taying healthy requires the right mixture of sleep, food, and exercise. Neglect one and you’ll likely feel it in the other. And while Withings’ Pulse can’t track your food intake – you can use their connected scale for that – it can keep tabs on your sleeping habits, exercise, and heart rate.
The Pulse is effectively a pedometer with an infrared heart rate monitor embedded into the back of the device. It’s coated in black rubber and despite the screen’s LED look, it reacts to the touch allowing you to swipe left or right and view the last 10 days of collected stats. There is also a hardware button. Push it and it cycles to the next stat (time>steps>altitude>distance>calories). It of course connects to your smarpthone via Bluetooth, which provides historical data courtesy of the Withings app (Android and iOS).
Included in the box is a small belt clip, as well a wrist strap complete with a mesh window so you can still view the screen. The belt clip is made from rubber and can be adhered to a belt or a pants pocket. The wrist strap is only intended to be used when tracking sleep. Just slip the Withings Pulse into it, strap on the velcro and with the sleep option activated you can track slumber.
Unlike some other pedometers, such as Fitbit’s One or Flex, no special cable is required to charge the Pulse thanks to a micro USB port. For this I applaud and credit Withings since if you’ve already got an Android phone in your possession there is a good chance you’ll never have to look too far to charge it up.
But with that practically comes a sacrifice, albeit in style. The Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband have a bit more pizzaz to them. The Pulse is more analogous to a blunt force instrument that is, simply put, designed to get the job done.
Tracking steps, or runs is as simple as slipping the Withings Pulse into your pocket. – it can discern between the two without any user input, though with some variance in accuracy. For instance, a 2.5 mile run was only recorded as 1.1. Though for the sake of disclosure it was performed on a treadmill.
To test the Pulse’s accuracy I wore it along with a Fitbit One, which I’ve found to be the most accurate of the bunch. No problems there. However, the same can’t be said when it comes down to reading and recording heart rate.
To be fair, this is one of the first to market pedometer that includes the ability to read your pulse, so credit is due in terms of innovation. To initiate the heart rate sensor you need to swipe to the corresponding screen and touch and hold the onscreen heart button (the same screen you activate the sleep function). This activates what appears to be small infrared light on the rear of the device that can detect a pulse when a finger is placed on top of it. An onscreen icon will indicate that it is attempting to read your heart rate and if all goes well the Pulse will spit out a number represented by beats per minutes. Unfortunately, my attempts resulted in numbers that varied quite drastically – 60 to 130 bpm – or came back as an error.
The sleep monitoring features of the Withing’s Pulse doesn’t seem to be all that different from that of the Fitbit One. The wrist straps are very similar and both require that you start a timer when you begin sleep. Through the collection of movement, the Pulse attempts to tell you when you are in deep sleep or light sleep, or have woken up.
To activate Sleep Mode you just cycle to the according screen and touch the crescent moon symbol. A timer will begin to count and the Pulse will begin to monitor your sleeping. There are a total of three modes: awake, light sleep, and deep sleep. It’s not entirely clear how it discerns between all three, but presumably the less movement the deeper you in sleep. However, two nights ago I started the timer and continued to stay awake for a few hours – I couldn’t sleep. Despite that the Pulse recorded that I fell asleep within 7 minutes of activating its Sleep Mode. That said, I have a hard time believing any wrist worn device can detect what stage of sleep you’re in based on movement alone, so you might want to look else where for a true account of what you’re doing in your unconscious state.
To view the Pulse’s data is the Withings App. It’s as one stop app, designed to work with of all of Withings other products (their scale and blood pressure monitor). And because it’s one app and many product, all of the information is together in a single screen and provides an overview of your general health at a glance. So in theory a decrease in weight loss, as recorded by the Withings Scale, should show an increase or consistency in steps or calories burned. Moreover, it provides added motivation to see if additional steps or calories burned can result in a further weight loss and at what rate. Heart rate, while less vital, is also a good indicator of overall health, and although Withings doesn’t use it to calculate calories burned, it can track your level of exertion, provided it actually works at the time.
And while Withings says the Pulse will connect with your smartphone throughout the day, I often had to force the data transfer. Worse, my Nexus 4 more often than not failed to connect with the Pulse, where as my Samsung Galaxy S4 was more consistent and my iPhone 4s the best of the bunch requiring the least amount of fiddling to make it work.
I would like to see Withings take their app another step further and point out connections between weight and exercise, assuming the users has more than one device at their disposal. As with any Pedometer or measurement system, your data is only as good as the person interpreting it.
There still isn’t a defacto tool that can detect one’s body type, keep tabs on what we eat (without manual input), and tell us what we need to do to accomplish our goals. Withings Pulse combined with the Withings Scale is probably the closest to automating the record data of how we exercise and what that does to our bodies. So because of that the Pulse gleans a bit more points in my book. However, it’s the least exciting of pedometers from a design standpoint and the heart rate feature is more gimmick than usable.
Bottom Line: aside from the spotty heart rate reader and bland design, the Withings Pulse has exceptional battery life and step accuracy.