BY NICK BUSKE // tech gadget review
What would you say if your spouse gifted you with a bathroom scale for your birthday? Many of your off-the-cuff replies might be inappropriate for this family magazine! A few months ago, when I turned 37, I tore into my lovingly wrapped gift, only to lay eyes on such an item. My reply? “Oh, Honey, you shouldn’t have. I love it!”
But the gift was not your typical bathroom scale; it was the Fitbit Aria Wi-fi Smart Scale. While its $129 price tag might send some jogging for the hills, I’m here to tell you it may well be the motivational tool you need to lose that “Holiday 10,” or get into better overall shape.
After I signed up for a free account at fitbit.com, I connected the Aria to my home wi-fi network. The process was simple and straightforward, available as either a software download to my computer, Mac or PC, or as a web-based installation from my computer or smartphone. No thick, dark-rimmed eyeglasses necessary for this setup.
Immediately, my relationship with the Aria started off on the wrong foot. The device outed me as two pounds heavier than my previous, 10-year-old bathroom scale. Indeed, ignorance is bliss. It took a while for me to put that insult into the fact category. Next zinger: BMI. As part of the initial setup at fitbit.com, I divulged my height. Pair that value with my weight and I’m considered overweight at a BMI of 26.5. Sure, these kinds of calculations are crude, but I don’t need a smart scale to tell me that my trimmer years are a thing of the past. The question is: what — if anything — am I going to do about it, and how?
Ask any doctor or fitness guru how to lose weight, and they will likely give you the spiel about diet and exercise. Then there are a few lone wolves, like Gary Taubes, who will tell you that the age-old mantra of “calories in, calories out” is just old-school mumbo jumbo. But given the chance to recognize another tactic to help shed pounds, I bet all of them would agree that real-time, data-driven feedback is essential. This is the Fitbit Aria’s biggest strength, and it’s what transforms the novelty of a networked scale into the utility of a personal trainer.
Remember those two pounds Aria outed me carrying as concealed weight? The day before my birthday, I thought I weighed 184. That’s what my scale had been telling me for years, but with 186 as the new baseline courtesy of Aria, I was determined to get back to 184. The real 184. Just to get even. Five weeks later, I’m down to 184.7. Of course, I’ve got a ways to go until I get to my self-prescribed goal of 175. Sure, my wife might encourage me along the way, but that would mean she’d have to acknowledge I’m overweight. Shhh, she still thinks I can run a quarter mile in under a minute. Maybe my friends and family would throw in an encouraging word here and there, too. But, the truth is, I’d rather have the data than a warm fuzzy. I’d rather know that my body fat fell from 22.8 percent to 21.9 percent instead of trying to gauge how many inches I can pinch from week to week.
That’s right, Aria can measure body fat, too. As long as your feet are dry, they will make a good connection with the scale, at which point Aria will send a harmless electric signal through one of your feet. That pulse will be received at the scale through your other foot, having traversed your whole body along the way. Since fat and lean muscle conduct electric current at different rates, the scale is able to interpret the returning signal accordingly and calculate body fat. What does this mean to you? Well, if you’re trying to lose weight and exercise is your modus operandi, then you might actually be building lean muscle at the same time as shedding body fat. In this case, your incremental body fat measurements would possibly tell a different, more positive story than your incremental body weight measurements.
So, the Aria Wi-fi Smart Scale can record your body fat percentage as well as your weight, from which BMI can be gleaned. That’s the smart part. But, what good is all of that data inside your scale? Now for the wi-fi part. All of those measurements are wirelessly sent to your fitbit.com account where you can see those numbers fluctuating, add exercise notes and assign an “Aha!” to the half pound you lost last week when you began walking every day instead of every other day. Of course there’s an iPhone and Android app that allows you to micromanage those data points, too.
The smart scale recognizes up to eight different family members and tracks everyone’s numbers individually along their own path to enlightened health monitoring. So, if you plan to get one for your spouse as
a gift, there’s your back door. “Look what I got US, Honey! A bathroom scale.”