Withings Go review: A fine e-ink fitness tracker, but it should have been a better watch
It's hard to come up with a new spin on the basic fitness tracker. The Withings Go, with a few key changes, could have been a nearly perfect budget fitness band. Instead, the Go -- available for $80 or £50 (equivalent to AU$100) -- is a cute little fitness button that doesn't quite add up to something I'd want wear. It's got an e-ink display that's always on. But it doesn't make good use of it.
Withings, the French connected-wellness company that was just acquired by Nokia, makes a few fitness trackers -- notably, the analog watch-like Activite Pop. That watch earned my love by being an easy-to-use everyday watch with long battery life and basic tracking. Imagine that watch but in a chunky plastic body with wrist and clip accessories plus a digital e-ink screen, and you have the Go. I wore one for about a week, and...it's pretty bare-bones. And, unfortunately, it's nowhere near as good a watch as the Activite.
The Go is white, but comes with two packed-in accessories in one of five colors (black, blue, green, red or yellow): a rubbery wristband and a plastic belt clip that doubles as a keychain fob. It runs off a coin battery, lasting an estimated eight months. It can be worn while swimming, too. It feels durable, but also clunky.
Like the Withings Activite watches, it tracks steps and sleep automatically. It also records swim strokes (I didn't swim with it). But the Go needs to sync with the Withings Health app on your iPhone or Android device, which won't please everyone. The app is fine, and works with Withings scales and blood pressure monitors. But in an age where Fitbit rules the land, Withings lacks the social connections that some people look for. The Withings ecosystem feels more closed-off and health-minded (as in, tracking blood pressure and weight loss) as opposed to exercise-focused, and isn't the best choice for an everyday gym rat. And the Withings Health app lacks any sort of deeper coaching or guidance beyond simple distance-based achievements.
Yes, the Go's e-ink screen stays on, switching from daily step progress to a minimalist watch by clicking the screen. This should have been, and could have been, my favorite feature. But it's not maximized. The Go doesn't have any other watch faces, and it can't even show the time as its primary screen, making it nearly useless as a normal watch. You need to click to see the time, which gets annoying fast. I hope a firmware update fixes that. Hey, Withings: Make one combined watch face that also tracks steps. Better yet, offer more than one watch face.
E-ink is a good idea for a fitness tracker or watch, but Withings Go isn't the first tracker to think of this: Sony had a fitness band with e-ink, and even the original Garmin Vivofit had a similarly always-on LCD screen (and long battery life). And $80 or £50 isn't as budget-priced as I'd like, not in 2016. For a device this basic, I either want it to be a more useful always-on watch or be a little lower-priced.
The Withings Go is fine, and even somewhat brilliantly simple...but I'm not sure that's quite enough for an activity tracker. If it were even just a decent watch, I'd recommend it more strongly. But I wanted that screen to be put to better use.