Sometimes you just want a watch to be a watch.
Smartwatches are increasingly everywhere. Fitness trackers, too, in all shapes, prices and sizes. But if you're looking for a regular watch that also happens to do a couple of semi-smart things -- fitness-tracking, basically -- the Withings Activite Pop remains the best option. If a Fitbit married a Swatch, you'd get the Activite Pop.
The Pop debuted back in January this year. It was a less expensive version of a nicer, sapphire-crystal and stainless-steel watch, the, that costs $450 (It retails for £320 in the UK, and Australia availability is unknown, but the US price converts to around AU$550.). The Pop is only $150 (£120 UK, or around AU$183.). It trades calf leather, polished steel and a sapphire dome on Withings' fancier Activite watch (and Swiss-made certification) for a silicone strap, PVD-coated steel, and a mineral glass dome. But its features are identical. It's a Bluetooth-connected fitness tracker, capable of step-counting and sleep-tracking. It syncs automatically with iPhones and Android phones. It has a silent vibrating alarm. It's water-resistant for swimming and showering (up to 50 meters). And thanks to a replaceable coin battery, it works for up to eight months straight without charging (I've had one for six months, and it's still going strong).
Early versions of the Pop -- before they were sold in the US -- had a tendency to live up to their name in the worst way: the crystal often spontaneously shattered. Withings says it haswith subsequent Pop watches, and only the corrected models have reached US retailers. (Worldwide, check for a blue dot on the box, and you'll know you have the "good," post-fix version.). I've been using one of the newer production models for a few months, and I haven't had any problems. It hasn't broken (unlike my original one did), so it appears Withings fix did the trick. While I when it had breaking issues, I'm now back on board.
With its manufacturing glitch in the rear-view mirror, the Withings Activite Pop is ultimately a solid watch that's fun and easy to use. It's still not perfect: the Pop still has issues storing and syncing data over periods longer than a day and a half (not an issue if you're syncing every day, but if you're traveling it could be a problem). And, no, it doesn't measure heart rate (but, at this point, you probably don't need that anyway). But nevertheless, the Pop is the closest thing to a Fitbit-style device in a standard watch that you can currently buy.
Editors' note: This review was originally published January 16, but has been re-reviewed after Withings has fixed manufacturing issues with the Pop that caused us to pull our ratings down. The review has also been updated to reflect changes in the fitness tracker and watch market.
Design: Undercover smarts
From the silicone band to the round mineral-glass-domed analog watch face, the Pop looks like your better-looking everyday watch. The three colors it's available in -- blue, black and white -- are all attractive, but the flat colors sometimes makes the Pop look more low-end than it actually is. The watch body is still steel, but it's permanently treated with a colored, matte texture. The hour and minute hands are painted, versus gleaming metal on the higher-end Activite. The mineral glass is a bit duller than the gleaming sapphire of the step-up version. But you probably won't notice. The price is right on the Pop, and that makes all the difference.
The Pop doesn't stand out like an Apple Watch or a funky fitness band. It's not meant to. This is designed to look and feel normal. And it does, which is the Pop's biggest success. Every time I put it on it just feels like I'm taking a break from smartwatches and fitness bands. It's actually a little relaxing.
There's no crown to set the time: that happens automatically when the Pop is synced with your phone's Withings Health Mate app. And when you change time zones, the watch changes its time automatically, too. You can set a silent alarm to vibrate a wake-up call, but you have to set it in the Withings app. And the vibration isn't quite powerful enough to reliably wake me up (it's fainter than the Pebble).