From scales to wristbands, Withings has developed a number of gadgets aimed at consumers who want a general picture of their overall health. Now the company has added the $99 Pulse to that collection, a fitness tracker that not only measures how many steps you take, but also your sleep patterns and your heart rate. But now that a number of other fitness bands have incorporated heart rate monitors, does the Withings Pulse keep up the beat?
About the size and weight of a small thumb drive, the Withings Pulse is so compact and light, it virtually disappears in your pocket. A black rectangle measuring 1.7 x 0.87 x 0.3 inches and weighing 0.28 ounces, its two long sides are curved, and it has a soft-touch finish. One of the wide sides has a touch-screen display, while the other has a heart rate sensor. On one of the long thin sides is a button, and on the other is a microUSB port to charge the device.
The Pulse comes with a rubber belt clip and a cloth wristband. We like that the wristband allows you to use the heart rate sensor without having to place your thumb over it (the device reads your pulse right through your wrist), but it's not ideal.
Unfortunately, the Pulse's display is obscured by a black mesh while in the wristband that makes it all but impossible to view outdoors; it also makes using the touch screen much more difficult. In this case, we prefer the Sync Burn, which is not only easier to see in sunlight, but stays on all the time, so you can use it as a watch if you like.
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While small, the Pulse's 128 x 32 OLED display is easy to navigate and understand. Pressing the top button turns on the display, and shows the time, battery life and your name.
Press the button a second time, and it shows how many steps you've taken during the current day; beneath is a progress bar showing how close (or far) you are from that day's goals. We like the little foot icon; it's cute, but gets the point across. Press the button again, and the display shows how many vertical feet you traveled; another press shows your total distance, and yet another button press shows calories burned. While on these screens, swiping the screen to the right shows your progress on those metrics from the past two days.
Pressing the button a sixth time reveals a heart icon and a moon icon; the former activates the heart rate monitor, and the latter puts the Pulse into sleep tracking mode.
The only thing we wish we could change is the screen timeout function; while it saves battery life, the Pulse's screen stays on for only about 5 seconds.
Heart Rate Monitor
Like the Mio Alpha, the Withings Pulse can measure your heart rate while strapped to your wrist. We found this much easier to use than the Sync Burn, which requires that you press a button rather forcefully. And while the cloth strap of the Pulse was rather snug on our wrist, it wasn't as constricting as the rubber wrist strap of the Mio Alpha.
After pressing the heart icon, the Pulse started scanning for our heart rate, and within 30 seconds, showed our beats per minute.
As with other fitness bands, such as the Larklife and BodyMedia Fit, the Withings Pulse can use its accelerometer to track your sleep patterns. Based on your movement while sleeping, the Pulse can determine how much time you spent in deep sleep versus light sleep. Within the app itself, there are a few pointers on improving the quality of your sleep. As with daytime use, we found the Pulse very comfortable to wear in bed.
While not as precise as GPS-enabled devices, we found the Pulse to be fairly accurate when measuring our daily comings and goings. After a 1-mile stroll, as measured by MapMyRun, the Withings Pulse measured 1.01 miles. By comparison, the Sync Burn reported that we had walked just 0.92 miles.
In order to pair the Pulse with the Withings app via Bluetooth, simply press the Pulse's button for three seconds, and the device goes into pairing mode. After that, the Pulse started transferring data, but we noticed that it often took longer than other Bluetooth-enabled fitness devices, sometimes up to a minute.
As we noted with the Withings Body scale, we like the colorful layout of the Withings app. At the top is a cloverleaf, with each petal symbolizing Activity, Heart, Sleep and Weight. The more measurements you record for each metric, the more each petal fills with color.
Below are more details about each metric, such as Activity, Sleep, Body Mass Index, Air Quality (if you have a Withings scale), Heart Rate and Distance covered. You can reorganize metrics into your preferred order and view more granular data by selecting one. For instance, selecting Activity shows how active you were throughout the day on a timeline, how many steps you took, calories burned, distance covered, elevation and active minutes. In many ways, it's much the same data as you would see in the MapMyFitness App, just presented in a more colorful and engaging manner.
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Withings says the Pulse's battery should last for two weeks, which we found to be fairly accurate. It's not as long as the Sync Burn's year of endurance, but we can live with recharging the Pulse once a fortnight.
Withings is steadily building a great portfolio of fitness devices, and the $99 Pulse rounds it out further. Not only does this little gadget track all your day- and nighttime activities, but it also lets you measure your heart rate in as nonintrusive a manner as possible. By comparison, the Fitbit Flex, which also costs $99, lacks both a display and a heart rate monitor. While we wish it were easier to view the Pulse's screen through the wristband, this little device does more--and costs less--than the competition.