At a glance
- E-ink display
- Eight months of battery life
- Tracks steps, sleep, running and swimming
- Long battery life
- Water resistant
- Modular form factor
- Limited display functionality
- Not cheap enough to truly be “budget”
- Limited data insight
Drop the price $20 and add a bit more functionality and you’ve got a compelling product on your hands. The way things stand now though, the Withings Go is more of a curiosity than it is compelling — or, for that matter, tempting. It’s a shame, really. It’s the kind of device that you really want to like.
Withings is in the business of bringing interesting ideas to the health space. But for practically every idea that the little fitness tracker brings to the table, there’s an issue with execution. The result is not so much a bad product as it is a device that offers little signal to the overwhelming noise of fitness trackers.
Sure, the French company (well, the Nokia-owned French company) turned some heads when it showed off the little disc back in January at CES. The e-ink display, the unspeakably long battery life, the promised budget price. But once you spend time with the device, things break down a bit. For starters, there’s that price. Once upon a time, $80 seemed like a bargain for a fitness tracker.
But these days? Look at the Misfit Flash — the wearable retails for $50, and is currently listed as $30 on the company’s site. Xiaomi has a band that retails around $20 to $30. And the Jawbone Up Move is listed as $50, but you can pick it up for around $30 at Amazon if you act fast (and probably if you act slow, too).
Out of the box and onto the wrist
That $80 gets you a nice Withings box with a small fitness medallion (battery inside), belt clip, adjustable wristband and a little plastic guitar pick doohickey for opening up the case. Set up is pretty straightforward, except in my case, which involved a device that stubbornly refused to sync — second time was the charm.
The device itself is small and round — roughly the size of a quarter with a rounded back that unscrews to reveal a single watch battery. On the front is a small e-ink display — a relatively rare thing in a fitness tracker, but one that actually makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons.
First and foremost is the fact that it’s always on without being a significant drain to the battery. E-ink is also crisp, clear and easily read in direct sunlight. The major drawbacks to the technology are low refresh rates and a monochrome color palette, but neither really come into play with a simple activity tracker like the Go. The screen doesn’t have touch functionality. Instead it serves as a big, tactile button, that toggles between screens, helps with syncing and resets the device.
As with other modular fitness products like the Shine, the Go can be worn a couple of ways — either clipped to a belt or around a wrist, smartwatch-style. I opted for the latter for reviewing purposes, but it’s certainly nice to have the option, particularly given the fact that the Go’s looks aren’t quite as versatile as the aforementioned Misfit’s device. The rubber wristband and plastic clip have a budget feel, and the display doesn’t do the product any favors in terms of fitting on one’s person undetected.
The real problem with the display however, is that it’s criminally underused. If you’re going to put a display on a device, you might as well get some use out of it. As it stands, Withings doesn’t make much use of the thing. By default it’s a simple step tracker. It doesn’t show actual steps, mind, but rather progress toward the final goal.
Click it once and you get a barebones watch face that’s a bit difficult to discern at first. Analog numbers would have done a better job here — or better yet, swappable faces. In either case, the inclusion of a display feels like a bit of a waste here, particularly if it’s contributed to driving the price up on what should be a budget device.
There are a few net positives on the design side. The device has few moving parts, making it fairly rugged and water-resistant enough to take swimming. And then there’s the battery life, which Withings ranks at around eight months, which means no more plugging it in after you get home each night.
The device uses Withings’ existing mobile app. It’s not an exceptional bit of software, but it certainly does the trick — and with a lot of bright colors, to boot. It also means integration with other products from the company, making the Go something of an entry point into the entire Withings smart health ecosystem.
The format is pretty straightforward. The landing page is a timeline breaking down steps, activity type and sleep day to day. The current day’s count is listed at the top, along with the percentage of the goal currently completed. Clicking through that last bit offers a more complete break down of the numbers, including distance, duration and calories burned.
It’s pretty basic info, but the sort you would anticipate with an entry level fitness device like this.
As for the numbers themselves, the step count came in consistently lower than both the Moto 360 I was wearing on the other watch and the numbers tracked by my iPhone’s own pedometer. The app also oddly seemed to suggest that I was swimming on days when I am fairly sure I wasn’t (though who can say for sure, really?).
Sleep tracking, too, is fairly basic, determining both when and how deeply you’re sleeping based on movement (or lack thereof). It’s pretty standard practice, but not as accurate as the tracking performance on devices with more sophisticated sensors. My own restless sleep habits likely have something to do with it, but as with the step count, the numbers seemed on the low side.
Do pass go
The Go’s not a bad little fitness tracker, it’s just one that fails to live up to its promise. It’s not inexpensive enough to truly be budget and not fully featured enough to be too much of a compelling alternative to the myriad devices already flooding the market (nor, for that matter, the fact that our smartphones already have some of that functionality baked in).
The price will most likely come down after the product has been on the market for a while, which will certainly help. But if Withings really wants to make a dent in the low-end fitness tracking market, it’s going to have to rethink things a bit before version 2.0. Maybe Nokia can put some of its hardware know how to good use.