Friday, October 7, 2022

BACtrack Vio Smartphone Keychain Breathalyzer Review

Another week another breathalyzer to test. I have been working my way through the BACtrack back catalog recently, and it seems I have run out of Fuel cell breathalyzers from the firm. I’m sad to say goodbye to them, their quality and pricing are some of the best on the market. So now I’ll be looking at their semi-conductor based products, and while they are a fun distraction, I am not sure of the niche they are looking to hit with this trio of products.

I refer to the two kinds of breathalyzers as novelty and professional. The key difference is the detector tech used on the inside, and thus the accuracy of the results. The odd thing about the industry at the moment is that the difference in quality does not really correlate to a difference in price. The cheapest of the novelty items are around $20, while the cheapest of the high grade professional models is as little as $50. Thirty bucks to be guaranteed both quality and an accurate result seems like a small price to pay to me.

Today I will be looking at three breathalyzers from BACtrack, The Vio, the Go and the S35, a bit of a change from my single model review articles.  They are all semi conductor based, or novelty items. Only one of them comes with the app, which I have already used and was greatly impressed by. It displays and records your test data, provides you with some handy on the fly learning tools and can even estimate when you will return to base line sober.

I will be testing with my usual methodology, though in the weeks sine I came up with my test I have discovered much about the underlying tech in breathalyzers. I and a small group of my friends will each test sober, then test again after 1 drink, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. The results here should match up to the Vaster professional, though the filtering here is a little better so perhaps my smoking friends won’t be too hard done by.

So let’s get to it,, first a look at the design and build quality of each breathalyzer.

BACtrack Vio Smartphone Keychain Design and Build Quality

go
BACtrack GO

I usually compare all the devices to the Vaster professional, while it wasn’t much of a breathalyzer it was a nicely designed piece of hardware. Here though a better comparison is to the BACtrack Mobile breathalyzer, for the Vio at least. The Vio is compact and hardy. It fits well in the hand, even smaller hands, and the key chain makes it super easy to keep track of. The BACtrack Go is slightly wider, to facilitate the screen. The Go and the S35 do not connect to an app, thus the need. It too has that key chain, always good to see, while the S35 seems to be borrowing from its older brother’s, the S80, design. Not so much in terms of aesthetic, but the angled mouth piece is super easy to use, believe me. Actually using all three is pretty easy.

Almost all of the breathalyzers I have reviewed have had issues with ergonomics. They were a little big, or rigid, or un grooved. Not the case here, as all three are so small. Not only are they small, but they are also slightly curved, allowing the hand to get a better grip, without being uncomfortable. My favorite is the Vio, a nice long handle like design, always great to see.

The Vio kinda reminds me of the Trace if you removed the screen. It links up to your phone, so it doesn’t need a screen. Both the S35 and the Go have a well lit blue LED display. It isn’t the most detailed thing I have ever seen,. but it gets the job done, and in the case of the Go, really adds to the aesthetic. I would probably say it is the best looking of the three builds, even if it is not quite the best in terms of features. The mouthpieces are interchangeable, which is a nice consideration as well.

On the inside the whole package starts to fall apart. Rather than using the more accurate fuel cell based tech, they have opted for a slight variation of the older semi conductor tech. The filters in each device do their best, but they leave a whole lot to be desired. Let me explain the difference between the fuel cell testers and the semi conductor testers.

The core difference between the two kinds of tech is sensitivity. Fuel cell testers only react to alcohol. You breathe into it, and the alcohol particles oxidize, creating resistance, that can be measured and displayed to give a blood alcohol reading. With semi conductor breathalyzers the sensor is set off not only by alcohol, but also by cigarette smoke, hair spray, or acetone. It means if you’re diabetic you can never get an accurate reading from one. What’s worse is even under perfect conditions the range of readings is far narrower, meaning that the semi conductor breathalyzer can really only give a ball park figure of your level of inebriation.

Using all of the breathalyzers here is fairly simple. Just hold the button for en seconds, blow into the mouthpiece for five or so and wait for the results. The Vio has an extra level of difficulty, what with having to navigate the app, but I found it to be well designed, intuitive and very drunk friendly. It is also so much better in the long run, as the data recording is top notch, let down by the semi conductor more than anything else.

This feels like a swing and a miss to me. BACtrack make some great breathalyzers, and their app is one of the best on the market for data tracking, but where their other products can boast some of the most accurate readings out there, these ones can only claim to be slightly more accurate than the cheapest of novelty breathalyzers, at twice the price.

BACtrack Vio Smartphone Keychain Breathalyzer Testing

vio
BACtrack Vio, phone not included.

So the testing was a little different this time. My friends and I got to blow into three different breathalyzers on the same day, checking the results against each other, and comparing it to my previous tests. We each blew sober, and most of us got exactly that in response. I wanted to see how they fared against a diabetic friend of mine, who doesn’t drink, so I had him use them, and lo and behold it called him drunk. Very similar to the Vaster in terms of overall results. It could tell we were drinking, and gave us a result well within a standard deviation, but not accurate enough to figure out if we were definitely under the legal limit. They matched up well with the Vaster, a far cheaper device.

I am very disappointed in the accuracy on offer here. I could forgive it if these were marketed as a novelty devices, but they only kinda are. A look through their product line has these three sitting pretty next to their big dogs, the Trace, S80 and Mobile. Accuracy rated to 7 and 8 out of 10 when the reality is a little different. Please, if you are looking for a party piece these are okay, but if you want peace of mind and to be safe on the road, then you are better served elsewhere, even in the same price range.

There is a silver lining, to the Vio at the very least. If you are looking for long term recording of broad term drinking habits, then this is a great product. The app is what clinches it. It is a well designed minimalist-look app. The buttons are nice and big, drunk friendly, and accessing the results of tests and checking out countdowns and the like is very easy. My favorite aspect of the app is the warming up question. When your breathalyzer is warming up it will ask you to estimate your blood alcohol level, and then compare what you think you are sitting at with your actual result. It is better in the BACtrack Mobile, but still fun here too.

The ZeroLine feature is great too, and is not but at too much of a disadvantage byu the use of Semi conductor based sensors. As you use the Vio it will begin to understand your metabolism, and be able to provide fairly accurate estimations as to when you will be sober again. Super useful for the safety conscious.

Prices are going to vary quite a bit with these three, as I think BACtrack are trying to phase a few of them out over the next year or so. The BACtrack Vio is the latest in that line usually runs somewhere around $50 however to see all the current pricing on the Vio Line you can click here.

BACtrack Vio Smartphone Keychain Conclusion

BACtrack S35
BACtrack S35

I am very underwhelmed with these three, but I love BACtrack in general. I felt it was best to rip the band aid off quick, get the less impressive products out of the way quick. Personally, if you are after a quick and dirty novelty breathalyzer you are better off with a cheaper one. the quality difference is noticeable, but the results are about the same. If you want something to grant a little peace of mind, and provides accurate results then the Trace is a better bet, or the AccuMed BAC-178 if you want fewer features and a lower price. If you love the app features here, and who could blame you, then you want the BACtrack Mobile. If uses fuel cells, and comes with the app connectivity that you crave.

At the end of the day I just don’t see a niche for these breathalyzers. Be sure to check out my reviews of the high quality builds, I hope this helps you make a smart purchase. Be sure to check out the current discount at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Barry W Stanton
Irish born writer who drinks too much caffeine and reads too much Terry Pratchett. I enjoy long walks on the server and Korean cuisine.
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