You know that a product category has come of age when the Big Boys get involved. In this case, the smart scale market has basically been the preserve of Withings and Fitbit for the last few years. Recently Polar have released their offering, now Garmin have come forth with their own take on the Smart Scale. Broadly scales are scales, they tell you have large you are. So manufacturers have started adding extra bells and whilst to attract your attention. The question then has to be utility. Do you NEED an ANT+ compatible scale? Let take a look at the Garmin Index
Garmin Index Smart Scale Review
The market place for smart scales has come of age. Hand in hand with that goes the question, which one is worth your money? Garmin have attempted to get you to answer this question with their Garmin Index smart scale by including just about every conceivable body metric a scale could measure!
- BMI (Not really measured but calculated)
- Body Fat
- Body water
- Muscle Mass
- Bone Mass
In addition to the measurements, the Garmin Index communicates over just about every protocol of use – Wifi, Bluetooth and ANT+, because that is what the world needed an ANT+ plus scale ?! Certainly I’m interested to see the use case for the ANT+ protocol, but we’ll come to that later.
Without more ado, let’s look, at the device:
Garmin have chosen a lime green for the Index packaging. Which does make a lot of sense. Compared to many of their other products, where people “know” what they want, and will have probably researched the product, thus the product is sold/purchased on it’s own merits. It’s quite likely that the Garmin Index scale is going to have visually compete in the shelves of stores like John Lewis. In which case the lime green is certainly going to grab your attention on the shelves
Currently in the UK, the Garmin Index is sitting at about £130, which is in the similar range to the Withings Ws-50, around £110-130. SO what do you actually get for your money?
Well the Scales for one
Four batteries, four carpet feet and a brief manual saying dont wear the scale as a hat. (It doesnt actually say that!)
I preface my next comment with the acknowledgement that we are talking about a scale (Or should that be a pair of scales, but I thought that only applied to the balancing type?) Ok that’s a major digression…
The Garmin INDEX (thus avoiding any issue of quantity) is a nicely designed unit. Yes there is only so much you can do with a 30cm glass square, but the unit looks pleasant enough on the bathroom floor, and looks very similar to the Withings unit.
I dont believe there is some nefarious “Style Council” which meets in dark and shady caverns to determine the colours that all smart scales must be sold in, but I do wonder if there is a particularly reason that you can only buy these units in a thunderclap blue, or ice white? Why not something interesting? Red? Or perhaps black and yellow hazard stripes – although that might be a little too “university dorm” in style. But on a serious note, I wonder if there is something to do with the electric sensors which means all companies are limited in the colours they are able to produce?
The bottom of the unit contains the simple hatch door for batteries, the rest button, and a hardware switch to select your measurement units; Metric Kg (Yay for science), Imperial St (For the Old Empire!) Imperial Lbs (The New Empire) Yes I’m a fan of XKCD can you tell?
At each corner of the unit are the pressure sensitive feet
If using on carpet, the additional feet covers are used to spread your weight, so the unit doesnt sink into the carpet and stay you are much lighter than is true!
Finally the display
I’m not a massive fan of the display. It feels like a half way house, using only LCD calculator screen approach, for symbols, and a very low resolution dot matrix for the central screen.
Given that the dot matrix merely displays numbers and the above setup symbol, I think it would have been more elegant to have continued with the same calculator style approach for the numbers too, and have anything else coming up on the app. The dot matrix resolution is too low to be displaying useful graphs in the way the Withings can. Overall an odd design choice for the screen in my opinion.
Using the Garmin Index
Before you can measure you mass, and how dense you are, well at least the bones, you have to set up the unit through Garmin Connect over bluetooth. You can also go old school and set it up over ANT+. I dont know why Garmin went this route. Maybe they had some left over ANT+ chips? Why am I making this point?
As during the setup you are asked for your Wifi details. All well and good. But Wifi is the only way for the scales to transmit your data. Bluetooth/Ant+ is ONLY for setup. Maybe it’s a marketing thing, remind everyone Garmin loves ANT+?
The steps are essentially, Yes I want to set it up. This is my Wifi Password. Confirm your details which are already in Garmin Connect. DONE!
Time for your first weigh in!
Stand on the unit. Get your weight. Wait for the top bar to fill as it sends a SMALL electric current through you (This is where we go back to the manual saying don’t wear the scales as a hat, it’s actually saying sensible things like people with pacemakers should not use the scales due to how it measures fat mass etc)
The unit will then read off your measurements from LEFT to RIGHT, with the appropriate circle at the bottom lighting up to tell you what is being measured.
The order goes:
It was on the very first weigh in that I thought something was a bit odd. The weight compared vary favourably with what I see on the Withings scales…the fat mass less so. 5.2%?!? Pretty sure that whilst I’m slim, I’m not THAT slim.
Now, the problem comes when you have two measurements from different devices. Especially when Withings is saying 12-13%, and Garmin 5.2%, which is correct?
Well first thing I did was completely reset the Garmin and repair it with Garmin Connect
Well there is an hour of my life I won’t get back. (Yes I thought you’re lives would be enhanced by a shot of my feet) Once the Scale has been reset, it just wouldnt connect. TO ANYTHING. Trying to wake the scales I would just get an “X”. Which to see degree made me think that Simon Cowel was about to offer me a recording contract, but no, just the Garmin wasn’t happy.
After repeating the process many times, the unit finally released it was a scale and not a reality TV show judge and started working again
However the mass remained 5.2-5.3%, which I’m sure is the envy of many of you, but ENTIRELY false.
In the same way I have had muscles biopsies taken from my thigh for experiments on protein supplements, I’ve also had a DEXA scan in the name of SCIENCE!
This is basically the gold standard in working out body composition, and bone mass. Plus for a piece of medical equipment, very comfortable. Although we’ll talk about my ability to fall asleep in an MRI scanner in a few weeks!
When you get a DEXA scan, you get an exceptionally detailed breakdown of what you are made of. Basically 3-4 years ago, when I was rowing competitively and considerably fitter, my fat mass was 9.2%.
(Picture as example, I’m trying to find my original print out, but I have the numbers)
So having gaining 3kg over the last 3-4 years, I think that a Withings Measured fat mass of 12.8% is quite realistic. I dont think a Garmin measurement of 5.2% is.
Now there is something to be said for CONSISTENCY of measurements, and over time the Garmin scales show reasonable variation in that body fat measurement
My problem is that because I have such a degree of suspicion towards the body fat readings, I’m not sure how much confidence I have in the other calculated measurements.
Certainly the breadth of metrics that the Garmin Index is capable of is potentially really useful. For indoor work, like rowing or Zwifting, hydration is key as I have said before, and having a unit able to give a reading for your percentage of body water would be a very interesting way of tracking your own hydration.
As it is, I won’t be buying a Garmin Index, although I’ll hold out giving an official 4/10, until I have tried a second unit.