Nokia owned Withings, is one of the pioneers and best known brands in the connected scales market. Its latest offering, the Body Cardio, wants to help you track not only your weight and body composition, but also your overall fitness and heart health.
Essential reading: Roundup of the best smart scales on the market
If there was only one connected health gadget I could recommend in addition to a fitness tracker, it would be a smart scale. Smart scales connect wirelessly to your smartphone, tablet or computer. Step on one of these, and your weight data will find its way to a corresponding app on your mobile device or a web dashboard. Using the app or dashboard, you can then track your progress over time.
The French company’s fourth generation scale takes across all the features of its predecessors. This means it will monitor your weight, body fat, pulse and BMI, in addition to now keeping tabs on your water percentage, muscle mass and bone mass. With no shortage of smart scales on the market, Withings has tried to stand out from the pack with new heart monitoring functions. The Body Cardio tracks your standing heart rate and an exclusive new measurement – your Pulse Wave Velocity.
Features and software
In terms of design, this is a minimal yet gorgeous looking scale. At only 17.8mm thick, 2.6kg in weight and with a solid aluminum base, Body Cardio has no feet to adjust, making it one the thinnest, most stable scales available. Squeezing a lot of tech into a package that size is an impressive accomplishment.
Withings says that Body Cardio works equally well on any surface, from a hard floor to a thick carpet. A nice touch compared to most other scales that can only be used on hard floors.
The scale is very attractive and would fit well in any modern bathroom. A glass square with rounded corners that sits on top is about the thickness of four smartphones. It doesn’t look like a high tech gadget, more of a swanky scale, which is a good thing for something that ends up being just as much a piece of house furnishing as a health-monitoring tool. And if the black colour doesn’t appeal to you, there is a white option too.
The beauty of scales is that they’re simple and designed to seamlessly fit into your life. The Body Cardio is no different. Its like any regular mechanical scale, with a small screen for a read out, but quite a bit more hi-tech.
The black and white backlit 128×64 pixel display display screen lights up when you step on the scale. You can use the vertical divider and horizontal strips on the surface help you position your feet. The screen will then cycle through all the readings before fading back to black.
By default, the scale will show your weight, body fat, pulse, pulse weight velocity, and a more obscure feature for a scale – the daily weather forecast. You can use the app to drop or add some of these categories. The fewer categories there are, the less time it takes to weight yourself. Withings has thankfully agreed with the rest of us, and dropped the CO2 measurements provided by its previous generation scale.
You can forget about batteries too. Body Cardio can be recharged via a micro-USB cable, but thankfully you will not be doing this too often as the scale is good to go for 12 months on a full charge.
Body Cardio is incredibly easy to set up. Press a button on the side and tap “set up new device” within the app. You will then be guided through the process of entering your basic details, connecting the scale to your Wi-Fi and doing a firmware update. The whole thing takes less than five minutes but you will need a free Withings account.
Once the scale is up and running, you just have to stand on it to get all the data. The small arrows in the corners of the screen show you whether you need to lean a bit one way or another, and whether you have positioned yourself high enough on the scale. Ideally, you should align your feet at least two horizontal strips up the scale.
The screen will then go through the measurements in quick succession. Compared to its previous generation scales, the whole operation is a lot faster. Also impressive is the consistency. The smart positioning technology and the fact that it can be used on any surface means if you weight yourself multiple times, you will get exactly the same weight measurement every single time.
The same cannot be said though when it comes to body fat, muscle mass, bone mass and water percentage and they do fluctuate a little. Scales that measure these other metrics do this by sending a low electrical current through one foot and reading the current with a sensor under the other foot. The current passes through fat more slowly and the scale calculates the amount of resistance to come up with a body fat percentage. The accuracy of body fat measurements on any smart scale should be taken with a grain of salt though, as they are only approximations.
A heart-rate reading is also taken to provide your standing heart-rate figure. Heart rate is the frequency that the heart beats, and is an indicator of physical fitness. The more active you are, the lower your heart rate is. Its a bit pointless though taking measurements of your standing heart-rate, as it will vary widely throughout the day. For best results, Withings recommends you weigh yourself at the same time each day. I tend to do this in the morning, right after I get out of bed.
The big selling point of the Body Cardio scale, though, is the Pulse Wave Velocity reading. But what exactly is this all important metric?
Withings says Pulse Wave Velocity is the only stand-alone measurement that is able to give a holistic picture of a person’s cardiovascular health and potential risk of having or developing hypertension.
With every beat the heart generates a wave that propagates along the arteries. The propagation speed of this wave is directly linked to the health of your arteries. Faster speeds indicate stiffer arteries, which increase the risk of developing hypertension or cardiovascular disease.
Each weigh-in will provide a pulse wave velocity reading and assessment within the Health Mate app. Taking age into account, the app will then inform as to whether it is optimal or not, and provide tips to improve it.
To get your first Pulse Wave Velocity reading, you’ll need to record five weigh-ins as a baseline. You will find that occasionally, the scale will fail to take a reading. On average, out of 5 measurements, I found that 1 would fail. Not a huge deal, but a little annoying when you are in a rush to get to work in the morning.
Its all very high tech. Your pulse wave velocity score is provided in metres per second. Thanks to its sensors, Body Cardio detects slight weight variations caused by heartbeats. With this information, the scale can sense the moment when blood is ejected from the aorta and the moment when it reaches blood vessels in the feet. The time between these two events is then compared to the user’s height, and the Withings Body Cardio can compute the Pulse Wave Velocity in approximately 15 seconds.
In my several weeks of use, the readings fluctuated between 5.5 and 5.9, which means that for my age I was “optimal”. I was not really surprised that my arteries are not clogged, but it is reassuring to see in any case. The good news is, if you do have high Pulse Wave Velocity readings, you can reduce these with healthy lifestyle changes. The app suggests losing weight, reducing salt intake, alcohol and stress.
It’s important to note that the Body Cardio, like most other health monitoring or fitness tracking devices, is not meant for clinical use. Rather, its reading should only be taken as a guideline, as the FDA merely classifies it as a “wellness device.”
Traditional pulse wave measurements take at least 20 minutes, use a specific device called a sphygmometer, and require a well-trained operator to perform the measurement. To confirm the validity of its readings, Withings conducted a study on a group of more than 100 individuals in a clinical setting by a medical team specializing in arterial stiffness. The results of this study demonstrates that Pulse Wave Velocity measurements taken with the Withings Body Cardio yielded similar results to measurements taken using the Sphygmometer.
The scale offers a few other features to keep you motivated to stick to a healthy diet and exercise. In the Health Mate app, you can set a reminder to weigh yourself, and you’ll get an alert at a scheduled time. The ability, however, to view your progress (or lack of!) online or through the app is what makes any wifi scale truly useful and convenient. I found the app to be quite user friendly, although a bit more guidance on what some of the body composition readings mean would be nice.
Finally, just like most other smart scales, Body Cardio is able to identify multiple users – up to 8 in this case. A three-letter identifier pops up on the scale when you step on it and automatically syncs the data for the correct person.
I was very impressed with the Body Cardio. From setup that went without a hitch, to ease of use, to use of data – it simply does the job. An example of how all smart home health appliances should be.
What sets this scale apart from the competition, aside from its classy looks, is the variety of health data it records. As well as standard weight, BMI and fat percentage figures, every time you step on the scale you get a host of other data including a mini heart health assessment. This is plenty for most people.
Withings Body Cardio
While some of the more advanced body metrics such as muscle mass and water % vary a bit, the readings for the most important figure – your weight – are extremely precise and consistent. Which is what you want in a scale.
The scale actually comes in two versions: with and without the Pulse Wave Velocity measurements (view on Amazon). If you are a fitness junky, I would suggest that it is worth the $50 added expense. But even if not, the more data you have on your body the better. It might come in handy some day.
If you love gadgets and find tracking your weight useful to help you diet or maintain a healthy weight, then the Body Cardio is an excellent option.
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