The Wi-Fi Body Scale by Withings
Pros: Automatically records and tracks weight info; data and graphs easily accessible via Web site and iPhone/ iPod Touch app; no monthly subscription fee
Cons: Considerably pricier than conventional scales; may need relatively frequent battery changes
Each January 1st marks the time when countless people adopt another round of New Year's resolutions, many of which tend to involve losing weight. Of course, one of the keys to success is staying motivated, and by taking advantage of your wireless network and Internet connection to automatically record and track your weight loss (or lack thereof), the Wi-Fi Body Scale by Withings can be a significant motivational tool.
Like many scales these days, the Withings scale measures not just your weight but your body's lean mass/fat ratio, and it also calculates your Body Mass Index (BMI). After it takes those measurements, however, the Withings scale uploads that data to a Web site where you can view it and monitor it over an extended period of time.
Design, Specs and Setup
The Withings scale (available direct or from Amazon) has an upscale look commensurate with its relatively high $159 price tag, which is two to three times what you'd pay for a decent scale at a home good store. The low-profile scale is a bit less than an inch high and sports a dark-faced glass slab with a 2.4 x 1.6- inch backlit LED display. Powered by four AAA batteries (provided), the scale is an 802.11g device; we had no trouble getting it connected to an 802.11n router (albeit in backwards-compatibility mode) configured with WPA2 security.
Speaking of getting the scale online, Withings seems to have taken pains to make the process as hassle-free as possible. The first step is to visit start.withings.com to create an account for the scale. Then you connect the scale to a computer via an included USB cable and download and run a "pairing wizard" utility (for Windows or Mac) that communicates with the device, allowing you to scan for networks and enter an encryption key. In fact, all the interaction and feedback during setup is through the wizard rather than the scale itself.
Upon successfully configuring the network connection, the wizard took the liberty of updating our scale's firmware before referring us back to the Withings Web site to set up individual password-protected user accounts. For each person's account (the scale can track up to eight people), you must provide some basic info including the user's birth date, height, and an initial approximate weight value. This last bit is used to distinguish between different users the first time they step on the scale (as having to log individual users into a scale would be a bit of a hassle). Each user also gets a three-letter "nickname" that the scale will display at each weigh-in to confirm it recognizes which person is standing on it.
Viewing and Sharing Data
Once you've set up a user account, you can step on the scale—barefoot please, so that the electrodes can measure body fat via bio-impedance—and within a few seconds the display briefly reports your weight, lean/fat body mass, and BMI. Then you can log into my.withings.com with the browser of your choice (including Google Chrome) to view your data.
The Flash-based site's UI is simple and attractive, and it provides a fair amount of control over how you view your weight data. You can overlay your personal weight goal onto the graph, and it's easy to adjust the view to see how your weight fluctuates over a period of days, weeks, or months. You can also annotate entries, delete them, and manually input data for days you might have weighed yourself on another scale, like in a hotel room or when visiting family.
Assuming you don't feel the need to keep your weight information close to your vest, the Withings site does allow you to share your data with other family members, which can, for example, be useful for parents wanting to keep tabs on a child's poundage. You can also share your data with a wider circle by posting each weigh-in info to your Twitter account (doing so seems cringeworthy at first blush, but it can arguably serve yet another motivational aid.) Although we didn't try feature for ourselves, the site also allows you to securely upload your data to a Google Health account.
To let you access your weight info on the go, Withings offers a free iPhone/iPod Touch app. It provides most of the same info and capabilities as the Web site, and has a similar look and feel. The app can even conveniently import data previously tracked in Weightbot, which worked flawlessly when we tried it.
Making regular connections to Wi-Fi takes its toll on the scale's battery life, even though the unit only remains on the brief period its weighing or transmitting data. After a week of use (two people each weighing in once daily), the power remaining from the four alkaline AAA cells (according to the Withings site) was down to 88%. Extrapolated it means you should probably count on needing a fresh set of batteries roughly every two months or so, which is probably much more often than you'll need to change any other battery-powered device you own. (Rechargeables may be the way to go).
In a world where technology products that have an online service component often include a monthly subscription fee, it's refreshing to see that Withings doesn't saddle its customers with one—once you buy the scale, you're done paying. Of course, the counterargument is that recurring subscription revenue enhances a company's long-term viability, without the service to go with it, the Withings scale is a pretty ordinary device.
Serious fitness mavens with $160 to spare may find their money better spent on one of the new crop of accelerometer-based gadgets (like the Fitbit or GoWear Fit) that track an individual's daily activity level and caloric burn rate. But if you don't need that kind of detailed info and just want a device that will automatically track and graph weight without you having to build an Excel spreadsheet, the Withings scale does the job quite nicely.
Joseph Moran is a veteran product reviewer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 from Friends of Ed.