If you're looking for a stylish fitness tracker with bonus skills like on-demand electrocardiograms, this is shaping up to be a very good (and very affordable) new option.
- Takes on-demand electrocardiograms (ECGs)
- Auto-detects walking, running, swimming and cycling
- Water resistant to 50m
- Built-in sleep tracking
- 12-month battery life
- Compatible with iOS and Android smartphones
Fitness trackers might sound a bit dusty and irrelevant in this age of sporty smartwatches, but a blast from the past has just hit back with a new contender that has one particularly special trick – the ability to take on-demand electrocardiograms.
The Move ECG, made by the once Nokia-owned but now freshly independent French company Withings, is a reborn version of its excellent Activité watches.
Like before, this stylish analogue timepiece can do basic sleep and exercise tracking (for walking, running, swimming and cycling). Only now it can take a snapshot of your heart’s health to help detect problems like atrial fibrillation (or AFib).
This feature is currently only available on one other wearable, the Apple Watch Series 4, which costs £399. When the Move ECG goes on sale in April 2019, assuming it gets FDA and CE approval by then, it’ll sell for just £129.95.
Whether or not you prize the ability to check your heart’s health – and at this point it’s very early days for the readings taken by consumer wearables – that’s impressive value for money for a health tracker that’s this stylish and capable.
So does the Withings Move ECG mark a return to form for the French minimalists? I gave one a spin at CES 2019 to find out.
Withings Move ECG – Price and release date
Before we take a closer look at the Move ECG, here’s a quick lowdown on its expected release.
The watch needs to be approved by the FDA (for the USA) and CE (in Europe) before it can hit the shelves. Withings told us it expects this to happen in both case by April 2019, though there’s always the chance of delays.
Once it’s been rubber-stamped by both bodies, it’ll cost £129.95. That’s a fair bit more than the superb value offered by the standard Withings Move, which you can pre-order now for £59.95, but it’s still significantly less than the only other wearable that offers wrist-based ECGs, the £399 Apple Watch Series 4.
Withings Move ECG – Design
The strength of Withings’ Activité watches was always their minimal, analogue looks – and that’s no different here.
The Move ECG doesn’t have the stainless steel body seen on the original Activité, or the current Withings Steel and Steel HR, but it still has a style and charm that’s difficult to find elsewhere at this price.
Like its forebears, it has a main dial for the time and sub-dial, which shows you both how close you are to reaching your step goal and also how long you have left until your ECG reading’s complete.
This is taken by pressing two fingers on its stainless steel outer rim, which has the added benefit of giving the Move ECG a premium touch compared to the plainer, standard Move.
The otherwise plastic build won’t impress those who like their chunky Breitling Chronographs, but it does mean the Move ECG is incredibly light.
This is something you’ll particularly appreciate if you’re planning to use it for sleep-tracking – the Apple Watch might be considerably smarter, but its chunkier build and mayfly battery life make it a little impractical for tracking your shuteye.
You’ll be able to choose a black or white watch face for your Move ECG, then pick from a range of band colours and materials. This customisability and the 38mm face size mean it’s very much a unisex watch.
Withings Move ECG – What is an electrocardiogram and how do you take one?
Okay, so what exactly is an electrocardiogram (ECG) and how does it work on the Move ECG?
A full ECG, which a doctor might request if you have symptoms like a pounding heart or shortness of breath, is a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart for signs of defects or issues like coronary heart disease.
The ECGs taken by wearables like the Apple Watch Series 4, and now the Withings Move ECG, are a bit simpler than those tests. Rather than placing 15 electrodes all over your body, the Move ECG only has three electrodes (two on the back, one of the bezel) and takes the reading from one limb, your wrist.
Naturally, this means it isn’t a replacement for your doctor or a full medical test, but it’s also far from worthless – approval from the FDA and CE will guarantee a level of accuracy, and the idea is really to give you greater awareness of heart health and an early indicator of whether or not you might be suffering from something like atrial fibrillation (AFib), which the NHS says affects around one million people in the UK and causes around a third of strokes.
The ability to take ECGs isn’t to be confused with full heart-rate tracking – if you want full HR tracking for exercise training zones, you’ll need something with an optical heart-rate monitor like the Garmin Vivosmart 3 or Withings’ own Steel HR.
The process of taking an ECG is very similar to the Apple Watch – you just press two fingers on its steel bezel for 20 seconds, and that’s it. If the Health Mate app (which is available for both iOS and Android phones) is open in the background on your phone, it’ll show you the readings and tell you whether or not you need to contact a doctor. You also get the option of sending the results as a PDF. If the app isn’t open or you’re away from your phone, it’ll save the readings until you reconnect.
In my demos, the process was quick and seamless, and thankfully the results didn’t show any signs of AFib. It’s not a feature I’d use on a daily basis, but it’s nice to know it’s there – and the Move ECG does plenty of other tracking to justify its cost.
Withings Move ECG – Features and app
Beyond its headline feature, the Move ECG is a well-rounded fitness tracker with a couple of new features over previous Withings watches.
Familiar talents include being able to track your steps and calories burned, along with automatic recognition of walking, running and swimming. New features for Withings trackers, though, include the ability to track elevation and floors climbed, plus cycling.
Your step count is shown as a percentage on the watch’s smaller sub-dial, and you can also manually start an exercise session with connected GPS (which lets it piggyback your phone’s GPS) by pressing the button on the side. This gives you extra stats like pace, distance and the workout route in the Health Mate app.
It’s fair to say the stripped down Health Mate app following the Nokia acquisition in 2016 didn’t go down very well with Withings aficionados, but it’s been slowly improving and Withings is promising another update to tie in with the arrival of the Move and Move ECG in February 2019.
One other big advantage of a more basic tracker like the Move ECG over a smartwatch is battery life – the lack of a screen means its coin cell battery can keep going for 12 months without needing any recharges. If you’re happy to sacrifice features like phone notifications and third party apps, then that’s potentially a big boon.
Withings Move ECG – Early verdict
We were big fans of Withings’ charming, analogue fitness trackers when they first arrived back in 2014, so it’s good to see them return with a feature as advanced as on-demand electrocardiograms.
It’s not a feature that everyone needs or would even use that frequently, but it is an impressive cherry on top of what is a very promising, and affordable, health and fitness tracker.
Those who are looking for more advanced training aids like optical heart-rate monitors and built-in GPS will likely find it too basic, but as a background tracker that needs no recharging and is light enough to wear all day and night, the Move ECG looks like a very solid new alternative to the likes of the Fitbit Charge 3 and Garmin Vivomove. We’ll bring you a full review very soon.