Activity Trackers I have worn… Withings Pulse Ox vs Fitbit Surge – Smartwatch Coming or Going?

I first bought the Withings Pulse O2 Activity and quite liked it. It is small, fits under cuffs reasonably well and has most activity functions except GPS tracking and constant heart-rate monitor. The Bluetooth sync is though often slow to connect, although it does eventually. The fact that the unit has two holders, one for wrist wear and one for belt or wherever it’ll stay, is nice. It being so small is, as well as making it easy to wear, also the reason I found it felt a bit like a toy on my wrist – I like big diameter watches and this is primarily a pedometer!

The Withings Pulse’s toy-like appearance, no GPS, heart-rate monitor on demand only and somewhat hinky Bluetooth connection prompted me to try the Fitbit Surge.

The Surge is quite expensive and even though the wedge shape is interesting it makes the unit overly thick. Because of that the wearability is really hampered as it’s simply too thick to fit under clothing. The silicone armband and casing are rubbery and sleeves will not slide over them. Oh, and the strap cannot be changed! Of course, if you wear it like the guy in the Website where there’s no shirt, then there’s no problem – except when the strap wears out… I also found the Surge’s screen disappointing for such a promising piece of equipment. The touch-screen display is white on black, difficult to read in low light, the back-lighting is dim and the LCD display seems otherwise a bit experimental, i.e. not really a selling point as it definitely needs more pizazz – maybe even colour.

I found that using GPS on the Surge sucked the battery dry in relatively short time – I mean like hours so, although that was one consideration for its purchase, I didn’t use it and if it was really important for me I still had the phone to do that trick. The Surge needs charging every few days, i.e. 5-6, depending on settings and the Withings Pulse lasts through four or five days, so both can be charged up while I’m physically inactive, working – excellent!

So now, after wearing the Withings Pulse O2 for a while on my arm and trying the Fitbit Surge too I’m back with the Withings as a belt, or wherever it’ll fit, tracker and I am also able to wear one of my normal watches again!! That last is a smart-watch deal-breaker for me. Who wants to always wear the same watch every day, but not want to forgo having an activity tracker in use now they are connected OTA? Multiple Apple Watches? They’re all a bit chunky and all the same shape too. Oh, and iOS only – no Android yet – so, no thanks.

Both the Withings Pulse O2 and the Fitbit Surge units are compatible with iOS and Android devices, one of the many things going for them, and their on-line website displays are both good, informative and usually up to date. They are for activity tracking, not presenting and socialising.

As far as satisfaction is concerned, I am not really, not yet. Although the Withings comes close and I know Withings offers the Activité and Activité Pop that look like watches. Although I am sorely tempted, as I already use their Smart Body Analyzer scales that offers weight, body fat % and heartbeat and also synchronizes making all that bothersome data recording automatic, they also demand to be the only watch worn otherwise the tracking stops. The scale software has also recently been updated OTA so yesterday’s activity and the day’s weather is now presented when weighing in.

The future must hold something different than the Apple and Android smartwatch iterations, i.e. Wearables, if only for the simple reason that the watch has become a piece of jewellery that is changed with the occasion or wearer’s mood – i.e offers choice. The smartwatch on the other hand demands to be always the same one or one loses some functionality or information and 24 hour activity etc. values make more sense. Ergo something’s gotta give. Packing all those functions into one small housing just because it’s possible doesn’t make it the ultimate right way to go.

We know how the mobile phone has evolved into a full-blown mini-computer with all its advantages and shortcomings, but information technology has a habit of changing rapidly. Now it’s the watch’s turn. Are these smartphone devices a flash-in-the-pan? Will they go the way of the cassette Walkman? After all, mobile phones do have the tracking function already integrated! Maybe the way forward is a different kind of mobile phone… The Bluetooth earpiece is not that popular so hands-off operation that way doesn’t seem likely, unless the earpiece can be made so small as to be comfortable – and then there’s the necessary microphone to consider…

I wonder what the future will hold. Multiple configurations seem likely, perhaps a necklace or pendant-cum-broach with interchangeable casings and/or innards that sits snugly against the chest, or a belt buckle – same fashion problems as the watch, but modular electronic watch strap sections are being introduced. Maybe some kind of under the skin tech that allows the ultimate of configuration while fulfilling our need to know what’s going on inside our earthly shells? However, we humans don’t seem to like the idea of foreign things in our bodies that don’t replace a failing life function. We tolerate replacement teeth, pacemakers & defibrillators and the occasional organ. Technology though? By choice? Not yet… We are in the digital age, but have not fully embraced the implications. So, for the time being whatever comes next will have to be external, as in Wearable. But a watch? We need some really inventive and innovative thinking here.

All in all, the current spate of so-called smart watches is still just a load of glorified convenient pedometers trying to be watches – nay, even jewellery. Remember the digital watch vs analogue and what happened there?

Note: I have used both for a few days and find the results differ quite a bit. If the Surge value is taken as 100% the Pulse shows 85% for the same activities. I guess the Pulse doesn’t like playing second fiddle!

Updated: September 01, 2015

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