Let's face it: fitness trackers generally favour function over aesthetic. So in that respect, Withings' Activité and its younger, sportier sibling the Activité Pop, which was released in January this year, broke new ground before they even reached anyone’s wrist. It feels so refreshing to say that these are genuinely good-looking watches - the Activité is the more luxuriant option of the two, but both are identical functionality-wise.
Wrist appeal aside, there’s actually a decent fitness tracker lurking behind those pretty faces, with a simple, un-fussy app and some pretty addictive features. Does that make them more than a pair of pretty faces?
Activité: Screen, battery and build
The original Withings Activité is Swiss-made with a calf-hide strap and sapphire glass face, whereas the Pop sheds the bling for a silicone strap and matte steel body, and accordingly has a lower price - $150/£98 compared to the Activité’s $450/£296.
It’s a big price difference for some very subtle cosmetic differences that I’m not sure are worth the extra outlay, because lurking within is the same Activité watch.
A slightly domed face makes it bulkier than traditional watches, and causes the occasional unwanted reflection, but Withings has compensated by successfully making the faces readable in bright sunlight; and it’s a nice, if unnecessary, aesthetic touch.
Fitness tracking is enabled through a discrete smaller dial integrated into the analog display to show your step count, with ten markers each representing 10% of your daily step count goal.
Battery-wise, the Activité is powered by a standard cell battery that will keep it ticking for 'up to' eight months.We'd say more like six, but that's still an impressive feat considering the newest Jawbone UP3 conks out after a week.
One word of warning: the Pop's screen is notoriously fragile. The T3 office has collectively smashed two already, and not whilst doing anything overly vigourous, either.
Activité: Fitness performance
The Activité’s primary fitness function is counting steps - oh, and counting other things you do, and pretending they’re steps. Basically, just imagine that anything remotely active you do from now on is just another version of walking. Like cleaning the oven.
I’m not kidding. It’s an endearing feature, actually. The MEMS 3-axis accelerometer is extremely enthusiastic about doing its job, so any particularly turbulent arm movements end up counting. I suppose that’s as physically beneficial as walking anyway, but it’s something to bear in mind if you do like a precise step count.
There’s a fixed daily goal of 10,000 steps, which automatically resets every midnight. Whether that’s helpful or frustrating probably depends on the wearer. A firmware upgrade has been promised since day one that will allow you to set your own goal but so far, it hasn't arrived.
On the flipside, Activité’s super-sensitive motion sensors automatically detect jogging, so if you run for the bus it’ll reflect in your stats in the app, albeit not with any great accuracy.
The Activité is waterproof up to 50m, and it knows when you’re in water. It’s pretty successful at counting arm movements as swimming strokes, and not steps, and you get a calories-burned figure, swim time, and lap count in the app when you finish.
Activité: Sleep-tracking performance
Unlike some fitness trackers that need informing when you’re going to sleep, the Activité knows when you’re drifting off. It never gets it wrong either, managing somehow to not get confused by a lazy afternoon on the sofa.
Its sleep-quality tracking is good, when it’s working. Occasionally I found that a quick read of a book at 3am when I couldn’t sleep didn’t reflect in the sleep graphs in the app. But it mostly does a good job of recording light, deep and waking sleep stages.
One downfall in this department is the lack of heart rate sensor to add another dimension to your sleep stats, but then it’s for you to decide whether you really need to be told that your heart rate increased between the hours of 6.55 and 7am when the flesh-eating zombie in your nightmare was about to eat your face off.
There’s a silent vibrating alarm too, which you can set in the app. Some might find it a little too gentle, though, and confuse it in their sleepy state for a complimentary wrist massage.
As far as fitness-tracking apps go, Activité’s Health Mate app ranks as fairly standard. It’s a nice, clean interface with easy-to-decipher graphs and activity insights. All of your basic information gets stored in there, such as weight, age, gender and BMI, and your stats beam through from the watch via Bluetooth.
It’s both Android- and iOS-compatible, and it can cross over with your other favourite fitness apps, like MyFitnessPal, which helps Health Mate determine calories burned vs intake.
My main issue with Health Mate is syncing time. It can take around 20 seconds to sync a day’s data, and because it doesn’t like storing more than about a day and half of activity, if you forget to sync on the odd occasion you’ll stand to lose a day of data, so beware when you're travelling or if you’re prone to forgetfulness.
The time and the alarm are both only adjustable via the app, so you don’t have to fiddle with watch settings using a dial - which I like, although more traditional watch lovers might not.
Because Activité doesn’t receive any message or call notifications like a smartwatch, the only reminders you’ll get from the app will be vibrating nudges to keep you on target. This can get a little repetitive, given that the app doesn’t actually give you any real in-depth feedback on your fitness stats beyond the graphs.
Withings has struck upon a winning formula here: a fitness tracker that doesn’t look like a fitness tracker. It’s primarily a stylish watch, which isn’t something most smartwatches manage - and that holds true whether you opt for the high-end Activité or the cheaper, more Swatch-like Activité Pop.
Yes, in the process of making the world’s most stylish fitness tracker Withings did forget a few vital ingredients such as, er, serious fitness tracking. Even so, if the question is whether it’s a good basic fitness tracker with some desirable Fitbit elements, the answer is probably yes.
Of course, hardcore outdoorsmen wanting detailed tracking and analysis of their every adventure should look elsewhere, to the likes of the Fitbit Surge, Polar M500, Garmin's multitude of watches, or a TomTom.
The Activité does a decent job of autonomously transitioning between tasks such as walking, running and swimming. The watch itself doesn’t demand much attention from you either, partly due to the entirely in-app control settings, and partly due to the simplicity of the analog interface showing just your step count.
Ultimately, the Activité watches put fashion first - but fitness is still a respectable second.