Hybrid smartwatches are an appealing segment, combining the health tracking benefits of a standard activity tracker with the unobtrusive, fashionable appearance of a traditional watch. Withings is one of the few participants in the field.
That makes the company’s most budget-friendly model, the Withings Move, all the more disappointing. Its low price point is matched by few features, relying on a connected phone for most of its actual benefit, and the materials and finish of the watch itself aren’t up to the standard set by the Withings Steel and its stablemates.
If you’re in the market for both a very cheap activity tracker and a very cheap watch, you could combine both purchases into the Withings Move. But if the appeal of a hybrid watch is in its resemblance to a fashionable accessory, and the appeal of an activity tracker is in its accuracy and utility, then the Move falls flat on both of those points.
You Get Watch You Pay For
From a functional standpoint, the Move is very similar to the Withings Steel, the original hybrid watch design that the company inherited from its days as a Nokia subsidiary. Like the Steel, the Move tracks steps and sleep with on-board hardware, with its only feedback coming from a sub-dial that shows progress towards your daily step goal. The watch can vibrate, but offers no other interactive functions.
Unlike the Nokia/Withings Steel, the Move looks…well, cheap. It uses a plastic case and window, something that would be tacky on even an inexpensive conventional watch. The silicone band is more forgivable, and I appreciate that it can be changed quickly thanks to quick-release pins. But if you want a nice band that’s an extra $20-30, which seems like an odd extravagance on such a cheap device.
The plastic case would be alright, if Withings had used the savings for a mineral crystal window. Something like tempered Gorilla Glass or synthetic sapphire is too much to hope for on a sub-$100 device, but the plastic window is going to scratch easily and repeatedly, even if you’re not using the Move in frequent high-intensity workouts.
That cheapness is presumably a feature and not a bug. At just $70, the Move is indeed one of the cheapest activity trackers around from a reputable supplier, hybrid watch design notwithstanding. It’s a bit more than half the price of the original Steel, for the same features…and in order to move up to something with heart rate tracking, you’d need to shell out $180 for the Steel HR. That’s well beyond impulse buy range for most users.
A Splash of Color
Withings is pushing the customization angle with the Move and its more expensive cousin the Move ECG. It’s being offered with a variety of color combinations for the band, face, and “tracker” hand, with a full web-based color customizer tool being offered sometime later this year.
That’s perhaps more compelling than the low price alone, since activity trackers and smartwatches frequently only come with one or two choices in terms of style, with replacement bands often being proprietary. But there doesn’t seem to be any option to change the hour and minute hands, which are a rather flat steel color with no indicators. There’s no luminous paint or Timex-style “Indiglo,” either, so you’ll be reaching for your phone if you want to know the time after the lights go out. It’s an odd omission on a device that offers sleep tracking as one of its only dedicated features.
Withings rates the Move as water resistant up to fifty meters, which is fairly standard for a watch, smart or otherwise. While it won’t keep up with your fancy “diver’s” automatic, it’ll take on drenching sweat and splashes in the pool or shower without complaint.
Like the most simple Withings Steel model, the Move can keep going for a year and a half without needing a battery charge, though you’ll have to open the case (or get an expert to do so) and replace the coin battery at that point. Of course the scope of this review can’t stretch to the maximum length of that charge, but I’ll assume that frequent use of the vibrating alarm feature would cut that battery life significantly. It’s something to consider a plus if you can’t stand having to charge multiple gadgets daily.
Don’t Forget Your Phone
The Move doesn’t track your heart rate, and it relies on a Bluetooth connection to an iPhone or Android phone in order to track your position via GPS. To start a workout you hold the crown—the single button on the device—until the watch vibrates. Run, bike, swim, or whatever else you’re planning to do, then press and hold it again to finish your session. The phone app records your time and distance, but you’ll have to tell it what you’ve been doing yourself.
That begs the question, why am I using a watch for this at all? The position tracking is coming from the phone, and I need to open the app and mess around with my recorded data in order to add any meaningful context. These are all things that can be done on the phone alone—Google Fit even does it automatically, detecting your activity and estimating things like calories burned and altitude. The watch can’t pause workouts, either, so if you’re resting for a drink or a designated interval you’ll have to track multiple sessions.
So what does the Move offer, except a slightly less awkward start and stop button? It can track steps and sleep more accurately than a phone alone. But Withings’ overall tracking and social programs are well behind the likes of FitBit, Google, Apple, and Samsung, and the Move doesn’t do notifications. The only thing it can alert you to is an alarm, and even then, only with a vibration so weak that I wouldn’t trust it to wake me up. The alarm doesn’t even sync with the one on your phone’s clock app.
The Move’s analog watch hands sync with the phone’s time, and Android’s Smart Lock feature will let it bypass the lock screen. But in terms of pure functionality, the Move is barely better than your phone alone, offering an at-a-glance step tracker and not much else. For my part—and my money—I’d much rather wear a cheap Seiko and track any workouts I do on my phone itself.
A Few Other Extras (But Not Enough)
The Move gives you access to the Withings semi-social network of health and wellness tools, including more extensive sleep tracking, guided meditation, and pregnancy insights. But again, these are all things you can find in other fitness tracker systems (or just on your phone itself) with heart rate tracking, too. The Withings ECG will technically offer heart rate tracking when it launches, but not in a constant, live fashion like the Steel HR—it’s intended more as a medical tool than a fitness one.
Withings’ customization tool might make a few sales once it’s up and running, with some funky color combinations and interesting faces. But Our philosophy is to review a product as it is, not as it might be…and even with more style options, they won’t disguise the fundamental cheapness of the device. Compared to the original Steel or its more utilitarian upgrades, the Move doesn’t really compare at all. Its one major advantage, a year-and-a-half claimed battery life from a standard watch coin cell, is becoming less compelling as more advanced watches stretch their batteries to multiple days.
Better Options Are Out There
If the Move offered live heart rate tracking in a way that was more discreet than other models, thus unlocking more precise workout tracking, it would be much more compelling. If its notification tools weren’t so lacking, if its fit and finish were better, hell, if I could just read it in the dark while it’s sleep tracking—I’d have been far kinder on the device had it any of these in its favor.
But it doesn’t. For $70, buy a better-looking conventional watch or an inexpensive fitness tracker, or save up for a better option in either category.
Here’s What We Like
- Easy to swap bands
- Insanely long battery life
And What We Don't
- Low-quality materials
- Few capabilities without phone
- Plastic dial window
- Low-power vibration
- No notification support