Philips Health Watch Review8
Part 1: The Watch
UPDATE (December 2016): When I first reviewed the Health Watch I was using my Sony Z5C running on Android 6.1.1 (Lollipop). I recently upgraded my phone to a Google Pixel and the watch will not connect with it. Additionally the app is very slow to start and performs very sluggishly on the “Dashboard” page.
I was disappointed when Basis/Intel decided to pull the plug on the Peak and B1. In the Peak I’d finally found something that combined the key elements I wanted from a health/fitness tracker, namely:
- Low profile “watch” styling with the time shown
- 24 hr heart rate tracking
- Easy to read in direct sunlight
- Automatic recognition of activities
- Sleep tracking
- 4-5 day battery life (so I could travel without needing another charger)
Despite there being a huge number of fitness oriented wearables and smartwatches on the market, looking around over the last month or so there were very few devices out there that met my requirements. That is until I found the Philips Health Watch…
The first thing you notice about the health watch is how black it is. The case is 316L stainless steel – a popular choice among premium “proper watches” – and has a matt finish that does not seem to attract fingerprints. The face of the watch is divided between touch ring and display and is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass.
Due to its steel construction it weighed a little more than my previous Basis Peak, but not uncomfortably so. The part of the watch that’s in contact with your wrist has rounded edges and there are no sharp corners on the design at all – essential for a device you are going to sleep with… you don’t want to injure yourself or anyone else who might be in the bed! Interaction with the watch takes place entirely through the touch ring which acts as a kind of bezel on the outside the display.
The strap is very thin, but feels surprisingly tough and is made from black TPU – a kind of plastic. Compared to a silicone strap it feels quite hard and unyielding in your hand, but is surprisingly comfortable once on. One advantage which comes from the thinness and the material itself, is that is slips easily under clothing with gripping on shirt cuffs, etc. A second shorted strap is supplied with the watch for those with smaller wrists.
The strap has quick release pins, which is just as well as I prefer something a bit more formal if I am wearing a watch with a shirt for work. Unfortunately Philips have gone for a non-standard lug size (21mm). I have a quick release 20mm strap on the way and will report back on my success (or lack of it) with replacement straps in part 2 of this review.
The watch is rated as IP67 which means it is protected completely from dust ingress and “protected from immersion in water between 15 centimeters and 1 meter in depth.” In practice this means you should not swim with the watch on or shower with it, but the watch should be fine in the rain or with splashes of liquid from washing hands, accidental spills, etc.
A major feature of the interface is the screen lock. The screen can be locked manually but will lock itself automatically after around a minute of no interaction with the watch.
I’ve seen a few reviews elsewhere that complain about this feature but they are missing one very important feature – you can lock the display to almost any screen. For example, at the gym or when running you can switch to the heart rate screen (that helpfully shows heart rate zones) and lock it so that screen remains displayed throughout your training session.
The display itself is a fairly high resolution transflective black and white low power LCD. Similar to the Basis Peak and the basic Pebble, these displays use very little power to display a static image and are very easy to read when outside in sunlight. When indoors or at night the display has a backlight, which activates automatically when you tap the display and stays active for around 6-7 seconds until you tap again. To conserve battery there is an ambient light sensor on the right of the touch ring, which means the watch only uses the backlight when necessary.
It’s black and white only – no colors of any kind – so lovers of bright colorful watch faces will need to look elsewhere. There is an option to have everything in reverse (i.e. a white watch face with black hands). Speaking personally I am looking for something low profile that doesn’t scream “fitness tracker” so the mono display is perfectly in-keeping with the rest of the device.
There are only two watchface options, the default analog display or a pretty simple digital face – both show the date. This is an area where the watch falls down – a choice of two or three analog and two or three digital displays would have made it feel a little bit more personal – essential for something you have to wear 24/7.
The step tracking seems accurate. I compared it to my Peak and also to my wife’s Mi Band (which tends to read a bit high) and did a bit of limited manual step counting. The Health Watch has automatic activity detection – it will detect walking, running or cycling without you needing to tell it you are engaged in that activity.
When an activity has been detected the watch will show a small icon under the 12 o’clock position on the watch face of a stick man walking/running/cycling. There is also an option in the user settings (off by default) to switch to “active view” when an activity is taking place. Active View shows you a timer showing how long you’ve been active, and you can quickly swipe to show heart rate, step count, calorie burn and the time. This is where the automatic screen lock does become a bind – as you are walking you might want to check your steps or the time but rather than a quick swipe to move through the various measures, you need to unlock the watch with three taps and THEN swipe. Tricky to do when you are running or even walking sometimes.
I had no problem with activity recognition, except that it thought that pushing a stroller / pushchair was cycling. To be fair my hands do assume the same position they would on a racing bicycle when pushing our daughter’s stroller! If for whatever reason the activity is not being detected correctly (or is being incorrectly categorised) you can override the automatic detection by manually activating each of the three activities.
The watch also has a “sedentary mode” a configurable reminder to move after a certain amount of time. This worked well for me, although it has to be manually cancelled – it would be nice if this went away automatically once you stood up and took a few steps.
Heart Rate Tracking
The Philips Health Watch uses Philips’ own optical heart rate sensor. I found it to be accurate in general day to day use. My trips to the gym where I was able to compare it to chest strap showed the Health Watch seemed to respond quickly to changes in heart rate and was always within 3-4 beats of the strap. One one occasion after exercising I noticed the Watch lost the HR reading (displaying “–” on the HR display). At this point my wrist was dripping in sweat and the watch was not a tight fit. Moving the watch back up my wrist slightly allowed it to resume reading.
The Heart Rate screen on the watch shows your heart rate zones (based on the age you give the app) and within the watch menu the Heart icon shows your Resting Heart Rate for that day and also the last Heart Rate Recovery value it has recorded. Heart Rate Recovery is basically the difference between your heart rate when you are working it hard during exercise, and your heart rate two minutes after the exercise ends. It’s used a rough measure of fitness (the quicker you recover after exercise the fitter you are).
Sleep Tracking is one of those things that seems like a bit of a fad, until you try it yourself! Our time asleep is a mystery to most people and gaining some insight into the quality as well as the duration of your sleep is very interesting. Sleep is now also believed to have a big impact on various attributes of health including weight gain/loss & mental health.
The Philips Health Watch claims to offer automatic sleep tracking – you fall asleep and it detects this via the lack of movement and the lowered heart rate. However, in the 10 days I have been wearing the watch so far it has failed to detect my sleep automatically on every occasion. By manually setting sleep mode I was able to get accurate sleep information, but this is a big disappointment after my Basis Peak which managed to accurately track my sleep for over a year with no false positives. Reading some other reviews of the Health Watch, it seems that automatic sleep tracking works faultlessly for some users, sporadically for some and not at all for others!
Meal & Calorie Tracking
It’s possible to enter your food consumption via the watch. The limitations of the watch interface make this more of an “emergency” option as you have two imperfect options. Either select the meal type – breakfast / lunch / dinner / snack – and decide if was a light, medium or heavy meal (with the watch then using pre-configured calorie values for each combination) or you can directly enter the number of calories. Being able to directly enter the number of calories might be occasionally useful if you are dining out and can get a calorie value for your meal or food.
However, most people who are interested in calorie counting will prefer to use the accompanying Philips Health phone app to enter their food consumption. This is more along the lines of MyFitnessPal and similar apps, more of that in Part 2.
Alarm / Stopwatch / Countdown Timer
The Health Watch has a silent vibrating alarm that can be set from the menu. The alarm will go off every day at the time you set and the watch displays a small bell icon on the face when there is an alarm set. There are two additional time-based functions. A stopwatch and a countdown timer. Both are straightforward to use.
Unlike many wearables, the Philips Health Watch has a very narrow focus. As such Philips appears to be positioning it as concerned with health tracking exclusively and is not trying to move into smartwatch territory. There are no notifications and also no other niceties like GPS or music controls.
I thought I would miss notifications, but as it happens I don’t. I now realise how most of the time my wrist-based alerts were just telling me something I already knew, or worse becoming an annoying interruption. The only things I did allow to bubble through to my Peak were calls and texts and in the end the spotty Bluetooth connectivity meant I could not rely on it 100%. What I DO miss is the ability to control my music via my watch.
My watch arrived almost fully charged and I wore if for a few days before recharging. After giving it a full charge to 100% by 8am on Monday, I wore it all week – including a couple of gym sessions – and the watch started showing the low battery icon on Friday morning with the available power at 20%. It finally ran out of power not long after I woke up and showed 4% left when I connected it to the charger.
It was fully charged from empty in an hour and I have to say I am very pleased with the battery life. Five full days of use beats the Philips claim of 4 days and is enough for me to travel away from home for a weekend without having to worry about carrying another charger.
The charging cradle attaches magnetically and charges from a USB port (so you’ll need a device like a laptop/PC with a USB port, or an adaptor to plug into a wall socket). The cradle feels a little unsubstantial (it’s made from lightweight plastic) and sports an IP21 rating – “protected from condensation”.
Philips Connected Health
The Health Watch is a part of the the Philips Connected Health range which also includes Bluetooth body analysis scales and two different blood pressure monitors. In order to build a more comprehensive picture of your health, all of the devices sync with the same app (more of that in Part 2 of the review) which allows you to track the various measures over time.
I’ve gone health CRAZY (according to my wife) and splashed out on the body analysis scales, plus the wrist based blood pressure monitor but I’ll review them separately in the coming weeks.
For my requirements the watch is a good replacement for my previous tracker. The lack of notifications has not proved to have been the bugbear I initially imagined it to be, and the improved physical shape more than makes up for it. The $249 price at the time I purchased the device IS a lot for a fitness tracker, but actually not that much for a nice watch. For the useful information the Philips Health Watch gives me and it’s real world 4 day battery life I feels it’s good value in my case. I just hope they manage to fix automatic sleep tracking in a future firmware update.
If you are a performance athlete, training for a triathlon or obsessive about sector times, etc. this watch is not for you. The watch seems to be aimed at the average 30+ yrs old desk bound worker who is concerned about their long term health and wants something to “wear and forget”. As such it I think it delivers value for the target market.
If Philips can lower the price, provide some different strap options and fix the bugs they have a great device on their hands.
Initial Conclusion (for ex Basis Peak users)
In short, this is like a round Basis Peak, but without the notifications. If you can handle life without wrist based notifications, then the Philips Health Watch is a good alternative. However, the emphasis is definitely more on overall health rather than just tracking runs, etc. and there are number of limitations that may affect your decision:
Downsides vs Peak
- No Google Fit integration
- No music controls or notifications on watch
- No heart rate streaming to other apps
- Automatic sleep tracking still needs some work
- Expensive ($249)
Coming soon – part 2 (the app)…