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Withings Challenges Apple With First ECG Analog Watch

LAS VEGAS — The Apple Watch Series 4 was the first smartwatch with medical-grade features, including an ECG app for detecting atrial fibrillation. French technology company Withings is nipping at Apple’s heels with the first analog smartwatch that can take on-the-go electrocardiograms — and the Withings watch is $280 cheaper than a Series 4, too.

Withings Move ECG uses electrodes built into the bezel to measure your electrical heart rate signal.

Withings Move ECG uses electrodes built into the bezel to measure your electrical heart rate signal.

The $130 Withings Move ECG, which the company is showcasing at the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas this week, looks like a traditional timepiece. But inside the watch are three electrodes — two in in the watch case and one in the bezel — which automatically start measuring your heart’s electrical signal when you touch both sides of the bezel. (By comparison, the Series 4’s ECG feature uses the electrodes in the watch’s Digital Crown and on the back to capture the electrical signal, and requires you to launch an app and press the crown to start an ECG reading.)

Unlike the Apple Watch, the Move ECG won’t display your results on the watch face. Instead, the watch will vibrate to signal that the ECG is done and the results have been synced to the Withings Health Mate smartphone app.

I saw a demo of ECG functionality at CES, and it was even easier to use than the Series 4's ECG app. You don't have to open an app, or do anything other than touch the bezel to start a reading. You can watch the ECG in real-time in the Health Mate app, but you don't need a phone nearby to take a reading.

Move ECG isn’t cleared by the U.S Food and Drug Administration yet, but Withings says the device is in the approval process and is expected to go on sale in the first half of this year.

The Move ECG resembles the Withings Activite Steel, one of the first hybrid smartwatches to offer activity-tracking and notifications without sacrificing the style of an analog watch. That watch couldn’t do a whole lot more than count steps, so clearly a lot has changed in four years. Withings says Move ECG offers 12-month battery life, which bests the Series 4 by about 363 days. At a more affordable price point, Move ECG could appeal to more people — and potentially save a lot of lives.

A Do-It-All Heart Health Device

Withings is also seeking FDA clearance for its $250 BPM Core, an arm cuff that can take an electrocardiogram, measure blood pressure and listen to your heart rate to assess heart valve health, all in one. The device, which will be available later in the year, works like a self-inflating inflating blood pressure cuff: Just place it on the upper arm, push the start button, and then the device displays your heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements on an LED screen. In a demo I saw at CES, the device was sleek, futuristic and incredibly easy to use.

The BPM Core takes a blood pressure reading and ECG in 90 seconds.

The BPM Core takes a blood pressure reading and ECG in 90 seconds.

To take an ECG, you keep the cuff in place and touch its stainless steel casing, which contains electrodes, with the opposite hand. The cuff also contains a digital stethoscope, which is placed on the side to listen to the heart. The stethoscope’s microphone records what it hears for later playback in the Health Mate app.

For anyone concerned about their heart health, either because of family history or other risk factors, the BPM Core could be the early warning system they need.

A Basic Fitness Tracker

Withings Move is a style-focused activity-tracking watch.

Withings Move is a style-focused activity-tracking watch.

If you don’t need medical diagnostic tools constantly at the ready, Withings is also releasing a $70 version of Move with 18-month battery life. That model, which is available to preorder now and starts shipping Feb. 5, is a more direct successor of the Activite. The base-model Move can track steps and sleep, and also offers connected GPS for running with a smartphone. Its main appeal will likely be the customization options — later this year, Withings will allow Move owners to change up the color of every aspect of the watch, including the dials.

Outlook

After reclaiming its brand and flagship products (such as the Steel HR) from Nokia, Withings is resuming its push into proactive health monitoring. The company faltered under its past owner, but is back with a slate of new devices that could undercut Apple on features and price. We plan to put the Move ECG and BPM Core to the test to evaluate Withings’ claims when those devices earn FDA clearance and hit the market later this year.