It’s often said that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and that has certainly shown to be true with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One medical product that has seen a re-innovation of sorts, in both fashion and function, is the face covering. What has been historically an item seen primarily in healthcare and industrial settings is now a hot medical gadget and a new fashion trend.
AirPop was one of the companies that announced a smart face wearable called the Active+ during the (virtual) CES back in January, and it was kind enough to send us a unit to test out. Here’s our thoughts on this timely and unique gadget.
The Active+ Halo Smart Mask is a dome-shaped face mask, much like an N95 mask, which allows an air gap above your nose and mouth to make breathing a little easier. It’s attached to the face with soft elastic cloth ear loops. Our mask was just a bit too loose, but AirPop provides bands to adjust the earloops.
The structure of the mask itself consists of a soft, yet durable cloth outer shell of two colors: black with neon green highlights, or white with gray highlights. The design is modern and attractive; the black or white is neutral, yet the green or gray accents give it a slight contemporary look. In the lower right corner of the mask is the small plastic circle that is the Halo sensor. The inner layer of the mask consists of a replaceable filter made of double layered, electrostatically charged TorayMicron fibers that are commonly used in industrial settings. To ensure a proper seal, the filter layer is lined with two layers of silicone to accommodate different shaped faces.
While we appreciated how the silicone membrane was designed, we found that it added additional bulk to the already weighty mask, and we found it uncomfortable to wear at times; it would feel unpleasantly cold on our face, especially in the morning if the mask was left in the car overnight, and it easily accumulated sweat when worn while hiking.
What makes the Active+ face mask “smart” is the Halo sensor embedded in the cloth layer. The Bluetooth Low Energy sensor can track your breathing rate, air volume, and wear time, and when combined with the smartphone app, can use your location to determine AQI (air quality index) and calculate the amount of particulate matter blocked. The Halo even has an LED ring that can be customized to your color preference (although the LED would only light up when syncing the sensor with the app).
While the Halo sensor is great in theory, the actual experience using it with the app was less than ideal.
The app is poorly designed; navigating it was not intuitive, we found several spelling and grammatical errors and random Chinese characters, and our location was not correct. Breathing and air quality statistics were unhelpful or sometimes missing altogether. Finally, the battery in the Halo sensor died well short of the six months that the company claimed.
We’re hopeful the company can fix these issues in a future update.
- Attractive design
- Innovative idea
- Bulky compared to most other face masks
- Not the most comfortable to wear
- App is clunky to use
The AirPop Active+ Halo Smart Mask is an absolutely brilliant idea…in theory. It was designed to capture useful information about our breathing and the air around us using a product that lots of people everywhere are wearing, but failed to do so. Moreover, at the time of writing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lifted its mask recommendations from many public environments, providing a long-awaited sense of freedom for many Americans. It remains to be seen what the market for face coverings will be like in the future, but given that they’ve never been widely accepted in society (at least compared to some countries in East Asia), this wearable could very well become just a short-lived fad and a memory of a dark period in our history.
The AirPop Active+ Halo Smart Mask is currently available for $150 from the AirPop Health online store.