In the race to sell us “healthy” smart home features, air sensors seem to be one of the fastest growing products. Measuring the basic environmental air and sniffing out nasty chemicals, they claim to be able to make our lives better. But can they really? We try one of the latest dedicated models the Awair (aware – get it?), a $199 (at the time of this writing) unit dedicated to tracking the air we breathe and claims to help with sleep, allergies and productivity.
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The Awair tracks five basic metrics of the air in your home, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and dust. All of this can help people with breathing issues, allergies and other sensitivities. It displays its data on a stylish readout on a device that doesn’t look a million miles away from a 70s radio. The box is 6.3 inches wide, 3.4 high and 2 deep.
Overall air analysis, trends and helpful Information about what to do to improve your air is provided via a companion app, which it connects to via WiFi or Bluetooth LE. The unit itself tests the air via several tiny sensors within the body using natural air flow. Some of the features are obvious, and using smart home technology can sort themselves out. If the temperature is too high, it can tell your Nest thermostat to turn the heat down, It can also work with fans, humidifiers and other ways to adjust the atmosphere.
The specifics of the sensors are as follows, – the temperature sensor can read from -40 to +125°C (-40 to +257°F) to within 0.3°C accuracy. It measures humidity from 0 to 95% within 3% accuracy. Carbon Dioxide is measured from 0 to 4,000 parts per million at 75ppm accuracy while it can measure dust volumes from 0 to 500 μg/m3 and detect a range of VOCs.
When data builds up over time, the app can combine your data with outdoor weather to provide advice. This leads to predictive trends that can help you out over the seaons and provide prescriptive advice on how to make your air better.
Pros of the Awair Air Quality System
I think we can all agree that the Awair is a smart and attractive looking device, with its wooden surround and stylish white LCD grille display. I haven’t seen any other color variations, but we think a black and metal surround one would be cool.
In terms of function, it can sit in your home, perhaps in the living room, bedroom or a baby room, plugged into a mains socket and happily monitor the air with no interference or action required. It can tell you the temperature, although if you have a Nest or similar device, that seems redundant.
All the activity happens on the app, with stats building up over time. Some of the advice is, frankly, bullshit, parochial or condescending. However, when it comes to the science part, it knows its stuff and can alert you to the presence of dust mites, pollutants and other problems that could affect breathing or sleep.
Some of the advice is practical and easy to follow, but if you’re on the wrong side of a chemical plant, industrial furnace or other installation, then things will be a little harder to resolve. The app is full of useful stats and bits of information, anyone with allergies who can’t track down the source, might be able to use the Awair to help them.
Cons of the Awair Air Quality System
The main issue with Awair is that it is just a sensor and it is up to the homeowner to do all the work to resolve any situation. In theory that could be open the right windows at the right time of day or night, or using smart technology to help control the environment, but it is impossible for the Awair to help with your specific situation beyond providing more measurements that may show an improvement.
For example, it says VOCs come from man made goods. Well, guess what, Awair, all our homes are full of these – would you care to narrow it down a little? Until these sensors get smarter and more specific, the information they provide can be useless. Similarly the readout for VOCs varies from 1 to 4 on the unit, but what does a three really mean, there’s little specific information.
Despite the sensors being calibrated, they may also be off by more than the specs claim depending on your local environment and specific conditions. These may improve over time as the Awair acclimatizes, and its firmware can also be updated, which might help too.
One major issue is that the company seems very poor when responding to support requests, so pray you don’t have a problem with your Awair. WiFi connectivity drop-offs seem to be an issue. On the plus side, at least the app is regularly updated, so the developers are addressing some issues.
If you buy theAwair then remember that it is just a sensor, it won’t help you out with the resolution beyond turning a thermostat down or a humidifier up. The rest of the work is up to you. Be it more vacuum cleaning, or opening more windows. Finding out which chemical cleaners cause problems in the air in your home, and finding something else. Or figuring out a way to get better air in the home (perhaps one of those neat negative ion producing ZenCubes).
Paying closer attention to your environment is no bad thing and the Awair should be commended for that, but apart from the slick user interface on the product and the high quality app, it doesn’t do much more than other air sensors, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the VOC sensor is exactly the same one that’s buried in all those rival units.
By all means, invest in one to help keep your family healthy but much of the work you would need to do to address any air quality problem, you could do with a little common sense!
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!