Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer adds functionality, subtracts setup time
Way back in 2010, TUAW reviewed one of the first connected health devices for the iOS ecosystem. That device was the Withings Connected Body Scale, which I had owned for about a year at the time the review was posted. Withings recently released the latest iteration of the device, the all-new Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer (US$149.95), adding new features while also making setup of the device incredibly easy.
Like the previous models, the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer looks like a scale that Jony Ive would be proud to have in his bathroom. It's a thin slab of dark glass with a display in the familiar top-center position and a metal circle dead center. But don't just think of this as just a pretty bathroom scale...
It does a lot more than just display the bad news about your weight every morning. The previous versions could also determine your BMI (body mass index) and display just how much excess poundage you're carrying around. Now the WS-50 adds extra features -- not only does it also check your pulse rate, but it also captures the ambient temperature and CO2 levels in your house.
All of this information is made available to you either on the Withings website (free account required) or through the free Withings Health Mate iOS app. That app is also now used to set up a new scale (more on that later) and display data from the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor. You could think of the app as your window into your well-being ... or lack thereof.
Setup is incredibly easy to do. Back in the old days in 2009, setup was a complicated affair requiring a USB cable, opening the back of the scale, and performing sacred rituals involving squirrels and tap-dancing. Well, forget the sacred rituals part, but it was a total pain to set up.
Not any more! The WS-50 comes with batteries not only included, but installed. You pull a plastic tab to let those batteries do their job, and then fire up your iOS device. In Settings > Bluetooth it's a simple matter of pairing with the device, and then you're asked to go to the Health Mate app to finish setup. It's as simple as tapping a button to "Install now", after which you're asked if you wish to copy the Wi-Fi settings on your iOS device to the scale. Reply in the positive, and the WS-50 is added to your network.
At that point, there's nothing left to do except start using the device. My wife and I have been using one of the Connected Body Scales since 2009, so we're familiar with how the device works. You stand on the scale a bit longer than usual, allowing it to not only get a solid weight number as your body rocks slightly back and forth, but to take those BMI readings as well.
The first time I used the WS-50, it took even longer, apparently checking in with the Withings mothership to determine who was standing on the scale. After a short time, my initials showed up on the left side of the display, indicating that it had figured out that it was me and not my wife.
I might be deluding myself, but it seems like the WS-50 does the body fat reading somewhat faster than the old scale did. I do have to wonder about the accuracy of the pulse rate monitoring, as my resting rate -- as measured multiple times per week via a Withings Blood Pressure Monitor -- is always about 25 beats per minute less than what the WS-50 measured. I'll have to keep an eye on that for a few days to see if the odd readings persist before sending the review unit back to Withings.
That pulse rate isn't the only new information that the WS-50 is capturing; since I set it up yesterday afternoon, it has also been monitoring the temperature in my home (or at least in the bathroom where the scale is located) and the CO2 levels. Those readings are available from the iOS app and website, and unsurprisingly show that the closed room is about 10°F warmer than the rest of the house. I checked the CO2 readings against another device that monitors those readings in my house and they were quite close.
Does the new information provide added value to the Withings Smart Body Analyzer? If the pulse reading is accurate, that information could be quite informative, although I personally think that the combination of blood pressure and pulse information tracked by the Blood Pressure Monitor is much more valuable.
As for the temperature data, it's really dependent on where you have the WS-50 located. In our case, it's giving us fairly worthless information as it's in a small closed room that is always warmer than the rest of the house. Sure, we can see the variations as the day progresses, but I'm just not that sure how it relates to my comfort level and health. The CO2 information is quite useful, as I noticed several times this winter (using my other monitor device) that on days when the CO2 levels were much higher than average, I would feel fatigued and/or have a headache.
Withings was the first company to the connected health devices market, and the WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer continues their trend of creating top-notch equipment to keep an eye on your health. They've also done a wonderful job in turning setup from a relatively painful process involving a Mac or PC and a USB cable to just connecting to the device through Bluetooth and completing setup in less than a minute.
Whether or not the new information provided by the WS-50 is valuable is another question. Resting heart rate is a good measure of all-over fitness, but only if the measurement is accurate, which I was unable to verify in my limited testing. As I mentioned, the usefulness of the temperature reading is really dependent on where the scale is permanently located. I do think the CO2 monitor is a very good idea, providing a flag for WS-50 users to open a window to get some fresh air if the level climbs too high.
It should be noted that the original scale is still available from Withings as the Wireless Scale WS-30 ($99.95), so if you feel that the added bells and whistles are not to your liking, you can still get the Withings quality for $50 less.
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