If you are considering buying a weight scale you might be overwhelmed with the amount of choices available in this digital world. But it shouldn’t be a given that you have to get a digital bathroom scale. The more ‘traditional’ mechanical, analog scales are still very common and if all you want to do is weigh yourself once in a while, they do the job just fine. In this post we try to sort through the digital vs. mechanical scale argument in terms of how they work, and what the advantages and disadvantages are for each.
How do digital scales work?
Actually all scales, digital and non-digital use mechanical components so it is not strictly a digital vs. mechanical argument. Mechanical and digital scales differ mainly in how they display weight — mechanically or electronically. Digital scales use an advanced strain-gauge electronic measurement device to measure weight. Here are the basic principles of what happens:
1. Levers focus weight on calibrated steel beam.
2. Beam flexes as weight is applied.
3. Solid state strain-gauge measures weight.
4. Digital readout displays weight.
Digital scales that also measure things like body fat percentage, use bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). BIA is a technology where a low level electrical current is run through the lower half of your body. The speed at which the current travels through you, using a mathematical formula, calculates these levels of body fat, water mass, muscle mass and other indicators. Generally, BIA is not considered terribly accurate, mainly because there are so many factors that can impact the results, particularly around levels of hydration. It is recommended that if you do use BIA the important thing is that you measure yourself in a consistent way at a consistent time. That way, even if the results aren’t completely accurate they are consistent, and you can still measure your progress.
How do mechanical/analog bathroom scales work?
Traditional mechanical scales measure weight using a spring mechanism. These are the basic principles of how it works:
1. Levers focus weight on a calibrated spring.
2. Dial or pointer rotates as spring stretches.
3. Weight appears in window or pointer indicates weight.
4. Mechanism also used on pulse count scales.
Factors to consider
So knowing exactly the mechanics of how the two types of bathroom scale actually work might not be that useful to be honest, but the ways they function do have an impact on some of the advantages/disadvantages of each. Before we talk about the pros and cons of digital and analog bathroom scales let’s briefly look at the kinds of things you need to consider.
How much time are you willing to spend setting up your scale – do you want to just open the box and get going in 5 minutes?
Advantage: Mechanical scales are much easier and quicker to set up.
How ‘accurate’ or ‘precise’ (there’s a difference) do you need the scale to be – yes everyone wants their scale to be ‘accurate’ but what does that mean? If one scales measures 72.5 lbs and another 72.7 is that really an issue? Precision refers to how precise, to the decimal point the scale is measuring. Is it important to know that you currently weigh 72.53 lbs instead of just 72.5 lbs? If you are weighing things for chemical or engineering purposes you need that kind of precision; for your body weight maybe not.
Advantage: Digital scales are more precise. But how important is this really when it comes to body weight?
How much money do you want to spend on a scale – if your budget is $20 or $100, this will have an impact on what you get.
Advantage: Mechanical scales are clearly cheaper.
To what degree of detail and analysis do you want to track your weight – Are you happy with weighing yourself once a week and seeing the progress or are you more of a data geek, tracking the progress on an app over a period of time?
Advantage: Digital scales give you more options to track your weight and monitor your progress. You will need a smart scale for this.
Are you interested in other fitness indicators like body fat percentage, body mass, and lean mass – Is it just about your weight (and BMI) or are you interested in the other fancy indicators like body fat percentage?
Advantage: You need a digital scale to measure body fat percentage.
What kind of scale would visually ‘fit’ with your bathroom design/décor – that’s pretty self-explanatory
Advantage – neither, it depends!
Advantages of digital scales
Keep in mind that there are actually different types of digital scales. Some are just weight scales that display the measurements digitally. Then you have scales that use BIA to measure body fat percentage and other metrics. And then you can choose whether you want your scale to be ‘smart’ or not – i.e. the ability to send data directly to your chosen fitness app. Overall though, this summarizes the advantages of digital scales:
- Digital scales are more precise than mechanical scales
- Combined with apps, digital scales have the ability to store and track your data over a period of time – more information to help you achieve/maintain your goals
- More advanced digital scales have the ability to track additional measurements like body fat percentage using BIA technology (although there is some debate about the reliability of that data)
- Let’s face it, digital scales look cooler 🙂
Advantages of mechanical/analog scales
Most people just want to track their weight now and then. For that purpose, mechanical scales do the job just fine. Sure, they look dated, but does that really matter?
- Mechanical scales are cheaper than digital scales
- Mechanical scales are much easier to set up – no batteries, no Bluetooth connections or apps to mess around with
What you choose ultimately depends on what you are looking for and what your requirements are. We hope this article has helped consider your options. If you are interested to find out more about specific models, we have other posts with product reviews for both digital scales and the non-digital mechanical scales.
“How Digital Scales Work”
“How scales work”
“Inside a Bathroom Scale”
“Bioelectrical impedance analysis to estimate body composition in children and adolescents: A systematic review and evidence appraisal of validity, responsiveness, reliability and measurement error” (2013)
Bioelectrical Impedance Analyis in Estimation of Body Composition” (2007)
“Bathroom scales don’t tell the whole story”