Having securing CE regulatory approval, French-based Withings has recently opened sales in Europe for its much anticipated ScanWatch. The timepiece was previously only available via a limited insiders program.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The hybrid has a few unique features that make it stand out from the crowd. Amongst these is the ability to detect heart health conditions and a medical-grade ECG sensor. The timepiece also boasts a blood oxygen monitor alongside the usual fitness tracking sensors to help users track their activity day and night. And all this with exceptional battery life of up to a month.
ScanWatch promises a lot, but does it deliver? I’ve had the opportunity to test it out over the past few weeks. Here’s what I made of it.
What’s all the fuss about?
Fitness & sports tracking
- A hybrid with a digital display that is controlled via digital crown
- Choice between a 38mm & 42mm diameter version
- One month battery life with normal use
Withings has a lot of experience manufacturing hybrids. It all started with the Activité back in 2015. This was the first watch to bring the best of both worlds – smart functionality in a traditional design. Other hybrids followed including three more iterations of Activité, followed by three of Steel, and finally Move and Move ECG. Quite a long list, most people would agree.
It’s an obvious progression, with each generation improving on previous ones both in design and functionality. Having said that, Withings has stuck with a largely similar look over the years.
ScanWatch comes packing the most premium design of the lot. You really need to hold it in your hand to fully appreciate its beauty. The quality of build is definitely one of its highlights – alongside the advanced health tracking functionality, of course.
The 5 ATM rated hybrid (water-resistant down to 50 metres) comes in a stainless steel case with cover glass made of scratch-resistant sapphire. This is accompanied by a brass lacquered dial with applied chrome indexes, guilloche subdial and chrome hands. The whole thing looks and feels like a traditional watch – an extremely good looking one.
I would sum the design of Scanwatch as beautiful, elegant, discreet, sturdy. You can feel it will last. I could probably bang it into a door without breaking it!
There are two sizes to choose from, a 38mm diameter and a 42mm diameter. The first measures 13.2mm in thickness and 58 grams in weight. The second 13.7mm and 86 grams.
I tested the larger version and found it to be a nice fit on my not-so-large wrists. I do wish, though, it was slightly lighter but that is the price you need to pay for quality build. For women and men with small wrists, I suggest they go for the 38mm edition.
The main unit is attached to a soft and comfortable fluoroelastomer wristband. The smaller iteration to a 18mm one, the larger to a 20mm. This comes with quick-release pins which means the band can be swapped around for other colours, styles and materials.
I tested ScanWatch on around half a dozen runs with the original strap and found no irritation to the skin. That is important as some straps can cause redness and rashes. The fact that everything is water resistant means you can clean it easily.
Looking at the watch-face itself, the large dials show the time, while the small sub-dial underneath shows how close you are to your daily goal. For example, if you set your goal to be 10,000 steps, the small dial at 6 o’clock means you’re half way there. Smash your goal, and the little dial will simply continue for another round-trip journey.
The glass is a bit glossy so reflects light which some might find distracting. I don’t think it’s too bad though.
The top half of the watch-face is where you’ll find a much fancier 13.8mm PMOLED display. A single press on the crown and it will spring to life. Turning the crown up or down scrolls through the time screen, heart rate, steps, distance, floors climbed, ECG, Spo2, workouts, clock and settings.
Notifications display previews of incoming calls, text messages, calendar events and alerts from your favorite apps. An accompanying vibration is there to ensure your attention.
Messages scroll horizontally and are surprisingly readable considering the size of the display. You can even manually scroll through longer ones with the crown – a nice add-on for notification-freaks! But there’s no history or anything like that. Once the notifications are gone, they’re gone.
As with any smartwatch, all the magic happens under the hood. Smarts include a multi-wavelength PPG heart rate/SpO2 sensor, stainless steel electrodes and a high precision MEMS 3-axis accelerometer. There’s no GPS, don’t look for it – it’s not there. You’ll need to make do with Connected GPS.
Another highlight of ScanWatch is battery life. With normal use you’ll need to reach for the charger only once per month. Few wearables last as long as that. I didn’t try it for quite that long, so can’t vouch but didn’t need to refuel in the couple of weeks of testing.
Whether it keeps going for the full 30 days is highly dependent on your settings. Switch on the option to monitor for signs of AFib and it will come down. Do an overnight respiratory scan often and the expected battery life will come down even more.
Charging is done via a USB cable that clips onto the back with magnets. About an hour is enough to bring the battery back to 80% capacity. Two hours is what it takes to go from zero to full.
You also have the option to extend the battery life with most of the advanced functionality switched off. The Power reserve mode allows for time and activity tracking only. You’ll squeeze out an extra 20 days this way.
Withings ScanWatch has been generating quite a bit of press coverage since it was announced at CES 2020 at the start of the year. Why is this? Let’s look at two of its most unique abilities.
- Monitors for heart irregularities in the background
- On-demand medical-grade electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Can create PDF health reports
ScanWatch’s headline feature is the ability to spot a serious form of irregular heart rhythm that can lead to heart failure and is a major risk for stroke. Some people who have AFib don’t have any symptoms, so the condition often goes undiagnosed. Others may experience dizziness, weakness and fatigue. It is the first of these two groups which is particularly at risk.
The thing has a PPG sensor that is capable of spotting the condition. If your heart rate is too low, too high or irregular, the watch will prompt you to take an electrocardiogram (ECG). In scientific speak, this is the representation of the electrical impulse that is sent through your heart with each heartbeat. Luckily I did not get any notifications, but that did not stop me from taking an ECG a few times.
It is supremely easy. Put your arm on the table and use the crown to scroll to the ECG page on the PMOLED display. Press on the crown to commence the reading while resting your hand over one side of the watch. I found that it also works if you just touch the sides with your fingers. A countdown will begin. 30 seconds later you’ll get your results on watch itself, i.e. whether any irregularities were spotted.
You’ll need to sit still during the measurement as the recording will stop if you don’t. It will also stop if your hand/fingers are not positioned correctly or move during the measuring period.
Open the Health Mate smartphone app before taking the reading and you’ll get a larger parallel representation of your ECG as you’re taking the measurement. But even if you don’t you can open it up later and play back the recording, get a summary assessment and see your average heart rate value during the reading.
There’s a nice little calendar which shows on a monthly basis the number of AFib episodes spotted. Useful for spotting trends.
You also get the option to share this measurement as a PDF. This is what the report looks like.
Withings has similar technology built into Move ECG. This watch is available for sale in Europe but the French outfit is still waiting for the stamp of approval from US regulators. It seems Withings is having more luck with regulators on the continent. ScanWatch is also yet to secure approval from regulatory authorities in the US but can be bought in Europe having secured the CE certification.
Breathing disturbances and Sleep Apnea detection
- Monitors for breathing disturbances during the night
- Medical-grade SpO2 sensor for on the spot readings
- Sleep Apnea detection to be enabled in coming months
The other big feature worth mentioning is sleep apnea detection. Withings says one billion people suffer from the condition to some extent. It is characterised by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. These can last from a few seconds to minutes and they happen many times a night. Heart rate and oxygen levels are prime indicators of sleep apnea.
The timepiece can detect breathing disturbances during the night and alert the user. This is done through a combination of sensors including a medical-grade SpO2 sensor, heart rate monitor and accelerometer (for movement and breathing frequency). There’s is nothing for you to do except wear the watch and go to sleep.
Withings is expecting to get clearance for Sleep Apnea detection soon. The technology is already there as the AI uses the same algorithm as sleep disturbances. The current results can be of use as an initial screen for the condition.
To preserve battery life, the hybrid will not perform a Respiratory Scan every night although you can set it up to do so. You have an option in the settings to switch this to Always on, activate a scan on a particular night, or let Withings decide when to take it.
The screenshot below shows the breathing disturbances results in the Health Mate app. The French company says a forthcoming firmware upgrade will add a timeline chart to this which plots when exactly disturbances occurred. The update will also add high/low heart rate alerts and Spo2 levels as part of the overnight scan.
Additionally, you can also use the SpO2 sensor to take on the spot readings. Simply navigate via the crown to the appropriate screen. Press the crown to activate and you should get your results 30 seconds later.
I found it is important to make sure the strap fits tightly against your wrist as the sensor needs to be quite flush. Otherwise you might get a skewed reading. Another thing you should probably do is to press on the face of the watch as you are taking a reading to help the sensor.
I compared the results with a run-of-the-mill pulse oximeter and found very few discrepancies. But you do need to make sure you are wearing the watch correctly. The blood oxygen range to aim for is between 95% and 100%.
Interestingly, Withings has trialled Scanwatch earlier this year for use with patients in French hospitals who have been diagnosed with COVID19. According to L’Obs, the patients have been using the device to monitor blood oxygen levels at home and help with research.
COVID19 infections are often accompanied with respiratory problems resulting in a fall of oxygen levels in the body. Withings has obtained an exceptional exemption from the ANSM (National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products) to provide the device to certain hospitals free of charge.
The ease of taking ECG and SpO2 readings impressed me a lot. ScanWatch has obviously been designed to seamlessly blend into your life. The idea is to have something sitting on your wrist that requires minimal interaction and that doesn’t look like a smartwatch – yet performs the functionalities of one.
- Has basic fitness tracking nailed down
- Detailed sleep monitoring
- Excellent smartphone app
The fitness tracking features are largely the same as those you’ll find in other Withings hybrids. The timepiece tracks steps, distance, calories, floors climbed and sleep. The company has a decade of experience in this sort of thing so you can be confident the watch will do a decent job.
For comparison purposes, during testing I wore a Garmin Forerunner 945 on my left wrist and ScanWatch on my right. The steps were mostly in line although the Garmin was more generous and tended to hit the 10,000 mark around 500 steps before the Withings.
As far as sleep stats, the discrepancies were larger. But that is to be expected. No two watches will show the same metrics – the technology has not progressed that much. But ScanWatch is hugely impressive in the level of sleep detail it goes into.
You’ll get a Sleep Score which tells you at a glance how well you slept. This is calculated by combining the duration of sleep, depth, regularity and number of interruptions. Click on any of these metrics and you’ll get more detailed breakdowns. You’ll also be able to see Awake, Light and Deep sleep displayed on a chart. REM has been dropped for now while Withings works on other features.
All activity and sleep data can be viewed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. As far as heart rate, you’ll get an average value for each day along with a sleep average. The app doesn’t specifically mention resting heart rate, but I found that the sleep average value typically matches the resting heart rate value I get with other devices. The discrepancy can be anywhere up to 2-3 bpm which is not bad.
Scanwatch is also pretty good at picking up naps, something that cannot be said of Fitbit and Garmin devices. These will also be presented in detail. But while this is excellent, what I didn’t like is the fact that naps don’t factor into the overall daily Sleep Score. The same is the case for the Withings Sleep Analyzer which I tested out earlier this year.
I tend to sleep irregularly, so have 2-3 short to medium sessions during a typical 24 hours. It would make more sense to have an overall Sleep Score that captures all your daily sleep sessions no matter how short or long they are. Most people are not going to have this problem but those that don’t stick to a regular sleep might find this an issue.
- No built-in GPS
- Heart rate monitoring patchy
- Good at auto-exercise recognition
ScanWatch will automatically recognise your activity and log it in the Health Mate app. This means you’ll get credit for all your moves with no buttons to press.
I tend to be a bit cautious when it comes to such claims and prefer to go down the manual route, i.e. start exercise sessions myself from the watch face. In this mode you can choose from five different sports. This is how many you can save at any one time for a manual start on the watch. I did try doing a 3K run just relying on the auto-recognition ability and found it to be impressively accurate.
I also noticed that if I run for a couple of minutes per day, for example to catch a bus, the watch would recognise this and add it in the timeline as an activity. The same is the case for bursts of quick walking.
As far as stats, there is no built-in GPS. So if you want detailed and more precise data for outdoor exercise you’ll need to rely on your phone’s location system. It is an annoyance for those very serious about running or cycling.
ScanWatch is a health watch first, fitness/sleep tracker second and sports watch third. So if you really want detailed data on your runs you would probably be better off buying a dedicated sports wearable. For the occasional bit of exercise ScanWatch will be fine.
The GPS signal is stable once connected. As far as the quality, it really depends on the quality of your smartphone’s satellite signal.
I noticed that the heart rate monitor would typically give me a higher average and peak heart rate during exercise than the Garmin (which I connected to a Polar chest strap). Sometimes quite a bit. Maybe it’s because my sweat interferes with the sensor or maybe the band was not tight enough, not sure why it happened.
Top of my wishlist would be the ability to connect to external heart rate monitors. This alone would solve a lot of the exercise issues. Hopefully it will come via a future firmware update. But Scanwatch is not a timepiece primarily to be used for tracking workouts and runs. Its strengths lie elsewhere.
The PMOLED screen is useful indoors as it is clearly legible. The same can be said outdoors although if you are in the middle of a run, it’s not very easy reading something on a display so small. But if you want a large screen, you are not going to be in the market for a hybrid.
ScanWatch is for those looking for something that doesn’t look like a fitness tracker yet performs the functionalities of one. For those that want powerful health tracking but with a touch of class. A wearable that requires minimal interaction, that you can effectively forget about charging. Its design can be summed up as beautiful, elegant, discreet, sturdy.
Scanwatch performs some functionalities of a sports watch, but it should not be confused with one. It is also not a smartwatch so the fact that it doesn’t have the same features as a smartwatch should not be held against it.
The hybrid’s strengths lie in keeping tabs on health, activity and sleep. On-demand electrocardiograms (ECGs), monitoring for heart irregularities, respiration during sleep and blood oxygen saturation all work well. Not many wearables contain quite as many health-tracking features. Some of these are waiting for FDA approval in the US, hence ScanWatch can only be currently purchased in Europe.
All in all, this is a comfortable and stylish hybrid that I will wear for some time to come. Its main selling points are smart tech in a traditional style, advanced health features, ease of use and month-long battery life.
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