Withings’ luxury weighing scale is amazing, if inessential
I wonder how often technology journalism is aspirational rather than useful, like when you watch car reviewers testing million dollar rides. I comfort myself knowing that while flagship laptops are pricey, there are few gadgets so eye-wateringly expensive that they’re just for one percenters. What then to make of Withings’ newest smart scale, the Body Scan Connected Health Station, which is priced at four hundred British pounds (around $479)? That’s mad money to pay for any smart scale, especially when you can get a great scale from Withings for a quarter of that price.
Withings’ Body Scan was actually announced back at the start of 2022, but the usual gamut of regulatory hurdles means it’s only now making its debut in Europe. It’ll arrive in the US at some point in the future, but given the FDA’s sausage machine it’s hard to get anyone to commit to a firm date. The intervening year has also dented the price, which was originally set at $300 before costs and the semiconductor crisis pushed things ever northward.
Withings is, and was, selling this on the basis that it’s not just a smart scale but a bigger suite of comprehensive body analysis tools. It’s supposed to be the equal of sort of gear you might find at a high-end gym or a low-end clinical setting. It analyzes your segmented body composition, runs a six-lead ECG, measures your nerve activity and monitors your vascular age. It’ll also use Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) to monitor the sweat levels in your feet to look for signs of neuropathy.
My first impression is that it looks like someone glued Withings’ cheaper Body Comp scale to its own weighted base and it feels wonderfully solid. So too does the grip, which you’ll need to do any of the fancy body-analysis tests during your morning weigh-in. It’s held in place with a thin but sturdy-looking braided tension-reel cable that I’m sure will survive a lot but, that said, I’m not going to leave it in the vicinity of my children.
Withings has the setup process down to a fine art: Wake the scale, open its Health Mate app, give it your WiFi password and sit back. The mandatory software update took all of two minutes and then you can set a weight loss goal inside the app. Weigh in for five days in a row, and it’ll then be set and ready to give you suggestions on how better to improve your lifestyle. You’ll also be shown a series of how-to guides teaching you how to get the best out of your new hardware.
Not that there’s much to learn: Get on the scale, hold the grab at pelvis height and wait 90 seconds for it to do its thang. It’ll run the gamut of tests measuring your weight, body fat, muscle mass, visceral fat, ECG, Pulse Wave Velocity, vascular age and nerve health. It’ll then relay those data points to you in a big, bright, bold and easy-to read manner, followed by the day’s weather and an indicator about the local air quality (pulled from an online service).
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at scales, and some scales like to put a lot of data on a very small screen to the point where it’s unreadable. Withings has nailed the UI here, and despite the full color display, the layout is clean and everything is super easy to read. Especially at 7am when you’ve just staggered out of the shower and you don’t yet have your glasses on. Fonts are clear, trend lines are chunky and cleanly differentiated from the background. It seems simple, but you’d be surprised how many companies don’t get this stuff right. The sense of details being sweated extends to the fact the scale has a vibration motor, telling you when the process has started and finished.
I’ve always praised Health Mate as Withings’ secret weapon in the health-tech wars, with its clean UI and depth of data. I was concerned that, as its devices get more powerful, it’d start to feel flabby or cluttered, but the card layout on its home screen remains easy to digest. Each lozenge presents a small graph that just shows the trend rather than stuffing it full of individual data points. And it’s only when you press into each sub menu that you can see the information in its more precise glory.
It’s early days, but there’s been nothing on the analysis that feels like it’s wrong, although it’ll need a lot of calibration testing to prove that definitively. The segmented body composition is certainly spot on, highlighting the areas of my body that are carrying the most timber. And it’s nice, easy to understand, and sobering (delete as appropriate) to see the healthy and unhealthy parts of my body. Having all of this laid out with Withings’ new Health+ coaching system, too, which will start offering suggestions about how I can improve, is also a benefit.
I know people will disagree with me, but I like the fact that the Body Scan has an integral, USB-C charged battery with a rated life of a year. Some folks prefer having AAA batteries instead, but I always feel that when you’re spending this much on a scale, being tasked with buying batteries on top makes me feel like I’m being nickel-and-dimed. I’m also of the opinion that any recurring revenue service has to work pretty hard to justify my cash, but I’ve not yet had enough time with Health+ to say if it does or not.
There is the problem that all of this data may not be taken very seriously by your physician if you rush in asking for help. A medical practitioner in the UK, who asked not to be named, said that while the inclusion of a six-lead ECG in a bathroom scale was impressive, they wouldn’t be swayed by the results it produced. Instead, they would look at the symptoms the patient was presenting, their medical history, and would run their own ECG before making any judgment. And that there was a risk of data being misinterpreted by novice users and using it to make poor decisions.
So, on one hand, I’ve got nothing but praise for Withings’ Body Scan Connected Health Station, which is the pinnacle of what a smart scale can be right now. And I’m certainly thrilled at the idea that you can have this wealth of data all collated in a single place for better monitoring of your health. But, and it’s the most obvious but in the world, I’m not sure anyone really needs to spend this much money on one. Especially if you already have a smart scale and a smartwatch that can do some sort of heart health analysis with an ECG.
In many ways, it’s like one of those car reviewers showing you what you could have if you had a spare million in your checking account. Yes, it’s well made, does everything you could ask for, and does it all within one of the best health tech ecosystems on the market. But for this money? You can get to work just as well in a Toyota as you can in a Maybach.