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Should a pocket breathalyser be your drinking buddy?

Amber Bouman | July 3, 2014
Drinking and driving is obviously a terrible idea. But are pocket-sized, smartphone-connected breathalyzers a good way to tell if you're too buzzed, or just a silly toy that will make your friends drink more?

"I'm totally okay to drive," is a sentence that many of us have heard (or said) at some point in our over--21 lives. It could be true, if your sober friend who's been drinking Coke all night is saying it. Or it could be a load of bull, if it's being slurred by your friend who's been drinking flaming Dr. Pepper shots all night.

Making the determination about how intoxicated you really are has gotten easier than walking a straight line--three models of smartphone breathalyzers released last year let you measure your BAC from your bar stool. While personal breathalyzers have been around for a while, these new models leverage the interest in measuring personal metrics by offering up the smooth features of a smartphone app. But how well do they work?

We grabbed the three top contenders--the Alcohoot, the Breathometer, and the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer--and tested them in the field. I carried them out to multiple social events, happy hours, and BBQs, and used them all casually for several weeks, taking notes on what worked and what failed before I gathered up a few test subjects and did a more scientific test over the course of several hours.

The Screwdriver: the Alcohoot

Easy and straightforward, a screwdriver is made from two ingredients; similarly, the Alcohoot provides two solid standout features.

Retailing for $100, the pocket-sized Alcohoot comes with a USB charging cable and eight mouthpieces. You'll find breathing ports on the upper-left corner, a keychain hole in the upper-right, and the slider to deploy the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Alcohoot connects to iOS devices running 6.0, and most Android handsets running 4.0 or higher through the headphone jack; when the jack is deployed, the brand name lights up, and the Alcohoot is turned on.

Smartphone Breathalyzer Tip #1: Your device will almost certainly not work over your phone case.

The Alcohoot was unable to connect over any of the cases I had, which is a bit of a drawback--I don't like carrying my smartphone unprotected, especially if I'm drinking and prone to clumsiness.

On the software side, the Alcohoot's app is easy to operate--when you open it, an owl tells you to drink responsibly and then you'll need to tap a disclaimer that you shouldn't use this device to determine if you should drive or not.

Smartphone Breathalyzer Tip #2: All three of these breathalyzers include this disclaimer. You can't reliably use any of them to truly determine if you're safe to drive--not only because the data can't be used in court, but also because the police can and will make arrests even for BACs under the 0.08 legal limit.

 

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