the skin is molded to fit the top button. Additionally, there’s a wristband, designed to be used while you’re sleeping. Unlike the clip case, it has a cutout for the heart rate sensor.
Unlike FuelBand and Flex, Pulse has a rudimentary touchscreen display that works in conjunction with the physical button. Pressing the button once wakes the unit, which instantly displays the number of steps you’ve taken that day. Continuing to press it allows you to toggle through the various measurements Pulse records. On any of them, you can swipe from left to right to reveal up to 14 previous entries. One of the pages displays a heart icon, and a moon. The former is tapped to begin a pulse reading, and the latter for turning on sleep mode. While it’s nowhere near as advanced as the screen on an iPhone, it doesn’t have to be. We like that you can visualize data right on the device, and interact with it naturally.
Aside from steps taken, Withings’ device records elevation climbed, distance travelled, and calories burned. Each measurement is reset at midnight, and two weeks’ worth of data is stored at a time. Pulse will even recognize when you start running, and record the duration and distance. The user can also toggle to a screen that shows the time, battery life, and his or her name.
The heart rate sensor uses optoelectronic hardware to get a read of your pulse, which includes a setup of green and red LEDs, and a camera. We found that as long as you don’t press too hard against the sensor, it works accurately and rapidly. It’d be nice to be able to take measurements without removing Pulse from its silicone case, but since doing so isn’t difficult, it’s not a terrible thing.
Withings says Pulse will last for two weeks on a single charge, and so far, that seems to be right; we’ve been using ours for about a week, and it’s currently showing a half-full battery. This kind of battery life is great, especially compared to some units that need to be charged every few days. Another nice aspect of the battery: it has a reserve power mode when your battery runs low; it’ll continue tracking for 24 hours, although the screen won’t turn on.
Like the other fitness tracking devices we’ve covered, this one syncs to iOS devices using a free app; here, it’s Withings Health Mate, the same app the company uses for its other health monitoring accessories. With the app launched, and the one-time Bluetooth pairing process completed, you can then sync the information over by holding down Pulse’s button for about three seconds. Everything is presented in a very nice looking layout, and the app connects to more than 60 others, including MyFitnessPal, and RunKeeper, for a holistic health view. The app also handles firmware updates for the device.
We can easily say that Pulse is the best consumer-level fitness tracking tool we’ve yet tested. It’s an unobtrusive accessory that looks great, and presents useful data in an easy and fun-to-access way. The heart rate sensor is a great addition, especially since it doesn’t bump the price to a higher level. If you’re already in Withings’ ecosystem, this one’s a no brainer; even if you’re not, it’s the one to get. As mentioned, our only issue with the device was the chipping of the physical finish, which is surprising from an accessory that’s designed to be worn all day, every day. Other than that, there’s not much more we could ask for. We highly recommend Withings’ Pulse.