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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?

Smartphone Breathalyzer Tip #4: They are super awkward to hold.

Well, at least the two that physically connect to the smartphone were awkward. The issue was slightly more pronounced on the iPhone 4S, which has its headphone port along the top. Plugging in the Breathometer requires you to either place your face over the screen of the phone while blowing (making it difficult to see the timer), flip it upside down, or twist it backwards. The Alcohoot also required some twisting and flipping--something that becomes more difficult with every round of drinks--but I did like how it vibrates to let you know you could stop blowing.

The Breathometer is also the only Breathalyzer we tried that features advanced semiconductor technology--both the Alcohoot and the BACtrack use fuel-cell sensor technology. Semiconductor technology is more frequently associated with false positives after smoking or eating. In our tests, we found the Breathometer gave the biggest range in BAC levels, often measuring our test subjects' BACs much higher than the other breathalyzers. For example, it twice registered one test subject (Supergirl) at 0.20, a high enough BAC to exhibit stupor, loss of understanding, and the possibility of falling unconscious, none of which were symptoms that she ever showed. The other two devices measured her a few points lower, at a more realistic 0.157 to 0.16.

The Breathometer app has both a large Start button and a smaller gray "Start for Friend" button, but all the results are displayed the same in your time line, regardless of the user. This makes it harder to share the device and keep track of which BAC readings are yours. I was also disappointed to realize that the app only holds the last nine or so readings.

Likewise disappointing? The app's Call a Cab feature, which is fantastic in theory, but lacking in practice. The first result for San Francisco was the San Jose Airport Taxi, which is a good hour away with no traffic. It's all well and good to pull taxi results from Yelp, which the app does, but there's got to be a better algorithm. Using the actual Yelp app to look for a taxi gave me four better matches in the top five results.

At $49, the Breathometer is the cheapest of the devices we tested--unfortunately, it's also the most inaccurate, the hardest to hold, and had the least helpful features. I mean, the "Tell a Friend" option doesn't share your location or BAC or a message--all it does is recommend that your friend buy a Breathometer.

The Bloody Mary: the BACtrack

Much like the scary folk tale legend, this device is creepy.

Our nightcap, the Bluetooth-enabled BACtrack doesn't need to physically connect to your phone in order to process BAC readings. It also has the benefit of BACtrack's experience--the company has been making personal breathalyzers since 2001. The BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer comes with a USB charger, three mouthpieces, and a carrying pouch.


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