Not long ago, weighing yourself was a highly personal matter, with the results a secret shared only between you and your bathroom scale. But with all of the attention focused over the last few years on all manner of connected fitness and activity trackers, it is little wonder that scales that can share your data with fitness apps and web sites are now part of the picture. On the plus side, these sophisticated scales make it easier than ever to keep tabs on your weight and other fitness factors, such as body fat and BMI. On the minus side, there can be a bit of a learning curve with setting up and getting the most out of a smart scale -- especially when it comes to having it "play nice" with your home network or your preferred fitness app or site.
Among scales in this category, the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer (Est. $130) looks like a top choice, but with caveats. It impresses experts in professional testing, but user feedback is mixed. Still, if a smart scale is a smart choice for you, the WS-50 looks like a top option. At TheSweethome.com, it's named the "absolute best scale." It's "the most accurate scale we tested, period," says Melanie Pinola, and that's a finding that's echoed across most expert reviews. It's also incredibly consistent, no matter what surface it's used on. Livescience.com tests that by placing it on carpet and found that the measured weight "barely fluctuated" compared to previous measurements made with the scale on a tile floor.
In addition to weight, the WS-50 measures important fitness parameters such as heart rate and body fat -- however testing reveals that that last measurement is no more accurate than the best body-fat scales that use BIA (biometric impedance analysis); in other words, fair at best. Connectivity is excellent over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, reviews report, as is the task of setting up the scale to work with your preferred fitness app. If you don't have a fitness app or site you are already using, Withings provides mobile and web apps that let you track your progress. The scale has a few extra tricks up its sleeve as well, including the ability to monitor room air quality and display weather information gathered from the Internet on its display. Pinola says those features were more appreciated than expected, though not something that should tip the buying decision one way or another.
While expert reviews -- including Editors' Choice selections at technology sites such as PCMag.com and Laptop Magazine -- are highly encouraging, user feedback does give us a little pause. Ratings at Amazon.com -- 3.7 stars after more than 3, 100 user reviews -- are certainly lower than we'd like to see. Nearly 75 percent of users rate the scale at 4 stars or better. Those that are less happy complain of usability issues, durability issues, and customer service that is less than responsive. On the other side of the coin, though there are fewer of them -- just over 250 reviews at last look -- BestBuy.com users seem much happier. There the WS-50 rates 4.2 stars, with 86 percent of users giving it their recommendations.
The Fitbit Aria (Est. $130) is another smart scale option, but it does a little bit poorer in professional reviews and rates no better that the Withings scale with users -- 3.7 stars at Amazon.com following just over 4,000 reviews. Elizabeth Palermo at Livescience.com suggests that one reason is that, while the WS-50 can connect via either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the Aria is Wi-Fi only, and if your network set up doesn't meet the scale's requirements, the inevitable result is frustration -- and lots of 1 star user reviews. While these connectivity issues reduce the Aria to runner up status at Livescience.com, it along with some "accuracy blunders" took it out of contention altogether in the comparative testing at TheSweethome.com. Still, experts and users say that if you get over the learning curve of setting up the scale, things become intuitive to use.
The Fitbit Aria connects remotely to the Fitbit website, which offers a robust selection of fitness and weight-management tools for tracking progress over time. The scale can be configured to track up to eight different users, each of whom have their own profile on the Fitbit website and their own personal measurements and goals. In addition to tracking weight and body composition, users can enter their daily activities and food intake on the website, which then calculates caloric values based on information in its database. Users can also connect with other Fitbit members to offer encouragement toward achieving their goals. Further motivation is offered by the interface itself, which rewards users with badges for every 5 pounds lost and offers encouraging messages and recommendations.
If you'd like to spend a bit less but still want a smart scale, we found the best user feedback for the Weight Gurus Bluetooth Smart Connected Scale (Est. $60). The ease-of-use issues we see with other smart scales don't appear to be nearly as big a factor with this one, helping it earn a 4.5-star rating at Amazon.com following nearly 550 reviews. One reason is that, while both the Aria and the WS-50 offer Wi-Fi connectivity and the option of using third-party apps, the Weight Guru scale is Bluetooth only, and will only work with its own tracking app (both Apple and Android versions are available). That's not necessarily a bad thing, says TheSweethome.com's Pinola, "Although the Weight Gurus scale can't connect to other apps, its dedicated app is nicely done, with attractive graphs and tracking of weigh-ins by week, month, and overall."
Livescience.com is less forgiving, however, and relegates the scale to not recommended status over that and some accuracy issues. "I found I had to step on and off the scale many times before getting an accurate reading," Palermo says. Pinola doesn't report the same issues, but does note that the scale isn't particularly sensitive compared to some competitors. "The WS-50 was more consistently sensitive to small weight changes, whereas the Weight Gurus scale only picked up on 0.4-pound differences occasionally," she says. Still, at its current selling price, Weight Gurus Bluetooth Smart Connected Scale looks to be worth considering for those looking for a reasonably competent but less-expensive smart scale.