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Withings ScanWatch Review: Nothing Else Like It

This stylish health and activity tracker has plenty to recommend it, including ease of use

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(Image: © Unknown)

Our Verdict

The ScanWatch provides the perfect combination of smarts and style for those who prefer the look of a traditional analogue watch but still want fitness tracking.

For

  • Attractive hybrid design
  • Health tracking features including ECG
  • Long battery life
  • Intuitive for users

Against

  • Small screen for stats and notifications
  • Sports tracking is not great

Withings’s hybrid watches have always impressed us. They cram a lot of tech into a svelte frame that looks and works just like an analogue watch on the wrist. But the ScanWatch (opens in new tab) has taken this to another level.

This health-focused watch can take a medical-grade ECG from your wrist, measure your blood oxygen saturation with a SpO2 sensor, and detect breathing disturbances during the night that could be a sign of sleep apnoea.

These features are becoming more common on smartwatches and fitness trackers, but there’s nothing else like the ScanWatch – a device that looks like an analogue watch but has this array of sensors under the hood.

I really like the design of the ScanWatch, and have received nothing but positive comments from others. The watch comes in two sizes – 38mm and 42mm – and you can get it with either a black or a white watch face. There’s a range of leather, silicone, metal and nylon straps to choose from as well.

The only clue that this is a fitness watch is a small circular screen on the top half of the face, which lights up when you turn the watch towards you. The knob on the side is used for operating the watch, scrolling through your activity info, starting a workout or taking an ECG or blood oxygen saturation measurement, with the screen showing your heart rate on a line during the ECG test.

The ScanWatch is CE marked as a medical-grade device in Europe, which means it can legitimately take ECGs, though it doesn't have the necessary certification in the US yet. To take the test, you rest your index finger on the edge of the watch, which will then tell you if you have a normal heart rate or if it has detected signs of atrial fibrillation.

For the blood oxygen saturation test you just need to start it up on the watch and then keep your arm still for 30 seconds. The result of both tests are beamed instantly to the partner Health Mate app, where you can also get more info on the tests and what your results mean,

The partner app works brilliantly. It connects instantly to the ScanWatch and offers useful insights into everything the watch measures.

That’s apparent in its sleep tracking. There’s an overall sleep score out of 100 in the app, plus individual ratings of the depth and duration of your night’s rest, and it will also tell you if you suffered any breathing disturbances, which could be a sign of sleep apnoea. You also get a rating of how consistent your bedtime and waking time are.

Crucially, there are clear explanations of what each stat means and also advice on how you can improve on any front to make your sleep better overall. I found the sleep tracking accurate: it got the times I fell asleep and woke up right, and spotted when I got out of bed during the night rather than just recording all time in bed as sleep – a problem I’ve had with Garmin devices in particular.

The app also gives information about your heart rate, which is tracked 24/7, including your average resting heart rate. There’s also a fitness score that equates to your VO2 max, which, like resting heart rate, is a great general indicator of your cardiovascular fitness.

For everyday activity the ScanWatch records your steps, total distance travelled and floors climbed, which you can view on the watch, and then in the app you can see your calories burned too. You can adjust your steps target in the app, and the 1-100 dial on the bottom of the watch face will tick around throughout the day as you rack up the steps.

While the ScanWatch doesn’t really do much in the way of smart features, it is supposed to show the notifications from your phone on the small screen. I couldn’t get this to work, despite checking the app and my phone settings repeatedly to make sure I had everything enabled. That said, given the small size of the screen it was no great loss. You’re not going to be reading messages or emails on the ScanWatch, but a buzz to say one’s arrived would be handy.

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(Image credit: Unknown)
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The sports tracking on the ScanWatch is not as good as the activity and sleep tracking, but it does a good enough job for this type of watch. If you’re heading for an outdoor run or cycle it will link to your phone to use its GPS so you get more accurate distance tracking and a map of your route in the app afterwards.

The ScanWatch connected to my phone instantly at the start of runs, which might not sound like much of an achievement, but with Fitbit and Honor devices I’ve found wild variation in the time taken for the watch to find my phone. Often I’ve given up and just run without a connection.

During a run it’s not easy to see your stats on the small screen, and there’s not a huge amount of depth there – just the basics like time, distance and pace – but the ScanWatch was accurate for distance tracking using connected GPS.

It was not so good on heart rate, though. The 24/7 heart rate tracking is good, but during runs I found it often gave bizarrely high readings, perhaps because the watch locked on to the rhythm of my footsteps instead.

The ScanWatch can also track swimming and it recognises certain types of exercise automatically, though I’d always opt to log my workout manually. The one run I let it auto-track came up pretty short compared with GPS, though the duration was accurate, and it kept recording my outings pushing a pram as cycling.

No-one should be buying the ScanWatch as a serious sports watch though, so I think it does enough on this front to satisfy its target audience. However, I would like to see it incorporate the sports it does track into some kind of active minutes tally. This is an increasingly common feature on fitness trackers and makes for a better activity goal than steps.

The long battery life of Withings watches has always been a selling point for the brand, and that continues with the ScanWatch, which can last up to 30 days on a single charge. I was using the watch to track runs regularly using connected GPS and that brought the battery life down to around 15 days, which is still impressive.

If you opt to turn the respiratory scan for breathing disturbances on at all times, that will drain the battery more rapidly. However, you don’t need this on all the time unless you are particularly concerned about your breathing. Stick to automatic mode and it will take a test every few months, though you can change that at any time so it takes a reading that night.

Something that really stuck out for me while wearing the ScanWatch is how simple it is to use. It’s highly intuitive and the connection with the Health Mate app is seamless, with clear and detailed information available about what the watch is measuring. Because of this it would be especially good for older users, as well as anyone who simply prefers the analogue design.

As a keen runner I prefer my Garmin sports watch, and there will be lots of people who won’t want to miss out on the smart features of a device like the Apple Watch. But if you prefer an analogue watch but still want some activity, sleep and sports tracking capabilities, the ScanWatch is ideal, and it’s as good as anything out there for sleep and health tracking in particular.

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(Image credit: Unknown)

Withings ScanWatch – Hybrid Smartwatch with ECG, Heart Rate and Oximeter (opens in new tab)

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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.