Review: iHealth Lab iHealth Scale
It would be extremely easy to sum up iHealth Lab's new iHealth Scale ($70) in a sentence or two: this is a fine bathroom scale if you're looking for the cheapest and least sophisticated iOS-compatible option on the market. The price is so much lower than Withings' $160 Connected Scale -- less than half -- that most people will certainly lean towards the iHealth Scale if given the choice. But the real-world differences between them are a little more complex, and muddle the equation somewhat, particularly for users with larger budgets. iHealth Scale is a better value for the dollar but less sophisticated in virtually every other way.
Just like Withings’ Connected Scale, iHealth Scale is a glass-topped, metal- and plastic-bottomed unit with a large digital display on its surface, and a compartment for four AAA batteries underneath. Literally every aesthetic detail of Withings’ scale design is superior, ranging from a slightly fancier white-on-blue display to a considerably more elaborate glass and metal surface, and Withings includes a USB cable for initial setup, plus a tape measure and carpet-ready feet in its package. Yet iHealth Lab’s simpler package features nearly identical functionality at a considerable savings. The top of iHealth Scale is a simple gray glass slate, the digital readout is generally very easy to read, and when used as a scale without iOS connectivity, the experience is basically the same: you’ll get the same weight measurements from either unit, and can set a switch on the iHealth Scale to display weight in pounds, kilograms, or stone. In our testing on flat surfaces, iHealth Scale’s numbers were almost the same as Withings’ from check to check, with a maximum variation in the 0.2 lbs. range on either side. Users on uneven surfaces may find Withings’ unit to be a better pick because of the included optional feet.
The differences really only start on the iOS application and connectivity side of the equation. Whereas Withings relied upon Wi-Fi to make a wireless connection to your iOS device, and developed a relatively sophisticated, beautiful little app that could track multiple users’ weights over time, iHealth Lab picked simpler options and executed them with less panache. Initially, we weren’t bothered in any way that the company chose Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi to connect with iOS devices—syncing is limited here to around 17 feet from your device, versus a theoretically larger distance with Wi-Fi—but iHealth Scale’s implementation of wireless connectivity is pretty weak. After initial pairing of the scale with your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, you then need to manually re-establish the connection every time you step on the scale, something that should have been handled automatically. This is a pain for users, and suggests that not enough time was taken to make the Scale user-friendly.
iHealth Scale’s app interface is only a little bit better than okay. A “Scale” tab lets you record a current weight measurement, upload prior weight measurements stored between syncs within the Scale, or manually input a measurement in the event that you want to type weight, date, and time information in on your own. As noted above, the single biggest issue with these features is the repeated need to manually pair your iHealth Scale with the app, which iHealth Lab guides you to do by exiting the app, entering the iOS device’s settings menu, and manually establishing the connection, which auto-disconnects rather quickly to conserve battery power. A “History” tab includes calendar, list, and graph representations of previously-recorded weights, complete with averages and differences from prior measurements, presented respectably but without the cleaner UI design elements Withings includes in its app.
Going beyond weight measurement functionality, a “Calories” tab lets you look up various types of foods and beverages in a database, input their weights, and determine how many calories they contribute towards a daily target you specify, along with a graph of daily intake. You can also offset your food and drink choices with exercise activities. Though the database of consumables has plenty of options, it requires you to input everything in ounces, and like the exercise database only begins to display those options after you’ve entered a search term. It could stand to be refined for easier user input, presenting more options in the form of buttons before requiring typing. Additional refinement could benefit some other aspects of the app, including somewhat unfriendly dialog boxes and some typographically-challenged text. We did like, however, the app’s ability to easily set up and store multiple users’ information, all accessible from the main Scale screen, as well as its lack of dependence on an Internet-based account; some people will have different opinions on the value of this approach.
Taken as a whole, iHealth Scale is a mixed bag in the same way as was Withings’ Connected Scale—you’re paying a premium over a regular digital scale for wireless weight measurement syncing and tracking functionality that really isn’t worth a lot of extra cash, and to the extent that the app experience isn’t as seamless and polished as it should be, some users are going to be disappointed that they can’t just step onto their scales and have the results synced to an iOS device without futzing around. That said, Withings’ premium over a comparable digital scale was huge, whereas it’s much smaller with iHealth Scale, so there’s less room to object to sub-optimal performance. Our B- rating comes with the standard caveats of our limited recommendation: iHealth Scale is not for everyone, and won’t satisfy most mainstream users, but if you’re looking a new scale and are willing to pay a little for the convenience of having the data wirelessly transferred to your iOS device, consider it. If iHealth Lab improves the app, particularly in Bluetooth connectivity, the overall experience could become better. Otherwise, an inexpensive (or free) weight tracking app such as Weightbot will do a good job on the software side without all of the wireless fuss, and save you a lot of money in the process.