Review: Withings Smart Blood Pressure Monitor
As much as we hate to say this about product designs we admire, there's a price point at which something great just won't make sense to the average customer, and Withings' new Smart Blood Pressure Monitor ($129, aka BP-800) is at or above that level. Though it's an undeniably cooler design than iHealth Lab's previously released Blood Pressure Dock BP3, it's also $30 more expensive than its already-overpriced predecessor, and doesn't deliver a substantially different experience.
Traditional automatic blood pressure monitoring cuffs sell for $40 to $50, combining gray fabric tubes with pneumatic pumps and battery-powered black and white displays. In each case, you wrap the cuff around your arm, press a button, then watch as your systolic, diastolic, and pulse rates are monitored though the use of air pressure. Withings’ design does the same thing, except with more style. It replaces the gray cuff with a more attractive white faux leather and green fabric version, and moves the pneumatic and electronic components into an aluminum tube that’s permanently grafted to the cuff. A white compartment hides four AAA batteries, easily popping off or on as needed for intermittent replacement. All that hangs from the tube is a gray Dock Connector cable, which connects to an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, using a free Withings application to monitor and track your blood pressure.
We need to mention several positives about the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor’s design at this point to put our single major criticism into the proper context. First, because Withings uses a Dock Connector cable rather than a full dock to connect to iOS devices, it avoids the huge mistake iHealth made: this accessory works fully with virtually any iPod, iPhone, or iPad case out there, so there’s no need to pull your device out of its shell to use it for a quick blood pressure test. Second, by moving the components into the tube, it makes the unit very easy to fold up and carry around, though a little heavier to wear during the test process.
Third, both the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor and the Withings app look great. The accessory looks like something Apple might itself have designed around the time of the first iPod shuffle’s introduction, and the application uses clean gradients, large buttons, and nice text readouts to make monitoring as visually appealing as possible. A whirring fan icon accompanies inflation of the cuff, and clear red, orange, and green dots indicate whether there’s need for concern about your blood pressure; tapping them leads instantly to brief explanations of what the colors and numbers mean.
A fourth factor is one with value that’s hard to calculate, but worthy of noting. Rather than offering a separate application for the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor, Withings has incorporated the Monitor’s features within the app it previously released for the Withings Connected Scale, so that health information from more than one device can be stored within a single online account and synchronized with one piece of software from multiple accessories. Better yet, the app is universal for the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad, though long-term results tracking and Wiscale features continue to require you to register for a free account on the company’s servers. You’re presented with a graphical chart of the results, each tagged with date and the time of day when the reading was taken.
The rub with all of this is the price tag—you’re effectively paying an $80 premium to do with your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad what could be done for $50 or less on a standalone unit. While we love how both the accessory and app look, it’s hard to say that there’s a meaningful justification here for such an expenditure; the software’s biggest benefits are an “auto mode” which automatically takes three readings in a row and then averages them, and in explaining your results after they’ve been recorded. It’s hard to say that these benefits are worthy of as much as iHealth wanted to charge, say nothing of an even higher price.
So who should consider the Withings Smart Blood Pressure Monitor? It will appeal most to cash-flush iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad users looking for an attractively designed blood pressure testing system with long-term result tracking and statistical integration with other Withings devices. Others will be almost as well served with a standalone monitor sold for a much lower price. Based solely on the high price here, the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor rates a limited recommendation and B- rating; should you find it at a substantial discount or feel undeterred by the $129 tag, you’ll be very pleased by the overall look and feel of this accessory.