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Drink-testing the BACtrack Mobile breathalyzer

BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer

Drinking and driving is something that should never be done, but all too many people have "one too many" alcoholic beverages at their local bar or sports venue, then get behind the wheel to drive home. While many of these folks may never get pulled over, they're still endangering themselves and others. Since it's difficult to judge just how impaired you might be after imbibing a few brewskies, people take a lot more chances than they should. That's where BACtrack Mobile (US$149.99) comes in handy. It's a pocket-sized calibrated breathalyzer that syncs over Bluetooth to an app on your iOS device to warn you of when you should call a taxi or ask a friend for a ride home.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 1.75 x 2.75 x 0.63 inches (44.45 x 69.85 x 16.0 mm)
  • Weight: 1.7 ounces (47 grams)
  • Battery: Rechargeable with included micro-USB cable
  • Sensor Technology: Xtend electrochemical fuel cell
  • Warm-up time: 10 seconds
  • Blowing time: 5 seconds
  • BAC range: 0.000 to 0.400 percent BAC
  • Compatibility: iPhone 4s, 5, 5s, 5c; iPad 3, 4, Air; iPad mini, iPad mini with Retina display, iPod touch 5th generation

Design Highlights

The BACtrack Mobile is a small, discreet white box that fits into its own little carrying bag that can be placed into a pocket or bag before heading out. The device is designed with a semi-transparent channel that makes it easy to see some of the interior electromechanical components as well as LEDs that indicate what's going on.

BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer

The BACtrack Mobile can be blown into directly, or you can use a small mouthpiece for sanitation if you wish to share your device with your drinking buddies. All of those mouthpieces are the same opaque white color, which would make it somewhat difficult to figure out which one needs to be used by what person, so I personally wish they'd make them different colors.

Charging is done through a micro-USB port on the bottom of the device, and when plugged in, a pair of blue LEDs pulse to tell you that charging is underway. Those lights turn to a dim steady blue when the device is fully charged.

Once you're ready to test just how wasted you are, you load the free BACtrack app onto your iPhone and then pair the device via Bluetooth.

Functionality Highlights

Pairing is quick and painless, done from the app rather than requiring a trip to Settings. When you're ready to check your BAC, you press a button in the app, watch a countdown "clock" spin down while the device preps itself, and then blow into the BACtrack. You need to puff for about five seconds, and the app lets you know when you can stop. You'll also hear a small "click" from the device itself.

Within several seconds, the BAC level is displayed in the app. Just how accurate is the BACtrack Mobile? The company notes that the device uses "police grade" Xtend Fuel Cell Sensor Technology to make the measurements, and offers a high level of accuracy and consistency. To ensure that it maintains that professional level of accuracy, BACtrack recommends sending the device in for a recalibration every six to twelve months.

This review was a first for me -- the first time I got a buzz on for TUAW! To test the device under real-life conditions, I split a bottle of Cambria Chardonnay with my wife, then later had a nice glass of Pinot Noir to bump up my BAC, and then finally topped off the evening (and went into the danger zone) with a shot of Limoncello.

The three glasses of wine were split over about a three hour period, and when I checked my BAC the first time, it measured at 0.049 percent -- just below the level (0.05 percent) that would put me into the Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) zone under Colorado state law. The app allows you to tag drinks (a good way to remember what you've downed during a bender), add photos, and even take notes.

You're required to wait 15 minutes after eating or drinking anything before doing a test in order to make sure that the BACtrack Mobile doesn't see the residual alcohol in your mouth and cause a false high reading. That 15 minutes also allows the alcohol to be absorbed into your bloodstream... So I drank the shot of Limoncello and then waited the appropriate amount of time.

The second reading, unsurprisingly, came in at 0.053 percent. Had I been driving instead of performing the tests in the safety of my own home and if I'd been stopped by law enforcement officers, that would have been enough to have put me into DWAI territory.

BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer

The app can tell you how long you'll need to wait until your BAC is back to zero, showing a chart that can also let you know when it is safe to drive. You can also choose to share your BAC results publicly, privately, or keep 'em to yourself. The private sharing just puts a pin on a map along with your level of inebriation -- the BACtrack WorldView page shows just how wasted some people will get (either that or they didn't wait 15 minutes before blowing into the BACtrack's mouthpiece).

Conclusion

If you like to have the occasional drink or two and then get into your car, BACtrack Mobile can help keep you and others safe by ensuring that you're not driving while impaired or under the influence. Think that the $150 price tag is expensive? Think again -- the cost of a first-offense DUI (driving under the influence) can run anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 in legal fees and higher insurance rates. BACtrack Mobile is an highly accurate tool that can help you make the decision to give your keys to a sober friend or take a taxi home.

Rating: 4 stars out of 4 stars possible

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