I wonder how often tech journalism is more ambitious than useful, like watching auto critics test million-dollar cars. I take comfort in the knowledge that while flagship laptops are expensive, there are few gadgets that are so expensive they’re only for one percent. So how about Withing’s newest smart scale, the Body Scan Connected Health Station, which is priced at £400 (around $479)? That’s an insane amount of money for a smart scale, especially when you can get a great scale from Withings for a quarter of that price.
The Withings Body Scan was actually announced back in early 2022, but the usual range of regulatory hurdles means it’s only now making its European debut. It will arrive in the US at some point in the future, but given the FDA’s sausage machine, it’s difficult to get anyone to commit to a firm date. The past year has also depressed the price, which was initially set at $300 before costs, and the semiconductor crisis has pushed things ever further north.
Withings sells this on the basis that it’s not just a smart scale, it’s a larger suite of comprehensive body analysis tools. It’s meant to be the same type of equipment you might find in a high-end gym or low-end clinic setting. It analyzes your segmented body composition, performs a six-lead EKG, measures your nerve activity, and monitors your vascular age. It will also use Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) to monitor sweat levels in your feet and look for signs of neuropathy.
My first impression is that it looks like someone glued the cheaper Withings Body Comp scale onto their own weighted base, and it feels wonderfully solid. So is the grip you need for each of those fancy body composition tests during your morning weigh-in. It’s held in place by a thin but sturdy-looking braided idler cable that I’m sure will endure a lot, but won’t let my kids around.
Withings has made the setup process a fine art: wake the scale, open the Health Mate app, enter your Wi-Fi password, and sit back. The mandatory software update took a full two minutes and then you can set a weight loss goal in the app. Weigh yourself five days in a row and it will then be set and ready to give you suggestions on how to improve your lifestyle. You’ll also be shown a series of guides that will teach you how to get the most out of your new hardware.
Not that there’s much to learn: climb on the scale, hold the gripper at pelvic level, and wait 90 seconds for it to do its job. It runs a series of tests that measure your weight, body fat, muscle mass, visceral fat, EKG, pulse wave velocity, vascular age, and nerve health. It then streams those data points to you big, light, bold, and easy to read, followed by the day’s weather and an indicator of local air quality (from an online service).
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at scales and some scales like to display lots of data on a very small screen to the point of being unreadable. Withings nailed the UI here, and despite the full-color display, the layout is clean and everything is super easy to read. Especially at 7 a.m., when you’ve just stumbled out of the shower and haven’t got your glasses on yet. Fonts are clear, trend lines are chunky and clearly separated from the background. It seems simple, but you’d be surprised how many companies don’t get this stuff right. The sweaty sense of detail extends to the fact that the scale has a vibrating motor that lets you know when the process has started and finished.
I’ve always hailed Health Mate as Withings’ secret weapon in the health tech wars, with its clean UI and data depth. I was concerned it would feel limp or cluttered as devices powered up, but the map layout on the home screen remains easy to digest. Each diamond represents a small chart showing only the trend rather than filling it with individual data points. And it’s only by pushing into each sub-menu that you can see the information in its more concise glory.
It’s still early days, but there wasn’t anything in the analysis that feels like it’s wrong, although it will take plenty of calibration testing to definitively prove it. The segmented body composition is certainly spot on, highlighting the areas of my body that carry the most wood. And it’s nice, easy to understand, and sobering (delete one that applies) to see the healthy and unhealthy parts of my body. That all of this also comes with Withings’ new Health+ coaching system, which will give me suggestions on how to improve, is also a plus.
I know people won’t agree with me, but I like the fact that the Body Scan has a built-in USB-C charged battery rated at one year. Some people prefer to have AAA batteries instead, but I always feel that when you’re spending that much on a scale when I’m tasked with buying batteries, I feel nickel and dimed too be. I also agree that any recurring revenue service has to work pretty hard to justify my money, but I haven’t had enough time with Health+ to tell if that’s the case or not.
The problem is that all this data may not be taken very seriously by your doctor if you are hasty in asking for help. A doctor in the UK, who asked not to be named, said that while the inclusion of a six-lead ECG on a bathroom scale was impressive, she wouldn’t let the results fool her. Instead, they would look at the patient’s symptoms and medical history and create their own EKG before making a judgment. And that there was a risk that data would be misinterpreted by inexperienced users and used to make bad decisions.
So, on the one hand, I have nothing but praise for the Withings Body Scan Connected Health Station, which currently represents the pinnacle of what a smart scale can be. And I’m really excited about the idea that you can consolidate this wealth of data into a single place to better monitor your health. But, and it’s the most obvious but on earth, I’m not sure anyone really needs to shell out that kind of money for one. Especially if you already have a smart scale and smartwatch that can do some kind of heart health analysis with an EKG.
In a lot of ways, it’s like one of those auto critics showing you what you could have if you had a million left in your checking account. Yes, it’s well made, does everything you could ask for, and does it all in one of the best health tech ecosystems out there. But for this money? You can work just as well in a Toyota as in a Maybach.
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