I’ve had two electrocardiograms since I turned 30, due to heart palpitations. Unfortunately, they didn’t pick up anything because the palpations didn’t flare up while the tests were run. Since then I have always been on the lookout for palpitations, which is what interested me in the Withings ScanWatch.
As it turns out my palpitations were caused by iron deficiency, which is very treatable, and a blood test confirmed my experience. The ScanWatch boasts ECG monitoring — and having something on my wrist that could potentially monitor palpitations and collect data I can take to my doctor was appealing.
Only two smartwatches have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for their ECG function — the ScanWatch and the Apple Watch from Series 4 onwards.
As someone who has an Android phone, the ScanWatch is essentially the only option for me at the moment. So let’s take a look at it.
WHAT IS IT?
Withing's smartwatch with ECG functionality
Looks like a regular watch, ECG scanning, lots of exercise presets to choose from, 30-day battery
pricey, sleep monitoring and calorie burning tracker not particularly accurate, sleep and oxygen tracking kills the battery life
Withings ScanWatch ECG functionality
The appeal for me is atrial fibrillation — the ability to do an ECG on demand. Rather than crossing hoping the 30 second testing window reflects the symptoms you’re walking around with every day, it gives you the ability to kick off an ECG exactly when you’re experiencing them. That’s a powerful feeling.
I was fortunate enough not to experience any palpitations when I was testing the ScanWatch. But I tested the ECG feature a number of times however, just to get a feel for it.
It’s a simple process. You scroll to the ECG feature using the digital crown, place your arm on a flat surface and place your other hand on top of the watch face.
The test lasts 30-seconds and requires you to keep as still as possible. As my results were normal, the word ‘Normal’ flashed up on screen at the end of the test.
The results were then sent to the Withings Health Mate app on my phone. It showed a graphical display of the reading and a short write-up of the results. It also allows you to create a PDF of the reading to share with your healthcare provider.
The process is very similar for Sp02 (blood oxygen) readings, which is something else I wanted to try due to some recent concerns around potential sleep apnea.
And you can do that on the Withings, as well as conduct a respiratory scan during sleep.
However, the app gives you an alert that toggling these features on drains the battery. And they were not kidding.
After charging it up on day one my battery dropped to 89 per cent the next morning. Here’s how the next few days went:
- Day 3: 56 per cent
- Day 4: 37 per cent
- Day 5: 21 per cent
- Day 6: 8 per cent
At this point I charged it so it wouldn’t die and also because the ECG functionality can’t be used when the battery is under 10 per cent. It takes about two hours to return to full battery from a low charge.
After turning off these features, the battery life improved dramatically to the point where I could see how it would reach the claimed 30-day battery life.
However, this meant sacrificing monitoring of my respiratory function and blood oxygen overnight — one of the key reasons I wanted this watch.
Fortunately I didn’t have any noticeable sleep apnea symptoms in the first five nights of using the watch — my results came back as normal. Still, I may sacrifice the battery life in return for peace of mind in the future.
Regarding general sleep analysis, the tracking seemed fairly accurate. The ScanWatch tracks you during the night as either ‘Awake’ or in ‘Light Sleep’ or ‘Deep Sleep. However, it was better at picking up when I fell asleep than when I woke up.
I often lie in bed after my alarm goes off and scrolling my phone and I had long sleepless periods during some nights. The watch did not register these as disturbances, but as periods of ‘light sleep’.
Furthermore, my ‘depth’ was rated as ‘Good’ if I spent over 50 per cent of the night in deep sleep or ‘Average’ if I spent over 50 per cent in Light Sleep. Who knows what kind of rating I would get if it registered that I was actually fully conscious during those times.
However, I did appreciate the reminder to try and maintain consistent sleeping and waking times to improve sleep quality, as the program seems cognizant that a lot of other disturbances are outside of our control.
While the accompanying Health Mate app is feature rich with this analysis, the watch features a small screen display with some basic information.
After pressing the crown to wake the screen, you can turn it to scroll through the time, heart rate monitor, step count, distance travelled, floors climbed, the ECG function, the Sp02 function, workouts, guided breathing, clock and settings.
Pressing the crown again at each point will take you to sub-menus to further explore and activate the functions.
The fitness tracking features largely work as expected. The ScanWatch has five preset workout types and can measure workout time, heart rate and calories burned.
I appreciated the ability to change the presets from a longer list of exercises on the app, as I can guarantee I would never use ‘running’ or ‘swimming’. My exercises of choice are dance, Tabata, aerobics and strength training — and there are presets for all of these.
I did notice at some point that my presets were wiped and needed to be reset. It’s unclear if this occurred due to a software update, but this did occur at the same time.Nonetheless, it was a minor annoyance.
If you want to get competitive, there is also a Leaderboard function in Health Mate that can be linked to other apps like Strava or MyFitnessPal. It sounds like my worst nightmare, but it’s good to see.
Still, you can get this kind of functionality (such as comparing workout tracking, step counts, heart rate monitoring and calories burned) in competitor fitness trackers for significantly less money.
The ScanWatch is $499.99 — which is not a small amount of money to pay for a smartwatch or fitness tracker. Competitors such as FitBit even feature some of ScanWatch’s key features like guided breathing exercises and Sp02 measures for $299.95 (and even cheaper from some retailers) on the Versa 2.
Still, after about a week of using the ScanWatch, I realised I’m not in the best position to judge a fitness tracker. the better part of the last decade un-learning the diet culture and disordered eating messaging that is blasted across the media.
A fitness program focused on calories burned is not right for me. These days I take a more intuitive approach to eating and have found exercise that I enjoy. I finally don’t need guilt or quantification from a watch to get off the couch.
But if I was relying on that quantification, I’m not sure how reliable it would be anyway.
I recorded around 11 workouts while testing and I always seemed to burn between 4.1 and 5.2 calories per minute — regardless of the exercise. Whether I was on a walk, doing a stretch class, doing an intense Tabata session or running around my lounge room — it was always in this range. This doesn’t seem particularly accurate.
However the most off-putting thing to me was getting an email newsletter telling me to ‘Budget [my] calories’. It might be useful for some, but I as a survivor of diet culture and someone who exercises primarily for mental health reasons — I will never count calories again.
In fact, I could actually see the focus on calories as a potential detractor to my mental health. Fortunately you can unsubscribe from the newsletter.
Withings ScanWatch: Final Thoughts
Why do we purchase wearable tech? For some, it’s a simple desire to be able to quantify progress on health and fitness goals.
If this is your only reason, the ScanWatch is probably not the model for you. These features that can be accessed for less money for equal functionality elsewhere, including other Withings products such as the Steel HR.
But maybe you’re someone who has trouble trusting or interpreting the signals from your own body. Maybe you have established health issues and want the ability to monitor simple diagnostics easily and regularly, with data there to tell you ‘Hey, it’s time to go see the doctor’.
Something like a ScanWatch cannot replace regular checkups by any means (and indeed, functions like the ECG strenuously disclose that they cannot identify things such as heart attacks), and you should never ignore signals from your body even if the watch doesn’t pick up anything unusual.
However, the ScanWatch can offer both some timely warnings and peace of mind in between appointments. To some, this could be priceless.
For me, the key differentiators between the ScanWatch and other smartwatches are the ECG function, advanced sleep tracking and the fact it looks like a nice watch instead of a health device. It’s subtle and you don’t have to activate the screen to tell the time, which I like.
I’m unashamedly a traditionalist in the few accessories I wear, I don’t like ‘wearing’ my tech and find most smartwatches far too digital-looking for my liking. A hybrid smartwatch would always be the solution for me.
After years of not wearing a watch, the Withings ScanWatch may just make me return to the fold.