French personal health tech company Withings already tracks your sleep and activity using its wearable monitors, but they do so with less than stellar accuracy. A new addition to the Withings lineup, The Withings Aura, provides a finely tuned sensor for sleep tracking that you don’t have to remember to wear to bed or activate, as well as a nightstand companion that provides power, but also acts as an alarm clock, and lullaby singer to croon you to sleep with soothing sounds. The entire package is $299.95, which means it isn’t exactly an impulse buy, but is it worth the spend for the dedicated sleeper?
- Bedside unit with alarm and speaker
- Single person under mattress sleep sensor
- Connects via Bluetooth LE to Withing iOS app
- Light, sound and temp measurement coming via free firmware update
- MSRP: $299.95
- Product info page
- Sleep tracking without any user input required
- Sunset programs seem to work
- Alarm is unduly jarring
- Sensor may be more advanced, but data reporting isn’t
Withings has done a good job overall of weighing the value of good design when it comes to its smart home and smart body gadgets; the Pulse is a sleek wearable that can also be undocked and worn discreetly, and the new Activité watch-style tracker blends in perfectly as a smart-looking wristwatch. The Aura is a little more bold in terms of its design choices, with its somewhat nautical light porthole for your nightstand.
The bedside unit houses the alarm clock, with a display that glows through speaker fabric covering the bottom of the gadget, and breaks off about two-thirds of the way up to reveal glossy plastic. The plastic moulds the light hole, which projects different tones and types of audio depending on whether you’re using a sunset program, or one of the Aura’s smart alarms, or provides a steady, warm white light if you’re just using it as bedside lamp.
Overall, the Withings Pulse is not the lamp I’d choose to adorn my bedside table if it didn’t also pack the sleep sensing functions (and presumably the sensors to enable environmental sensory features later on). It’s a little too obvious that it’s some kind of fancy gadget, and it doesn’t really blend well with any kind of decor that I can imagine, unless you have an ultra-spare, retro-futuristic aesthetic out of Barbarella. Which would be cool, if you did have that, by the way.
The sensor itself is blissfully muted, with a soft, quilted design that tucks away under your mattress (between it and the boxspring) and that only sticks out a bit at one end to provide you a way to easily find and retrieve it. A USB cable connects the bed sensor to the nightstand unit, and there’s another slot reserved for yet another sensor pad, which will be sold separately and usable by your partner on the other side of the bed soon. The pad is definitely not noticeable while you’re in bed.
Withings has indeed delivered better sleep tracking performance, since you no longer have to activate any kind of sleep mode function with the Aura to get it to track your sleep sessions. Once you’ve connected the accessory using the relatively painless Bluetooth LE setup process on your iOS device, all you need to do to start tracking your sleep is get in bed and sleep.
The bedside unit provides optional sleep-assist functions, like a light and sound show that mimics sundown with reddish light and sea noises. A new content pack recently released gives you other sound options, but the light is apparently a scientifically derived program for assisting in sleep, and the color tone can’t be changed. Likewise, a wake-up program is available, which plays a melody and activates blue light to get you woken up at a time near a time of your choosing, while respecting your sleep cycle to get you up at the right time.
The night sleep aids are great, despite initially coming off as a bit frightening. Pretty quickly, I got so accustomed to them that I miss them when I’m away from home. Withings’ new options are a great step, too, providing a little variety. The wake-up alarm, however, did not strike me as particularly great. I found that it would wake me up at odd times, which could have been a hardware syncing issue, and even when it was on time, the light was unnaturally bright and the sound abrupt. It’s also very possible I’m just the type of person who can’t get used to a “fuzzy” alarm that doesn’t get you up at exactly a predefined time.
The bedside unit gains points for its ability to act as a decent speaker for your devices, however, and for the extra charging port it offers for your iPhone’s USB cable, which means you won’t have to plug in yet another device into the power bar many of us now have beside our beds.
As for the sleep tracking, it works, and provides a rich trove of data from which to gather insights. But the Withings App delivers this only as mostly inert daily graphs of your nightly rest – showing light sleep, deep sleep, and times you woke up, and breaking things down by percentage and comparisons to your goal.
What I wish the app did is provide more tips on how to sleep better or worse, and more granular detail on your sleep patterns, with the ability to drill down into specific sections. If I’m investing in an expensive standalone sleep monitor, I’m looking for detail and specificity, not the same kind of graphs that I’ve seen from using wristworn devices in the past. Still, it’s early days, and Withings has made its data available via Apple’s recently launched HealthKit, so we could see other developers do a lot more with the data the Aura gathers. The information also shows up reliably and consistently, which means I’ve already tracked more sleep in just a few weeks of using it than over years of using wearables like the Jawbone UP.
The Withings Aura sleep system is a piece of hardware that does what it claims, offering solid sleep tracking and smart bedside functions sold by some other OEMs in standalone accessories. It fits in with the growing ecosystem of Withings devices, including their Wi-Fi Body Analyzer and the Pulse Ox. At this stage, it’s an investment that’s going to appeal to a very specific group of users, however, and even that group will have to trust that additional software updates and developer support will make it more useful over time.