Review: Wahoo Balance Smartphone Scale
There aren't many iOS-compatible scales, but the accessory category has been around for a couple of years. Withings initiated the category in 2010 with the $159 Connected Scale, which was followed in 2011 by iHealth Lab's $70 iHealth Scale. Now Wahoo Fitness has debuted a rival that sits right between them in looks and pricing: Balance ($100) offers the same general functionality as its predecessors with one banner difference: it uses Bluetooth 4/Bluetooth Smart for wireless communication, which will be a boon for some users and an issue for others.
Though it’s not as fancy as the dark glass and swirled metal Withings Connected Scale, Balance is a fine-looking bathroom scale with softer curves than iHealth’s boxy version—the edges of Balance’s thick top piece of glass are rounded, and there’s an Apple-like white paint layer below it, interrupted only by a plain LCD screen and a Wahoo logo centered near the top. On the bottom are four pressure-sensitive rubber feet, connected to each other by three gray plastic bars, with the largest holding a twin AAA battery compartment, a single button, and a sticker. The button shifts between pounds and kilograms for units of measurement, and the sticker notably contains a QR code.
Given the price tag, which is around three or four times higher than a comparable-looking standard glass bathroom scale, it’s highly unlikely that people will consider purchasing Balance for iOS-free use, but that’s an option. Once you pull a clear plastic tab from the pre-installed batteries, you just place the scale on a completely flat, hard surface, step onto it, and look at the screen. Within seconds, it will offer a respectably accurate measurement of your weight, down to the tenth of a pound or kilogram. Step off and repeat as necessary; it’s just like any other scale in these regards.
But under Balance’s hood, there’s more going on than that. Memory inside the scale can store up to 130 past measurements. The aforementioned Bluetooth 4 chip sits inside, waiting to share those measurements wirelessly with any Bluetooth 4-ready iOS device—for now only the iPhone 4S/5, iPad 3rd/4th-gen, iPad mini, or fifth-generation iPod touch. Once it’s been paired with an iOS device, and has been fed a user’s height and initials, the scale’s screen will also offer body mass index (BMI) and happy or sad face icons to indicate whether weight has been gained or lost since the last time you weighed in. Up to 16 different users can be registered to the device, each with weight ranges to help the scale guess automatically who is who; in cases of overlap, or a measurement well outside someone’s range, Balance will leave you to manually specify which user the measurement came from.
The good news is that all of the aforementioned features can be accomplished with very minimal interaction between your iOS device and Balance. However, there’s a little bad news, and it’s largely due to Balance’s initial app set up procedure. Remember the earlier reference to a QR code on Balance’s bottom? Well, the same square code is also found inside the box, atop the scale, in lieu of normal instructions. Wahoo expects you to use your iOS device to scan the QR code, which takes you to a specific page on its web site for setup assistance. Since iOS doesn’t include a QR code reader, you may need to find and download one of those first just to scan the code, an unnecessary annoyance that most companies would have avoided by just including simple instructions. You’ll probably take less time by instead just typing the URL Wahoo includes in smaller print below the QR code.
There’s a reason Wahoo opted to use the QR code—it was trying to simplify what might otherwise be a confusing initial Bluetooth pairing process. Until Bluetooth 4 was released, Apple offered a straightforward way to pair most third-party accessories with their intended iOS apps: connect the accessory wirelessly or with a cable to the iOS device, and follow the on-screen prompt to download the correct app(s) from the App Store. Thus far, however, Bluetooth 4 accessories haven’t worked this way; you instead need to somehow download the app first, at which point the app will handle the Bluetooth pairing and re-pairing process for you. When setting up Balance, the easiest shortcut is to visit the App Store and download Wahoo Wellness, the free app you’ll most likely use at first. Additional apps will feature Balance compatibility, as well.
Given the app and device compatibility hurdles Bluetooth 4 introduces, why did Wahoo choose to use it? Two answers: improved battery life and software responsiveness. Wahoo doesn’t push the point much on its web site, but a Bluetooth 4-exclusive chip demands a lot less power than Bluetooth 2 or Wi-Fi. Consequently, Balance requires only two AAA batteries rather than the four AAs or AAAs demanded by its rivals, and they’ll likely last a long time. Additionally, during testing, we noted that the Wahoo Wellness application was receiving data so quickly from Balance that it was updating weights in near-realtime; other scales typically wait until they’re done making the measurement, pause for a second or two, and then send over the final result. These aren’t huge differences relative to Bluetooth 2, but they’re improvements nonetheless.
While Wahoo Wellness doesn’t have many bells and whistles, it’s a fine free app for its intended purposes—the single biggest asset it offers is simple re-pairing, once you’ve gotten past the setup hurtles. As suggested above, the app receives data from the scale, stores initials, heights, target weights, and weigh-in results for individual users. In addition to simple weight graphs for each user, it provides a screen where measurements outside the existing users’ normal ranges can be allocated manually to current or additional people. And that’s about it. On the flip side, there’s no iPad-specific interface, so the iPhone/iPod touch app runs in a window on Apple’s tablets. And some users mightn’t like the idea of sharing their weights with their spouses, significant others, children, or parents. You can determine for yourself whether these factors matter.
Overall, Wahoo’s Balance scale is in the same general ratings ballpark as its predecessors: the $100 price tag still represents a $60-$70 Bluetooth/iOS premium over otherwise comparable non-wireless scales, for the arguably trivial benefit of being able to wirelessly sync weight data to a device. While the scale works as expected and offers some benefits over earlier rivals, $100 continues to strike us as too much to pay for the functionality; users looking to save a considerable amount of money can opt for otherwise comparable $35 scales and software-only weight-recording options such as Weightbot, which hover around the $2 point. Until the price point of Balance comes closer to traditional scale levels, it merits only a limited recommendation. Should the price fall considerably, you may want to give it a shot.