Like usual I received a review sample of the Withings Pulse O2 from the manufacturer and after any lingering questions from this review are answered the unit will be shipped back. I do this so that you all know my reviews are unbiased and I did not receive any sort of compensation in any form (a free product is compensation in my book) to write this review. So Enjoy!
In The Box
Set Up & the Pulse Unit
Once the app downloads you will need to join Healthmate by creating a quick account which is pretty standard with just about every service out there now. Then you will select the device that you would like to pair with Healthmate. There is the soon to be released Auria Sleep Device, Withings range of smart scales and blood pressure cuffs, and smack in the middle is the Pulse O2. Now one cool side note of the Healthmate app is that even if you do not currently own a Withings device you can use the Healthmate app to measure your heart rate (detailed in my Healthmate update post here), track weight/other health measurements, and best of all leverage the iPhone's M7 Motion Co-Processor to actually conduct activity tracking using your phone. It isn't as good or thorough as an activity tracker but hey it is free!
Once you select the Pulse the app brags a little about how awesome the Pulse is then asks you to install (aka sync) your device. From there you start the Bluetooth pairing between your smartphone and the Pulse device. Once that is complete then you are 100% good to go. Which means you will immediately measure your heart rate which will subsequently be high from all of the Pulse based excitement you have just gone through. Sadly I don't cover the heart rate monitor part of the Pulse O2 until later but trust me it was the first thing I did too after I unboxed mine.
Using the Pulse O2
The odd thing about the Pulse is that when worn on the wrist you can kind of tell that it wasn't originally designed to be worn that way. (The original Pulse could only be worn on a belt clip) Now it isn't too big or anything, as the Polar Loop is actually still thicker, but its shape is just a little odder. Although the Loop is bigger it is a more consistent and rounded shape where as the Pulse O2 is pretty much just BAM it's there. It really hasn't detracted from day to day use and you get used to it but it definitely wouldn't hurt for Withings to look at a form redesign as the wrist calls for completely different shapes than a belt clip worn device. Though as you can see, the Misfit Shine is the smallest of the devices by a fair margin where as to be fair it doesn't have a full display or a rechargeable battery which both the Polar Loop and the Withings Pulse O2 do.
The Pulse O2 does have an LED screen so in addition to syncing all of the metrics to the Withings Healthmate app almost everything is viewable on the actual device. To turn the screen on from the sleep mode, which doesn't display anything, you tap the only physical button on the device in the top right corner. This will pull up the time/date/steps screen which can be configured into a horizontal layout or a vertical layout for wearing the Pulse on your wrist and making the numbers easily legible. The vertical view can be set for either the right or left wrist. Pushing the button again will scroll the device to the steps screen which displays the current step total for the day. Swiping the steps screen to the right will allow you to view the step totals from previous days. While swiping to the left shows distance & time for any running during the current day. The Pulse will detect running versus just normal walking or movement. Being just an activity tracker it isn't 100% accurate but in my testing it tends to be within a few minutes of my GPS watch on 20+ minutes runs and withing 0.2 miles distance wise, so not too shabby.
All of the extra stuff is awesome but at the end of the day the Withings Pulse O2 is an activity tracker so it is "kind of" important that it functions well in this area. And as no surprise it functions particularly well in it's daily duties. So well in fact that you kind of just forget about it. Which does have the negative aspect of not really encouraging you way the same activity trackers can (Misfit Shine comes to mind) but hey you can't really argue with a device that is so functional that you just forget about it until you feel the need to check your steps. Just like the device itself not much really needs to be said about it's function as an activity tracker but luckily that leaves me room to cover all of these other awesome features that the Pulse does in addition to being an awesome activity tracker.
Now you are probably wondering with features like an LED screen, a barometric altimeter, and a heart rate monitor how good is the battery for the Withings Pulse O2 and the answer is spectacular! The Pulse's battery is rechargeable via mirco-USB cable that is good for up to TWO WEEKS! Yes you read that correctly the battery is good for two stinking weeks. Now to be fair how often you turn the screen on and more importantly how often you measure your heart rate will determine how close to that two weeks figure you come to. For example, when I first got the Pulse in and measured my heart rate multiple times per day I only got about 1 week out of the Pulse. But on the other hand once I just let the Pulse do its thing and only checked my heart rate once per day I got something like 12 days of battery life. Now there does exist better battery life from activity trackers that use replaceable coin cell batteries (although none deliver quit the same set of features and the same screen quality) but to my knowledge no other activity tracker with a built in rechargeable battery even comes close to rivaling the battery life of the Pulse O2. I mean the Polar Loop has a worse quality screen (but no barometric altimeter of heart rate monitor) and it would only get about half to 1/4 of what the Withings Pulse can do.
Heart Rate & Blood Oxygen
To initiate a heart rate measurement you have to scroll through all the screens on the Pulse until you reach the last one which is how both heart rate measurement and sleep tracking can be activated. Obviously the crescent moon is sleep tracking and the heart is heart rate. But to initiate heart rate you just click on the heart icon and slide down then place your finger over the heart rate sensor on the back of the Pulse O2 device. You have to hold it still there for a couple of seconds once complete both heart rate in beats per minute and blood oxygenation displayed as a percentage will be displayed on the screen. Although the stats disappear after a couple of seconds you are able to return to the heart rate/sleep tracking screen and scroll to the right instead of down and see the last heart rate measurement.
To be clear the Pulse O2 can't continuously track your heart rate but instead pulls one figure. Also, to slightly complicate the procedure you have to get the Pulse out of either the wrist or belt loop holder to measure your heart rate. So it can be a bit of a hassle although I will say that the move to include a wrist holder for the Pulse does make it significantly easier to measure heart rate over the waist clip. I think it would be really nice if it were possible to make a cut out in the wrist clip that would allow the Pulse to measure heart rate while still clipped in, although I don't think currently the Pulse's heart rate sensor could do that anyways. To me that would just make it way more usable than in its current form. I tended to check my heart rate pretty consistently when I first started using the unit but then how often I checked my heart rate tapered off pretty much completely.
|Wasn't my best night of sleep|
It will sometimes end your sleep tracking when you didn't want it to because you were forced to get up in the middle of the night by say your whining Husky pup who decides that 3am has to be the best time to use the restroom. So if that process takes a little while which it is like to when she is more interested in chasing beetles than getting the "mission" accomplished the Pulse will end your sleep tracking with you. Now if you are cognizant enough to think to check you can re-engage sleep tracking if it was prematurely ended and the Pulse will actually stitch both sleep tracking sections together into one. Which is pretty darn smart as no other activity tracker that I know of can do this and it again covers your butt. My issue is that sometimes at 3am I am not quit of a mental state to think to check my Pulse if I am awoken so the sleep tracking will just conclude after a handful of hours of sleep. Either way the automatic ending feature is far more good than bad especially given that Withings has built in features to return to sleep mode if you accidentally exit it.
Now the pesky subject of sleep tracking accuracy. It is really hard to really test this without a sleep lab (which I would LOVE to do) so I can just discuss it from more of a comparative point of view with other activity trackers (you can read my sleep testing comparison article here). There is some argument over how effective any of them are give that all of their sleep tracking is based on solely movement. I think that the Withings Pulse O2 has the most accurate sleep tracking of any activity tracker that I have tested. The periods of sleep and awake tend to correlate pretty exactly with how I felt I slept. The only area it tends to be off is the time it claims it took me to fall asleep. I know I take longer than say 11 minutes to fall asleep especially when I turn the Pulse's screen on and see that the sleep timer has already hit 20 something minutes. Now, to be fair I do think that is because I tend to lay exceptionally still while waiting to fall asleep so I don't think it is the Withings Pulse in particular that has an issue but I just sleep weird sometimes.
But overall I think the sleep tracking on the Withings Pulse O2 is spectacular. It is extremely detailed and very easy to read the data. The ability to easily consume the data produced by the Pulse's sleep tracking is really well above par for the market and what takes the Pulse to a different level than other activity tracking products out there.
My improvised Cycling Mode
Now, I did improvise my own version of a cycling mode which although far from perfect does help. Withings if you read this review then a good takeaway would be how to create a cycling mode for the Pulse right here. So when I ride I put the Pulse into the belt clip and then clip that onto the bottom of my cycling shorts. This positions the Pulse on top of my left thigh so that it get's jarred (aka counts a step) as I go through the motion of a pedal stroke. Now this is hardly accurate given that it is A. counting cadence not so much effort and B. the Pulse is treating it as walking not riding which clearly burn different amounts of calories and therefore different amounts of activity. On the positive, it kind of works somehow though the Pulse doesn't count every pedal rotation as a step only some. I don't know how or why but it actually works out pretty accurately compared to other activity trackers with a cycling mode like the Misfit Shine. A one hour ride around the River Trail usually gets me 5,000-6,000 steps of my 10,000 step goal using my improvised cycling mode. Using the Misfit Shine's dedicated cycling mode for the same ride will usually count to about half of my activity goal for the day. See for some reason it "kind of" works.
Yes it is hardly perfect but if Withings were to do some testing using the Pulse in that manner they could create a dedicated mode and therefore a way of processing that activity data to make it far more accurate. Just saying I would love to see the Pulse include such a cycling mode similar to the sleep tracking mode, it would be a really cool feature. Also, it would be a huge advancement on competitors like Fitbit that also don't have a means of tracking cycling.
Withings Healthmate App
At the top of the timeline screen is a little plus icon that allows you to enter measurements for heart rate using the iPhone's camera, weight manually (Withings makes two Bluetooth scales that automatically syncs the data with the Healthmate app), manually enter blood pressure (Withings makes a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff as well). If you click on any of the data points along the timeline the app takes you to a detailed screen for that data point type. For example, if you click on a heart rate measurement the detailed screen shows you all of your heart rate points graphed over a period of time that is user controllable. It is in this screen that you can edit or delete manual entries or data points. Clicking on a weight point shows all of your weight measurements over time and the ability to see Fat Mass and BMI over time as well (manual weight entries allow you to enter Fat % and BMI in addition to just weight). I have already covered what the detailed sleep screen looks like but for the detailed activity screen you get to see all of your activity info that shops up on the Pulse's screen but a little more easily. It makes it much easier to get a complete view of your day. One thing I did want to point out is that I love how the Healthmate app does calories burned. It will actually tells you your calories burned via activity but then also combines that with an estimate of the number of calories you burn simply by living to give you your total calories burned for the day. I just really like that calories are shown both ways versus just one or the other.
Also at the bottom of the activity detail screen the app shows long periods of activity like say a walk with more details about that specific period of time. It will tell you whether you were walking or running and display the total distance, time of activity, and calories burned during that period. It takes a minimum threshold for an activity to show up with dedicated information which seems to be about 8-10 minutes. Seems like a reasonable time threshold to me which cuts down on you just walking around the house to show more serious periods of activity like a run or walking across downtown.
The other view for the Healthmate App is the dashboard which shows the same information as the timeline but only for the current day. Each type of data is broken up and given its own segment (activity, heart rate, sleep, weight, etc) and the order of those segments is user customizable. The only real additional info on the dashboard versus the timeline is the Withings butterfly logo at the top where each wing is a segment of your health and they fill up as you do better in that particular area, the feature is called Wellness Levels. In the picture to the right you can see my heart is great, sleep is pretty good, activity is okay, but weight isn't so good because I hadn't entered my weight in a couple of weeks when this screenshot was taken.
Outside of the two main views there are several other screens which are pretty standard to the activity tracker field: a leader board screen (which I don't use as I'm friendless), a profile screen (where you set up all of your info and other cool stuff I'll cover in a second), and last there is a reminders screen where you can set alerts for you to do things like check your blood pressure or record your weight. I have set 2 reminders the entire time I have been using the Pulse and they have not once gone off so I am going to label this feature as not exactly functioning. There are some other options as well below but for the sake of some sort of brevity I am going to pass on discussing them as they are all pretty standard, but thorough and with a now almost annoyingly awesome Withings attention to detail.
Now in the profile screen you can do a few cool things that I just wanted to briefly touch on. One of them is the ability to send blood pressure data form the Withings Bluetooth blood pressure cuff to your doctor by email. I could definitely see some awesome uses for this style of feature down the road. Picture the ability for doctors to get a holistic view of your health level and not just a one off view when you are nervous as hell as they prod you with things. Along the same lines you can share your entire Withings Dashboard with others be them doctors, coaches, or friends simply by sending them an email. But the really cool feature in the profile section is the ability to pair the Healthmate app with other health/fitness apps to pull and share data. The current partnerships are with MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and BodyMedia. Through this you can pull and share info back and forth with these apps. For example, on MyFitnessPal it will share with the Withings Healthmate app info like caloric intake versus your calorie expenditure for the day based on the Pulse. I think like the Dashboard sharing this feature is only the tip of the iceberg and some really cool partnerships could be leveraged to add some tremendous features.
Withings Healthmate Website
So the Healthmate web version doesn't have a lot of additional features but it does make it a little easier to see some of your information on a much larger screen. I really do like the inclusion of a solid web version of the app which some people don't think is necessary anymore but I strongly disagree and I really like the Healthmate web version.
What I love
- Accurate Activity Tracking
- Great Sleep Tracking
- Effortless to use
- Battery life is stellar
- Love the wrist or belt clip choice
- HEART RATE Tracking
- It just works!!!
What I don't Love
- Not waterproof
- Heart rate seems to read high
- No cycling mode
I have actually had almost no bugs what so ever using the Pulse. Now to be clear a bug is a glitch and not a feature that was built in by design even if I think it isn't the best way to do something. Originally there seemed to be an issue with background syncing of the Pulse to the Healthmate app but the most recent software update to the Healthmate app took care of that. Also, a while back there was an issue with the Healthmate app not giving you any of the badges for distance, elevation gained, etc. but the same update fixed that as well. So the Pulse is running smoothly and basically bug free which is very nice to see!
I just want to point out that I don't even spend that much time in this review discussing the Pulse O2 as an activity tracker. That isn't because it is bad in this area, quit the opposite, it is actually one of the best but it just does so much else too. Which highlights maybe the best feature of the Pulse it just works and works so well that you don't even think about it!
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