Whether you’re trying to lose, gain, or just maintain your body weight, a bathroom scale is an invaluable tool. But what makes a particular model better than the rest?
From basic mechanical scales to those that offer a full suite of bells and whistles, here’s a look at which models and features can best help you achieve your goals.
Mechanical vs. Digital Bathroom Scales
Mechanical bathroom scales, sometimes called spring scales, work by leveraging your body weight to engage a rack and pinion, which then turns the dial display in a circular motion to represent your weight.
Digital scales work off of a microchip and electronic response, but they include a few small springs too.
Both are ready for use right out of the box. Though, a mechanical scale might need a small adjustment to accurately reflect zero. (This can normally be done by tweaking a small wheel at the front-side of the scale.)
Do Mechanical or Digital Scales Give More Accurate Readings?
To find an answer, we searched the Physics Forums where readers had posed the same question. There, we learned that there are two parts to tracking your weight reading: accuracy and precision.
Meaning that, not only do you want a bathroom scale to give you an accurate reading of your weight, ideally it should be able to display precise changes within a fraction of a pound.
Since mechanical scales display weight in single pound increments, their lack of precision leaves users guessing if they’ve lost or gained half a pound. Digital scales, on the other hand, generally read down to the ounce.
Overall, Digital Scales are the Better Buy
Considering the low-tech workings of a mechanical scale and their lack of precision, they’re surprisingly similarly priced when compared to digital bathroom scales. Positively reviewed models of both types are available on Amazon for as little as $15.
So, why would you consider one? As it turns out, the potential advantages are minimal—and temporary.
Mechanical scales won’t ever fail to read due to a dead battery or display failure. However, they do require occasional zeroing out to maintain accuracy, and even then, will eventually fall permanently out of whack.
That’s because those small springs and levers eventually become worn. And, the more weight you put on a scale over time, the worse for wear those springs and levers will become, causing the dial to display an increasingly inaccurate weight.
While digital scales also have springs, they’re constructed with fewer pieces that can fail due to wear—and fewer small pieces that can slip out of place.
Considering the precise readings offered by digital bathroom scales, along with the comparable pricing, we recommend skipping mechanical versions altogether.
Digital Scale Smart Features
If you’re looking for a bathroom scale that goes beyond the basics, you might be tempted by some of the smart features boasted by different models. Recently reviewed by CNET and Wareable, top fitness tracker models that pair with smart scales include:
- Fitbit Aria ($130)
- Withings Smart Body Analyzer ($150)
- Garmin Index Smart Scale ($150)
- Under Armour Smart Scale ($400-Part of their Health Box kit)
- Pivotal Living Smart Scale ($40)
These high-tech devices promise to help you get a clearer picture of your personal fitness with ease. But which features work and which are dead weight? Let’s take a look:
1. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Connected Smart Scales
Complete a 5k run or 10,000 steps? If you use a fitness tracker to count daily steps or calories burned, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled smart scales can pair with your device.
Instead of taking the time to record your weight manually, these smart scales do the job for you by automatically logging your weight every time that you step on and, depending on the brand, even syncing data for easy reading within one app.
But that convenience comes at a cost. Aside from the Pivotal Living model, most are ten-times more expensive than your standard digital scale.
2. Bathroom Scales That Read Body Fat and BMI (Body Mass Index) Measurements
The five smart scales we listed above measure a few extra metrics in addition to weight, including body fat percentages and BMI readings. What’s the difference?
BMI is a number that is used to evaluate your body size relative to your weight. But you don’t need a scale to get your BMI, just grab a calculator and:
- Multiply your weight in pounds by 703.
- Divide that answer by your height in inches.
- Divide that answer by your height in inches again.
Alternately, a quick online search will reveal dozens of BMI calculators that can crunch the numbers for you.
What’s considered a healthy BMI depends on your gender and age. But there’s a caveat: Your BMI doesn’t consider how much of your body mass is made of fat. (Who hasn’t just claimed to be big boned?)
Instead, if you’re serious about tracking your weight changes, your body fat percentages give a more comprehensive picture of your health. This measurement first considers the weight of your organs, bones, muscles, and fat. Then, your fat is divided by your total weight.
Unlike your BMI, accurate body fat percentages are difficult for the average person to measure. Athletes are measured by being dunked into a tank of water to track displacement, or a doctor can gently pinch your skin folds with calipers.
So, How Can a Smart Scale Measure Body Fat?
Body scales that claim to measure your body fat do so by using a technology called bioelectrical impedance to estimate your percentage.
When you step onto a smart scale, an undetectable electrical current passes up one leg, across your pelvis, then down the other leg. Because your muscle contains more water than fat, it conducts electricity better. In theory, the greater resistance, the more body fat the scale will detect.
The problem is that readings can be impacted by multiple factors, including:
- How much water you recently consumed.
- When you last ate and exercised.
- Even if the skin on your feet is thickly calloused.
UC Berkley’s Wellness Center states that body fat percentages given by smart scales have even differed from standard tests performed on the same subject immediately after.
Is Measuring Your Body Fat Important?
According to the Wellness Center, measuring your body fat percentage can be motivating over long periods of time. However, it’s unrealistic to expect to track weekly changes, as your body fat percentage often won’t change enough from week to week.
In short, unless you’re seriously training, this is one feature that may not be worth the inflated cost. Instead, if you’re interested in measuring your body fat, consider speaking with your doctor for a skin fold measurement during your next appointment.
3. Smart Scales That Track Multiple Users
If your family is making a joint effort to get healthy, it’s worth looking at smart scales that support tracking multiple users. Each of the five scales we listed supports a minimum of eight different accounts, while Garmin and Pivotal go up to 16.
How a smart scale recognizes different users varies with the model. Some attempt to recognize who’s being weighed by tracking relative weight differences. If all the members of your household differ a minimum of five pounds in weight, this method works most of the time. (When it doesn’t, you can switch accounts manually.)
However, if you and your partner are similar weights, or your children are relatively close in size, you might benefit more from a smart scale that recognizes users by the proximity of their phone via Bluetooth.
That being said, even Bluetooth fails occasionally, so manual selection isn't entirely avoidable.
Do Smart Scale Features Provide Value?
If you’re serious about reaching your fitness goals, it’s easy to open your wallet for any feature-filled product that promises to make the journey easier, no matter the price.
But, do they provide value?
After discovering the number of factors that can contribute to inaccurate BMI and body fat percentage readings, we can’t get behind the idea of paying more for these features alone.
Similarly, a smart scale that tracks multiple users is convenient. But, it’s up to you whether paying ten times the price just to avoid writing your weekly weigh-in down on paper is worthwhile.
Of the three main perks promised by smart scales, their ability to sync with a fitness tracker is the only feature that really seems to shine. Seeing your changes in weight being tracked can be a great motivator, and studies have shown that those who use fitness trackers are more likely to succeed in hitting their weight goals.
How to Find the Best Bathroom Scale: Things to Consider When Shopping
Whether you purchase a standard digital model or a smart scale that can sync with your fitness tracker, there are a few other considerations before you buy:
1. An Easy-to-Read Display
Stepping on a scale won’t do you much good if you can’t read the display. If you have difficulty seeing at a distance, seek out a model that has a large screen and numbers, preferably with a backlit display.
2. Material and Weight Limit
Bathroom scales come in a wide variety of colors, materials, and sizes. Since you’ll be looking at it daily, you might be tempted to opt for a stylish tempered glass model. Just be sure to note the scale’s weight limit before buying—tempered glass bathroom scales typically have a weight limit of between 330 and 360 pounds.
3. Easy to Adjust
All body weight scales need to be calibrated on occasion. Check to see if a model allows you to step on and off, or if you’ll need to flip it over and tighten the spring with a screwdriver. Since continuing to use a scale that doesn’t read zero will further stretch the spring, be sure you won’t have to take apart the casing for access.
Which Scales Receive the Highest Ratings?
Looking for a standard digital scale? We looked around and found that it’s hard to beat the EatSmart Precision Digital Bathroom Scale, available on Amazon for $22.95. Here’s why:
- It features an easy-to-read, extra-large, backlit display.
- The tempered glass is coated with a non-slip texture for safety.
- The weight limit is a generous 400 pounds.
- With 25,000 user reviews, it still holds a 4.4/ 5-star rating.
Amazon offers almost 200 models of digital scales, some with a solid 5-star rating and some that are slightly less expensive (around $15). But none even come close to the number of reviews from verified customers as the EatSmart model.
Set on a smart scale? If so, shopping around gets a little more complicated.
Because users spend more time interacting with their fitness tracking application than the bathroom scale—and, because each smart scale has its own limitations as far as which additional apps and services it pairs with—we recommend picking a smart scale based on the fitness apps and tracker you already use and are comfortable with.
If you already own a Fitbit tracker, the Aria smart scale is likely your best fit. If you enjoy the format of a Garmin device, then the brand’s Index Smart Scale could be for you. Same for users who are already familiar with Withings or Under Armour.
What if you’re new to the world of fitness tracking apps? We suggest downloading several apps before purchasing a smart scale to see which is easiest for you to navigate.
Remember, Spending Isn’t the Same as Achieving
With online shopping just a click away, it’s easy to trick yourself into the idea that buying a super sleek (and super expensive) scale is a surefire way to catapult you towards fitness success. In addition, we tend to tell ourselves that the more we spend, the more committed we’ll be to reaching our goals.
But, before you spring for the most expensive scale your budget will allow, ask yourself: How many unused pieces of sports equipment are gathering dust in your garage? Or, is there an unopened fitness tracker in your desk drawer?
If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. It turns out that buying stuff can give us a premature sense of accomplishment.
To avoid confusing taking action with taking out your credit card, we suggest sticking to budget options when shopping for bathroom scales. And, if you need a little extra motivation, check out the expert advice we got on a five-step approach to achieving your goals.
- How Walking 30 Minutes a Day Can Benefit Your Health in a Big Way
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