Withings Pulse review:

Tiny wireless pedometer with heart

Withings app: A little world of devices and services
Withings has a little ace-in-the-hole in its app, which knits together data collected from various devices: the Withings Smart Body Analyzer wireless scale, an iOS-compatible blood pressure monitor, the BodyMedia armband, and the Zeo sleep-tracking headband. Other apps are also supported, including RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal. Withings promises "100+" apps that work with the Withings Health Cloud; I counted at least 70 on the Withings site, although they're not all intended for use with the Pulse specifically. The Fitbit products are compatible with a lot of apps, too, but not as many as Withings' seem to be.

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Withings app on iPhone 5, syncing data. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The bottom line is: you'll have options for ways to take your data and connect it with other services, or even push out the pedometer use to a semi-full-scale tracking of weight, blood pressure, sleep quality, and heart rate. The Withings app, based on my use of it on an iPhone 5, works really well -- there are a number of charts for tracking data, syncing the Pulse was easy (with the exception of one hiccup that required re-pairing), and I felt motivated to use it.

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Pedometer info on iPhone 5 app, showing activity intensity. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The mobile app isn't as robust in its various data filters as I'd like, and you have to live with the presentation and coaching style that Withings has put together -- four different lobes around Weight, Activity, Sleep, and Heart, depending on what devices and services you funnel into it -- but it's cleanly laid out and does the job.

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Withings' Web site app, viewed on Safari on a Mac here, has a lot of graphs for your inner health geek. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The Web site offers more of a complete graphing experience and other presentations of your workout data.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Pulse reader: A little heart rate love
The LED/photo-sensor heart rate reader on the back of the Pulse works like many others on smaller devices. It seemed to give an accurate-enough reading compared with other devices like the Basis Band. Activation is a bit unintuitive, though: you press the Pulse button to get to a graphic menu with an image of a heart, touch and hold the heart, and then hold your finger to the back panel when it's lit. You can also use the heart rate reader when it's attached to your wrist via the included band.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

That band has a little cut-out square to allow the monitor to contact your skin when it's worn. The band could be used as a general way to wear the Pulse around, but I got pretty sweaty on a 93-degree day in New York and felt the Pulse getting damp; since it's not water-resistant, I wasn't sure what that would do to it in the long term. I used the band for sleep tracking, instead.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sleep reading
Starting sleep tracking involves the same tap-through-the-menu process as heart rate tracking, except you touch and hold a moon icon. A timer then starts...and you go to sleep. When you wake up, you press the button to end the tracking. The Pulse detects light and heavy sleep and sleep interruptions. (Based on the tracking of a few nights for me, I'm a pretty light sleeper.) The Pulse has a three-axis accelerometer to track motion.

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Sleep data on the iPhone 5 app. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

It doesn't hurt to throw in sleep tracking among the Pulse's features, but it's probably the one I'll use least. It could be handy to time how many hours you sleep, if nothing else. I'm not sure I'd trust its accuracy beyond testing how much I roll over in the night, but it's a nice little reminder, at least in my case, that you haven't slept enough.

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Conclusion: can this beat the Fitbit?
Fitbit is clearly Withing's chief competitor. The Fitbit's advantage is form: multiple designs, and even a wrist-wearable, waterproof fitness band in the Fitbit Flex.

The Withings Pulse, however, is really tough to beat on features and connected apps and health gadgets. It works like a charm and feels fun to use. However, it's not waterproof, isn't clearly readable outdoors, and lacks great wearable accessories: the included clip and wristband don't feel like they do the Pulse justice.

The core of the Pulse is excellent...but next time around, more attention should be paid to how easy and resilient it is to wear. Still, I'd recommend this version to anyone looking for a versatile pedometer and health tool to kick off some good habits. It's helped for me. I'll just keep hoping for better armbands and accessories.

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