Breathing clean air makes us healthier and happier. Unfortunately billions of people around the world are exposed to dangerous particles. Although it varies across different regions, those that live in cities are typically most effected. Research has shown that the positive effects of walking or exercising outdoors can even be cancelled out by breathing in unhealthy air.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The good news is it has never been easier to keep tabs on air quality thanks to a flurry of new products. Most of these function inside your home or office but Breathe|Smart is one of the few that you can use both indoors and out.
I’ve been testing the little gadget over the past month. Here’s what I made of it.
Breathe|Smart has its origins on Indiegogo. At the start of this year it raised over $30,000 to fund production. We’ve all heard of spectacular crowdfunding fails but this was actually a product that delivered everything it promised. It’s 200+ backers received their Breathe|Smart on time and the gizmo is now available to all.
Out of the box the thing comes with the main unit, a charging dock, a USB-C charging cable, a wall charger and strap. The main unit has a stylish, fairly compact design. Measuring just 68 x 40 x 27mm it fits easily in the palm of your hand. At 75 grams it’s a bit heavier than it looks, though.
The great thing about Breathe|Smart is that it’s very portable. When at home, rest it in its charging dock. It will measure air quality from there and show it on the 1.54″ TFT capacitive touch display, while charging the battery at the same time.
When on the go simply lift it from the cradle and it will continue to monitor the quality of air around you. There’s a handle on the back which you can use to attach Breathe|Smart to straps of your handbag or your rucksack. You can also use the strap that’s in the box to clip it to your bike, pram or stroller.
You don’t want to attach it as a fixed installation outside, though. The monitor was not designed for that and is not waterproof.
Dominating the main unit is the large display. This shows particular matter in the air, specifically PM2.5. These are particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter or 3% the diameter of a human hair.
They are best avoided and are considered one of the the deadliest form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate into the lungs and blood stream. The fact that these particles are so small means they tend to stay in the air longer than heavier particles. Some examples include dust, ash, vehicle emissions, smoking cigarettes, factories and construction sites.
If you bring Breathe|Smart right next to your ear, you’ll hear a very faint whooshing sound. This is because the thing works by drawing air into the device through the side vents. The air comes in contact with the sensor which uses laser scattering technology to calculate the number and size of microscopic air pollutants each and every second.
This makes it very responsive to even the smallest oscillations in air quality. It was interesting to watch the numbers go sharply up or down as circumstances changed.
Battery life is not bad. The gizmo has a 850mAh Lithium-ion Polymer that can keep going for around 8 hours when lifted out of its cradle. This might not seem like much but when you are in the home or office, Breathe|Smart is best left in the charging stand from where it can work indefinitely. The other option is to plug the charging cable directly into the device. There’s a battery indicator on the display which will signal when charging.
The screen is always on in this case. Outside of the cradle the display switches off after a while to preserve battery life. It wakes up when you press the physical button on the front. There are also color-coded LED lights on the sides which illuminate so you can see the air quality even when the main display is off.
This is one of the simplest devices I can remember testing. There’s no need to read the instructions. Simply rest it in the cradle so the battery starts to charge, switch it on after a few minutes and you will see a readout of air quality. No calibration is needed, everything works out of the box. Because BREATHE|Smart is self-cleaning, no maintenance is required.
Most smart technology these days comes with some sort of smartphone app. It’s refreshing to see that Breathe|Smart doesn’t. My smartphone is littered with dozens and dozens of apps which have gone unopened for ages. With Breathe|Smart there is no need to download anything, no need to register your details or open an account, no need to pick up your smartphone to access readings. Brilliant!
The gizmo is designed to help you make lifestyle choices so you can breathe cleaner air, not just in your home but outside as well. It is a little known fact that you can reduce your exposure by as much as 50% simply by taking alternative routes. And sometimes, opening the window in your home to let some air in might not be a good idea.
As mentioned, the main unit has a single physical button on the front. Click on this and a menu will open up consisting of Air Quality, History, the Breathe|Score and Settings. Then simply tap on the touchscreen to navigate your way around.
Air Quality takes you to the main display, which is also the default display. Everything is color coded so you know at a glance whether there’s any need for concern. The display also spits out advice on reducing exposure when air pollution levels increase, which I didn’t really find that useful. The air quality score is all that I needed and I know if the air is bad to open the windows or leave the area.
The first time you use Breathe|Smart you will want to tweak the settings. This allows you to set the time/date, language, display brightness and timeout, alarm volume and activation level and more. Once that’s done, you’re set to go.
Another option worth mentioning is Night Mode. With this activated the LED side lights are switched off and the display is dimmed. The setting can be activated via the touchscreen or by pressing the physical button three times.
What impressed me most is how easy it is to use the device. And the fact that it simply works. I think this is partly due to the fact that there is no smartphone software, or need for a Bluetooth connection or WiFi.
Breathe|Smart uses values that mirror the Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality Index (AOI) to let you know the level of pollution around you is. The higher the number the higher the level of PM2.5 in the air. Everything is shown right on the display, color coded.
PM2.5 is not the only indicator of pollution, but it is a very important one. Statistics show that exposure to these types of particles is the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. They bring about more illness than all other environmental exposures combined and can lead to heart attack, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and other conditions. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk.
Everything is shown in real-time on the display and the air quality monitor is very responsive. Simple things such as cleaning your flat with chemicals will effect the readings.
At times I even found the little gizmo could be over-dramatic. If the message to leave the area immediately because the air is hazardous after you’ve cooked something in the oven doesn’t get you to open the windows, nothing will. Do this and watch the values come down quickly as the air quality stabilizes.
There’s also an option on the display which takes you through to exposure history. This shows a summary and graph of the pollution levels you were exposed to during the past 24 hours, past 5 days and past month.
In my case it told me that I was exposed to good air 79% of the time over the past month, a moderate air 21% of the time. The level of my exposure to unhealthy and extremely unhealthy air was too small to show in the statistics.
There’s also something called Breathe|Score. This updates every hour with an average of your previous 12 hours exposure. The score starts out at 50. Your aim should be to try and get it up to 100, and keep it there. This is a rolling value and you can see a graph of the past 24 hours along with a summary.
I was very impressed with Breathe|Smart. The unit is very simple to use, lightweight and quick to respond to changes in air quality. There’s no smartphone app because you don’t need one. Everything you need to know can be seen on the display.
When at home, rest it in its charging dock from where it will do its thing. When on the go, remove it. The thing is very portable and can be attached to bags, bicycles, prams and strollers. You’ll always know the level of particulate matter in the air (PM2.5) as the laser sensor takes measurements constantly.
Breathe|Smart Air pollution monitor
I do wish, though, Breathe|Smart could do a bit more. Perhaps keeps tabs on CO2, other toxic chemicals, temperature and humidity. Maybe we’ll see that in version 2. But what it promises, it fully delivers. All in all Breathe|Smart is an informative little device that will have you breathing cleaner air.
For every product sold, the company donates a portion of the sales to aid permanent reforestation projects in Madagascar, Indonesia, Mozambique, Haiti and Nepal.
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