Withings has been creating health products since the summer of 2008, longer than most of the other wearable companies. The $120 Withings Pulse O2 can be attached to a wristband to be worn as a watch or it can be attached to a belt clip. The device slides easily into the belt clip and the wristband, but will not fall out during normal activity. The device tracks the users steps, elevation changes, blood oxygen level, heart rate, distance travelled, calories burned from walking or running and sleep patterns. It can distinguish between running and walking without any input from the user. Although, you need to be running relatively fast to get the device to switch to track running. I ran for about two miles and the Pulse O2 thought I only ran for one minute. I ran down Boston’s Newbury Street on a Saturday weaving in and out of Christmas shoppers and I am not a fast runner so that could have been part of the problem.
The Pulse O2 works in concert with the Withings Healthmate app, which can be integrated with myfitnesspal, RunKeeper, and BodyMedia. The fitness and diet data will be added to the Healthmate app dashboard as if the data were collected from the Pulse O2 itself. The screenshot to the right shows the integration with the myfitnesspal app. I logged my breakfast for Saturday in myfitnesspal and it was immediately added to my Healthmate dashboard after I refreshed the website.
The Healthmate dashboard contains a review of your steps and sleeping patterns for the week, which is really helpful. The Pulse O2 utilizes a High precision MEMS 3-axis accelerometer to determine movement. My week in review can be seen below, the darker the color the more intense the sleep or the activity, meaning I was either in a deep sleep or nearly running. The app allows you to add measurements that the Pulse O2 does not track to the dashboard such as weight, blood pressure, heart rate, height, and blood oxygen level. This is particularly useful if you forget to turn on the sleep monitoring function as you can see I did on Friday night in this chart.
The dashboard likewise can give you detailed information about your activity and sleep for the week. I ran up and down the steps of the nine floors in my building to test out the elevation component of the wearable. The device was able to track my elevation as can be seen in the detailed information of the steps below, however the device sometimes tracked my elevation when I was in an elevator.
The app is gamified, so you can win badges for elevation changes, steps, and distance traveled. In my week and a half of reviewing the device I won the three badges below, which was fun and motivating!
The Pulse O2 utilizes a micro USB port to charge the device, but Bluetooth allows you to wirelessly upload data to your phone throughout the day. The battery life is really long, I only had to charge the Pulse O2 once during my week and half review. The pulse is OLED touch screen and has one button to allow you to scroll through the different metrics and past data (up to ten days) on the device. The screen data shows up on the screen with a blue LED light, which I found easy to read. I read some reviews of other people that they had trouble reading the device outside, I however, did not have this issue, maybe because it is winter in Boston. The fit is comfortable and the device is relatively small, I have worn the Garmin Swim Watch for one and a half years, so comparatively this wearable was less obtrusive. The device is however not water proof so you have to remember to take it off when you shower and be sure not to get it wet as you wash your hands or if you are stuck out in the rain.
The heart rate sensor has similar technology to the heart rate monitor that I have on my Samsung Galaxy S5. To get a heart rate or blood’s oxygen saturation reading you need to slip the device out of the wrist band or shoe clip and place your finger lightly on the four green and red LEDs on the back of the device. My fingers are always cold and for this type of technology to work accurately you need to have good circulation to your fingers and put the correct amount of pressure on the LEDs. I was however able to get many accurate pulse and oximetry readings as you can see in the image below. The Pulse O2 has a heart rate sensor and not a heart rate monitor because it does not provide a continuous reading.
I created a chart that lists the Pulse O2’s major competitors which are the Jawbone UP3, Misfit Shine, amiigo, Garmin Vivofit, Basis Peak and fitbit Charge. In terms of price, the Pulse O2 is in second place only to the Misfit Shine, which does not have the ability to measure pulse or blood oxygen level. The ability to track steps, calories and distance traveled has become a commodity, so there is no need to compare that feature with Pulse O2’s competitors. Some of the more expensive fitness trackers such as the amiigo, UP3 and Peak can track a wider range of movements and activities, such as weightlifting, Soccer and Basketball. However, these wearables are more expense and the amiigo is not yet available for purchase and can only be pre-ordered; I ordered the Amiigo around nine months ago and have yet to receive it. The amiigo is also the only other wearable on the list that contains the functionality to test blood oxygen level. If you need continuous heart rate monitoring the Pulse O2 may not be for you, the Basis Peak has the ability to track heart rate during exercise. The amigo and the Jawbone UP3 can track resting heart rate. I do not have experience with the amiigo, UP3 or Peak so I cannot comment on how well their heart rate monitoring functionality works. All in all the Pulse O2 is one of the best wearables currently on the market considering its functionality and lower price. Because I am a swimmer and swim two miles a day, my major complaint is that it is not waterproof and does not track swimming. However Withings has created a new fitness watch, the Activé that is waterproof and does track swimming among other metrics and will be available soon!