Withings ScanWatch review: medicale grade ECG major step forward for health tracking

Withings have always made the more beautiful watches when it comes to fitness trackers, sticking closer to a more conventional design that doesn’t look like you’re wearing anything too high-tech on the wrist. Withings watches are simple, elegant, and feature-rich, and the ScanWatch is undoubtedly their best offering yet. And that’s no surprise, hype has been surrounding this release ever since it turned plenty of heads at CES in 2020. I’ve been anticipated its release ever since.

And that release is only a few months ago, perhaps most perfectly timed when people were looking to leave 2020 in the rearview and focus on bettering themselves after a traumatic year. The ScanWatch is more up to task for that, especially with the various sensors that now include a very easy-to-use ECG to heart monitoring.

Design

The ScanWatch is a hybrid between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, and really isn’t too dissimilar from the Fitbit Sense. Although the build quality couldn’t be any more different from the more recognisable fitness brand. 316L stainless steel and sapphire glass have been used in either size – 38mm or 42mm – which is sturdy and scratch-resistant. The high-performance fluoroelastomer strap is similarly simple and stylish, feeling comfortable on the wrist for long-term use and resembling leather both in look and feel.

Although is it quite heavy. At 83g, it’s hard to not notice this chunking up the wrist. I’m using the 42mm model for this review, which fits my large wrist quite comfortably despite the weight. The PMOLED display is much bigger, brighter and easier to read outdoors than previous Withings models that I have tested, bright enough for direct sunlight – even though I usually go for my runs in the evening. And with the ambient light sensor and raise-to-wake function, it’s easy to keep quick track of your progress during intensive workouts.

I much prefer using the rotating crown to scroll functionality on the watch, compared the the more common physical buttons/touch screen of a Fitbit. It helps using the watch feel more seamless when you’re outdoors exercising, and the response is consistently accurate.

Performance

Let’s talk about the medical-grade ECG first, as it’s easily the most substantial new inclusion for the ScanWatch. The scan takes less than a minute and results can be viewed in the connected Health Mate smartphone app. This is mainly to detect to presence of AFib warning signs, alerting people to potential seek help and detect an anomaly early. The implications are not to be overlooked, and it’s an important advancement as far as wearables go. You can also use if to detect if a heart rhythm is too abnormally slow or fast, alerting users to possible palpitations.

More impressively, exporting the ECG results as a PDF is easy, incorporating the watch more closely into your overall health plan with a GP who can then take a look at the results and decide if further investigation is necessary.

The other main addition here is a pulse oximeter which detects blood oxygen saturation and helps warn of potential sleeping problems like sleep apnea. Again, the importance cannot be overstated here. Especially since sleeping problems are increasingly common, addressing them is paramount, and many people don’t realise that they aren’t breathing properly. Having a watch able to detect even the slightest warning sign of this could go far in changing lives. It’s a logical step forward to sleep monitoring functions in fitness trackers, and while I have no professional equipment to compare it with, it appears to be much more accurate than competing brands. Plus, those interested in a more holistic approach to sleep monitoring can combine that with a Withings Sleep Tracking Mat, also relatively new on the market, and able to offer sleep cycle analyses, snore detection and heart rate tracking.

Sleep monitoring is fairly unchanged from previous models aside from this, you still get a sleep score in the app which on further inspection reveals details like interruptions, duration across the different stages of sleep, and heart rate during sleep.

As far as fitness tracking goes, it’s fair, although there are better and more nuanced models out there. Automatic activity detection is sometimes overly sensitive and can log the wrong activity, but as long as you only need steps, distance, floor climbed, and other basic information, the ScanWatch is as accurate as you can hope for. Even if some of the achievements come at random; as far as gamification goes, Fitbit still has the better app.

There is no NFC payment, which dents the smartwatch side of things considerably.

Battery

You’re looking at an easy one-month battery life with the ScanWatch, which is remarkable on a single charge. Although this is based on reasonable, light use. More intensive use will cut that by a few days, and if you’re tracking multiple exercises this will cut it even further. I’d say the most reasonable expectation for heavier users is just under a fortnight, which is still incredibly impressive for a watch that does quite a lot of tracking. Note that there is a power saving mode that kicks in when the battery displays 0%, stretching the life for up to 20 additional days on very basic functionality (step tracking, for example).

Verdict & Value

The Withings ScanWatch is a necessary step from the brand and puts them right at the top when it comes to competitors to the more recognisable Fitbit. Classic watch wearers will take immediately to the aesthetic, and those who are looking for an accurate, feature-rich tracker won’t be disappointed. However there are some drawbacks. No NFC just feels like a blow for a price tag of $475, making it less balanced as a hybrid smartwatch and more about the fitness and health tracking features.

FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE

Highlights: ECG works well and can exported as a PDF; a more holistic approach to health tracking; comfortable and stunning build.
Lowlights: One-month battery life not accurate; no NFC payments; smart watch features are lacking; auto activity detection can be inaccurate.
Manufacturer: Withings
Price: $475
Available: Now

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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