Withings has been on the health monitoring scene for a while with Wi-Fi-enabled body fat scales and app-friendly blood pressure monitors, but can it make a device you’d be happy wearing every day?
But will its grown-up looks and extra stat-gathering skills win us over?
Design means business
With its mysterious matt black finish and blue display, it certainly doesn’t look like other activity trackers. When slotted into its wrist strap with its anodised blue or black metal finish and square edges it looks more high-flying executive than casual gym slob.
Its proper strap with buckle keeps it securely on your wrist – it’s not going to ping off like some pop-closure straps can when taking off a jacket, for example. However its high, flat sides mean it does get caught on sleeves more often.
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Five Seconds of Screen
The Pulse O2's matt black OLED screen is blank until the single button is pressed, making it no good for quick glances at the time or your activity stat of choice, and you’ll soon realise that it’s virtually unreadable outdoors on a sunny day.
The time screen can be reoriented to vertical display, but not the other screens, meaning you have to twist your wrist/arm into quite an awkward position to get a good look at the stats before they disappear five seconds later. Clearly this is to preserve battery life, but it’s a little frustrating and we would have liked the option to keep the display lit for a little longer.
Dimensions: 43x22x8mm, 8g (without strap)
Screen: OLED touchscreen, 128 x 32 pixels
Heart rate and SpO2 sensor
Connection: Micro USB, Bluetooth
Two Week Battery Life
Battery life is really, really good. In two-and-a-half weeks of use the battery level was still at 20% (at which point it started asking us to charge it).
Charging is by way of a micro USB port in one side. While we love a standard port rather than a proprietary charging dock, the port is in just the right place to make us nervous about getting water inside during a spot of particularly over-exuberant hand-washing. It’s not waterproof and you definitely can’t wear it in the shower.
The Pulse O2 connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, automatically syncing, or you can prompt it to sync by holding its button for three seconds. It gives you access to your stats over the last day, week, month and beyond in a handy bar graph format.
Your health stats are split into Weight, Activity, Sleep and Heart categories. It can receive data from other apps such as MyFitnessPal or other Withings kit such as its Wi-Fi scales and blood pressure monitor.
The only stat provided by the Pulse O2 relating to sleep is the total time you slept, also displayed as a percentage of the ‘optimum’ eight hours.
Unfortunately it’s not smart enough to tell when you’re sleeping on its own; you have to scroll through the screens and set it to sleep mode (and tell it you’re awake again in the morning).
You can delve deeper into your sleep stats in the app to see the quality of sleep you’re getting, but there’s no smart vibrate-to-wake alarm like the one on the Jawbone UP. If serious sleep tracking is a priority, the Pulse O2 probably isn't for you.
Only half accurate
We’re going to be honest: we didn’t count in our head all the steps we did in a day, but the numbers do tally pretty well with the amount of activity actually being done.
We did all our testing with it in the wrist strap mount, though you can also use the rubbery blue clip-on mount too.
The distance counter seemed pretty wonky, though; on a couple of days when we’d logged four or five thousand steps it was also telling us we’d done zero distance. The running time readout (a swipe across from the steps screen) also seemed to log only half our running time. And that's just not fair.
Where the Withings really sets itself apart from other fitness devices around the £100 mark is the inclusion of a heart rate sensor.
It doesn’t work when attached to your wrist, but sliding it out of the strap exposes the sensor on the back, ready for you to check your pulse and blood oxygenation level.
It’s a bit clumsy and we'd prefer the option to check our pulse without removing it from the strap, but it’s currently the only fitness tracker at this price that offers any sort of pulse reading whatsoever. Samsung's Gear Fit, which includes the tech, is £170.
Withings Pulse O2 Verdict
The Withings Pulse O2 looks great value for money thanks to the inclusion of a pulse monitor, and is more stylish than most.
But its lack of waterproofing, hard to read screen and hit-and-miss distance tracking mean it’s far from perfect.