BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer review: Handy breath tester makes it easy to overshare

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer measures your BAC with professional-grade fuel cell technology and estimates how long before you’re sober. It's compact and syncs via Bluetooth with iPhones and has a companion app.

The Bad In order to save readings you must store them in the cloud. The BACtrack's social-media features share way too much. It's pricey.

The Bottom Line If you aren’t turned off by its questionable social-sharing features, the advanced BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer is a compelling tool that can help minimize overindulging.

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Driving while intoxicated is, quite literally, a life-and-death issue: according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, every 2 hours three people are killed in alcohol-related highway crashes. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that these deaths are preventable. Keeping intoxicated drivers from getting behind the wheel can save lives. And that's where the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer aims to make a difference.

While keychain-size Breathalyzers have been around for years, the $150 BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer brings the technology into the smartphone age. The pocketable unit syncs wirelessly over Bluetooth, allowing you to view your blood alcohol level on the companion iPhone app. It also offers some curious social-media and location-sniffing capabilities that run the gamut from ill-conceived to creepy and invasive. That said, the BACtrack can take measurements quickly and predict when you'll sober up, making it a powerful tool for drinking more responsibly.

Design
Sporting sleek and futuristic looks enhanced by twin blue LED lights, the BACtrack wouldn't be out of place as a snazzy prop from a sci-fi flick. It's clear that the BACtrack is meant to ride along in bags or pants pockets since the unit itself is lightweight and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It comes with its own handy protective case, which zips up neatly.

The BACtrack ships with its own zip-up case for easy storage in bags and pockets. Sarah Tew/CNET

The device has just one button for powering it up and initiating pairing mode. Those sexy blue LEDs glow and flash to indicate power and connection status. Along the bottom edge sits a Micro-USB port for charging the BACtrack's battery.

There's just one button, which turns the device on and kicks it into Bluetooth pairing mode. Sarah Tew/CNET

Features and performance
Besides its attractive styling and compact size, the BACtrack's standout feature is that it can connect to iOS devices wirelessly via Bluetooth connection. Through its companion iPhone app, you can view breath analysis results in the traditional value of blood alcohol content percentage, aka BAC.

The BACtrack pairs with iPhones over Bluetooth and talks to a companion mobile app. Sarah Tew/CNET

I found the setup and pairing process quick and painless. I installed the app on my iPod test unit (while connected to a Wi-Fi network or mobile hot spot), and pressed the BACtrack power button to both turn it on and initiate pairing. I also had to tap the "Pair Your BACtrack" button on the iPod's screen.

Once my phone and the BACtrack were paired, I simply hit the screen to begin the measurement process. After that I blew into the mouthpiece for a few seconds, then waited a few more moments for the results. As expected, my first reading came back showing that I was sober as a judge, or close to it. It seems that having a potato chip or two prior to testing really can skew the results, in my case raising BAC levels slightly. The makers of BACtrack say that you should refrain eating, drinking, or smoking at least 15 minutes before each reading to ensure best accuracy.

Take your BAC reading and see an estimated time for your return to sobriety. Share results via Facebook or Twitter if you dare. Brian Bennett/CNET

After consuming one 12-ounce beer I was beginning to feel a buzz; my BAC reading came back as 0.035 percent, nowhere near the U.S. legal driving limit of 0.08 percent. At this level, the BACtrack reported that my reasoning and memory should be slightly impaired while the paper manual pointed out that I should also be experiencing a "loss of shyness." Keep in mind that the manual also took pains to say that driving skills may be impaired beginning at BAC levels of 0.04 percent and higher.

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