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Withings: Our Activite Pop watches won't spontaneously shatter anymore

Suffering a broken Activite Pop? Withings offers answers and claims the latest watches have fixed the problem.

Sarah Tew / CNET

The Withings Activite Pop , formerly one of my favorite fitness watches when I reviewed it back in January, is finally coming to the US this Sunday. My enthusiasm for the $150 watch -- which includes a built-in pedometer and sleep tracker -- was tempered, recently, by a broken glass dome. And it wasn't just me: It turned out that I was one of several Pop customers online who had suffered the exact same problem.

The Pop was announced in January, designed as a more affordable alternative to the original Activite , a $450 model that Withings had released a few months earlier. Among the cost savings on the Pop was a move from the expensive Activite's sapphire dome to the Pop's mineral glass version. Many watches use mineral glass, with not too many incidents of spontaneous shattering.

Clearly, there was a problem with the Pop. And now Withings has shed some light on the subject. I spoke with Marie Loubière, product manager for Withings, and learned what went wrong with the initial batch of watches.

Our shattered Pop review unit. Scott Stein/CNET

Fixing the manufacturing process

The Withings Activite Pop is made in China, using -- according to Withings -- the same sort of industry-standard components used in the traditional wristwatch industry. That includes the mineral glass dome on the watch's face.

However, the early production runs -- most of which were sold in Europe earlier this year -- used a manufacturing process that put stress on the mineral glass, causing cracks and breakage over time. "With the first few batches, there were cases of watches where the bezel would scratch [the glass]," says Loubière.

Withings acknowledges the defect and has been exchanging broken watches quickly via its customer service channels. (Indeed, my email exchange with Withings customer service -- where I used my personal email and did not identify myself as a journalist -- was handled quickly and professionally, and a replacement watch should now be on its way.)

Now that Withings has modified its production process, all of the new Pop watches should be free of the cracking problem. That includes all of the Activite Pop models hitting Best Buy and, the exclusive retailers in the US.

You want the blue dot: that means it's a new model. Scott Stein/CNET

How can you verify that you're buying one of the problem-free watches? You can check the bottom of the box: a blue dot indicates it's part of the new production run. And in the US, you'll want to buy only through the verified retailers; I'd avoid other online merchants for now, because there's just no way to know if you might end up with one of the shatter-prone Pops.

Why not recall the older Pop watches? Good question. Withings isn't doing that right now, opting to exchange watches as needed. Personally, I think the company should recall all of the watches produced before the fix, just to be safe.

Fitness tracking limitations

There's another issue with the Activite watches that Withings admitted to, and is a little more problematic: syncing issues that I've been experiencing may be part of the watch's limited onboard storage space.

The Activite holds only 38 hours of fitness data at a time: that means you need to sync every day, or every two days at most, to avoid losing data. According to Loubière, that limited amount of storage is part of a compromise to help achieve long battery life. That sounds odd, and it's a big problem for anyone looking to use the watch for an extended vacation without syncing: most other activity trackers tend to store a week or more of fitness data between syncs. Loubière said the hope is to improve that fitness data cache via firmware updates, but it's still unclear whether that problem can realistically ever be fixed.

Our buying advice for now

I have just received several samples of the new production run of Activite Pop watches and will be trying them out for an updated review. In the meantime, we're removing the rating from our current review and suggesting that interested consumers hold off until we've retested both the build quality and fitness tracking.

Stay tuned.