Lauren Goode

Weighing In on Wi-Fi Scales

Over the past week, I’ve been posting my weight all over my social networks. It’s not a sick joke, and I haven’t been hacked, as some concerned friends suggested after seeing updates like “My weight: 124.3 lb. 5.9 lb to go” on Facebook and Twitter.

The too-much-information blasts were part of my test of Withings WS-30 and the FitBit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale, two high-tech scales that measure your weight, body mass index (BMI) and, in some cases, body fat percentage. Digital scales have long offered these measurement categories — and often cost less than the scales I’ve been testing — but a growing trend is the ability to wirelessly share this health data to smartphones and your social networks, with apps that analyze the data for you.

Some might cringe at the idea of sharing their weight, but for others the social sharing can be motivating, especially around the time of New Year’s resolutions. Whether consumers opt to publicly share the data or not, these scales can still save the time of manually logging your weight into a notebook, smartphone or computer.

You might know FitBit for its tiny, clip-on activity trackers that measure your movement throughout the day, and also your sleep patterns. The FitBit Aria scale began shipping in the U.S. in April of this year, and costs $130.

The WS-30, which launched in November, is the second scale made by France-based Withings; at $100, it costs $60 less than the company’s first scale.

The two I tested looked nearly identical, with all-white bodies and gleaming surfaces. But the more costly FitBit Aria scale measures weight, body fat and BMI, an estimated calculation of your body fat based on weight and height, and the Withings WS-30 measures just weight and BMI. The Aria relies solely on your home Wi-Fi network, while the Withings WS-30 adds a twist with Bluetooth options.

From left to right: The Withings WS-30 and the FitBit Aria Smart Scale.

From left to right: The Withings WS-30 and the FitBit Aria Smart Scale.

With both scales, interoperability with software and other hardware can get confusing. The Aria shares data to FitBit apps on the Web, iOS and Android devices, while the Withings won’t have full Android compatibility until sometime in January. Both Withings and FitBit say they work with dozens of other health and fitness apps, though sometimes they pull the data in and sometimes they share it.

I experienced some minor glitches with both scales, but the FitBit Aria scale stood out to me because of its simplicity.

While testing the Aria scale over the past week, I also wore a FitBit One activity-tracking device ($100). A FitBit tracking device isn’t necessary to use the scale, but it does offer a bigger picture of your activities.

The Aria scale is powered by four AA batteries, which should last around six months, assuming four to five weigh-ins a day. Setting it up was easy. I signed up at FitBit.com, found the Aria scale listed as a device option, and downloaded the software I needed to get started. It asked me if I wanted to connect the scale with my home Wi-Fi network. Thankfully, I didn’t have to punch my ridiculously long home Wi-Fi password into the scale. I also downloaded the FitBit app onto my iPhone, and set a weight goal.

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The top of the scale has a small, round display that greets you by your initials, flashes you a smiley-face emoticon, and shows your stats. The bottom of the scale, which has bumps like moguls on a ski slope, felt solid and sturdy.

I stepped on the scale, and it showed me a series of numbers. Then a “sync” symbol appeared on the display. When I checked FitBit on my iPhone and Web apps a minute later, my weight, body percentage and BMI data were all there.

The only issue I encountered with the FitBit Aria scale was that it didn’t always measure my body fat, as promised. A question mark would appear on the scale, and in those instances the body fat percentage didn’t show up in the FitBit apps, either.

FitBit notes that if you’re wearing socks or shoes, have wet feet, or if you’re wobbling on the scale, it could impact the measurement.

The FitBit app and Web site, where I viewed not only my weight data but also my activity levels from the FitBit tracker, are refreshingly simple to use. And FitBit allows integration with some other apps, too, so I was able to upload jogging data from my RunKeeper app into FitBit.com.

Those are not my feet.

Those are not my feet.

The Withings WS-30 scale, which also uses four AA batteries, is slightly larger than the FitBit Aria scale, with a square display instead of a round one. It comes with four plastic stick-on feet that feel sort of cheap. There are two buttons on the underside of the scale: one for basic menu options, and one for Bluetooth connectivity.

Withings says it added Bluetooth tech to this scale so that people traveling with the scale wouldn’t have to rely on a Wi-Fi network to share their data to their iPhone. I personally wanted to avoid weighing in while I was traveling — and eating too much — during the holidays, but this is a useful feature for people who do travel a lot and want to constantly weigh in or need to send the weight data to a doctor. The Withings scale also shows little arrows on the display to guide your feet for an accurate reading.

The Withings scale had more quirks than the FitBit device. It inexplicably reverted back to kilograms once, even after I told it I wanted to weigh myself in pounds. My first few weigh-ins didn’t appear in the Withings Health Companion app for iPhone, even though they registered on my Withings account online. I had to log in and out of the mobile app a couple times to get this data to sync.

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The Withings Web dashboard was also a lot busier than the FitBit Web site. There’s a standard dashboard and an enhanced one; both use a variety of charts and graphs to display weight data. Sloping colored lines showed that I was not, in fact, meeting my made-up weight goals.

Initially I cringed at the idea of broadcasting my weight. “Big dinner?” a friend joked after I tweeted my weight — a half-pound heavier than the night before. But others told me it was motivating. “I’m off to the gym now,” my sister-in-law wrote after seeing my weigh-in. Another friend text messaged and said she was hoping to achieve a weight goal similar to the one I had set for myself.

The social sharing is optional with both scales. So if you’d rather not broadcast your weight for fear of employers or marketers seeing it, you don’t have to.

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Withings, like FitBit, could be synced with my RunKeeper app. And there’s a buried option to link the Withings scale to your FitBit account. In fact, Withings says it works in conjunction with more than sixty health and fitness apps.

In theory, it’s great that both Withings and FitBit will integrate this information. But it also makes things really complicated when you have to use several apps to get a comprehensive reading on your health. For example, I could use the Withings for weight, the LoseIt! app for calorie-counting and the Zeo app for sleep efficiency, but that’s a lot of apps. The FitBit scale, along with a FitBit tracker, offered weight, activity and sleep-tracking all in one app, with the ability to manually enter more info if desired.

Despite my almost-obsessive monitoring this week, I ended up gaining weight — something I’d blame on holiday food, and not on the scales. And despite its high price, I’d probably stick with the FitBit scale if I was going the Wi-Fi route.


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