It's time to make a New Year's resolution to lose a few pounds, well, maybe more than a few. From previous experience I know my best dieting results happen when I have to face a bathroom scale every morning. I have a talking scale, but I figured this would be an excellent opportunity to try out a few of the new Bluetooth-connected scales. I was able to obtain samples of two models, the Wahoo Balance Smartphone Scale and the Lose It! Healthometer Bluetooth Scale. At least for now each of these devices is iOS only (they use Bluetooth 4/Bluetooth Smart for wireless communication; as yet not all Android devices support this standard). I tested both scales with an iPhone 5, but they will also work with the iPhone 4S, iPad 3 and up, the iPad Mini, and the iPod touch 5G.
The Wahoo Balance Smartphone Scale
This smartphone-connected scale has a modern, sleek appearance. It's a quarter-inch thick, 12-inch by 12-inch sheet of frosted glass with curved edges and corners that rests on four pressure-sensitive feet. The scale's digital display shows through the glass from underneath with clear, black-on-white, 1 ¼-inch text. The feet are joined by two bars running front to back, and by the electronics housing, which runs across the upper, or "toe" edge of the scale. The "heel" edge has no understructure, making it quite easy to orient the scale properly by touch.
Along with the scale's digital display, the electronics housing also contains the battery compartment and a single button to switch the scale from pounds to kilograms. Two AAA batteries come pre-installed, but you do need to open the battery compartment and remove the plastic tab to expose the contacts. There is no power switch, but with Bluetooth 4, the batteries are supposed to last up to a full year.
The scale comes with zero documentation. Instead, there is a QR code that will take you to the Wahoo website printed on a small sticker beside the battery compartment, and on a single sheet of paper that covers the glass. Other than enabling the batteries, there really is no setup required for this scale, so I simply went to the App Store on my iPhone and typed "Wahoo" into the search box. The free Wahoo Wellness app appeared a few entries down from the top of the results list, and when I read the description, it was obvious this was the app I needed.
You don't need to discover and sync the Wahoo Balance through your device's Bluetooth menu; when you open the app, it will find the scale automatically. You do need to create a profile specifying your initials, your goal weight, and your height. The app uses this information compute your body mass index (BMI). Unfortunately, I was unable to enter my goal weight or my height without sighted help.
The Wellness app itself contains two screens of interest. The first begins with a "User" button where you can switch profiles, add a profile, or edit an existing profile. The app supports up to sixteen profiles. Below that button is a chart depicting your weight history, but only the date and weight range axes are readable by VoiceOver, so without at least partial sight, the graph is useless.
At the bottom of the screen the app lists your start weight, your most current weight, and your goal weight. The scale measures weight in one-tenth pound increments, up to 395 pounds.
Near the top of the screen there is a button labeled "259list." Double tap this button, and you reach the second screen, which lists your weigh-ins, along with the time, date, and calculated BMI.
The app will do its best to match a weigh-in with a particular profile, but if the new weight is well out of range of your last weigh-in, or if two people create different profiles but their weight is too similar, you will have to scroll down to the "Any of These Yours" section of the screen, highlight the proper listing or listings, then double tap the "Yup, the Selected Ones Are Mine" button to add them to your history. You can also delete weigh-ins from the app, a handy feature when, say, you had that extra slice of pie or your 4-year-old granddaughter decides to play "step on and off the scale."
You do not need to use the Wellness app to capture data from the Wahoo Balance. The scale will send data to a collection of third-party iOS apps, including iBody, MyNetDiary, Tactio Health, and Monitor Your Weight. I tried a few of the free offerings, and for the most part I was left disappointed with their levels of VoiceOver accessibility.
One free app that did work quite well was Monitor Your Weight by Husain Al-Bustan
Unlike many of the other weight tracking apps that duplicated the Wellness app's refusal to let me complete my profile without sighted help, the Monitor Your Weight app allowed me to complete the process, including both a target weight and a target date. The app then computed my BMI and body fat percentage, along with a suggested daily calorie count that would allow me to reach my goal by the target date.
The app Setting tab allows you to synch the app to the Wahoo Balance, the WiThings scale or the FitbitAria scale, though I only tested the app with the Wahoo Balance. You can also instruct the app to accept all data from the scale, or limit the data collected to one of the profiles you set up with the Wahoo Wellness app.
After making these choices, when I stepped on the scale for a few seconds I could hear the app screen refresh, alerting me that it had received a reading. The app's main screen now showed my current weight, along with other information such as daily and weekly weight loss, and my progress, in percentages, toward my goal weight, BMI, and target date. You can also e-mail this information, and on the History tab, review and edit your previous entries.
At $99.99 retail and $97.28 at Amazon.com, this scale is only a few dollars more than I paid for my current talking scale. After the initial setup, I found it quite useable with VoiceOver, and I very much like having the BMI calculations, calorie count, and weight history to motivate me in my weight loss program. If your New Year's resolution is to lose a few pounds, I suggest you give this scale a look.
The Lose It! Healthometer Bluetooth Scale
The Lose It! Healthometer scale is similar in size and shape to the Wahoo Balance: a quarter-inch thick, 12-inch by 12-inch sheet of glass that rests on four pressure-sensitive feet. There are more electronics in this unit, so the housing beneath the glass almost extends to all four edges of the upper platform. Three of the edges have concave surfaces, however, so this scale is equally easy to orient without sight. At 1.5 inches in height, the black-on-white text is just as clear as, and a bit larger than, the Wahoo Balance's display.
Another difference between these two scales is that the Lose It! Healthometer has four slightly raised contact pads on the top surface, which you stand on heel to toe, heel to toe, in bare feet. These pads measure your body fat percentage and hydration level by sending a tiny electric current through the pads. The current is so low as to be imperceptible. I never once felt it, though people with pacemakers are advised not to use this scale.
The Lose It! Healthometer came with four AA batteries preinstalled, along with a printed quick start guide, which was not really needed. This scale only pairs with the free Lose It! app; there are step-by-step instructions within the app to pair the scale with an Apple device. With the exception of various charts, the app was fairly accessible. Unfortunately, pairing the scale with the app was not.
When you set the Lose It! app to pair with your scale, it instructs you to remove the battery tab from the scale and then press the button. Removing the tab was easy, but the so-called button isn't so much a button as it is a depressable unmarked area on the bottom housing; it can be a bit tricky to locate.
Once you manage to press the button, the app refreshes, at which point you are asked to enter your profile initials—the scale supports up to four profiles—and then enable the "Athletic body type" icon if you exercise ten or more hours a week. So far so good, but the app then instructs you to step on the scale, and when your weight appears, step off, wait for your initials to appear on the display, then tap the scale to accept. The entire process is silent; there are no beeps from the scale or app to alert you. A partially sighted person may be able to accomplish this alone, but I needed sighted help.
Unfortunately, this is also the process you must follow every time you want to weigh in. With practice I was able to weigh in without assistance three times out of every four by standing on the scale for a ten count, stepping off for a six count and then giving the scale a tap.
Normally, I would consider this scale's lack of audible cues a true showstopper, but the Lose It! Healthometer does have some advantages. First, the list price is just $69.99, discounted to $63.69 at Amazon.com, which compares favorably to the $99.99 for the Wahoo Balance. Second, the Lose It! app offers much more than weight tracking. You can use the app to keep a food and exercise diary, and sync your data to the Loseit.com website, where you can join a large community of other dieters. You can also enter your weight manually, so even if you don't have a Lose It! scale, the app may prove a valuable and accessible resource to help you achieve your fitness goals.
Lastly, there is the data itself. Each of the reviewed scales provides BMI, but the Lose It! scale also calculates body fat percentage and hydration levels, and lets you set goals for each. Fat percentage is a much more accurate way to judge your fitness program success—you want to lose fat, not muscle. Hydration levels can tell you if that ten pounds you lost was actually fat or water weight. It can also let you know if you are staying properly hydrated, an absolute must for any diet or exercise program.
The addition of audio cues, even simple beeps, would make a world of difference when setting up and using this scale. Hoping there might be some sort of backdoor hack to unlock such a function, I spoke to one of the company's engineers. When I posed the question he informed me there was no way to add beeps, adding, "It never occurred to us a blind person might want to use the scale." Sadly, this sort of thinking, or lack thereof, is still all too prevalent among product manufacturers.
The Lose It! app I can wholeheartedly recommend. However, even with the valuable extra data this scale provides, I can only give the Lose It! Healthometer Bluetooth Scale a qualified recommendation. High-partial vision individuals and blind people with sighted help will fare best with this scale. Others who don't mind occasional frustration may also consider giving this scale a try, assuming you confirm an adequate return policy. I would not recommend this scale to blind couples who both wish to track their weight. The scale does accept multiple profiles, but I suspect the complications involved in trying to time that final tap to accept a listed profile would be maddening, at best.
The Wahoo Balance Smartphone Scale
List price: $99.99
Also available at Amazon.com
The Lose It! Healthometer Bluetooth Scale
List price: $69.99
Also available at: Amazon.com and selected Wal-Mart stores