Bathroom scales need to do one thing: Give you a weight measurement you can trust. After more than six months of researching and stepping on and off a dozen scales (a total of 35 hours and more than 550 weigh-ins), we found the EatSmart Precision CalPal to be the most accurate and precise basic digital bathroom scale with one of the easiest to read displays.
The EatSmart Precision CalPal has a comfortable, wide platform and is attractive enough to leave out on your bathroom floor. Most important, the scale detects changes in weight of a few tenths of a pound, whereas most other scales will only respond reliably to a weight change on the order of half a pound, or will even pull your weight readings from memory without trying to measure you.
Our pick for best basic digital scale offers the essential features most people need in a scale—and then some. It’s comfortable to stand on, the backlit display is one of the largest available (3.5 inches), it has a 440-pound weight capacity, and it turns on and off instantly. Weight readings are accurate and sensitive, detecting weight changes up to 0.4 pound when other scales couldn’t. The scale is backed by a confidence-inspiring two-year warranty, too. Also, although it’s a relatively inexpensive bathroom scale, the EatSmart CalPal offers a few more features than just your weight reading, including last reading and memory for up to four people.
If you can live without a backlit display, or if you’re not a fan of the EatSmart CalPal’s glass platform, the Taylor Glass CalMax does almost everything the EatSmart CalPal can do. You’ll trade the convenience of using AAA batteries for the Taylor’s lithium battery and give up a backlit display, but if you’re concerned solely about getting an accurate weight reading, the Taylor Glass CalMax won’t disappoint. For most of our tests, the EatSmart CalPal and the Taylor Glass CalMax offered the same accuracy and precision we’re looking for in our bathroom scale, although our top pick was more accurate than the Taylor Glass CalMax in a couple of our tests.
To select our scales for testing and come to these picks, we interviewed several health and fitness experts, including Dr. Linda Everett, a bariatrician (a physician who specializes in weight loss); Kusha Karvandi, a certified personal trainer and founder of Exerscribe; Beth Skwarecki, a health writer; and Rachel Pires, author and weight loss counselor. We also read hands-on tests and reviews from Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, Live Science, and similar outlets. Additionally, we spent hours poring over individual scales’ user reviews on Amazon.
As for me, although I’m not part of the “quantified self” movement (but slowly becoming a convert!) and don’t normally weigh myself often, I’ve spent the last decade or so banging on hardware, testing software, and evaluating household products to find the pros and cons for everyday users like you and me.
Just about everyone could benefit from a good bathroom scale. There’s a reason you’re weighed at every physical exam: Being over or under healthy weight recommendations is linked to a greater risk for health problems. Significant weight changes can tip you off to health or lifestyle changes that need your attention. Even simply monitoring your weight could be beneficial in the long run: Several studies, including the one done at the comprehensive National Weight Control Registry, have found that one of the most common characteristics of people who lose weight and, most importantly, keep it off for years afterward is regular (at least weekly) weigh-ins. As the saying goes, you can’t change what you don’t measure. Weight gain is often also very subtle, so we’d say you don’t notice what you don’t measure.
Rachel Pires, author of Diet Enlightenment, said weighing yourself can help you keep a weight-loss plan on track. “Overall, when you see how effectively you’re losing weight each week, and you have confidence in your plan, it helps you stay on track long-term.”
That said, weight is not a perfect self-contained measure of overall health. Your weight fluctuates throughout the day by between one-tenth of a pound and a few pounds, due to variances like your hydration, when you last ate, and even what you recently ate. “As long as you don’t become overly fixated with the number on the scale, the advantages to using one definitely outweigh the disadvantages,” Pires said. If you (and your physician) find your weight measurement helpful in progressing toward better health or maintaining the health you have, great—the bathroom scale can be a useful tool. The number alone, however, isn’t something to obsess over, and is just one metric of many that can inform your understanding of your body.
Smart scales can be more than four times the price of regular digital scales. They aren’t necessarily better than all the other digital scales—they just have more connectivity features. More-advanced digital bathroom scales offer more insights into your health, such as an estimate of body-fat percentage, now considered a better indicator of health than weight alone or BMI (an estimate of body-fat percentage based on weight and height). Only a handful of basic digital scales offer body-fat or other body-composition (e.g., bone-density) readings, so if you want a body-fat percentage estimate, you’ll need to invest in a smart scale. There’s another important reason you might want to spend more on a smart scale compared with one that doesn’t connect to your phone or sync your data online: effortless weight tracking. After jotting down weight readings for a dozen scales over a couple of weeks, we quickly realized the benefits of having a smart scale automatically do the tracking. Gathering that data didn’t take any thought or leave room for error, and it’s one less barrier to regularly monitoring your weight, which is already enough of a hassle for most of us.
The two most important qualities in a scale are accuracy (the scale correctly reads your exact weight changes) and precision (the scale gives the same reading if you do two or more readings in a row). First and foremost, you want to be able to trust the reading. Precision and accuracy, however, are things we could only measure ourselves through hands-on testing, so to narrow the vast universe of digital bathroom scales before we got to that step, we turned to several sources.
Our survey of Wirecutter readers (more than 600 responses) helped us find out the features people want most in a scale—beyond accuracy and reliability, things like a large backlit display, an aesthetically pleasing design, tracking weight history, and being able to sync weight data to their phones. We combined that with recommendations from our experts, editorial and user reviews, and the scales’ price, design, and features.
A great range of bathroom scales are available, from the no-frills kind that just show you your weight to ones that seem to want to measure everything possible. And, as we learned from stepping on scales hundreds of times in the last couple of months, not all scales feel the same when you weigh yourself.
After accuracy and precision, we looked at usability elements like maximum weight limits, platform size, display size, and what it was like to actually use the scale. We looked for scales that had a comfortable, wide platform, scoring scales lower that were 12-inch squares when others’ platforms were closer to 13 inches. Readability of the LED display is also important: Some scales had 3.5-inch blue backlit displays that made getting the weight reading somewhat more pleasant, compared with 2-inch non-backlit displays. We also preferred scales that used AAA batteries (rather than less-common-around-the-house lithium batteries) and also scales with weight limits more than 400 pounds versus those that maxed out in the 300s.
We decided to eliminate analog or mechanical scales (the kind with a dial) from consideration entirely. Mechanical scales have been shown to be significantly less accurate and less precise than digital scales, and ConsumerSearch says that analog scales’ delicate internal framework—small mechanical parts such as tiny springs—tends these scales toward wear and tear as well as misalignment. Mechanical scales also show weight increments of only 1 pound, can be hard to read, and need to be set to zero and recalibrated manually. They’re also a dwindling category: As of this writing, only 45 bathroom scales on Amazon are mechanical, compared with 665 digital bathroom scales.
Many bathroom scales can now do much more than simply weigh people. Because weight trends over a month or so are more helpful to understanding your weight than any single day’s weight measurement, tracking weight history, estimating body-fat percentage, and recording weights for multiple people are the features that our experts recommended we look at in a bathroom scale—features we looked for in both smart and basic bathroom scales, if available.
Many home scales now attempt to measure body fat—a measurement some people are interested in but not everyone wants (another number to obsess over). Those who do want it should note that measuring body fat is complex, for a couple of reasons.
Previous studies, such as one done by Consumer Reports in 2010, have found that body-fat measurements from consumer bathroom scales aren’t all that accurate. Berkeley Wellness explains that scales that measure body fat through your feet rely on bioelectrical impedance, which sends a small (painless) electric current up your legs. Muscles contain more water than fat does, and thus conduct electricity better, so the scale calculates your body-fat percentage based on your body’s resistance to that current and other data you enter into the scale (height, age, and gender, plus the scale’s measurement of your weight). Scales with only foot electrodes—as most bathroom scales that measure body fat are—tend to underestimate body fat in people with lots of it and overestimate it in leaner people, a 2008 study published in Obesity Facts found.
“While the body-fat readings in scales aren’t perfect, they are more accurate than calipers,” said Dr. Linda G. Everett, a medical weight loss physician in Philadelphia. Readings can vary by water retention and even the clothes you’re wearing, so “getting a baseline from your doctor is a good idea if they are using a medical grade body composition scale,” she said.
Some scales—both basic and smart—add other features that we didn’t consider important, such as calculating BMI (you can calculate it yourself easily with an online calculator, and BMI can be misleading), providing calipers and a tape measure along with the scale, and so on. These are features we simply ignored, focusing on accuracy and precision, usability and design, price, and smart features.
After eliminating scales that didn’t fit our criteria from each category, we had a manageable six bathroom scales to test across both smart and basic categories.
We set up all the scales in one room according to their manuals and calibrated them as instructed. Then I weighed myself a ridiculous number of times over a three-week period.
On each day’s test, I stepped on and off each scale three times, noting if my weight changed within those few minutes to test for the scales’ precision (consistency between readings). And then I weighed myself four more times on each scale with a 0.4-pound book, a 0.6-pound book, the two books together (1.0 pound), and a 10.1-pound dumbbell, sometimes switching the order of the weights to check differences between weight gains and weight losses. The books and the dumbbell were weighed at the post office so I could be sure of their weight accuracy (I’m told the post office calibrates its scales daily). For updates to this guide, we used shoes of different weights and a 5-pound dumbbell.
All in all, I weighed myself on each scale at least 40 times (more for the scales that ended up being our top picks).
What I learned is that scales often offer a seemingly manufactured sense of precision and accuracy: They may calculate your weight based on your previous readings rather than actually weighing you each time.
For example, after weighing myself, then weighing myself again while holding a 10-pound dumbbell, and then weighing myself yet again without the dumbbell, one of the scales told me I weighed 10 pounds more than I do. Other scales would at first correctly show the additional weight difference when I was holding one of the books, but would then revert to my previous weight measurement without the book. Although some scales read my weight nearly instantly, the downside is they often seemed to be pulling from memory, whereas scales that took a few seconds to display the weight reading actually measured weight each time. I requested comment from the companies that made the offending scales, but they were not forthcoming with an explanation.
I gave each scale a 0.2-pound margin of error. So, for example, if a scale weighed me at 120.0 pounds and I then got back on the scale with a 0.4-pound book, I considered the scale to be accurate if it said I weighed anything between 120.2 to 120.6 pounds. Most scales show weight in increments down to one-tenth of a pound, so it was surprising to see that most of them really aren’t that sensitive. I considered a scale precise if it gave me the same number three times in a row with no margin.
With 12 scales laid out on my dining room floor, it was also impossible for friends and family members who came over not to try them too. So over the course of testing, eight other people—from my fourth-grade daughter’s 60 pounds to my big-and-tall friend’s nearly 400 pounds—also stepped on and off the scales and gave me their opinions of the scales’ designs and usability.
The EatSmart Precision CalPal was the most accurate of the six basic scales we tested. It saves up to four user profiles and can weigh people who are up to 440 pounds (a much higher range than most basic scales). And a few small details make the scale easier to use than others we tested.
The EatSmart could detect when I held the 0.4-pound book in all but two of the rounds (within a 0.2-pound margin of error) when other similarly priced scales didn’t. The rest of the scales more often than not ignored that weight change. The EatSmart was also reassuringly precise for each test: When weighing myself three times in succession, the readings were always the same.
The EatSmart can save up to four user profiles, and it will detect who you are based on your weight as long as two or more users aren’t within 6 pounds of each other. Once you save your information (entering your height, weight, gender, and activity level), the scale will remember you every time you weigh yourself and let you see your last weight with the memory button.
This scale maxes out at 440 pounds, far more than most scales’ limits of 400 or even 350 or 300 pounds. Whether you’re near this weight maximum or you want to weigh yourself with your luggage, capacity makes a difference. The scale also has a big, easy-to-read blue backlit display and, with a two-year warranty, double the typical warranty length of most bathroom scales.
Besides the basic specs, though, there are a couple small details that make this scale stand out among other basic scales. It lets you know when it’s got your reading by flashing three times before settling on one number, and it continues to display that reading for about half a minute after you get off the scale. That might not sound like a big deal, but if you’re logging your weight manually (as you must if you don’t have a smart scale) or trying to get your reading with your luggage but can’t see the display while you’re standing on the scale, that extra time to see your weight is very helpful. (By contrast, the GoWise scale would quickly turn off even while I was still standing on it!)
The EatSmart Precision CalPal is an upgrade to the EatSmart Precision Digital scale we chose as our top pick in 2013. It has a higher weight limit, a better backlit display, and additional features for the same price.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The glass platform: You either love it or you hate it. Most of the people who tried the scales for me were hesitant to use the EatSmart Precision CalPal because of its mostly glass platform. Although made of heavy, tempered glass, it looks less sturdy than the other scales because it’s mostly see-through and the glass platform is thinner than the other scales’ enclosed full bodies. (Other scales measure 2½ centimeters in height, from floor to top of the scale; the glass platform part of the Precision CalPal is about half a centimeter tall—still plenty thick but possibly off-putting for some.)
The curved sides also make the scale feel smaller, or at least narrower, than other fully square scales, even though it’s a roomy 12½ inches wide at its thinnest and 13 inches wide at its widest. Some people might prefer its less-boxy shape and the way the glass blends in with any bathroom decor. (As I retested this scale the other day, my husband remarked, “This is a nice-looking scale,” which says a lot considering we have had 11 other scales taking up our dining room for the last few months.)
It takes a few seconds longer to get a reading on the Precision CalPal, which was acceptable for us because the readings were consistent and accurate for the most part.
In addition to your weight, the EatSmart Precision CalPal also measures your BMI and how many calories you should consume in a day if you want to maintain your weight. For most people looking for a basic digital scale, these are probably unnecessary features. We dispensed with the value of BMI measurement above, but your caloric needs can vary greatly depending on your body composition, activity level, and goals; if you want a change, it’s best to do some research and consult with your physician.
If you want to save a few bucks, the Taylor Glass CalMax is your next-best bet. Manufactured by the same company as our pick, Taylor, the CalMax offers some features that are identical to those in the Precision CalPal, including 440-pound weight measurement, 0.1-pound weight increments, and a 12-inch platform. But unlike the CalPal, the CalMax cannot recall the last weigh-in, does not have a backlit display, and uses a lithium battery instead of AAAs.
Again, for some people the all-glass design of the EatSmart Precision CalPal can be off-putting. If you don’t like so much glass, note that the CalMax comes in two variants, one with see-through glass and the other with a silver backing that gives the appearance of being more solid from above. Although we don’t see any risk of breaking through either of the glass faces of these models, sometimes the illusion of backed glass is enough to calm some people’s fears. A silver backing also helps to hide smudges from dirty feet.
Functionally, in our tests the CalMax was just as precise as the CalPal and nearly as accurate (it didn’t detect weight changes of 0.4 pound in a couple of tests). If you can live without a backlit display and weight tracking, this model is a basic digital scale that’s more accurate than most. It also has an unusually long five-year warranty.
The Ozeri WeightMaster II gives your current weight, then cycles through your previous day, last three days, previous week, and previous 30 days, using red or green backlighting to show you if you gained or lost weight. Some testers who tried it appreciated the scale’s no-frills, anti-slip design. Though it detected the 0.4-pound change in one of the tests, more often than not the scale would detect only weight changes of 1 pound or more.
BalanceFrom High Accuracy Premium Digital Bathroom Scale will remind you of your last weight measurement (mercifully, it shows you the last weight in green backlighting, rather than red for bad or green for good). However, it detected only changes of at least 0.6 pound, was inaccurate sometimes by 0.3 pound, and its 12-by-12-inch platform is the smallest of the bunch—much less comfortable to weigh yourself on than the larger platforms despite that big display.
The GoWise USA Slim Digital Bathroom Scale’s performance was very erratic: For one test, it accurately detected every weight change (reading 0.4 pound, then 0.6 pound, and more when I held those weights), but on other days it didn’t detect any weight change at all when I stepped back on the scale with the weights.
The Balance Basic Bathroom Scale’s platform is smaller than those of our favorite basic scales (11.8 by 11.8 inches), and it measures weight in 0.2-pound increments, a lower resolution than our favorite scales. The weight limit is 400 pounds.
The Ozeri Precision II did not consistently detect weight changes when I held or removed additional weights.
In a buying guide last updated in March 2013, Consumer Reports really liked the Taylor 7506, but it reads as an outdated and subpar model by our standards: 0.2-pound increments versus the 0.1-pound increments we looked for, a small 11.75-inch-long platform, and no backlighting. The display is also small, at 1½ by 2 inches.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
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