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Withings pulse HR review: A simple fitness tracker with a 20-day battery life

The Independent
The Independent
 2021-10-13

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Some fitness trackers can feel like they have come from the props department of a Sci-Fi drama; big screens, chunky straps and more features than most buyers ever plan to use.

The Withings pulse HR is a step in the opposite direction. It’s a fitness tracker that is compact, simple and subtly designed, only displaying the essentials and as a result offers a huge 20-day battery life.

The pulse HR tracks steps, running, cycling, swimming and 30 other activities, along with sleep, and all data is fed back to the ever-impressive Health Mate smartphone app. There’s also a simple notifications system, waterproofing, and a simple monochrome display.

It’s also a wearable that is a couple of years old now, but with a fairly low price (£74.96, Withings.com ), is this a fitness tracker that still stacks up?

How we tested

We wore the Withings HR pulse constantly for a week. We walked, ran and exercised with it, wore it through the night to try out the sleep tracking function, and climbed many, many flights of stairs while helping a friend move house – something the pulse HR didn’t record quite the way we thought it would, but more on that later. Here’s what we thought.

Read more:

Withings pulse HR: £74.96, Withings.com

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  • Dimensions: 18.16mm x 10.45mm x 44.4mm
  • Display: Monotone LED
  • Sensors: Heart rate, three-axis accelerometer, light sensor
  • Features: Activity tracking, phone notifications, 20-day battery life
  • Water resistance: 50 metres
  • Rating: 6/10

Design and set-up

The Withings pulse HR looks a lot like many other fitness trackers. That’s no bad thing, as it means the wearable is small, light and unobtrusive. There is a huge amount of adjustability on the buckle of the rubber strap, and the tracker itself has a stylish chrome finish to the sides and rear of its case.

The front is covered by a single piece of matte black plastic which houses the monotone OLED display. It’s a compact display that only shows a small amount of information. The display is not touch sensitive, with the pulse HR instead cycling through its menu system with a press of the single button on its side, or by sensing a tap with its accelerometer.

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The display lit up with a press of the button, or by raising your wrist to see the time. As with other wearables, this system doesn’t work with every attempt, and at times found an exaggerated lifting of the arm was required to activate the display and show the time, instead of a simple turn of the wrist.

Industry-standard lug bars and quick-release lugs holding the strap to the case mean it is easy to swap out the strap for any other you want – including leather and silicone options sold by Withings itself. This is a good thing for those who want to personalise their fitness tracker, because the pulse HR is only available in black.

Read more: 8 best running watches for tracking your workouts

Turn the tracker around and you’ll see the optical heart rate monitor and its blinking green light. This takes a reading at regular intervals throughout the day and night, and records constantly when exercise mode is engaged.

Setting up the pulse HR is very easy, thanks to the simple setup process of the Withings health mate app, which is free for iOS and Android. It takes just a couple of minutes to pair the fitness tracker with your smartphone via Bluetooth, set parameters like your daily step target, and pick what types of exercise you want the pulse HR to track. The Health Mate app can be used to collect data from other Withings devices too, such as your weight, body fat percentage and other metrics recorded by the company’s smart scales .

Read more: 10 best bathroom scales for a smarter way to track weight and fitness

The pulse HR vibrates to deliver smartphone notifications, like calls and text messages, to your wrist. As with most wearables, it is worth using the app to limit which apps can send notifications to the Pulse HR, otherwise the constant buzzing of alerts can become annoying (and affect battery life too).

Activity Tracking

Unlike an all-singing, all-dancing smartwatch , fitness trackers are intentionally much simpler to use, and considerably cheaper as a result. In this case, the Withings pulse HR quietly gets on with the job of tracking your activity, heart rate, sleep and exercise.

It can automatically record “active minutes” but works best when told exactly what you are doing. A long press of the button on its side enables exercise mode, with subsequent presses used to scroll through the types of exercise it can track.

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By default, only walking, running, cycling and swimming appear on this list, but you can use the Health Mate app to add more from a list of 30 activities. These include hiking, rowing, yoga, pilates, tennis, football, golf, weight lifting and more. The trick here is remembering to tell the pulse HR when you start and stop each activity, as otherwise your exercise won’t be tracked correctly.

We discovered this after realising that five hours of moving boxes and furniture up and down several flights of stairs results in 6,000 steps, but just 22 minutes of what the Health Mate apps deems “active minutes”. Had we told the pulse HR we were exercising at the time, the recording would have been different.

Read more: 12 best running shoes for women that will really go the distance

Moreover, this isn’t a fitness tracker designed to precisely record every element of your exercise regime. It does not work out the type of weightlifting you are doing, then count reps and sets, like the Samsung Galaxy fit (£69.99, Amazon.co.uk ), for example.

For recording steps, running, cycling distance covered each day, along with heart rate, the Withings pulse HR does a good job. It also uses your phone’s GPS (instead of having its own) to plot the route of your cycling and outdoor runs.

It also works well as a sleep tracker, thanks to being light and comfortable enough to wear through the night. The wearable doesn’t show any sleep data on its display, but sends its findings to the health mate app via Bluetooth after you wake up. In theorem you can see how well (or otherwise) you slept, complete with data showing sleep depth and average heart rate.

The verdict: Withings pulse HR

Despite being a couple of years old now (as of autumn 2021) the Withings pulse HR is still a good fitness tracker. Priced a few pence shy of £75, it has just enough health-tracking features to be genuinely useful, while also having a smart, subtle design, interchangeable straps, useful sleep tracking and notifications. The battery life is a particular highlight, with Withings’ claim of 20 days per charge feeling accurate during our testing.

As is often the case with Withings products, the health mate app is a real plus point. It is smartly designed, easy to use and can receive data from all of the company’s health and fitness products. It also manages to present a wealth of data without being confusing or overwhelming.

This isn’t a fitness tracker for the exercise fanatic, but instead works well as a way to keep tabs on your activity, sleep and heart rate; and it does this without drawing attention to itself, thanks to a subtle design. Those wanting a more comprehensive fitness-tracking experience, or a wearable with more smartwatch-style features and connectivity, should look elsewhere.

Withings pulse HR

Buy now £74.96, Withings.com

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