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Withings Activite Pop review: A full fitness tracker, hiding in a regular watch

The Withings Health Mate app is excellent. Sarah Tew/CNET

Fitness tracking: Automatic and easy...mostly

The Pop syncs via Bluetooth via iPhone or Android with the Withings Health Mate app, a clean-looking piece of software with connectivity to other apps and devices. But syncing is somewhat slow, and data somehow gets lost from time to time.

Syncing happens in the background, but not always consistently. Or, it syncs as soon as the app is opened. Unlike the classic watch, the Health Mate app has a flat, modern design reminiscent of other top-notch fitness hubs. Syncing has gotten faster with recent firmware updates, but a full day's data still takes about 20 seconds. More worrisome was my discovery of "missing days" of data. If I didn't sync every day, a day or two (or more) would occasionally disappear...even if I was wearing the Pop for weeks at a time. Withings says the Pop only holds about a day and a half of data onboard. That's disappointing, and the biggest current drawback on the Activite Pop. If you're on a vacation where you're not syncing with your phone, you'll lose data. Other trackers hold a week or more without needing to sync.

Step counting works as on any other pedometer, except on the Activite Pop you'll only be able to see daily progress via a secondary dial on the watch face that goes from 0 to 100, marking the percent of your daily goal met. Right now that's a nonadjustable 10,000 steps, or 1,000 steps per dial marker. At midnight, the dial resets to zero.

The app shows steps, distance, and even automatically breaks down activity sessions. My 1-mile walk to work gets pulled out and recorded, so I can see how my daily commute was.

Sleep tracking is pretty automatic. Sarah Tew/CNET

Sleep tracking also happens totally automatically. I go to bed and find that the Pop syncs my sleep data with fairly impressive accuracy. It gets my bedtime and wake time right most of the time, and doesn't get confused by my sitting sedentary on a sofa for a movie late at night. The Pop measures three levels of sleep: deep, light and awake. It's on par with other sleep-trackers using accelerometers like the Misfit Shine and Jawbone Up24 , but lacks the heart-rate input of more advanced trackers like the Microsoft Band and Basis Peak . Honestly, for the average person who just wants to do basic sleep-logging, this is a really nice solution.

The Health Mate app integrates with connected scales and blood pressure monitors, and works with MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, too. It covers my bases for everyday fitness tracking and health monitoring, especially since I have high blood pressure.

The Pop's battery life is rated at 8 months with the included, replaceable CR2025 button-cell battery. (You can get a pack of five of those batteries at Amazon for about $4.) I had no way of verifying this, and right now the Withings app doesn't indicate the battery life remaining on the Pop. But that type of battery life means that you won't need to worry about charging. Not this week, not next, not for months. So far, I still haven't needed to pop in a new battery.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The future of everyday watches

There are bound to be more advanced fitness trackers than the Pop, and more advanced smartwatches, too. But the Activite Pop marks where the future of regular watches will be going. Tech that's invisible, and just works. Embedded sensors. Longer battery life, and less hassle. It can happen, with compromises.

The Activite Pop isn't perfection, but it's exactly the type of easy-to-use device smart wearables should aspire to be. And it's the best combination of easy-to-use form and function in a reasonably priced gadget. I like wearing it, and I bet many others will too, as long as your expectations don't exceed basic fitness tracking.

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