DC Rainmaker

Tanita BC-1000 Scale Review – In Depth

If you’ve been to any athletic expo in the past few months, you’ve probably seen the Tanita BC-1000 weight scale at one of the booths.  It measures more things than your TI-83 graphing calculator from high school calculus, while at the same time recording it and wirelessly sending it to your Garmin Watch, computer and Garmin Connect online.  Like that expensive TI-83 calculator, the BC-1000 is also a bit expensive. Would the price justify all the bells and whistles it brings to the table?

Well, I set to find out.  Over the past few months I’d been receiving a number of e-mails and comments from ya’ll as to what I thought of the scale and its touted integration with Garmin devices.  So back before Christmas I pinged the fine folks from Tanita and they got me all hooked up with a loaner scale.

But that was pre-Christmas.  And we all know what happens during Christmas… So what better time to test out a scale than post-holiday cookies, in January?  I normally weigh myself every morning anyways, so this would be easy.

Now, this isn’t just a product for serious athletes.  It’s really a product for anyone trying to lose weight (or maintain/gain weight).  It’s just that some of the features most closely fit into tools and products that many runners or triathletes already have.  From a race performance standpoint, weight is hands down one of the biggest factors of speed.  For runners, it’s often noted that each pound is 2 seconds per mile while running for example (10 pounds shaved off would mean 9 minutes in a marathon…).  And cyclists always struggle to find the perfect balance between weight and muscle mass.  Even elite triathletes have to focus on weight to ensure they are at the top of their game.  Of course, at the end of the day – some 67% percent of Americans are struggling with being overweight.

Finally, at the end of the day I’m an athlete just like you, I want the same things out of the equipment I buy.  I don’t get paid to write these reviews, nor do I keep the units sent to me – they all go back after a period of time ranging between 30 and 60 days (in this case, it goes back next week).  I write the reviews merely because I’m interested in them.  I work in technology for a living, so I understand how this stuff works pretty well and can relay what I love and hate about the devices – hopefully allowing you to make a better purchasing decision. But, if I’ve missed something or if you spot something that doesn’t quite jive – just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it all sorted out.  Also, because the technology world constantly changes, I try and go back and update these reviews as new features and functionality are added – or if bugs are fixed.

So, with that bit of background – let’s get onto the action.

Unboxing & Components:

When the box arrives at your doorstep from one of a few different resellers out there, the first thing you’ll notice is it’s actually fairly heavy.

The second thing you’ll notice is it’s well padded.  Even the pads are padded in bubble wrap. They clearly wanted no pre-bathroom accidents here.

Once you get rid of all that environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam, you’ll be left with the following assortment of items:

Let’s go ahead and label them all though, just to make it easier:

Of course, you’re pretty much just focusing on four key items:

The scale itself:

The scale’s pads: These little feet fit on the bottom of the scale to lift it slightly off the ground.  But they’re only required when on carpeting.

The ANT+ USB stick: This is used to wirelessly receive data from the scale and transmit it to Tanita’s Healthy Edge software on your computer.

The CD-ROM (above, below stick): On the CD is the Tanita Healthy Edge software, along with Help and Readme information.

Outside of that there’s a whole stack of paperwork.  Mostly it’s manuals, manual updates, and information for other Tanita products and accessories.

(Note: The above Remote Display does not come in the box, it’s an accessory you can purchase separately)

So with everything unboxed, let’s get onto using it.

First Use:

After you’re done connecting all the little rubber feet to the scale and validating the batteries, you’ll be ready to use it.  Simply place it on a flat surface, and admire its sleek glass-like appearance:

It’s pretty thin too – check it out from the side view:

And, they have a tiny little warning sticker letting you know that if you have a pace maker you should avoid the scale, and that you should always be barefooted when using it.  Further, they have an odd symbol to the right that seems to indicate you shouldn’t use the scale as a gas pedal in a car.  Go figure…

About the time you’re finished admiring all the etched logos and details you’ll probably notice the lack of any display to show your weight.  That’s because the BC-1000 requires either an ANT+ watch (such as the Garmin FR-60 or Garmin 310XT) or a computer that you can plug-in the USB stuck.  We’ll start off with the computer aspect and then go from there.  Sound good?

Using it with a computer:

Once you slip the CD-ROM into your computers coffee cup holder, you’ll be able to install the Tanita Healthy Edge software.  A few minutes later you’ll  be set and ready to roll – simply open up the Tanita Healthy Edge Software.

One of the first things you’ll be doing is creating a new user profile.  You can create a bunch of users as well, which is pretty useful if you have more than one person using the scale.  I created 11 users…and then I got tired of creating users – but I’m guessing you can keep on creating more if you’re re-enacting the latest season of The Biggest Loser.

Once you’ve completed filling out your basic information, you’ll be brought to the main screen from which you can take measurements from:

This page is fed with information from one of four ways:

1) Via ANT+ Stick direct to scale
2) Via Garmin 310XT
3) Via Garmin FR-60
4) Manually entering in data

Let’s start with using the ANT+ stick to talk to the scale and receive the information.  First, insert the ANT+ stick into your computer.  The next thing you’ll need to do is to stop the ANT+ agent (which may be running if you have Garmin wireless watches), a reminder message displays this at the bottom of the page.  Personally, I think this is a bit of poor coordination between Garmin and Tanita here.  This should be cleaned up and streamlined.  From the menu choose to get a new measurement from the scale:

That will launch the initiation sequence with the scale via wireless ANT+.  A few seconds later the scale will start to beep and blink green.  This is the scales way of telling you it’s time to get a reading.  The software also displays a message at the bottom of the application as well:

Here’s the blinking light:

Once you’ve stepped on the scale, the software let’s you know the measurement has started and to wait just a moment.

About 2-4 seconds later, the ‘procedure’ is complete and a measurement has been taken.  In order to let you know that it has succeeded, the scale will double-beep that it’s done.  This is your key to depart the scale.  When you’re back at the computer, it’ll show you the updated information:

(You’ll notice the left hand side data is all filled out, but the right side is empty.  The ride side is for another scales that you might find in a doctors office, more high tech and expensive stuff.  You can also insert notes into the comments field, like I did above.)

Note that the type of measurement is displayed at the top of the page (snippet below) – be it Garmin watch, directly from scale, or manual:

So now that you have your latest health data in the software directly via the ANT+ stick I’ll talk about some of the other options you have for getting the data from the scale.  After that I’ll get into the software itself a bit more.

Using it with a Garmin FR-60:

When I mentioned to the Garmin folks that the Tanita folks had hooked me up with a loaner BC-1000 – the Garmin folks in turn hooked me up with a demo FR-60.  So what’s the FR-60 you ask?  Well, in short it’s a small fitness watch that supports ANT+ wireless devices, and can record data from the BC-1000.  You can also use it to record runs, bikes, and anything else athletic you can think of.  The coolest and most useful part of the FR-60 to me is that the battery lasts a year.  Sweet!  I put together an in depth review of it a few weeks ago, which you can check out here.

In the wireless ANT+ world of devices there is a concept known as ‘pairing’, which basically tells one ANT+ device about other ANT+ devices.  In this case, we’re going to have the watch connect to the scale to read information.  To do this, we simply hold the top left button (light) down for about 2 seconds.  It initiates a pairing process and begins to scan for the scale:

About 1-3 seconds later, the scale is found.

The scale beeps, and then starts blinking green.  At the same time, the watch display clears to make room for the incoming data:

Now you simply step on the scale, wait a few seconds and the recording is made.  A moment or two after that it shows up on your watch:

And that’s it!  The data is recorded and you’re done.  Super simple.

Now, here comes the cool part.  If you had that USB stick in your computer while this was happening, a few seconds later it’ll automatically transfer that data up to Garmin Connect (I’ll talk about that in a second).  And at the same time, it’ll put the data in a folder that the Tanita Healthy Edge software can pickup as well.  Without a doubt, using the Garmin FR-60 with the Tanita BC-1000 is a perfect match.

And here’s the same thing occurring from the Tanita software once you open it up:

Note that the Tanita Software allows you to use multiple devices, and can mix and match any Garmin device or devices with any number of users.  It’s REALLY cool in this respect.

So, just so we all understand what happened here:

1) You stepped on scale and it measured your weight
2) It then transmitted it to the FR-60
3A) It’s now automatically transmitted to Garmin Connect
3B) It’s now automatically available to the Tanita Healthy Edge Software

Pretty cool, ehh?

Using it with a Garmin 310XT:

Like the FR-60 I just walked through, the 310XT is also capable of talking with the BC-1000.  And thanks to the latest firmware update (2.70) – the integration is now completely seamless.  I wrote before that it was pretty messy, but 2.70 makes the whole shebang simple and straightforward.

First, you’ll want to go in and enable the scale in the settings – under ‘Weight Scale ANT+’:

That’s it – now it’s ready to connect!  Just go ahead and tap the power button and it’ll start the initiation sequence looking for it’s floor bound friend:

The scale will start blinking, indicating it’s ready for you to step onboard:

Once you’ve stepped on the scale, a few seconds later the data will show up on the watch:

One little item I thought was sorta interesting is that the 310XT shows you a tiny bit more detail with respect to accuracy than the FR60 does – at least on the device itself (note the decimal places for body fat and hydration):

Like with the FR-60, the data is automatically transmitted to Garmin Connect via the ANT+ agent, as well as made available to the Tanita software.

Software Options:

Tanita Healthy Edge (included):

As I described a bit above, the BC-1000 comes with the Tanita Healthy Edge Software.  This software offers basic data logging features, as well as some simple and easy to use graphing and analysis.  Since we’ve already walked through how to get the data into the Tanita software via one of the methods above (USB stick, Garmin FR60, Garmin 310XT or manually entered), we’ll jump right into using some of the feature.

Below is the main window which shows all your readings.  In the case of the BC-100, all your data will display from the left hand portion of the screen.  Advanced medical devices you the middle-right portion, and other Tanita devices such as Blood Pressure monitors can use other portions of the application as well.

Here’s a few those advanced medical devices from within the options menu:

Note that if you do have any of these devices, or simply have the information, you can always enter it in manually – but neither of these pages are supplied by the BC-1000:

Back to my data though…You can easily scroll through all your records by using the back/forward selectors at the top:

Though, there is no easy calendar picker to simply choose a day (those week/month/year buttons are for the graphs).  You have to scroll through them all one click at at time.  I have 45 measurements in there so far, and I can see that getting a bit unwieldy after time.

The next page you have is the analysis display, which shows you where you stand based on standardized scales for areas like BMI and Body Fat.  You can see the grey line on the colored scales showing the different recommended levels.  You can click the navigation buttons at the top to show different days and see the lines change on the analysis page.

(I found it interesting that because my body fat is so low, it puts me into a ‘warning’ category.  Despite the application having a classification for athletic (in user options), it doesn’t seem to adjust the body fat percentages accordingly.  Most resources I could find separated body fat percentage ranges  for higher level athletes than those for every day use.)

The next tab over is the graphs section, which allows you to graph umpteen different measurements taken, starting off with simply weight and BMI:

Now you’ll note that my chart kinda bounces all over the place.  However, it’s bouncing all over the place within a 3-4 pound range.  This is primarily due to my training schedule.  I don’t focus my life around waking up every morning at the exact same weight.  Instead, I focus on a rough range +/- a pound or two.  But, depending on when I did my last workout or how much I ate and how long it’s been, it’ll change these numbers.  I normally measure myself in the morning at the same time every day (per their and many other recommendations – consistency is key).  But if I did 3000y swim, and then a 13 mile run at 8PM the previous night, followed by a late dinner, then things tend to be a little mysterious weight-wise in the morning.  They key with any scale or recording of weight data is trending over time – not a data point on an exact day.   At any rate…food for thought (no pun intended).

On the left side you see tons of options for graphing different pieces of data:

You can look at some of this data and start to notice trends – some more obvious than others.  For example, looking at the above, when my body water % goes up, my weight correspondingly goes up as well.  Now interestingly, if you look at the below (Body Fat % vs Water %) – you’ll notice that they are inversely proportional to each other.  I’m honestly not sure what to make of it quiet yet, but it makes a pretty graphs. ;)  I’m working on reading through Racing Weight (a new book highly recommended by a TON of really fast athletes and well known coaches), and it’s starting to explain some of the details around the data.

On the top you can choose to sort by week/month/year.  You can also use your mouse to crop into specific date ranges as well, if you want to take a closer look at something.

From the menu bar you can also print any of the reports that you’d like.:

You can also print out any of the measurements or analysis pages as well:

Though, you can’t export out the data, nor print a complete listing of all data points.  Both of which I found kinda lame.  I’d love a simple CSV format that I could export to and pull into Microsoft Excel and start really analyzing the numbers, especially over the course of a year.   Given the data is stored in a mini-database (Microsoft SQL Express for those curious), this would be relatively trivial.  Perhaps in a future post I’ll talk about how you could do this (I am a computer person after all)…

So, that’s the wrap-up of the Tanita Healthy Edge software, let’s go onto the Garmin Connect application.

Garmin Connect:

If you already have a Garmin FR-60 or 310XT, then the BC-1000 is a perfect fit when you add in Garmin Connect.  Garmin Connect is a free application for Garmin device owners that allows you to track your workouts and health data.  I’ve detailed the workout aspects of it extensively in my reviews, such as the Garmin 310XT review.

But here I’ll focus on the health portion instead.  However, before we do that, we’ll want to let Garmin Connect know about the scale.

To do so, we’ll click Getting Started:

After that you’ll want to either create a new account (if you don’t have one already) – or simply use your existing account.  Then you choose which wireless device you’ll be using.  The setup is basically as simple as that.  Assuming you’ve already installed the Garmin ANT+ Agent, it will go ahead and automatically transfer any data from the BC-1000 scale to Garmin Connect (see the earlier section on how that process works).

Note however, that you cannot simply just use the USB stick to get the data on Garmin Connect.  While this would be incredibly logical, and useful, you must actually go via one of the Garmin Forerunner watches.  In my opinion, this is sorta limiting and stupid.  Just to clarify what I’m referring to, you cannot simply plug the ANT+ USB stick in unless you have a FR60 or 310XT to relay the data.  It must go through one of those watches to get to Garmin Connect.

Once you’ve logged into GC, you’ll click on the Health tab and see the day’s current stats:

Down below, you’ll see the most recent data collected from the BC-1000:

You can change the graph to show you 7 Days, 30 Days or a year at a time:

Finally, you can also enter in manual data points for dates that you may have extra data for.  Though you can’t manually enter in any of the other fields (body fat %, etc…), just weight.

(As a trick, you can use the manual input to temporarily over-ride any incorrect data points, for your current browser session, after which they go back to whatever they were previously)

One last item to note – if you previously uploaded to Garmin Connect and were getting erroneous data points for weight (like 1,400 points), I fix was introduced to Garmin Connect on March 31, 2010 to address that issue and allow you to permanently fix those data points.  Read up on that here.

3rd party software:

Currently no other software applications that I’m aware of directly supports the data readings from the BC-1000.  However, I think that’ll change.  First, Training Peaks has said that they’ll be doing so shortly – which will be awesome – especially if they make it completely seamless.

Second, the data simply sits in a folder within the ANT+ agent, so getting the data from a Garmin watch to any other application is actually relatively straightforward for most developers with access to the Garmin .FIT Software Development Kit (SDK).  So I suspect over the next year or so we’ll see more options in this space.

But for now, it’s limited to Tanita’s Healthy Edge and Garmin Connect.  Though you can always manually transpose the data anywhere…

Accessories:

There’s a few accessories that are offered with the BC-1000.  Though, I’ve pretty much talked through most of the options here.  The one I didn’t though was Tanita’s table-top (or toilet-top) remote display stand.

Tanita Remote Display:

This remote display unit is used to display the data received from the BC-1000 in the event you don’t want to have a computer or Garmin watch nearby.  This is handy for a few reasons – first, it removes the need for a computer, but two – it’s also just simply to check out your vital signs without it being recorded on the Internets forever.

So – let’s get to the unpacking first:

Once we’ve got the batteries installed, it’s quick and easy to get turned on.  From there you’ll setup a user profile – which includes your age and height.  That in turn allows it to determine things like BMI.  After that, it’s time to get your weight.

This process is just as simple as with the FR60 or 310XT.  You simply tap the up/down arrow once, and then choose set once you’ve found your user number (i.e. – #1 for me, #2 for someone else, #3 for another someone, etc…).  The scale then blinks and beeps letting you know it’s ready.  Once you step on and get the reading, a moment later it displays on the screen:

In addition, you can go ahead and manually scroll through all of the fields available after reading:

And finally, you can retrieve history on the device as well.  Meaning, it acts like a little computer, allowing you to go back and retrieve older data – which is pretty handy.

But – why stop with just a few pretty looking photos?  Instead, let’s look at how it all works together as one cohesive system, check out my little one-minute video on it:

(My little one-minute bathroom video with the Tanita BC-1000 and Remote Stand)

The remote table top stand is a bit pricey – at $129, but it does include some nice functionality for basic use of the scale without a computer or Garmin watch nearby.

Garmin FR-60 & Garmin 310XT:

As I’ve talked about a bunch already, the Garmin FR60 and Garmin Forerunner 310XT are Garmin’s two watches that support the BC-1000 wirelessly via ANT+.

These watches run from $125-$200 (for the FR60) and between $310-350 (for the 310XT).  I’ve written up some pretty detailed reviews here for both of them here:

Garmin Forerunner FR60 In Depth Review
Garmin Forerunner 310XT In Depth Review

ANT+ USB Stick:

Last but not least, if you have multiple computers, or simply lose the little ANT+ USB  stick that comes with the BC-1000, you can purchase another one without issue.  Also note that if you already have a ANT+ USB stick from one of the other Garmin units, it’s fully compatible with the BC-1000.  Though, because the BC-1000 comes with one in the box, there’s no savings to be had there.

That said, if you need an extra one, they’re $45 on Amazon.

Accuracy and Comparisons:

I had really really wanted to get into a hydrostatic tub or BodPod system to put the BC-1000 up head to head with more scientific measurements to see how it would fare.  But, the recent 40+ inches of snow in the DC area pretty much killed any hopes of doing that.  I do hope at some point in the future once the snow melts around here (August 2012 at the current rate…) to do this and see how things stack up.

With respect to accuracy, I was reading the book Racing Weight last night, and they noted:

“A 2007 study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition that compared measurements obtained from a Tanita body-fat scale and DEXA scanning reported a better than 96 percent level of agreement between the two methods (Thomas et al. 2007).”  (from Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald)

A few other items the book really keys in on though is that it’s not important that the scale is accurate in comparison to other scales.  What’s important is that the scale is consistent and accurate to itself.  Meaning, as long as the scale works consistently, you’re focusing on weight loss within the bounds of whatever the scale believes.  So at the end of the day, you’re still loosing weight.  Whether your actual exact scientific weight is 161.7 or 160.5 is sorta irrelevant (unless you’re specifically targeting certain weight classes of course).

From what I can tell, the scale was consistent within itself.  By and large, if I got on and off and on and off and weighed myself, it read the same reading – something I could not necessarily say was true of other scales I had lying around the house.

With respect to comparison of a less expensive bathroom scales, it was within 1% for body weight of my cheaper one I had lying around.  However, body fat percentage was quite a bit different – 5% (BC-1000) versus 11% (older one).  Clearly I know which reading I’m taking…

The folks at Tanita let me know that the cheaper scale I have shown (BF679W) doesn’t have an athlete mode (while the BC-1000 does), which means it didn’t have the capability to better predict my body fat based on the assumption that my body type is probably a bit more athletic than most users of the cheaper scale.  Hence the differences I saw with respect to body fat prediction.

Pro’s/Con’s

As per the requirements for any review, I’ve included my Pro’s and Con’s list below.  Though, I suspect if you’ve made it this far, you probably understand each of these points pretty well by now:

Pro’s: