- Amazing battery life
- Beautiful design
- Comfortable to wear all day
- Affordable price
- One size may not fit all
- Companion app isn't very intuitive
- Limited in functionality
Fitness trackers are useful, but they usually don’t look all that good. Companies like Fitbit have been trying to make their wearables look a little better in recent months, though for the most part they still look like fitness trackers. A company called Withings is doing things a bit differently.
The France-based tech company has made a name for itself by producing beautiful Swiss-made watches that double as fitness trackers. Their flagship product, the Activité, looks good, but it’s pricey. There’s also the Activité Pop that comes with the same feature set, but doesn’t look nearly as high-end as the standard device. Somewhere in the middle you’ll find the Activité Steel, the company’s latest fitness tracker.
Does the Steel have enough under the hood to compete against other fitness trackers? Is it worth your hard-earned money? We aim to find that out in our full Withings Activité Steel review.
If you weren’t looking for it, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that the Activité Steel is actually a fitness tracker. For the most part it looks like a standard analog watch. There’s no digital screen; just a normal watch face with two aluminum hands. There’s also a second dial on the bottom right of the face that shows you how many steps you’ve taken for the day.
You won’t find any buttons on the device, and that’s because everything is controlled with the smartphone companion app. And when I say everything, I mean it. You even need to use the app to set the time. You’ll only need to do this once, thankfully, as the Steel will also recognize which time zone you’re in and adjust the time accordingly.
The casing is made from 316L stainless steel and has a layer of swiss mineral glass covering the top of the device. The glass doesn’t show a ton of fingerprints and doesn’t appear to scratch all that easily, but that definitely can’t be said for the casing. I’ve had this device for only a few weeks, and the bottom portion of the watch is covered in scratch marks. The bottom of the watch is the only thing that’s scratched, and that’s because it’s the part that touches my wrist. Thankfully the top and the sides haven’t shown any scratches yet, which is definitely a good thing.
The Steel is only offered in one size, which could be a problem for some. It measures 36.3mm in diameter and fits wrists up to 195mm. The 18mm watch strap is just the right size for my average sized wrists, though I do think the watch itself looks a little small on me.
One size may not fit all
You can choose from two different colors of watch faces – black or white – and from a number of different colored silicone straps. You can get the standard White or Black models for around $170, and branching out to different colored straps will cost you $30 more. Withings will also throw in an extra White strap with your order if you choose to get a colored one.
The Steel is comfortable enough to wear all day, and at just 37 grams, it’s light enough to go unnoticed. The silicone strap is also very soft, durable, and doesn’t collect a ton of dust or hair, which we really like to see. It also comes with quick release pins that make it super easy to switch out straps if you’re in a hurry.
All in all, I’m a big fan of the design. Withings did a great job at making sure you can wear the Steel to dinner and during a workout, and that’s a valuable selling point to many users.
Features and performance
The Activité Steel is no smartwatch. It won’t feed you notifications and it won’t buzz when you get a text message. Basically the smartest thing it can do aside from tracking your daily activity is give you silent alarms. You’ll need to set them from within the Withings app, but once that’s done, the Steel will vibrate 12 times when it goes off.
If you happen to forget when your alarm is set, just tap on the watch’s display three times and the hour and minute hands will show your alarm time for about 5 seconds. It’s a super handy way to check if you forget, but the alarms themselves aren’t all that great. The buzzing is quite slow and faint, and there’s no way to turn it off if you’d like it to stop. Withings says a fix for that is coming in the future, but as of now you’ll have to wait for alarms to buzz all twelve times before they stop.
The big news with the Steel is that it can track your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned and your sleep. It can even recognize different activities like walking, running and swimming. That’s right — unlike many other fitness trackers in this price range, the Steel is water resistant up to 165 feet (or 5ATM). I’m not much of a swimmer, but I’m very happy to know that if I were to go swimming, I won’t have to take my watch off before I jump in.
The Activité Steel doesn’t come with too many extra hardware features. It doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, nor does it have a GPS. It can do the basics, and that’s the whole point of this device. You won’t want to choose the Steel if you’re serious about tracking every little detail in your workout. It can do a very limited number of things, and for the most part it does those things very well.
It should also be noted that the Withings app does have the ability to record your heart rate using your phone’s camera. I’ve gotten pretty accurate results from the resting heart rate readings, but if you need something more than that you’ll want to invest in a fitness tracker with an HR monitor built in.
Step tracking with the Steel is very accurate. It’s right in line with the competition, and it does a great job at not recording big arm movements as steps. I also really love the simple dial on the watch face that shows how many steps you’ve taken for the day. I walked 500 steps with the Steel and counted each one to see if it was far off. I started at 2,499 steps and ended with 3,006, which means it was only 7 off from the real number. I also tested the Steel against the Fitbit Alta, Jawbone UP3, and Activité Pop, and all four fitness trackers gave me similar results.
Step tracking on the Steel is very accurate
The Steel automatically records all of your workouts and syncs that information with the Withings companion app on your Android or iOS device. For the most part it does a good job at recognizing when I’m actually on a run and when I’m just walking around the house, though there have been a few slip-ups from time to time. It’s not often that the Steel gets confused though, so I haven’t really found this to be much of an issue.
The Activité Steel will not only record your workouts in the app, but also your sleep. It’s actually very good at detecting when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake, and there’s no need to tap a “sleep now” button like with other trackers. And as for the sleep stats themselves, we’re happy to say the Steel is very accurate. After waking up, the Withings app will be able to show you deep and light sleep, wake ups, and sleep duration. It was able to accurately record my sleep and wake up times pretty much every time, though I did notice it missing a late night bathroom break every once in awhile.
While most other fitness trackers out there come with big, ugly chargers, the Steel is different. It uses a CR2025 button cell battery, which Withings says will get you up to 8 months of battery life. I haven’t had my unit for that long, so it’s tough to give you a straight answer. Your mileage will probably vary depending on how often you use the silent alarm feature, but I’d imagine most folks will be able to get at least 6 months of battery out of this device.
The Withings Health Mate app shows you all of your fitness stats in one beautiful package. It sports plenty of Material Design elements, and it shows your most important information on the homepage, or Timeline. The top third of the app is where you can see a quick glance of your daily activity, and swiping over on this section will bring you to the alarm and weight sections. You can scroll down to see your activity history, and selecting a particular day will bring you to another page where you can see more granular stats.
From here, you can choose to view your data in either daily or weekly views, but not monthly or yearly views for some reason. That would have been nice to see, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker.
Health Mate might be prettier than other apps, but it's not as user friendly
The app might be prettier than other fitness tracking apps, but it’s not as user friendly. It shows you a lot of information on the screen at one time, and it can get pretty crowded once it starts displaying all of your stats from the past few days. With that said, if you’re the type of person who wants to see as much information as possible at every given moment, the Health Mate app will be right up your alley.
If you’re already invested in another fitness tracking platform, you’re in luck. You can easily share data between the Health Mate app and number of other apps like MyFitnessPal, Google Fit, RunKeeper and Nike+ FuelBand.
Should you buy it?
So, should you buy the Activité Steel? If you’re someone who hates the look of fitness trackers and needs something more elegant, you can’t go wrong with the Steel. You’ll also want to consider this device if you’re trying to exercise more or want to keep an eye on your daily activity from time to time. And if you want to do more than that, you can. Withings offers a variety of companion products like the Smart Connected Scale and Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor which will help bring your fitness tracking to the next level.
This is no smartwatch, nor is it as powerful or versatile as some other trackers out there. But for just $169.95, it’s an absolute steal for what you’re getting.
It’s also worth noting that Withings offers a similar wearable called the Activité Pop. For $50 less, you’ll get all the same fitness tracking features in a more colorful, less premium looking package.