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You’re drunk. How drunk? Hard to say, since you’re drunk and all. A handheld breathalyzer can help. We got trashed and compared four over-the-counter testers with the California Highway Patrol’s gear to find out which one is the best drinking buddy.
1. AlcoMate AccuCell AL-9000
In our tests, not even the next-best AlcoMate Premium AL-7000 could match the wicked consistency of the AlcoMate AccuCell AL-9000. Granted, it reads about 0.01 higher than the police units — but it’s always 0.01 higher.
Thank the fuel-cell sensor — the same tech used in police models — which turns your boozy breath into electrical current that can be precisely measured. We’re guessing that AlcoMate calibrates the device a tad high to keep users on the sober side of legal — probably a good idea when your customers are the kind of people who buy personal breathalyzers.
WIRED Most reliable of the bunch. Audible click tells you when to stop blowing. Small and light. Quick startup. Optional USB kit ($50) lets you download readings to your PC to plot drunkenness over time.
AlcoTester.com Sale Price: $289.99
2. BACTrack S80 Pro
Like the AL9000, the S80 uses a fuel cell to gauge blood alcohol content; not surprisingly, it’s also similarly consistent — and costs nearly three bills. Unfortunately, the scores here were reliably about 0.01 lower than police tester readouts. That means the bactrack S80 always errs on the side of sending you to jail. But, hey, it’s better than its smaller, non-fuel-cell sibling, the B70, which we also tested. Readings on that model ranged from 0.04 to 0.12 in the span of about a minute. Lesson: Pony up for a fuel cell.
WIRED- Consistent. Comes with a nice carrying case. Looks cool.
TIRED- Calibrated slightly low, which might be good for tricking your spouse — unless your spouse is a cop.
3. AlcoHawk Pro
This product turned up most often in our Google and Amazon searches for breathalyzers, so many people will probably opt for it. Don’t be like them. In our tests, the Hawk read way, way too high — returning a blood alcohol level of 0.17 percent, for example, when it should have read 0.08. Instead of a fuel cell, this device uses a semiconductor oxide sensor. It was consistent, but such exaggerated readings make it all but useless. Then there was the shrill beeping at the end of every test. We had to knock back another drink just to calm our nerves.
WIRED Consistent, albeit wrong. Relatively inexpensive.
TIRED Ridiculously high readings. Loud — should be called the AlcoSquawk. Bulky.
A breathalyzer small enough to keep on a key chain? Great idea — unless, of course, it’s actually a random number generator. Blow into the BreathKey and you might get a reading of 0.07 (0.01 under the limit in California). Or you might get 0.13 (0.05 over the limit). Which actually represents the amount of alcohol in your blood? Even if you get a couple of breaths to come out within a few points of one another, they’ll probably be too high. (Or is that too low?) This thing is cheap in every way: price, construction, reliability. You blow, but it sucks.
WIRED Tiny. Inexpensive. Easy (if pointless) to use.
TIRED Erratic. Doesn’t have replaceable mouthpieces — pass it around the bar at your own risk.