Withings ScanWatch full review
Withings is best known for its hybrid smartwatches, and the ScanWatch is no different. Combining a classic watch design with a small OLED display, it combines an analogue aesthetic with the most important parts of a smartwatch or fitness tracker.
More than that though, the ScanWatch is a health device. First announced at CES 2020, it’s launching in Europe now that it has CE certification for AFib detection and SpO2 measurement, with sleep apnea certification expected later this year, and a US release on the cards pending FDA approval too.
That makes it a convenient, affordable way to monitor heart health and sleep quality from home or on the go – particularly important these days, as it removes some of the need to visit doctors or hospitals – without looking too obviously like a medical device.
Design and build
So let’s start there. The ScanWatch essentially looks like a regular old watch, with the addition of two extra circular dials, much like the company's own Steel HR watch.
The lower dial is an analogue indicator of your progress towards your daily activity goal – set to 10,000 steps by default, but editable in the free Withings Health Mate app. It gives you a rough sense of your progress at a glance, measured in percentage progress towards your goal.
The top dial is actually the ScanWatch’s mini PMOLED display, which is where you’ll find quick access to your latest data, along with all the settings and other tools that you can access directly on-device. The screen activates when you press the crown button or it detects you moving your wrist up to get a look at it, and smartly it will move the main watch hands out of the way as it turns on so that they don’t interrupt your view.
The crown button is also used to navigate the menu, rotating the dial to scroll through the main menu and pressing in to select specific functions. It's simple, and easy to get the hang of, if a little slow when you need to scroll through the full list to find what you're looking for.
As you’d expect, the ScanWatch is water-resistant, with protection up to 50m (5 ATM). That means you can use it for swim-tracking, and can also jump into the shower or bath without worrying about taking it off.
There’s only one finish for the ScanWatch’s case, which is made out of stainless steel with sapphire glass, but the watch face is available in a choice of either black or white.
It also comes in two sizes, and curiously they have slightly different designs. I’ve reviewed the larger 42mm watch, which has a chunky, angular design and at 83g feels heavy on the wrist, though I actually much prefer the rounded edges of the smaller 38mm model, with a more minimalist face design too, which clocks in at just 58g.
It’s difficult not to get the sense that Withings has decided to design the smaller model to resemble stereotypical women’s watches, while the 42mm feels decidedly more masculine. I can see the logic, but it feels pretty backwards for a tech brand in 2020 – though maybe I’m just bitter they assumed I’d want to test the uglier larger model.
Whichever model you buy a black fluoroelastomer wristband is included. Withings will also sell other wristband options, but the watch uses standard horns so that you can also swap the strap out for third-party designs easily enough.
Either way, the appeal of the ScanWatch is clear: it looks like a regular watch. As a committed mechanical watch user, hybrid designs like these offer the best of both worlds: the analogue aesthetic together with all of the fitness tracking, health tools, and even notification support you expect from a smartwatch.
Tracking and performance
So, tracking. Let’s start with fitness. The ScanWatch is a pretty by-the-numbers fitness tracker, measuring heart rate, distance, steps, calories burned, and floors climbed. It can track over 30 different workout types, with automatic detection of running, cycling, and swimming, and will also map routes when paired with a phone GPS - you will need a phone though, as there's no built-in GPS.
You can activate workouts directly from the watch, and while in workout mode the watch will show you your workout duration and give you a continuous heart rate measurement, with a more detailed breakdown of your performance appearing in the app afterwards.
Then there’s health tracking, with a few dedicated tools to check your heart health. The first is detection of atrial fibrillation (AFib), a form of irregular heart rhythm that’s normally tricky to diagnose. The ScanWatch uses regular – though not continuous – heartrate monitoring with a photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor to detect variations in your cardiovascular performance.
If something seems up, it will then prompt you to record an electrocardiogram (ECG) to get a more detailed measurement of your heart health while the symptoms are occurring. Other smartwatches include ECG support, but it’s this prompting to take a measurement while you have symptoms – even if you can’t feel them yourself – that has the potential to make the ScanWatch a much more valuable tool for those at risk.
The watch also includes an SpO2 sensor for measuring your blood oxygen levels, which like the ECG test is available on-demand, and takes 30 seconds.
This SpO2 sensor is also part of the toolkit that Withings uses for sleep tracking, with a particular focus on detection of breathing disturbances known as sleep apnea. Full sleep apnea tracking isn’t available for the moment, pending certification – though the Withings Sleep Analyzer includes the feature if you’d rather not wait – but in the meantime there’s a more vague ‘breathing disturbances’ measure to give you a rough indicator.
Beyond apnea, the ScanWatch measures sleep duration, depth, interruptions, regularity, and sleeping heart rate, giving you an overall sleep score out of 100 for every night.
All of this data is laid out in the Withings Health Mate app, which is one of the simplest and cleanest around. You get a daily summary, with the option to dive deeper into specific elements and compare to previous days, weeks, and months. You can sync all of this with Google Fit, Apple Health, MyFitnessPal, and more if you want to bring in data from elsewhere, or export your ScanWatch data to another app.
It’s worth noting that the watch itself will hold data for up to five days, so you will have to open the app to sync data at least once within this period to avoid losing any of your records.
As for battery, Withings claims a battery life of up to 30 days with normal use, with the potential for as much as 50 days in a power saving mode that turns off everything except the time and fitness tracking.
I’ll admit, the 30-day claim seems optimistic to me – I’ve been testing the ScanWatch for a week, and while it’s still running it is getting close to empty, and I expect to need to charge it again within the week. I would expect the battery to average out closer to two weeks – still admirable, but not quite as impressive as the company claims. It should only take two hours to top it back up with the included charger though, so you won’t have to leave it off overnight to get the watch back up and running.
It's unlikely to be anyone's priority, but it's worth covering the smart side of the ScanWatch too. The small PMOLED display can be used for notifications from your phone, with granular control of which apps are allowed to notify you. You'll get a brief vibrate, and an icon and notification summary will pop up on the display to let you know that you should check your phone. You can also set an alarm, or trigger a stopwatch or timer, but that's about it.
It obviously can't watch a dedicated smartwatch for features, but the ScanWatch is really targeted at people who'd rather not have all that stuff on their wrist at all times anyway, or simply prefer the look of traditional watches.
Price and availability
The Withings ScanWatch is available in the UK and Europe right now for £249/€279 for the 38mm model, and £279/€299 for the 42mm version. You should be able to pick it up from Withings itself, or from Amazon and other retailers.
It’s not available in the US yet, but is expected to launch later this year pending FDA approval, for $279/$299 depending on the size.
Offering AFib detection, plus an SpO2 sensor and (eventually) sleep apnea detection, makes the ScanWatch a more unique proposition though. It’s unlikely to appeal much to those who aren’t concerned about any of those conditions, but if you are then this is an easy, attractive, and unobtrusive way to monitor your health – and it’s hard to put a price on that.
The Withings ScanWatch does exactly what it sets out to do, with a robust set of fitness tracking combined with comprehensive health measurements.
Built-in GPS would take the fitness tracking to the next level, and the battery life definitely doesn’t live up to the company’s hype, but otherwise the appeal should be obvious to anyone who appreciates the classic design and wants to stay on top of their heart and sleep health.
Withings ScanWatch: Specs
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor
- Photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor
- SpO2 sensor
- AFib detection
- Breathing disturbance detection
- Bluetooth Low Energy
- Silent alarm
- Heartrate, steps, distance, calorie, and elevation tracking
- 30+ workouts
- Sleep monitoring
- Water resistant up to 50m (5 ATM)
- Up to 30-day battery life
- Requires iOS 12 or Android 8 or later
- 58g (38mm) or 83g (42mm)
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