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Smart Scales

Published July 2016

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

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.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*