Health watches have hit the big time, but the Withings ScanWatch puts advanced monitoring in a very different package.
A hybrid smartwatch – and by that we mean a smartwatch that hides its connected features behind a traditional analogue watch face.
But just because it has hands and a dial, doesn’t mean it’s a health slouch.
The ScanWatch doesn’t look close to a release in the US because the FDA hasn’t cleared the use of ECG. And even European regulators are yet to approve sleep apnea detection.
But how does it compare? We’ve spent time with the ScanWatch to find out.
Tl;dr verdict and price and competition
The Withings ScanWatch (38mm: £249.99; 42mm: £279.99) is peerless, in that no-one else has put this array of health smarts in a hybrid smartwatch.
It’s well made and classy, enabling people to take advantage of cutting-edge health tech in a good-looking package, which doesn’t look like a computer on the wrist. What’s more, the Withings Health Mate app is superb.
The £299.99 Fitbit Sense does lay down the gauntlet with extra data around temperature, stress tracking, and it’s a much better fitness device.
And naturally the (£399) Apple Watch Series 5 offers infinitely more in terms of smart features.
However, if you’re in the US we can’t offer any reassurance regarding if the ScanWatch will ever come out.
At first glance the Withings ScanWatch looks like a normal wrist-watch – which will be the main allure over full screen smartwatches like the Apple Watch. It constantly gets admiring comments from friends that know I’m always testing smartwatches, and can’t quite believe this is one.
Withings has been doing this since 2015, and it’s become the company’s USP.
The watch itself comes in 38mm or 42mm versions – we have the 42mm here for review.
The case itself is a premium stainless steel, and the 42mm weighs a reassuring 83g (the 38mm is much lighter at 58g).
That is fairly weighty, and comparable to a Fenix 6. But the compact design stops it feeling unwieldy, and the result is an aura of quality.
There are two inset dials. The small AMOLED display and then the analogue step goal progress dial, which has been a feature of Withings hybrids watches from the outset.
Of course, the hybrid analogue design inhibits some smartwatch features. The small monochrome AMOLED display shows your stats, and you can cycle through those by pressing and turning the crown.
There are no apps, or GPS. And watch can’t really offer meaningful progress during tracked workouts.
It can also show notifications, which tick by on the AMOLED display. You won’t be reading a full email, but you can easily see who has messaged you and possibly even the jist.
It comes in white or black versions.
From a fitness tracking point of view, the Withings ScanWatch has most bases covered.
Steps are tracked accurately, and your goal progress is shown on the inset physical dial, which is a nice touch.
Then there’s heart rate. It will track your bpm 24/7 and keep tabs on resting heart rate too – which is an essential metric that can warn you of changes to your health.
It takes this during sleep, so you get constant data.
You also get distance walked through the day and floors climbed, and auto-detection of workouts, which we’ll come onto shortly.
Interestingly, there’s no measure of active minutes or time spent at elevated heart rates, or associated goals.
This is a big deal for people who want the watch to help them get fitter or lose weight. The WHO recommends 150 active minutes a week, so it’s odd that the ScanWatch doesn’t track this data.
This does make the ScanWatch slightly less potent as a fitness device, or something capable of driving healthy changes. This forms our opinion that ScanWatch is more a heath monitoring device than a fitness tracker.
Heart rate accuracy
We found the heart rate accuracy to be generally good, with resting heart rate values in line with all devices we’ve tested.
As it uses “average sleeping heart rate” rather than just “resting heart rate” you will see slightly lower values. Our RHR is usually around 51, while Withings had our sleep HR at 47bpm. It checks out.
As primarily a health device, we don’t have any hesitation in recommending the Withings ScanWatch for tracking 24/7 heart rate, especially at rest.
It performed well during steady running sessions, too. The data below doesn’t quite match up, as the Withings auto-detected the activity, thus missed the first five minutes, but a close look shows good accuracy against a chest strap.
But the bpm peak was identical against our Wahoo Tickr, and the peaks and falls also line-up too.
The average bpm also checks out, if you compare like for like.
Like all optical sensors, it will crap out if you start throwing in quick bursts of extreme intensity.
Sleep tracking is an important part of the ScanWatch experience, and it provided plenty of data for you to look through.
Sleep duration and time spent in the key deep, light and awake stages – but you don’t get REM details.
It will also score duration, depth, regularity of bed times and interruptions.
The ScanWatch will monitor your average sleeping heart rate, which you can keep an eye on for spikes that could show you need to rest up, are stressed, or possible onset of illness.
And finally is breathing disturbances. This uses the SpO2 sensor to monitor when you may struggle for breath during sleep, a possible sign of sleep apnea. It scores the amount of disturbances as green, amber or red, and provides some education around sleep apnea.
However, this appears separately from the proper sleep apnea scores found on the Withings Sleep Analyzer, because unlike that device, the ScanWatch hasn’t been cleared to measure for the condition by the FDA or CE.
Overall we were happy with the data provided by the Withings ScanWatch for sleep, and it largely married up to our Fitbit devices.
ScanWatch flagged the same sleep depth issues, which is reassuring. However, comparing the data is tough because Fitbit tracks REM, where the Withings does not, so all the stages appear wildly different.
Resting heart rate data was pretty much identical too, although we got higher sleep scores on the Withings overall.
We have felt that Fitbit judges awake time harshly, and the Withings scores married up with how we knew we’d slept. Overall, a great experience.
There’s no doubt that the analogue form factor of the Withings does not make it a natural sports watch, but it is surprisingly powerful.
You can start manually tracking workouts by scrolling through from the options, heading to workout. From there you can choose running, swimming, cycling, walking, and other.
It’s a core few, but pales in comparison to the 100s of activity profiles found on the latest Huawei smartwatches such as the Huawei Watch Fit.
There’s no GPS, but there is connected GPS – so it should use your phone to track runs, cycles and walks. Distance tracking was spot on, and you can export your runs to Strava, which is a nice touch.
And ScanWatch will auto-detect exercise and just estimate the distance. It’s pretty spot on with the duration of workouts, but accuracy was a mixed bag, with some runs coming up quite short against GPS.
If you take the ScanWatch for a GPS tracked run then you’ll also get a VO2 Max estimation, which is more subtly named Fitness Score. We found the estimation a tad high, based on our Garmin data, which we have previously found to be the most accurate against a lab based VO2 Max test.
Overall, the Withings ScanWatch is surprisingly capable at tracking sports given its and ensuring you get credit for them in your daily stats.
However, it can’t provide meaningful data during a workout, and as we already mentioned, it doesn’t put any focus on active time, as the likes and Fitbit and Amazfit have done with Active Zone Minutes and PAI.
That is a weakness, as a key part of a healthy lifestyle is getting 150 minutes per week of elevated heart rate – and the ScanWatch can’t help you achieve that
The ScanWatch is a health watch, not a sports watch, and it achieves that with a focus on ECG and blood oxygen tracking.
ECG works by taking a spot reading on the device. Just scroll through the menu to ECG and hold your finger over the screen and bezel as instructed to take the reading.
The result is logged within the Withings Health Mate app in the Heart section of the Dashboard. Under ECG you can see if your heart rate displays as normal or Afib, and export the result as a PDF to show your doctor.
Like other devices, the ScanWatch will also look for arrhythmia – e.g. low or high heart rates.
You can also spot check SpO2, as well the ScanWatch monitoring your breathing as you sleep for signs of breathing disturbances.
Again, this is done from the ScanWatch itself and just requires you to be still for 30 seconds. The results are logged in the Oxygen Saturation section of the Health Mate dashboard.
Overall, these are well implemented health features, and some of the most useful on the market – especially the SpO2.
Monitoring breathing at night is the most useful application, and SpO2 spot checks have limited value. That makes the ScanWatch way more useful than many SpO2 smartwatches out there. And it will get even better IF the watch receives clearance for full sleep apnea detection.
Withings Health Mate app
The Withings Health Mate app is one of the best out there, especially if you buy into other devices such as the Withings Body Analyzer.
It’s clean, easy to navigate, and does a great job of showing a snapshot of your heath and activity, while also making to easy to see trends over time.
Most screens can easily be toggled to show day, week or month view, and many quarterly or yearly when it makes sense.
Health Mate certainly is more focussed on wellness, rather than fitness – so expect to see your heart rate, sleep and blood oxygen presented just as prominently as steps and workouts.
It’s not the best platform to improve your fitness, nor is it particularly encouraging if you’re out to make changes. If you want to shred fat you need a Garmin, Fitbit or Apple Watch.
One thing worth mentioning is that the Withings platform plays nicely with Apple Health, and that experience will also become richer from the huge amount of data points from the ScanWatch.
Battery life and notifications
Battery life is quoted as 30 days by Withings, which seems about right from our testing, unless you turn the advanced Respiratory Scan to always on. This is set during the setup process but can be changed in Device Settings in Health Mate.
This mode collects a lot more data about your nightly breathing. However, if you’re satisfied that you’re rarely having serious disturbances then this can be turned back to Automatic, which only scans your breathing around once a month.
We obviously turned that feature on and drained the battery by 10-12% per day, meaning you’ll only get around a week of battery life.
Notifications are useful, but pretty hard to read. However, we did like the granular control of apps. We got pretty bored with WhatsApp messages scrolling across, but left it on for calendar and phone calls.
The Withings ScanWatch is a brilliant, subtle and powerful health watch, that’s a great way to get an overview of your body. The design is superb, with a strong feature set and a great app, which excels if you use devices like the scales, blood pressure monitor and thermometer. It’s important to frame the ScanWatch correctly. While it can track workouts and runs, it’s not a device that’s geared towards driving lifestyle changes. The platform lacks content and motivation for getting out there and shedding calories. If you’re looking for a good-looking health device to keep tabs on your important health metrics then ScanWatch is a great option.
- Superb design
- Powerful health stats
- Great app
- Big feature set
- No US release imminent
- No focus on active time
- Not a great fitness motivator