My relationship to my weight for the last five years or so has been one that isn’t entirely dysfunctional, but it doesn’t operate by any of the norms that characterize the rest of my life. I can make significant efforts for whole calendar sheets and see nothing in return. Or I can take a vacation from all discipline for a weekend and pay dearly. I’m someone who needs a scale, if only to remind me that discipline is a daily task.
So when my old scale died a watery death thanks to my toddler sending his bathwater skyward as if he were the tiniest cetacean going, I figured I’d upgrade to a scale that would give me solid body fat percentage numbers. Truth be told, while I wasn’t psyched to be buying another scale, the death of this one was just the occasion I needed to purchase something that could determine my body fat composition with at least rudimentary accuracy. The dead one claimed to do it, but the numbers were so high I don’t think it would have been accurate even on a sort of normal person.
I ran across the Fitbit Aria while in the Apple Store. My sense is that the few non-Apple items that are carried in an Apple Store are pretty well curated. If the Aria was the only scale they were carrying, well it must be okay, right? I will admit that the $129.95 price tag gave me pause, but I was already prepared to drop $80 or so on a Tanita unit and what intrigued me about the Aria was the ability to use the wifi in my home to send my daily weight to my computer and track it the way I track my time on the bike. Maybe, just maybe, that would give me the extra input I needed to better control, well, I’m not going to say just what needs controlling.
In broad strokes, the scale’s setup seemed simple enough. Pull out a battery and reinsert it to put it in setup mode, make sure the scale is within 12 feet of the wireless router and then a few other steps to make sure the computer was seeing the scale.
This would be where everything went to hell.
In short, I was never able to pair the scale—to anything. Not my desktop unit, not my laptop and not even to my phone, which struck me as a ridiculous suggestion, but one that came up in my reading through of their troubleshooting FAQ. After spending two evenings working on this rather than hanging out with my family, I emailed the company to ask what other suggestions they had. My worst fears about their tech support were realized when, despite a thorough description of actions I’d taken which included (from my email to tech support):
I have restarted my computer (as stated in my previous email)
I have placed the Aria within 10 feet of the router
My router is compatible with 802.11b protocol
My wifi password has no spaces and does not exceed 31 characters, nor does it contain any unusual characters
I have spelled the password correctly
I turned off my Airport Express during setup (as stated in my previous email)
I have tried setting up the scale using my iPhone
Tech support bro Fernando suggested, among other things that I might try restarting my computer and making sure my Airport Express was turned off. I even gave them the make and model on my wireless router and checked to make sure the scale’s firmware was up to date; I went so far as to provide them with the version of the firmware in question.
I should note that I made this purchase more than a month ago.
I’ll cut to the chase: I never, ever got the scale to work. Part of the tragedy in this for Fitbit is that because the scale won’t work at all until it is connected to your computer via wifi it does nothing. Had the device at least functioned as a traditional low-tech scale, I’d have been incented just enough to keep trying. However, because it performed none of its advertised functions, I harbored no hope for future success because following my most recent inquiry to tech support five days have passed with no response.
People wonder why they don’t see more negative reviews on RKP (for the record, until the publication of this post there had been exactly one bad review). The point I’ve made previously is that there is so little drive for it; I just don’t believe there are many products out there that you need to be warned against. It is entirely possible that there are scores of these scales out there and functioning as advertised. Some of them may even be in use among you. The point of this post isn’t that this product can’t work, it’s that if your tech support is monumentally ineffective, you can end up with an utterly unusable product.
Let me hasten to add that I was excited about this product; I wanted it to work well. This is not some Venus Flytrap of a review like the New York Times did on Tesla where they gave an electric car to a reviewer who hates electric cars. That review resulted in quite a lot of controversy, not the least of which is Tesla CEO’s accusation that the bad and inaccurate review cost the company $100 million—the actual value of canceled orders. Even the Times’ public editor found problems with the review.
I bring this up because when I read about the controversy, my feeling was that the Times had sandbagged Tesla. It looked to me like the reviewer could have spent some time talking to Tesla to better understand the car and thereby give it a fairer shake. It’s my personal belief that by the time you write a review of a product, you had better know it nearly as well as the company’s PR team, if not better. I didn’t believe that the reviewer, John Broder, had really done the job of a responsible reviewer; worse, his bias against electric cars suggests someone else with a more open-minded outlook should have reviewed the car.
Like I said, I wanted to like this product. After my final request for assistance to their tech support folks, 12 days elapsed before they got back to me with a half-baked excuse about their email not working right.
I swear, I’m not making this up.
Tech support and customer service are aspects of a company’s function that have the ability to make or break a brand’s reputation. I hear complaints from friends about various bike companies’ customer service departments from time to time. In nearly every instance, I’ve heard a countervailing experience from someone else. But bike stuff has the benefit of (usually) being so obvious in function and installation that very few people ever experience a problem that renders a product completely inoperable. That said, I’d love to hear some worst-case-scenario stories.
I’m still fascinated by what this scale might do, but it seems unlikely that I’ll ever find out. I will say that I’m grateful to Apple for extending me a full refund, though they were unwilling to do so until I showed the manager a photo of the Deuce in the NICU.
For purposes of my own entertainment, I plan to send a link to this review to Fitbit’s tech support guys. I’ll let you know if they ever respond.