Withings’ new Activité Pop is a smartwatch you’ll actually want to wear

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Withings smart watch is one of the best looking wearables around. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Withings smart watch is one of the best looking wearables around. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — The problem with the state of smartwatches, beyond the sucky software, is that they’re all ugly. The Apple Watch might very well be the first wearable that not only works, but looks good too, although we won’t know for sure until the finished product is on our wrists this spring.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 There were dozens and dozens of smartwatches displayed on the sprawling show floor at International CES last week, but the only one that looked good enough to adorn my wrist was the new Withings Activité Pop.

It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of fancier watches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, but it’s not your average dumb watch either. And for now, just a smidgen smarter is smart enough.

Based in Paris, Withings is known for its Swiss-Made Activité watch. The new Pop model, on display for the first time this year at CES, is the less-premium sibling for those who don’t want to spend $450. Both the Activité and Activité Pop look very similar with their traditional analog faces, but the Pop lacks a sapphire glass display and Barenia leather strap. It also lacks the coveted “Swiss-Made” stamp of approval.

It’s really barebones from a hardware perspective

From a technological perspective, the only thing that makes the Pop “smart” is an accelerometer and Bluetooth. It’s really barebones from a hardware perspective, which lends it a more simplistic, elegant design. The secondary dial fills up as you reach your preprogrammed steps goal for the day. Battery life is fantastic, as you only need to swap the rear juicer out every eight months.

A day in the life of a reporter covering CES.
A day in the life of a reporter covering CES.

The real magic happens in the Withings Health Mate iPhone app, which is a free download in the App Store. Once you pair it with the watch over Bluetooth, you’re off to the races.

Inside the app you get a helpful breakdown of the day’s activity, with health tips catered to your behavior. The effect is kind of like having a personal life coach telling you to sleep or workout more.

The Pop’s accelerometer can detect when you’re walking and running, and the watch is waterproof up to 50 meters. Withings says the Pop supports swimming tracking, but the feature hasn’t been enabled yet in the app.

The Pop also knows when you’re sleeping, and it can even vibrate your wrist to wake you up at the best time in your sleep cycle. I’m a sleep-tracking nerd, so I love that I can open the Health Mate app and see when I was in deep versus light sleep, how many times I woke up, etc.

From a visual perspective, the Pop is great. I’ve been wearing it for the last few days, and the silicone strap hasn’t been giving me any skin irritation. A light-up display would be nice for life’s darker moments, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The biggest problem I have is a software issue: Bluetooth syncing is slow and requires the Health Mate app to be open on the paired iPhone. Hopefully background syncing will be added in the near future.

The Pop is available in three colors: Azure, Shark Grey and Sand. Each comes with a matching wristband, and Withings says more wristband colors will be available in the near future.

You can buy the Activité Pop exclusively from Best Buy’s website for $149.95 in the United States, but availability is limited. Best Buy retail stores will start carrying the watch in March.