Fitness Tracker Review: Withings Pulse Ox

Withings pulseI’ve found, after trying a number of fitness trackers (including the Apple Watch), that the Fitbit One (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is both the most accurate, and the easiest to use. (I reviewed it here.) To repeat what I’ve said before:

“Fitness trackers are motivators. While, on the surface, they claim to record data about your activity, the real reason people buy them is to motivate themselves to be more active. None of them are perfectly accurate, and they all have drawbacks. Some have good hardware and mediocre software; some have excellent software and poor hardware. But, if you want this kind of device, there is certainly one that will fit your needs.”

My summary of the Fitbit One was:

“Overall, the Fitbit One is a good device, as its step count is extremely accurate. Fitbit’s software — both on iOS and its web-based dashboard — is useful, though relatively simple. It doesn’t offer reminders and nudges as the Jawbone UP does; it essentially offers just raw data. While I want more — the inactivity alert the Jawbone can provide would be useful to remind me to get up and move during the day — it’s good enough for now.”

I recently got the Withings Pulse Ox (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which is a direct competitor to the Fitbit One. Since Fitbit won’t sync data to Apple’s HealthKit, I wanted to try a simple, belt-worn tracker that does.

The Pulse Ox is a bit wider and shorter than the Fitbit One. It comes with a wristband (seriously? who would wear that?), and a belt clip. You can also put it in your pocket.

Fitbit pulse

I was disappointed by the Pulse Ox, for several reasons. First, it’s inaccurate; it registers from about 10-30% fewer steps than the Fitbit One. It’s reliable at fixed paces, such as when I walk on my treadmill, but not the rest of the day. Since you can watch a live step count with the Fitbit iOS app, I’ve tested the Fitbit One in a variety of settings, and always found that it counted all my steps, and no more. Accuracy is, to me, one of the most important elements of any fitness tracker, and if the Pulse Ox can’t get that right, there’s not much hope.The second weakness is the way it syncs to my iPhone. Unlike the Fitbit One, which syncs every time I open the app (and during the day, on its own, if you set it to All Day Sync, or if you use the dongle connected to a computer; so there are three different ways to sync), the Pulse Ox only syncs every now and then. If you open the app, you’re likely to see your step count from one or more hours ago. The Pulse Ox only syncs if:

  • You have taken more than 1,000 steps since the last sync, followed by one minute with less than 50 steps, or
  • More than 6 hours have passed since the last sync took place.

You can manually sync the device, if you want, but you shouldn’t have to.

The Pulse Ox is harder to read than the Fitbit One, so if you want to check your progress during the day, it’s not as easy. Note that I’d never wear a device like this on my wrist; I use the belt clip, which makes it even harder to read.

As for the belt clip, the Pulse Ox’s clip has soft rubber around it, making it much harder to put onto my pants. I can put the Fitbit One on my pants without looking, but I have to try several times to get the Pulse Ox’s clip open enough for it to fit.

I don’t particularly care for Withings’ HealthMate app. There’s too much fluff in it, and there are two ways of viewing data: the Timeline and the Dashboard. You really only need one. This app could do with an overhaul.

Also, the Pulse Ox has a battery life of about five days, compared to seven for the Fitbit One. And the Fitbit sends me an email when its battery needs charging; you can only find this out by checking the Pulse Ox itself, or by looking at the HealthMate app.

The Pulse Ox also lets you check your heart rate (which you can do from the Health Mate app on an iPhone), and blood oxygen level. The latter is just a gimmick. If you really need this, you’ll have a medical device. If you’re just curious, you need to take the Pulse Ox off to be able to check your oxygen level, which is not something you’re going to do while you’re running or working out.

A number of Amazon reviewers have mentioned that their devices failed, and that customer support was poor. I haven’t had any problems with mine, but customer support is not very reactive. I have had recourse to Fitbit’s support in the past, and they always reply quickly; plus they have forums on their website where you can get answers.

I like Withings’ attempt to go beyond standard fitness trackers: they have a blood pressure monitor, a scale, a sleep tracker (which isn’t very good), and a fitness tracker that looks like a watch. I think the company is very forward-thinking, but this device, the Pulse Ox, just isn’t as good as the competition. The Fitbit One is still the best, most accurate fitness tracker you can get.

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