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July/August 2016

Smart Scales

How do high-tech "smart" scales stack up against our favorite digital scale?

How We Tested

These days, everything from grill thermometers to vacuum cleaners comes in a “smart” version that communicates with smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth technology, and digital kitchen scales are the latest products to join this trend. In addition to performing basic functions like weighing and taring, each of these scales connects to a free product-specific app that provides either nutritional information about food placed on the scale or access to a recipe database that detects when you’ve measured the correct amount of each ingredient. Not surprisingly, these high-tech upgrades come at a high cost, and we wondered if they were worth the splurge; we purchased three (priced from $99.95 to $119.99), two with recipe databases and one that breaks down nutritional information, and assessed their basic functionality as well as their “smart” features.

All three scales were accurate, featured responsive buttons, and displayed weights in either ounces or grams. They also quickly established a Bluetooth connection with our tablet, and most reestablished it during each use. However, one model lacked a digital display, which annoyingly forced us to sync up our smartphone or tablet to see the weight of an item even when we weren’t using the app.

As for the apps themselves, they were generally better in concept than they were in design. For example, the recipe database apps sense when you’ve added the right amount of an ingredient and automatically progress to the next step in the recipe, which means you don’t have to touch—and smudge—the screen. These apps also adjust recipes for you if you accidentally add too much of an ingredient to the bowl. The big flaw is that both databases are very limited: They contain just a few hundred recipes, and only include those that rely heavily on weighing such as baking recipes and cocktail formulas. One model allows users to input recipes—which might be useful if the app’s format weren’t so unintuitive to use (it took us 30 minutes to add just one recipe for chocolate chip cookies). Ultimately, we found using the apps to be less efficient than reading a traditional recipe.

The nutritional analysis app was ill-designed, too. Its database of 6,000 ingredients sounds substantial but lacked pantry staples (like cranberry juice and applesauce) while including odd items (like herring eggs and two types of passion fruit juice). Worse, selecting the items was a sluggish process, and the search engine is quirky.

Needless to say, none of the models we tested was significantly more useful than a conventional digital scale, so until the technology improves, we’ll save our money and stick with our favorite, the OXO Good Grips 11 lb Food Scale with Pull Out Display ($49.95).

Methodology

We tested three smart scales, priced from $99.95 to $119.99, that communicate with tablets and smartphones via wireless Bluetooth technology. Each one works in tandem with an app that can be downloaded for free; two contain recipe databases, and the third provides nutritional analysis. After testing the accuracy and legibility of the scales, we evaluated the user-friendliness and usefulness of the apps.

ACCURACY: We weighed 30-, 200-, and 500-gram lab weights 5 times on each unit, recording if any readings differed from the actual weight and by how much. Scales lost points if any routinely varied by more than 2 grams.

SCALE DESIGN: We evaluated how easy and convenient it was to use each scale as a traditional kitchen scale. For simple weighing tasks, we preferred products with built-in displays to those that were only readable on a separate device.

APP DESIGN: We established a Bluetooth connection with each scale and then tested how easily they reestablished a connection when we walked out of range with our device and then returned. We searched for basic recipes—strawberry smoothie, pizza dough, chocolate chip cookies—in each database to assess the breadth of their databases and determine whether they produced expected results using logical search terms. We preferred apps that were intuitive, efficient, and easy to navigate, with bright visual graphics and clear instructions.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.