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Withings Aura review: Track your sleep, and possibly your cat's too

Kirk McElhearn | March 10, 2015
Between never-ending Netflix binges and Kindles full of page-turners, we have plenty of distractions to keep us up at night. But you'll surely regret that decision the next morning if you have a full day of work ahead of you. No matter the cause for your late-night habits, a lack of sleep can be a serious problem for many people--it can make you more likely to have car accidents, make you forgetful, lead to weight gain, and precipitate other health problems. Yet a recent study says that too much sleep can double your risk of stroke. So what's a person to do?

You can also view a more succinct weekly overview of your sleep activity. This summarizes the information in the daily view, and also includes your daily activity via your Withings activity tracker or the Withings Health iOS app if you have an iPhone 5S, 6, or 6 Plus, which can record your movement with the M7 or M8 coprocessor. It also integrates with Apple's HealthKit, but data in the Health app is useless — it only shows total sleep time.

The Aura's sleep sensor detects any presence in bed, not just when you're sleeping. You may just be lying in bed reading — the Aura recorded me doing that for about 25 minutes in the afternoon. Another thing to note: I found that when my cat Titus lies on the bed near the sleep sensor, the Aura thinks it's me, and counts his presence as sleep, too. So, a lot of "sleep" was recorded for times when I was actually awake. 

I was skeptical about one of the features that Withings touts: that the Aura can record your heart rate while you sleep. But this actually works. It detects the micro-movements of your body as your heart beats, and records this. A Withings representative explained that this has no real value (other than for people with a very specific heart condition), but that they present the data because it can be recorded, and because customers requested it. 

The problem with the Withings Aura is that it doesn't tell you much, and only if you actually look at the app or Withings' website. If you don't sleep well, you probably already know that; if you sleep nine hours or more, you also know that, and you probably feel a little better. As I wrote recently, this type of device needs to do more than just present raw data.

Some iOS apps give your sleep an efficiency rating, which can be more useful than just looking at a chart with different colors, and a percentage relative to an 8-hour sleep session. Such a rating can tell you that, while you may have slept eight hours, you were restless — maybe you shouldn't have watched all those episodes of American Horror Story.

Bottom line

As with many such devices that track health metrics, the Aura is interesting, but its data isn't very helpful. Tracking any activity metric is good, but having actionable advice would be better. Also, the fact that it detects any presence in bed — by me or my cat — and not just sleep, makes the device's data unreliable. The Withings Aura is a good piece of technology, but it needs to get some kinks worked out for it to be useful.


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