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AK Globaltech AlcoMate Prestige review: AlcoMate measures drunkenness with finicky results

The AlcoMate Prestige can let you know if you are too drunk to drive, but its performance suffered after multiple consecutive uses.

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Wayne Cunningham
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Wayne Cunningham

Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

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With its ability to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC), the AlcoMate Prestige can determine if you are over the legal limit to drive, but this device proves so finicky it may confound the typical inebriated user.

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5.3

AK Globaltech AlcoMate Prestige

The Good

The AlcoMate Prestige includes removable nozzles and a replaceable sensor. Its single-use accuracy appears good.

The Bad

The device takes a long time to warm up, and its performance suffered after many consecutive uses. Its accuracy varies by as much as 0.1 percent blood alcohol level. It shows results for only 15 seconds and includes no memory function.

The Bottom Line

The AlcoMate Prestige may prove useful in determining blood alcohol levels, but only for careful, limited-use situations.

The AlcoMate Prestige, from AK GlobalTech, comes in a sculptured silver casing with black accents that fits easily into a hand, like a pistol grip, and looks like a set-piece from "Doctor Who." The design is very simple, with a single power button, a small display on the side, and the business end, where you blow your alcohol-tainted breath.

AlcoMate Prestige
The AlcoMate Prestige is a little big to carry around but fits well into a car's glovebox or console. Josh Miller/CNET

You can blow directly into the business end, but the package includes a set of plastic nozzles, which not only direct your breath into the device, but also present a sanitary means for multiple people to use the AlcoMate Prestige. The nozzles require some force to fit into the device, as if they weren't designed specifically for the AlcoMate Prestige, but they will seat snugly.

A hatch in the bottom of the device opens up to reveal the battery compartment, with room for two AAs. A panel on the top can be pried open to replace the sensor module, the part of the AlcoMate Prestige that measures your BAC. As the sensor module lasts for 200 uses or one year, whichever comes first, making it replaceable will considerably extend the life of the device as a whole.

Measuring about 5 inches tall, 3 inches wide and 2 inches thick, the AlcoMate Prestige is a little too large to carry around with you, but it will fit easily into the glovebox or console of a car.

The AlcoMate Prestige is a bit monomaniacal in its purpose. It does one thing -- it measures BAC -- and that one thing only. It lacks any sort of memory, so each test is a one-shot, the results disappearing within a few seconds following each use.

Performance issues

With batteries loaded and no alcohol consumed since the night before, I pressed the power button and held it, as per instructions. After a beep I let go the button, and the AlcoMate Prestige began its warm-up procedure. The ovoid screen on its side showed the numbers 250, then rapidly counted down, slowing considerably at 85. The whole warm-up procedure took about 2 minutes from a cold start, but it was quicker on immediately subsequent uses, down to about 30 seconds.

Upon blowing into the nozzle a long tone sounded, then stopped for a double-beep, the signal that it was ready to calculate my BAC. After about 5 seconds, it displayed my BAC of 0.00, showing those numbers for 15 seconds before turning itself off. It was accurate so far.

AlcoMate Prestige
The AlcoMate Prestige shows its testing results on its simple display. Josh Miller/CNET

Then I, and a couple of CNET colleagues, took the AlcoMate Prestige to a bar and began drinking. The instructions for the device say it should not be used until 20 minutes after having a drink, a rule we tried to follow. After a couple of whiskies, I waited a bit, then gave the AlcoMate Prestige a blow. The warm-up time was lengthy, making it easy for the inebriated to get distracted before taking the test, but I was attentive. My first test came up with a result of 0.06, in line with what the California DMV says would be the BAC for a 200-pound male after two drinks.

However, one of my co-workers suggested taking a drink of water and trying it again. I swigged some water, went through the warm-up process once again, and my result came to 0.04. A female colleague gave it a try after a beer and a half, and also received a 0.04 reading.

My goal was to test it after having four drinks, but a certain amount of entropy overtook our party during that subsequent time. As we put the AlcoMate Prestige to the test again and again, it stopped giving us results. The display indicated it was calculating, but it never quite finished.

Considering the possibility that the sensor in the AlcoMate Prestige had become damaged, I replaced it with a new one, an easy procedure that merely involves pulling off the device's top panel, pulling a ribbon cable out of the old module and pushing it into the new one, then snapping the assembly back together.

During my immediate follow-up testing, the AlcoMate Prestige delivered overly high readings that would likely mean unconsciousness in any human. However, after a day and no drinks, the device delivered an accurate 0.0 BAC result for a final test.

Limited use

There are many breath-based alcohol-level testers on the market, many of them quite cheap. The AlcoMate Prestige runs on the expensive side with a list price of $129.95. However, I found listings on Amazon for as low as $80. It retails on Amazon UK for £107.65; pricing for Australia is unavailable currently, but the list price equates to about AU$167.50 at current exchange rates.

AK GlobalTech cites an accuracy range of plus or minus 0.01 to 0.1, a fairly wide range considering that 0.08 is the legal limit, but good enough to win certification by the Department of Transportation as an Approved Alcohol Screening Device. The AlcoMate Prestige delivered reasonable results on a single-use basis, but heavier use threw off its calculations, either having it return unbelievable results or no result at all. I was also not pleased with the lengthy amount of time it takes to warm up.

On the plus side, the replaceable nozzles and sensor are nice features, contributing to the AlcoMate Prestige's re-use and providing a sanitary option.

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