My experiences with the Pulse Ox

As I’m continuously trying to get more fit and I like every kind of gadgets I was a user of the FitBit One. Lately I got an offer from Withings announcing a service to migrate all my data from my FitBit account and start tracking my steps, sleep and other stats using a Withings Pulse Ox.

Starting in 2011 I’m using a Withings WiFi scale to track my weight changes and I’m really satisfied with that scale. It just does what I’m expecting from it: It tracks my weight and body fat percentages and syncs them to my Withings account. I don’t have to take care about much (just change the batteries every now and then) and additional I have an API to get all my data from that account and let applications or scripts (for example Libra for graphing the measures) do things to that results.

Having that experience with Withings products for years now I didn’t thought about the offer it a long time and bought a Withings Pulse Ox for 99.95 EUR. This was about a month ago. At the same time I connected the website, promising to sync my FitBit data to my Withings account, to my FitBit account and the wait began.

Now, about a month later in which I used the Pulse Ox on a daily base I can tell you a bit about my experiences and why I’m not really satisfied.

The Withings Pulse Ox

The device itself is about the size of the FitBit One (a bit shorter and also a bit wider) and doesn’t really hinder me while doing whatever I’m doing during the day. When I’m outside, normally I’m wearing an Android watch so during that time the Pulse Ox sits in my pocket and works quite well as I can say by comparing the data it collects to other trackers. The number of steps doesn’t really differ significantly from the number of steps counted by Google Fit or the FitBit One.

During the night I’m wearing the silicone wrist band holding the Pulse Ox. This wrist band is a really huge improvement compared to the wrist band of the FitBit One: The FitBit One did have a fabric wrist band which got out of form quite fast while the silicone wrist band of the Pulse Ox stays as it was in the first place.

The sleep measurement of the Pulse Ox is like a huge nope for me. The measurement is interrupted quite often with sometimes like 45min without any data (just a white gap between the collected data). When it’s about the collected data I’m not able to confirm how accurate those data is as I don’t have access to professional equipment for detecting sleep phases.

In contrast to the FitBit One the Withings Pulse Ox does not stay connected to the phone all the time (even when the App is active) but syncs on some interval I currently wasn’t able to figure out. You always have a chance to manually sync the data by just pressing the button of the Pulse Ox for three seconds which isn’t bad. The sync itself sadly is bad: Sometimes it just stops while synching (the phone is about 50cm distant from the Pulse Ox), sometimes it does not sync all data (and even on a second sync does not sync them) which I saw after being at the gym having a count of nearly 6000 steps on the Pulse Ox itself but the app and also the website showed only slightly over 4000 steps and sometimes everything works… (I don’t like things working only sometimes.)

The mobile App: “Withings Healthmate”

First to say: The last versions of the app were a huge improvement. Some versions ago the sleep for example was only counted to the last gap (which I mentioned above). Overall it’s now a way to visualize the data I don’t really use often because there are better ways, just not for the sleep and the step counts, and for synching the data to my Withings account. Talking about the syncs frequently not synching all the data here’s a good example:

Failed syncs and their display

As you can see the sync was triggered at 09:12 that day, synched about 2:42h and then after an additional manual sync it synched the remaining data. How long did I sleep that night? Like 9 hours? No, just that 6:17h. The interface in general is relatively confusing and for example also does not remember the scroll position when entering a sub-view and jumping back. If you have scrolled through the timeline you have to search again for the point of time you were viewing.

Additionally there are messages injected into the timeline having call-to-action items for participating in polls, pushing articles from the FAQ and several other things.

The website

At the time, the mobile application was not that usable it is now, the website was the best point of viewing the data collected by the devices and in some points it still is. Sadly the quality of the website did not improve but worsened.

Some of the widgets are quite useful, for example if you want to see how active you were during your day the “Activity & sleep patterns” widget is great:

Activity & sleep patterns widget

Sadly for example the steps goal displayed in the screenshot does not adjust and is fixed at 70k while my own goal I set in the app is 35k steps per week. Also other widgets are currently totally broken and there is no fix in sight.

Activity & sleep patterns widget

All the things working with weight, where Withings is in service for several years now, are quite sophisticated but those dealing with steps and everything around the Pulse Ox is rather a work in progress…

The support

I wrote a support ticket about most of these points (those already known while writing the ticket) to the Withings support but got no answer for about 9 days. After that 9 days the response was like “hey, sorry for the late response, did your problem fix itself?“…

Seriously: What the fuck? This is not an acceptable answer in any way. When I’m telling you there are issues and name them, why would those “vanish” by themselves? Did you work on it? Great, so you know what you’ve fixed and can tell me what you’ve fixed. You didn’t? Yeah okay, but then don’t ask me whether the problems are gone.

That answer after 9 days with a half-hearted excuse for the long waiting time and the promise next support answer will not take another 9 days without doing anything about the issue looks like someone needed to respond just before an escalation deadline of 10 days. “We’ve met our support-requirement to get back to the customer within 10 days!” - Nope, you didn’t. Throwing predefined text blocks at all tickets open for more than 9 days is not support.

Conclusion / TL;DR

Even though I’m always in to test-drive new hardware and gadgets and am used to it being not yet ready, the experience of the Withings Pulse Ox (which is a “finished” product, not a beta-test or something) feels unready and like “hey, we are not ready yet for launch but lets launch and do the last fixes and development while the product is out there at the customers side”.

As a customer I’d not recommend my friends to buy this product while as a developer I’m keeping it in action and hope there will be major improvements in near future.