Withings Body Cardio review: stylish scales for health obsessives

This easy-to-use device measures weight, fat, muscle, bone and water, as well as heart rate and artery health

The Body Cardio is the latest smart scale from French health and internet of things manufacturer Withings, which aims to analyse your weight, fat, muscle, water and heart health and take the pain out of tracking your bodily fluctuations.

It replaces the Withings Smart Body Analyzer, which could calculate fat mass as well as measure weight, and adds a new reading to the scale – Pulse wave velocity. PWV measures the speed that vibrations from your heartbeat travel along your arteries and provides an indicator of the stiffness of arteries and of cardiac health.

The beauty of scales as a health monitoring device is that they’re simple. The Body Cardio doesn’t break with tradition. It like any other, with a small screen for a read out, but a bit more hi-tech.

withings body cardio
The scales come in black or white. Choose white if you don’t want to be forever cleaning footprints. Photograph: Withings

The glass square with rounded corners is about the thickness of four smartphones and doesn’t look out of place in a modern bathroom in either white or black. They also don’t look like a gadget, more of a swanky set of scales, which is a good thing for something that ends up being just as much a piece of house furnishing as a health-monitoring tool.

Setting up

The scales have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connecting to the Withings Health Mate app for Android and iOS. Press a button on the side of the scales and tap “set up new device” within the app to start a guided process of entering your Wi-Fi details and selecting which measurements and in which order they are taken.

withings body cardio
The backlight LCD screen is easy to read. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The whole process takes less than two minutes but you will need a free Withings account, which you can set up in the app beforehand.

Day to day

Using the scales is as simple as it gets. Stand on it, make sure your feet are high enough up the scale and it will do the rest. It’s best to keep your weight centred on the pad - the screen shows you whether you need to lean a bit one way or another using small arrows in the corners.

The screen shows each measurement one after another in quick succession. Compared to the Smart Body Analyzer, the whole operation is a lot faster and smoother.

The scales show weight, fat, bone, water and muscle mass, as well as heart rate and weather. They do not show PWV, though. The data is synced via the internet with the Health Mate app within seconds, which makes accessing recent readings and seeing graphs of change easy.

The scales are able to identify multiple users, too, allowing them to claim a measurement with their own Withings account, or all within one account. A three-letter identifier then pops up on the scales when you stop on it - in my case “Sam” - and automatically syncs the data for the correct person.

Reading the data

withings body cardio
The screen cycles through various screens showing a chart of your recent weights. Photograph: Withings

Weighing myself at the same time each morning generated fairly steady weights, showing a slight decrease in line with what I was eating. The fat mass was relatively consistent but could show occasional dips, which were obviously outliers. It was also consistently down 1% fat compared to the older Smart Body Analyzer.

Water mass fluctuated with the weather and what I had been doing the previous day, which seemed logical. Bone mass also decreased slightly initially and then stayed constant, which makes me think the first reading was a little high: bone mass should not change within days.

The biggest variation was seen in muscle mass, which varied by more than 3kg, a wholly unrealistic change within days, given what I was doing in the week.

withings body cardio
The app timeline shows recent measurements, while tapping through to the individual readings gives access to resizable charts of the data. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The big new thing for the Body Cardio is the PVW measurement. After some initial teething problems the scales gave pretty consistent measurements showing that I was on the border of “normal” and “optimal”. In theory, that means my arteries are not clogged, which is good to know. The app suggests cutting out alcohol, salt and stress to help improve my arterial health although it doesn’t tell me why I should, or if I need to if I’m in the “normal” band.

It’s important to note that the Body Cardio, like most other health monitoring or fitness tracking devices available to consumers, is not rated for clinical use, only “wellness” use, as classified by the US Food and Drug Administration. That means the device isn’t vetted for accuracy and should only be used for information, not as a way of diagnosing problems. There’s even a disclaimer to say just that.

Companion app

withings body cardio
Daily weights are quite erratic, but the trend line is useful to know whether you’re gaining weight. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Health Mate app is where you access most of the data. Navigating the app can be a bit confusing, with an odd butterfly-shaped dashboard, but the timeline and charts are easy to read and see variations.

Users can set goals for weight loss, manage and update their devices, and import or export data to various services, including Apple Health and Google Fit.

The big downside is that beyond body mass index and a bit of advice on heart rate and PWV, there is very little guidance on what the body composition readings mean. For instance, the app shows me having 4% bone mass, 76.4% muscle, 54.3% water and 19.3% fat. Nowhere does it tell me what is a good or a bad measurement, what should I aim for or how to improve my bone mass, for instance.

Admittedly the other readings are more obvious: do more exercise, lose weight and drink more, but do I need to? I have no idea.

You’ll also notice that 4 + 76.4 + 19.3 does not equal 100%. It’s likely that my hair and nails make up for the 0.3% deficit.

Observations

  • The black scales look great, but show up footprints really easily
  • You use the bars running across the scales to line up your feet
  • The scales have a rechargeable battery that lasts for up to a year
  • The weather forecasts are a bit hit and miss
  • PWV needs five weigh-ins before it will set a baseline

Price

The Withings Body Cardio comes in either black or white, costing £140. The Withings Body, without PWV measurement, costs £100.

For comparison, Fitbit’s Aria costs £100, while Wahoo’s Balance costs £70.

Verdict

The scales are good-looking, easy to set up and use for all the family and last a year between charges, which makes it pretty much a place-and-forget type product. This is how all smart home health appliances should be.

The data it captures is more than enough for most people. While I have doubts over the absolute figures for some of the more advanced measurements, they seem consistent and change in a predictable manner as your body changes. This makes them a good indicator of change, at the very least. The biggest problem is a lack of explanation of what the body composition measurements really mean.

The scales come in two versions: with and without PWV measurements. Whether having such a measurement is useful to you depends on the level of your health. If you’re healthy then it’ll be one of those things you look at once and forget. But the more data you have on your body the better – it might come in handy down the line for charting a change in your lifestyle for instance.

If weight is all you’re after, the Withings Body Cardio smart scales are overkill. But if you’re interested in tracking more than how much you weigh, they do what they say on the tin with minimal fuss.

Pros: fast, good-looking, easy to set up, simple to use, multiple users, auto logs weights, easy to export data to certain apps, interesting assortment of readings beyond just kg

Cons: expensive for scales, data overkill for some, Android Health Mate lacks polish of iOS counterpart, microUSB not USB-C, shiny surface shows footprints easily

Other reviews

Contributor

Samuel Gibbs

The GuardianTramp

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