As access to education and research continues to grow, people are becoming more and more health conscious. They try to exercise, avoid fast food but the one thing they typically don’t think about are the unhealthy natural and man-made substances in the air they breathe.
Air pollution is literally destroying our health. According to the World Health Association statistics, it causes one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease. This is particularly an issue for those living in large urban areas.
But while you have little control over pollution outside there is much you can do about the air inside your home. After all, a typical person spends up to 90% inside closed doors. Most people don’t know that the air they breathe indoors can be up to five times worse than outdoors! In the process of trying to secure your home by locking doors and keeping the windows shut, you may also inadvertently seal in unhealthy air.
Essential reading: Improve the air in your home with these smart gadgets
Luckily, there is an increasing range of connected devices that allow you to monitor your home for air quality and alert you to take action when necessary. Awair is one of the pioneers in this market.
The company’s first generation product offers a convenient way to track various types of air pollutants including chemicals, CO2, temperature and humidity. Launched about a year after the original, Awair 2nd Edition slaps on dangerous-dust sensing abilities along with other smaller improvements.
I’ve been using the second generation product for the past few weeks. Here’s what I made of it.
Setup and data
Performance and app
In terms of design, Awair 2nd Edition looks very much like its predecessor. Probably a good move as there’s a certain visual charm and homely, old-school look about it. It actually reminds a little of those retro-radios that were so popular a few decades ago. Some might compare its look to a small bluetooth speaker.
The visually pleasing device has a dark wooden enclosure made from handcrafted high quality North American walnut timber. It measures just 6.3 x 2 x 3.5 inches so is ideally sized for a desk, bedside table, kitchen counter or bookshelf.
When positioning the device, you want to make sure to avoid overly dusty areas with minimal air flows such as floors or corners of rooms. This is because Awair sucks in air to analyze its quality. In fact, if you were to place your ear right next to it, you would the faint sound of its internal fan. That’s why it is recommended you give the device at least two inches of clearance from walls and other objects. Otherwise your data might be skewed.
I’ve tested similar devices in the past and they typically use lights to indicate air quality. Awair goes a step further with a set of white LEDs that shine through grid holes in the device’s front panel. These group to form numbers, letters and charts. Their brightness can be adjusted via the app or left to automatic. The convenience of having detailed information on the device itself cannot be overstated as it means you don’t have to keep referring to the app.
By default, the gizmo displays the overall air quality score on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the score, the better your air. A stacked bar chart to the left indicates whether your readings on temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide (CO2), chemicals and dust fall within healthy ranges. Awair has been designed to cover up to 1,000 square feet.
The second generation product has a toggle switch in the back which allows you to cycle through individual metrics. You can also do this via the companion app by choosing between the Score/Clock/Each air quality factors modes.
A nice touch is that if you knock twice on the top of the Awair it will change the display mode. So if score is your default display it will switch over to time. The secondary display will show for 10 seconds before reverting back to the original.
There is also a single, multi-colored LED in the top right corner that operates as a stop light. If it’s green you’re in the clear, amber is not so good, red means go and open your windows. The light also has other functions. For example blue shows Bluetooth pairing mode, purple Wi-Fi pairing mode, white that it is reconnecting to Wi-Fi or updating its firmware, etc.
The biggest difference between the original and Awair 2nd Edition is that the upgraded version tracks PM2.5. This stands for Fine Dust or particulate matter where each particle has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. Such dust is dangerous as it is invisible and can cause major health issues such as asthma and heart disease.
The VOC (volatile organic compound) sensing technology has also been improved. The company says with proper care, the sensors should last up to 5 years.
You’ll be happy to know that this is one less device you’ll need to charge. But you will need to plug it into an electricity outlet. The second generation unit is powered by USB type C instead of the proprietary power connection of its predecessor.
The process of setting up Awair 2nd edition is very simple. Unlike the first version there is no passcode required for the procedure. Simply download and open up the accompanying iOS/Android smartphone app, register an account and pair with the device.
The app will then ask for the password to your Wi-Fi. For convenience, once a successful connection is established the Bluetooth pairing with your phone will be automatically disabled. The whole set-up procedure is very smooth and takes only a few minutes.
If you’re traveling (as I was during testing) or want to move Awair to another location with a different Wi-Fi connection, you will need to go through a brief set up when you arrive. Press and hold the reset button for 15 seconds, until you see blue LED light on the front display. All preferences previously saved will be deleted, but your account information and historical readings will remain. You will then need to go through the setup again to define the new Wi-Fi connection, etc.
The other alternative is to move Awair to the new location but just use it as a standalone air quality monitor. You won’t need to set it up and connect to Wi-Fi, but it will not save historical data to the app.
Awair keeps track of the air in its surroundings. You tell the app what’s important to you — allergy concerns, sleep quality, productivity or elements that keep your baby healthy — and it will make recommendations based on its readings and learn your preferences as you interact.
The gizmo analyzes data from sensors integrated into the device to individually measure five key factors of air quality: temperature, humidity, dust, toxic chemicals (Volatile Organic Chemicals – VOCs) and CO2. All of these are important.
The temperature and level of humidity in your home can impact your overall health and comfort. Low humidity can aggravate pre-existing conditions such as asthma or bronchitis. It can also cause problems such as dry, cracked skin, bloody noses and dry sinuses. High humidity allows microorganisms such as dust mites, bacteria and mold to thrive.
The quality of air you breathe can also deteriorate with activities such as cooking, cleaning and painting to name a few. These activities introduce VOCs. Home building materials and furniture may release these particles, too.
Awair also detects CO2. Homes accumulate carbon dioxide because humans and animals breathe out the gas. Opening a window and ventilating your home is a simple way to reduce CO2 levels. Having a few plants around the house is another option.
Finally, the second generation product also detects dust levels via laser-based light scattering particle sensing technology. As mentioned, airborne particular matter can be very dangerous when breathed in. Common indoor activities which emit these particles include cooking, tobacco smoking, burning candles and more.
The LED display is excellent at giving you information on current air quality. I chose the screen that shows the overall score along with the stacked bar-chart of individual indicators. This provided me with everything I needed know so there was almost no need to interact with the device.
I was very impressed with how quick Aware was to react to changes in its surroundings. Simply sitting next to it will start to increase the levels of CO2. Switch on the oven in your kitchen and you will quickly see a spike in the PM2.5 value. It doesn’t matter if the oven is in another room. Open up the windows and watch it all fall back to healthy levels. It quickly teaches you which factors influence the quality of air in your home.
There is an optional audio alert that warns when significant changes occur. You’ll also get notifications on your smartphone and smartwatch/fitness tracker. These appear the moment the air quality needs attention. The settings allow you to control which air quality factors you’d like to be notified about.
While the device is good at providing you with at-a-glance information, the smartphone app is the place to go to for more details. You can use it to view a detailed breakdown of current air quality, review historical trends, receive notifications and look at recommendations. If you have more than one device, the app will act as a central repository for all information.
The app’s default screen shows your air quality score in a colored circle. Beneath this are values and dot graphs for each air quality factor. They use the same (green, amber and red) color-coding. Tap on any value to view an explanation and the optimum range for that particular metric.
The trends section shows a historical overview of your data. You can view the daily average and line graph of the overall score as well as all the individual metrics. The colors of the line will change as your air quality changed. Turning your smartphone to landscape lets you see weekly trends (for up to 6 weeks).
This works well. I do wish, though, the app had a monthly view and longer historical timeline. Perhaps something that will come via a software update.
If you add your city when setting up the device, you’ll also be able to view the current outside temperature and a three day weather forecast (from TWC). For a complete picture the app will also tap in AQI to display the air quality outside your home. For the US, AQI is provided by airnow.gov. For most the rest of the world, the AQI is provided by aqicn.org.
The app also spits out tips on keeping your air quality healthy. These are typically general in nature although you will get some that are particularly tailored to your situation. The notifications tab keeps a timeline of all significant air quality events in your home.
Finally the Awair app also provides smart home integration. You can integrate with Google Assistant, Nest and Alexa. There is also an option for setting up IFTTT. Awair has a dedicated channel that allows you to do all sorts of cool things like control other devices such as humidifiers, fans, purifiers and more. With a bit of effort and investment, you could even come up with an integration that automatically keeps your air clean and healthy.
Awair is a great looking product, super easy to set-up and use. The air quality monitor provides timely and interesting feedback via its dot display and smartphone app. It sends alerts and suggestions when something is amiss and comes with lots of customization options and smart home integrations. There is actually very little not to like.
What impressed me the most, though, is its responsiveness to momentary shifts in air quality. You’ll be able to see changes when cooking, cleaning, having people in the house and more. These will be reflected almost immediately allowing you to take prompt action.
My only slight gripe with the product is that the fan makes a very faint sound. It’s one of those things where you either notice it or not. From a few feet away it’s impossible to hear anything.
For those that care about the quality of air they and their families breathe, Awair is a complete solution. It’s exactly the experience I had hoped for inside a lovely, unobtrusive package.
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