Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Withings Pulse Review - Getting onto the Quantified Self Movement

I have been waiting to get on to the Quantified self movement for a while now. So when I heard about the tiny $99 Pulse, I had to give it a try.

Quantified Self is all about measuring and understanding yourself for your overall well being. It started off with people just writing things down on a paper, then to simple pedometers, smartphone apps, wifi connected scales to the current generation of fitness trackers like fitbit, jawbones, Nike Fuel band and now the Pulse.

I already own the original Withings wifi scale which is a fantastic device. I owe it for the 37 pounds I have lost over the last 2 years. Weighing-in and seeing your weight curve drop everyday is a strong motivator to stay fit.

Withings Scale Web Dashboard

I have been fascinated with the current generation of activity trackers and was trying to decide which one to get. The Pulse is a tiny little tracker which records your steps, elevation, distance, heart rate and sleep. Like other products in the market, it knows when you are walking, on the train or running. And then sends all this back to your smartphone.

Smartphone App
The Pulse has a couple of interesting features that sets it apart from its competitors. It offers a Bluetooth sync which works with any iOS or Android 2.2 and above device and does not require BLE 4.0 (low energy). Hold the top button for 3 seconds and the data gets synced with your smartphone. Do take note, it only syncs to a mobile device. Desktop and PC over USB is not supported.

Activity and Sleep Web Dashboard

It also has a passive heart rate monitor. You touch the light sensor in the back panel to measure your heart rate. There were some people who were disappointed with the lack of an active HRM functionality in the Pulse, but having owned a Bluetooth Scosche HRM, I am glad it doesn't. You sacrifice battery life for data that is hardly useful, unless you are runner, in which case you should get a Polar or a Garmin, which can also give you Cues.

Passive HRM

Besides the above mentioned features, it also boasts a touch screen where you can swipe to view the history and to turn on the HRM or the sleep mode.

Withings has definitely packed a lot in a nice little design however it is far from perfect. Though it has gotten better with recent firmware updates, the Bluetooth sync is still quite buggy. The battery life lasts just over a week versus the advertised 2 hours.

Sleep Tracking using the armband
Unlike fitbit flex or the jawbone, you need to wear the included special wristband sleeve and set your Pulse to start tracking your sleep. It's quite a hassle and due to these additional steps, I hardly use this feature. The Pulse is also quite diminutive and easy to lose. If you aren't careful it might end up in the washing machine with a pair of your jeans. My other pain point with the device is the default goals which you can't change. You have a daily goal of 10k steps which is like 10kms. I live 800m from my work. Unless I go for a run or a long walk, it's quite challenging for me to meet the 10k goal. Similarly, for sleep the goal is 8 hours, which I think is too long.

 Like all activity trackers, it senses only movements. Hence if you spend a lot of time in the gym, it may not be the right tracker for you. My last complaint with Pulse and all its competitors are that they collect data but don't give meaningful recommendations. Wouldn't it be cool if it sent you a notification to take a day off if you over exercised the previous day. Or gave your workout advice.

Besides a long list of misses, it is still a commendable first attempt and is probably the best in the market. I also like the fact that they have an open API. Where Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike have a walled ecosystem, in future you should be able to share your Pulse data with other devices and apps. The Withings scale already does that and has great integration with apps like Runkeeper and MyFitnessPal. I also feel the mobile app has a lot of potential and will evolve with time.

I have been using the Pulse diligently for over a month now, and despite its quirks, it is a great first tracker, if you want to improve your overall health. It is easy to use, quite responsive and I like having a display. However if you spend more time in the gym or other activities, I would suggest taking a look at the Amiigo. It recently got crowd funded and promises to revolutionize fitness tracking!

Img Src: Withings

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