Review: Withings Connected Scale with WiScale for iPhone
Very modern, accurate, and functional scales can be had for $60 or less these days, so the wisdom of adding a $100 premium to such a thing for Wi-Fi connectivity and app-assisted weight tracking will be at best a question mark for some readers before we even get to the next sentence. If you're in this group -- and we generally would be, ourselves -- our advice is this: stop reading now and move along. Whatever its virtues may be, the Withings Connected Scale ($159, aka WiFi Body Scale) is not for you, and we frankly can't think of any reasons to attempt to convince you otherwise.
But if the idea of tracking your weight with some degree of automation is of interest, the Withings Connected Scale may have some conceptual appeal. Cosmetically, it looks like an iMac-inspired digital scale with similar styling—an all-glass top surface that runs from edge to edge above a silver metallic base, interrupted by a small blue and white digital screen up top and a brushed metal disc in the center. Flipped over, the metallic undercarriage is revealed to be plastic, depending in part on four plain but moving gray feet to measure the weight of the person on top, and a set of four included AAA batteries goes into a white compartment at its center. If you plan to use the scale on a carpet, you need to stick on four plastic pads that are included in the box; Withings also includes a waistline tape measure for those who may want or benefit from it.
Should you want to use the Withings Connected Scale as nothing more than a plain bathroom scale in the morning, afternoon, or evening, it does a fine job of just telling you your current weight in pounds, kilograms, or stone based on the position of a switch inside the battery compartment. As a pure scale, the single biggest issue we noted in a two and a half month test was that the four AAA batteries showed low power before hitting the three-month mark when the scale was being used roughly once a day. A secondary issue is that the scale—like many—fluctuates a bunch and doesn’t quickly settle on a clear final number in a satisfying, “that’s it!” way. Why does that matter here?
Well, Withings’ twist is its 802.11b/g connectivity—a Wi-Fi chip that requires a little initial help from a computer or the free WiScale iPhone/iPod touch app to join your home network, then relays weight measurements over the web to the company’s server for your review. Ideally, you would buy the scale, use the Withings web site or app to get the scale paired with the Withings account you need to set up, step onto the scale, see a clear confirmation of your weight, and come back to the web site or app to find the results waiting. But in our testing, the Connected Scale had quite a few hiccups that detracted from what could have been a somewhat compelling fusion of old and new technologies.
To the company’s credit, the software is more ambitious than the most basic usage model we described above. After you create your account and pair the scale wirelessly with your network—the latter having serious problems when we used the iPhone application, but went trouble-free through the web site—it asks for the weight, height, birthdate, and gender of each person who is going to use the scale, then offers web- and app-based graphs to track weight changes by date and time for the users. There are some privacy concerns here: having one’s weight and other personal details communicated to a web site may make some users uncomfortable, and some girlfriends or wives would sooner not share their weights with their boyfriends or husbands. The app and web site put all of the recorded numbers on display, with graphs, and that’s that. It’s password-protected, but all of the data for a household’s users is accessible to the master account.
That wasn’t a huge problem for us; we were more concerned with the reliability of the software and scale connection. While the blue digital screen occasionally would flash or pause in a way that some might have taken as confirmation that a weight was being recorded and transmitted, it didn’t seem to be happening with any frequency, and at the end of our two-month testing period, we found that very few of the daily measurements we’d made had actually been recorded to the web site. Withings could really benefit from a conspicuous “weight successfully recorded and transmitted” checkmark-style confirmation at the end of each use of the scale, and a more clear initial indication of whether it has a strong-enough link with the Wi-Fi router to communicate effectively. Users in large homes or with weak routers may need to spend extra time testing whether results are being recorded before relying on the system for weight tracking. The greatest clue we had as to whether recording was taking place was the occasional appearance of a BMI measurement on the scale’s display, suggesting that Withings had received the data and was linking it to a known user.
On a related note, Withings could really use better ways to handle data from multiple users. Simply having four foot-tappable buttons on the scale’s surface would be an easy way to let the typical family manage multiple accounts, but instead, the web site attempts to assign new weight data to known users, running into issues only when multiple users are similar in weight, or when unknown users hit the scale. Notably, the WiScale app doesn’t let you set up new users, forcing you to use the web site for that task. Additionally, unknown users’ weights—and any that significantly deviate from prior measurements—are deposited into an “unknown” pool of results that can’t be viewed on the app, and need to be manually sorted with the web site. In any case, using both a computer and the app shouldn’t be necessary; the app should fully duplicate the site’s functionality, if not improve upon it. Between the limitations and the network pairing problems we had with the app, a software update certainly seems to be in order.
Though the iPod touch and iPhone application’s shortcomings dragged down our overall satisfaction with the Withings Connected Scale, the design of the hardware and the performance of the web site are—privacy and Wi-Fi reliability issues aside—strong enough that other users might enjoy the product anyway. Our view is that this is a good concept with okay overall implementation at a price point that demands superior reliability and design; we hope that Withings will release updated hardware and software that improve the overall experience of both confirming one’s weight on the scale and then accessing that information securely on Apple’s devices. The current versions are ambitious, but not yet impressive enough to generally recommend to our readers for $160.