Review: Withings WS-30 Wireless Scale is heavy on data
At a Glance
At no point in my life have I ever owned a scale, so I’ll admit that I initially approached the Withings WS-30 Wireless Scale with a bit of suspicion—as though it were some piece of alien furniture that had suddenly taken up residence in a corner of my office.
Our relationship did not improve from there.
That’s not to say that I spent a great deal of time fighting with the scale (although we had our moments), or that I couldn’t get it to work—just that most of the time I felt as though I were trying to hold a conversation that was being translated from Klingon to French to English. Initially I often felt that I was missing information, as if I hadn’t set up the scale properly, or that there was something that I wasn’t quite understanding. In short, the scale took a while to stop feeling alien to me.
However, there’s nothing frightening or alarming about it—the scale itself is harmless enough. A plain, sleek white (or black) square measuring roughly 11.8 inches on each side and 1.3 inches deep, the Withings Wireless Scale runs on four AAA batteries (which should last about a year) and comes with a concise user manual and four carpet feet (to provide accuracy on any surface).
It’s also heavier than I expected, at 4.4 pounds, and it’s constructed from a plastic casing and a glass surface material, both of which can be cleaned with a damp cloth. The scale holds four sensors and a patent-pending body position detector for accuracy, measures both weight and body mass index (BMI), and has Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi—the better to pair with the Withings smartphone app and Web dashboard. It’s also capable of working with dozens of other apps and devices, such as LoseIt!, BodyMedia Fit, Fitbit, RunKeeper, Runtastic, Jawbone Up, Walgreens apps, and even the Samsung SmartTV.
At least, pairing is the general idea—you buy your scale, attach the feet, and glance at your seven-step user guide, which tells you to pull the battery tab, turn on your smartphone’s Bluetoooth settings, and then press the pairing button on the bottom of the scale. Pair the scale to your phone, download the Withings app, follow the instructions, and you’re done. Or you should be done. Why are you not done?
Let me tell you why you’re not done: The scale has dropped the Bluetooth connection, the app isn’t finding your Bluetooth connection, the app isn’t finding your Wi-Fi connection, you need to re-pair your smartphone to the scale via the app, the firmware upgrade hasn’t installed yet (or properly), and/or the scale decided to turn itself off while the firmware was being installed. All these were issues I ran into while setting up the scale—and none of which are covered in the seven-step user manual.
That being said, when I managed to get the scale up and running (after three attempts), it absolutely performed as advertised. The display provides you with helpful arrows on each corner that indicate where you should shift your weight to get the most accurate measurement. It then displays your weight and automatically syncs the information to the mobile app—which may take a moment.
The scale has two buttons, total, on the bottom: One controls the Bluetooth functions, and the other allows you to toggle through display options, mainly to switch between pounds and kilograms. Most of the time you’ll likely be on either the Withings app or the Web dashboard, to view your data—both feature an extensive array of graphs and menus. The app, which is available for iOS and Android (Windows Phone users have a third-party option), is fairly well organized around four prongs of health, as represented by the four “wings” of the butterfly icon in the app.
The four wings are Wellness levels that Withings can measure for you and collect data on: weight, activity, sleep, and heart. The apps’ home screen displays the Wellness levels in a top widget; below that is a scrolling menu that shows the most recent measurements for weight, fat mass, BMI, and height, followed by a widget that displays the fluctuation in weight that week, and ends with data on blood pressure and heart rate. These are the defaults, but you can add to them, or delete or move them, by tapping “Organize my widgets” at the bottom (see the screen below)—which is a really nice touch.
The top navigation bar of the app allows you to access the main menu, where you can create new users (the scale can distinguish between multiple users); set reminders; share your results (either à la carte or for the entire dashboard); access partner apps; change settings; and more. The home screen also shows a large plus sign in the upper right: Tapping it leads to a screen where you can manually enter data about your weight, heart rate, and height.
Tapping on the Wellness levels themselves will take you to a page that displays all your recorded activity in each area, and tapping on one of the wings on this page will take you to data about that metric. For example, tapping the pink, or Weight, wing takes me to a page that shows the percent of activity I’ve recorded in this area (67 percent in one reading), as well as a box that reminds me about my weight goals in a somewhat irritating manner: “We have gained weight over the past 7 days.” Oh, have we? I am fairly certain I packed those pounds on all by myself, thank you very much.
You’ll also find details on other apps, metrics, and accessories that you can add (for example, MyFitnessPal). But many of these options require the addition of another piece of hardware—the Sleep section, for one, tells me, “We should start tracking our sleep,” and then suggests that I do so by adding a Withings Pulse, a Zeo headband, or a BodyMedia armband. If you don’t have any of this hardware, the app is happy to send you information on it by request. If you have a fit-tech device that doesn’t pair with the Withings app, you can always manually add the information by tapping the plus sign. (I had to manually input my height, for instance, as the scale cannot measure that detail.)
However, the app does provide your results in both a list and a graph view, so it’s easy to chart how your weight fluctuates over time. Pinching and dragging on the graph lets you zoom in or out on a particular time frame, while tapping on a data point on the graph will display the measurements taken that day.
You can also set a weight goal, by tapping the section that shows the variation in your weight. Weight goals can be set for target dates or weights, and you can opt to get motivation by posting your goal to Facebook. Indeed, almost anything within the app can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, or email, which is helpful for those who are participating in a fitness challenge, in close contact with their doctor, or are masochistic enough to want to broadcast such data across social media. And the more you tap through the app, the more features you can find—tapping on a data point within a chart, for example, takes you to more details about that measurement, including the ability to delete it or add notes.
The Web dashboard features a similar, if busier, design. It opens to a graph of your measurements and provides options via a series of drop-down menus and pop-up boxes: Along the top you can get tips, change your personal information, share your data, and view partner services, while the pop-up box on the right allows you to toggle between measurements, and the controls along the bottom let you filter and edit the graph to your liking. The dashboard offers both standard and enhanced views, but both provide plenty of detail and options.
Overall, the Withings Wireless Scale is a solid part of a fit-tech arsenal that is capable of delivering accurate weight measurements to your smartphone (or dashboard). It gives you plenty of data on those measurements in a variety of ways, and while it wasn’t without its bumps to set up, once I had it paired correctly it didn’t give me any problems. The main drawback is that the scale itself can measure only a few metrics—weight and BMI info. For a truly detailed view of your health, and not just your weight, you’d need additional devices to take measurements that the scale can’t collect. The WS-30 is a great scale, and Withings makes a useful app, as long as both are part of a larger fit-tech ecosystem.