It was back in 2012 when the two big stalwarts of the smart home market, Philips Hue and SmartThings, first arrived on the market to automate our homes. Ten years later, almost every home has something “smart”, whether a few lights, Amazon Alexa or a video doorbell.
Perhaps instead of smart homes, the focus should have been on safe and healthy homes first. People will be familiar with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors for safety but when it comes to healthy homes, it’s more unfamiliar territory. We’ve probably all seen news reports about mold in poor quality housing or air pollution from traffic near busy roads. Everyone knows about smart bulbs but what about smart air quality detectors? These could really benefit asthma and allergy sufferers.
For the healthy home, Norwegian specialists Airthings have a range of products which can monitor for radioactive gases like argon, the presence of VOCs – volatile organic compounds – or predict the likelihood of mold growing. What are VOCs? Airthings says that they’re a combination of gases and odours emitted from many different toxins and chemicals found in everyday products. They come from an array of everyday items including paints and varnishes, wax and cosmetics, cleaning and hobby products, and even cooking and human breath. When you have an enclosed space like a home or office, these emitted gases accumulate and pollute our fresh air. That sounds bad but how bad is it really?
To find out, Airthings kindly send me one of their Wave Mini Smart Indoor Air Quality Monitor (hereafter known as Wave Mini) to try out and I’ve been impressed on a number of fronts – it’s easy to use, can be located almost anywhere inside and seems to give hard data in line with expectations. Let’s take a closer look…
The Wave Mini comes in a small cardboard box that befits the Mini’s size – there’s no wastage here with an excessively large box. Inside is the Wave MIni, a small stand, batteries and some short instructions. Batteries? Yes, this is the first win. There’s no need to locate the Wave Mini near a power socket or to have an unsightly cable as the device uses three standard AA batteries for about two years worth of operation depending on battery brand. Score one.
As you’ll see from the pictures, the Wave Mini is the usual anonymous white with an impressed Airthings logo, and can either be wall mounted or sit on a horizontal surface courtesy of the small stand. The back of the Mini is held in place magnetically so it’s still very easy to change the batteries if the unit is on a wall. Score two.
The Wave Mini communicates with a smartphone via Bluetooth, (though a new Hub is available as well for those looking to connect up multiple devices). Both Android and Apple devices are supported so the next step is to download the app and create an account with Airthings. Once you’re in the app, it’s pretty much a case of pulling the battery tab on the Mini, adding a device and letting the phone getting on with the job. You can assign the Mini to a specific room too, such as office or bedroom.
The app requires a few permissions and config changes to make sure that it will sync regularly with the Mini. I was on Android and didn’t feel there was anything too suspicious. Once the configuration is done, Airthings recommend putting the Wave Mini in its new home and leaving it there for a week to allow the sensors to calibrate and settle in. Time passes…
The week’s up and now the Airthings app provides information and graphs on the condition of the air in the room. It offers three main measurements – VOCs, humidity and temperature – and combines them to create a mold risk from 0 to 10, with 0 being very low risk and 10 being almost certain. Ok, so it doesn’t sound very exciting but if you have concerns about the air quality in your home, you’re now gathering hard data. The app will also alert on the phone if certain thresholds are exceeded, e.g. it gets too hot or too humid, but these are preset thresholds and you can’t change them.
Here are some example screenshots from the app.
The graphs show that I’ve nothing to worry about in my home – everything was all very normal. There are a few nifty features – you can choose different time periods from 48 hours to a year, and there’s a little cursor that can be moved along the graph line to get the specific data point. The app links to helpful information on the web via questions like “What is humidity?”
A common complaint of smart home technology is that it’s often the male geek controlling the house and that other inhabitants don’t have access to the data. That’s still partly the case here, but the Wave Mini has a single LED on the front that will glow green, amber or red when a hand is swiped in front of it, giving an overall assessment of the air quality. This is great as it negates the need to always review the data on a smartphone and includes more of the household. Looking at some of Airthings other products, they often come with little displays too. Score three for inclusivity.
And if that’s not enough, Airthings offer even more ways to interact with your data. There’s a web-based dashboard, an API, skills with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and integration with IFTTT. The latter gives some options around “If the temperature is above 30 C, turn on fan”. I had difficulty getting the Alexa skill to work – it wouldn’t recognise “Airthings” and according to some of the reviews, it’s a bit limited anyway.
It would have been good to see direct integration with, say, SmartThings, but if the new Matter standard comes to pass, it may not be an issue.
In terms of the competition, the only one I have direct experience of is Foobot and as far as I know, they’ve left the consumer market. In comparison, both devices collect the same information but the Wave Mini is far neater and more convenient. Score four.
Drawing this to a close, having spent a couple of weeks with the Airthings Wave Mini, I think it’s an easy to use and reliable bit of smart home tech that could really benefit families where either there is an allergy or asthma sufferer, or there are concerns about pollution or mold in the home. Priced at UK£69, the Wave Mini is affordable for most people and could be a real boon in providing solid data when there are questions. Available now.
Thanks to Airthings for providing the Wave Mini for review.