By Joanna Stern
Good news, everyone, I'm still breathing. At least, that's what
my smart mask says.
In fact, it tells everyone around me, via a small
color-customizable LED light. (I chose purple.) It illuminates when
it's recording my respiratory cycle.
Look, do I have the coolest mask at the supermarket? 100%. Do I
need it? 100% not.
The connected $150 AirPop Active+ mask, which I've been testing
for the past few days, was officially announced this week at what
can now only be called CPS -- the Covid Protection Show. Bye-bye,
It was bound to happen. Every year, tech companies and
entrepreneurs show up at the tech show in Vegas with new ideas of
how gadgets can solve our everyday problems. The biggest difference
this year? Everyone seems focused on the same problem. Well, that
and everyone showed up via the web. The show is entirely
But I don't put all the Covid-19 prevention gear -- everything
from smart air-purifiers to temperature-taking video doorbells --
into the same category as the smart fork (a real CES product I once
reviewed) or the smart toothbrush (another real CES product I once
reviewed). This year's devices are aimed at helping us understand a
very clear and present danger. Even better, some are built to
Since the best part of CES is actually touching and feeling the
gadgets (talk about germs!), I had companies ship some of these to
the CPS 2021 show floor -- aka my basement. Here are some of my
thoughts on what is, and isn't, worth it.
Masking the Tech
I wouldn't buy the $150 AirPop Active+ but that doesn't mean I
don't appreciate it. Six years ago, company founder Chris Hosmer
was living in China, where his young daughter suffered acute
respiratory reactions to noxious air. He set out to build a mask
that addressed human-made, ecological and pathogenic threats --
essentially pollution, wildfires and disease.
The quarter-sized doodad integrated into the front of the mask
has sensors that capture breathing-related data, temperature and
humidity. It pairs via Bluetooth to your smartphone to tell you
your breathing rate, how much pollutants were blocked, the
air-quality index and more. Since it knows how long you've worn the
mask, it can also tell you when to change its filter. The mask's
snap-in filters are good for 40 hours of wear.
Though I feel like a superhero every time I put the mask on,
it's too much data for me. I just want a good mask to protect
myself -- and others -- from getting sick. (I also had a buggy
first unit, but the replacement is working fine.) If you're
interested, the mask begins shipping in February. Or you can get a
"dumb" version -- no sensor -- for $56 right now.
LG's PuriCare Wearable Air Purifier, which looks straight out of
"The Dark Knight Rises," goes a step further. In addition to a
respiratory sensor, it has built-in fans, a HEPA filter and an
air-purification system to protect you. I haven't tested it myself
-- for now, it's available only in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Iraq. It's
coming to other countries soon.
I can recommend a cheaper connected mask that I've been testing
for a few months. The $50 MaskFone, as I said in the WSJ Personal
Tech 2020 gift guide, is no more than a Motorola Bluetooth headset
draped through a mask, but it does make talking on the phone while
masked a more pleasant experience. Plus, it's great for running:
The earbuds stay in because they're attached to the ear loops.
Apple, it's worth noting, has a mask of its own that I have also
been using. Except there is nothing "smart" about it -- it's a
simple white mask made out of a thick material with adjustable ear
loops. It isn't for sale; it's made for Apple employees.
Killing the Germs
"I'm sorry this column was late. My keyboard and mouse were
being disinfected." Thankfully, my editor understands the
importance of disinfection.
Targus's UV-C LED Desktop Disinfection Light, designed to sit
between your monitor and keyboard, automatically turns on every
hour, blasting UV light for five minutes to destroy bacteria,
viruses, fungus or mold. That's the time needed to get to 99%
reduction of those things, a Targus spokesman says. Happen to be
typing a very important email? Its motion-activated sensors will
keep the potentially harmful light off until you are away from
keyboard. Disinfection doesn't come cheap: Targus plans to sell it
by April for $299.
The issue with testing any UV sanitizer, including those
smartphone-tanning beds? Your devices don't actually look any
cleaner afterward. (My keyboard still has what appears to be dried
honey mustard on the "H" key. Don't judge.) The basic science is
proven, but you have to accept the claims at face value.
What else needs a good cleanse? The air around your desk. Not my
desk, of course -- my desk air has a "good" rating, according to
the $200 LG PuriCare Mini Air Purifier I've been using. I can fire
up the milk carton-size device using my iPhone and get a report of
the current air quality. It's meant for your car or cubicle, not
your living room. It's available now.
Is that LG too big for you? The Luft Duo, which its maker claims
is the world's smallest molecular purifier, is shorter than a can
of soda. It doesn't, however, connect to smartphones, so I have to
walk over to it to change settings. Life is hard.
Sensing the Temperature
Option 1? Station someone at your front door to take
temperatures, like they do at my son's school. (Bless you, Ms.
Option 2? Install the Plott Ettie, a video doorbell with an
infrared thermometer. Just like a Ring doorbell, it connects to an
app so you can see who's on your doormat. But unlike Ring, it also
shows that person's body temperature. The device, expected later
this year for $300, is intended for both homes and businesses. The
nonworking prototype I borrowed looks cool but is certainly bigger
than other connected doorbells.
Just bear in mind, fever is not a clear indicator of Covid.
"Temperature is essentially worthless -- no matter how you measure
it," Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and executive vice president at
Scripps Research, says. As he explained in my column a few months
back, most people diagnosed with Covid-19 don't have elevated
temperatures, and you can spread the virus long before showing a
One gadget Dr. Topol doesn't think is worthless? The
BioIntelliSense BioButton, a FDA-cleared medical-grade wearable
patch that continuously tracks temperature, respiratory rate, sleep
and heart rate.
On "display" at CES this week, the patch can be used to spot
Covid-19 symptoms -- possibly even early. Originally developed to
monitor patients in a variety of configurable ways, it has a
battery life of 30 to 90 days. I tested a similar patch for a video
about using wearables, including smartwatches, to spot or diagnose
Covid-19. Unlike a mask or a sanitizer, this sort of gadget doesn't
prevent germs from reaching you, but early detection of Covid could
do even more to slow the spread to others.
BioIntelliSense is working with different companies,
organizations and countries -- for instance, Saint Lucia, which
will require everyone who visits to wear a BioButton a week before
they arrive. It will be on sale to the general public next week for
There's really only one problem with a gadget like that: Since
you wear it under your clothes, nobody will know you're a
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 13, 2021 12:57 ET (17:57 GMT)
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