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Featured Review: BACtrack Mobile And Vio Smartphone Breathalyzers

November 28, 2014 - Written By Jeremiah Nelson

You can get a breathalyzer that fits in your pocket or even on your key ring, but do you have one for your phone? The BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer wants to be your be-all, end-all for portable breathalyzers. The BACtrack Mobile fits in your pocket and the smaller BACtrack Vio fits right on your keychain and talks to your phone via Bluetooth and the custom BACtrack Android app. There’s a version for iOS, too. It will store your breathalyzer history and even let you share it on social media if you ever felt the need to do that. Let’s take a look at what BACtrack is offering with these two versions of their Mobile Breathalyzer.

Design

The BACtrack Mobile is the larger of the two breathalyzers we are looking at from BACtrack. It fits nicely in your pocket or bag and comes with a smaller zipper pouch to carry it in. The unit also comes with a microUSB charging cable, an instruction manual, three replacement mouth pieces, and a privacy policy that we will touch on later. There’s one button on the device itself to turn it on and off, with a blue LED indicator to tell you whether it’s on or not. The LEDs also flash to let you know when the breathalyzer is connected to your phone. The power button is located under the mouthpiece and the microUSB charging port on the bottom of the unit.

The BACtrack Vio is smaller, as it’s designed to live on your key ring. It has a fold out mouthpiece. The power button is on the front of the device. It is powered by a single AAA battery, not a built-in rechargeable one. The Vio comes with three mouthpiece covers just like the BACtrack Mobile. It also comes with that thick privacy policy that we’ll look at later.

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Features

These breathalyzers are just that. Mobile breathalyzers that make it easy to check your blood alcohol content when you want. Both units can be used with the same BACtrack app to get and store your breath results. Pairing up both breathalyzers was as simple as pairing any other Bluetooth device to your phone. Just download the BACtrack app, download the BACtrack app from the Play Store and open it. You may have to push the “Pair your BACtrack” button to finalize the connection. Using the breathalyzer is easy, too. Open the app and tap to begin, and then blow into the mouthpiece until the reading is complete. You’ll have your results within seconds.

The instructions say to wait 15 minutes after eating or drinking anything in order to ensure you get the most accurate reading. My first blow on the breathalyzer was without a drink, just to see if it worked. My result came back as totally sober, of course. I poured myself a drink and set to work testing the breathalyzer. After one drink, I blew a 0.009. I stand 6-feet, 1-inch tall and weigh 240lbs, and I’d been eating, so I wasn’t surprised that the BACtrack app said “It is likely that you are sober or very close to it.” This is a good place to point out that your body will metabolize alcohol differently than mine does. Lots of things including your height, weight, how long it’s been since you last ate, and other factors can affect you blood alcohol content.

After two drinks I was starting to feel relaxed and I blew a 0.03. One more drink and I was at a point where I definitely would not have felt comfortable behind the wheel of a car. I blew a 0.044, which goes to show you that your states legal limit may be higher than where you should be to drive. In my home state of Virginia, the legal limit to get behind the wheel is 0.08. At 0.04, or roughly half of that BAC limit, I would not have wanted to drive. Thankfully I didn’t need to drive, so I kept drinking. I had one more whiskey, waited 15 minutes, and then blew a 0.105. The BACtrack app said, “Your judgment is impaired and motor skills debilitated,” so I decided to call it a night.

These BACtrack breathalyzers offer some other cool features besides just providing you with your blood alcohol content. The app will offer up estimates on how long it will be before you are completely sober again. When I blew a 0.009 it said I would be totally sober in about 20 minutes. This is just an estimate but it can be helpful if you need to know how long it will be before you should drive again. The app also shows you in easy to understand terms how drinking effects you. Terminology like “It is likely that you are sober,” telling you that you might have a “loss of shyness” and that you are currently “experiencing slight alcohol intoxication” can really help you know what’s going on with your body and mind when you drink.

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Social Media and Data Sharing

We live in the age of social networking and of people sharing every aspect of their lives in the internet, and the BACtrack app will let you share your BAC level with friends. The app is set to anonymous by default, but you can change that setting to check and track the BAC levels of your friends as well as yourself. You can then review all of these readings in the cloud by storing them securely on BACtrack’s servers. That’s a downside to saving and sharing these details, though. You cannot store your information locally. It has to be backed up to BACtrack. You also have to create a BACtrack account to store any information, and this requires your email address and setting up a username. This can be helpful and may be fun to track and view over time, but if you’re not comfortable with this you can leave it set to anonymous and not let the app store any info.

Another option that you have is to “Share Readings Anonymously” if you want to let BACtrack have access to just some of your information. This isn’t completely anonymous, however. Sharing your readings this way gives the company access to your location, your BAC level, the time and date, your username, and then it puts all of this info on a Google Map as well as in the BACtrack app and on their website. The company doesn’t make this information easy to find, but it’s not exactly anonymous. BACtrack keeps and stores all of this information in the hopes that they can “create a dialogue and raise awareness” around the problem of drinking and driving, according to BACtrack founder and CEO Keith Nothacker. The company wants to help remove the stigma around blood alcohol content and drinking too much. If we can talk about what’s going on as people drink, we can start to create some real change and maybe even save some lives. At least that’s the goal. There are some serious privacy issues that could come into play here, though. Be careful and make sure that you want to share any of this info with BACtrack before you turn it on. I’m glad they turn off any sharing by default.

You can share your BAC readings on Facebook and Twitter through the BACtrack app, too. I’m not sure why you’d want to, but you can even turn on automatic sharing so you’re BAC readings will go out on each social network as soon as you take it. This could be fun to share with friends or keep yourself accountable with someone, but there’s a downside. Each tweet or Facebook post will automatically geotag your location to the breathalyzer reading. You don’t have the choice to turn this part off. If you share your BAC readings to Twitter or Facebook through the BACtrack app, you’ll also be sharing your location with those networks. If I’m drinking at a bar, that’s not a big deal. If I’m drinking at home, that’s a problem for me. I don’t want to be sharing my home address with all of my Twitter followers. BACtrack needs to fix this if they want me to use any social network sharing from with the app.

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Wrap-up

The BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer, and the smaller Vio Breathalyzer are pretty neat devices. The app ties in to offer you some additional information and store your history so you can track your drinking patterns over time. It’s not perfect, particularly in the area of privacy and information sharing. I’m not totally comfortable with blasting out my location and other information, even when I’m supposedly sharing anonymously. The BACtrack Mobile is $129 on the BACtrack website. The BACtrack Vio is only $49, but it requires you to keep a fresh AAA battery in it. These are right in range, price-wise, with other pocket breathalyzers on the market. Where BACtrack’s smartphone products shine is in Bluetooth syncing and history tracking, as well as the estimates of how long it will be before you’re sober again. Whether you’re using it for fun or to keep yourself from driving when it’s not safe, BACtrack’s Mobile and Vio smartphone breathalyzers are great. Just don’t turn on the data sharing.