In 2014, the French brand Withings debuted the Activité watches. They were remarkable—classic, understated analog watches that also functioned as a simple fitness trackers. (Disclosure: I bought an Activité Steel.)
Withings’ line of health care products were so beautiful and well-designed that Nokia bought the company in 2016. For the next two years, it befuddled everyone by appending the Nokia brand name to every product. My Activité Steel became a Nokia Steel. Then Nokia got bored. In 2018, Withings’ original founder Éric Careel bought back Nokia’s health division, and shortly thereafter caused a splash at this year’s CES with two new releases, the Move and Move ECG.
Like the Activité watches, the $70 Withings Move is a fitness tracker disguised as a disarmingly attractive analog watch. It’s remarkably affordable and can track your steps, record activities like indoor cycling on the Health Mate app, and use connected GPS to map your distance, pace, and elevation. It can also wake you up with a simple vibrating alarm and track your sleep.
Unlike the Move ECG, it doesn’t take electrocardiogram readings. It also doesn’t track your heart rate, and I’m sad to say that the plastic case scratches easily. I’ve worn it for a week and have already scratched the watch’s face all to heck. It’s a shame.
The Move looks great, as do all of Withings’ watches. My test unit had a white face and a soft, bright blue silicone strap. It also comes in coral, black, and mint green, with other customizable colors coming soon. And as with most analog watches, you can also switch out the straps for ones of your choice.
The watch face has a smaller dial inside the larger one that shows the steps you’ve taken that day, and a small silver button on the side to record activities. It’s so simple that it uses a regular coin watch battery. You don’t need to charge it; when it dies in 18 months, you can either take it to a watchmaker to replace it or buy a new one. I’m so used to charging a Garmin or a Fitbit every week that not having to carry a charger in my bag felt like I was subverting the natural order of things.
You sync the Move with Withings’ Health Mate app, where you can see your recorded activities, steps, and sleep. And that’s it. It’s a watch. For the first time in years, I walked around my kitchen making tea without jumping every time I got a text. The sudden silence on my wrist was almost deafening, but I liked it. It’s worth noting, though, that without a smartwatch to check texts, weather, use a stopwatch, or use a timer, Apple’s Screen Time did note that I spent about an hour more on my smartphone per week. Curses!
The Health Mate app is simple. Check the app to set a goal for your daily step count and see if you meet it, to see how much you’ve slept (and your daily sleep score), and to log your activities. The Move keeps track of a startlingly wide variety of activities. In addition to the standard hiking, running, and cycling, it can also record dancing, climbing, and Ping Pong, among many, many other activitiés.
It’s also water-resistant, which lets you record your surfing and windsurfing in addition to swimming. You can also set individual goals per activity—I set a goal of running three times per week—and it lets you incorporate data from other Withings’ devices, like the Sleep pad or the Body+ scale.
It was only when I started to check Health Mate that I realized things might not be as gauzy as they seem. The sleep tracking wasn’t particularly accurate. It recorded when I got into bed and got out, but it had some trouble distinguishing between sleeping and when I was just lying down, painfully conscious.
My early mornings are plagued by small humans who think that 5:30 am is a reasonable time to start their day. While my husband and I alternate getting up with them, the Move also couldn’t distinguish when I was actually sleeping and when I was lying in bed with a pillow over my head.
Connected GPS was an unexpected surprise in a watch that’s so simple, but it too was unreliable. The GPS occasionally pooped out while I was hiking, walking my dogs, or running. My mapped path would end abruptly in the middle of a park 200 feet from my house, even when the Move noted that I’d walked for much longer.
Also, my daily runs are repeated mile loops on trails through a wooded park near my house. The Move recorded the duration and altitude gain, but failed to record the mileage for subsequent loops. For example, it said that I’d run one mile in the time that I ran three. The discrepancies can throw off your pace calculations by quite a bit.
When I recorded a yoga class with it, it logged only the duration and the calories burned. Holding down a small button that quietly vibrated made me feel a lot less like a pretentious poser than the loud bleeps of a Suunto or Garmin. However, when you’re recording an activity, the minute hand rotates quickly to indicate that it’s recording. During that activity, you can’t tell what time it is, as I discovered when I snuck surreptitious peeks at my watch during the savasana pose.
I love the concept of a fitness tracker that doesn’t look like one. But while it’s undoubtedly attractive, the plastic face has gotten noticeably scratched during a week’s worth of daily activity.
The plastic face just feels and looks much cheaper than the Steel, which I wore for a year and is beautiful enough to wear as an accessory. While plastic might cut costs, it also reduces the Move’s longevity and versatility. At $70, it is affordable, but not so affordable that I would consider replacing it every other month. The warranty explicitly excludes scratches.
We like several analog smartwatches. Unfortunately, I can only recommend the Move if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, or if you lead a very cuddly lifestyle. Otherwise, it’s worth ponying up for the Withings Steel. The Steel might not have fancy doodads like connected GPS, but this is one case where the less you add to the watch, the less you screw it up.