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Foobot review: Is the indoor air quality monitor any good?

The Good

  • Solid build quality
  • Easy to use
  • Reliable

The Bad

  • Needs more detailed tips
  • Expensive
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Foobot review: Ever wanted to know how clean the air is in your home? Foobot can do just that, but is it worth the money and will it really make much of a difference?

If there is one killer that people seem to ignore, it is pollution. Maybe it is because there is little you can do about it or because most people are unaware of the dangers, but the problem is rather serious. Serious enough to kill more than 4.5million people prematurely every year.

Given the level of the problem, then, it makes sense to try and improve the situation in your home. One option that lets you do just that is the Foobot Indoor Air Quality Monitor, which was originally crowd-funded using Indiegogo.

So is there much point to the gadget, what exactly can it monitor and is it worth spending £170 on something that looks like a giant air freshener? We answer those questions in our full review, but first a word on setting the thing up.

Foobot review: Is it easy to setup?

The Foobot is very easy to setup if you follow the instructions. Download the free app, run it and do what it says. That includes putting the Foobot near your wireless router because if you ignore this it will struggle to connect.

Once running, the app provides real-time details of the air quality in your home. The initial setup requires it to be very near the router, but after that you can plug it in anywhere within range of your WiFi signal and it will reconnect in no time at all.

That means you can test out the air quality in different rooms, although unless each room is air tight you will see overspill. For an average of your home, it would be best to put it somewhere in the middle of your home.

Foobot review: What does it measure?

The Foobot Indoor Air Quality Monitor is unable to clean your air, but it does provide a readout of what air is like in your home in terms of particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), humidity and CO2.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds are gases that come from certain solids or liquids, including cleaning products, paints, fuels, aerosol sprays and dry-cleaned clothing. Health effects include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, damage to your central nervous system and even cancer.

VOCs are measured in part per billion. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises a maximum level of 300ppb.

Particulate matter (PM)

Also known as pollution matter, particulate matter is a fancy way of describing the solid particles and liquid droplets you find in the air. The smaller particles can be inhaled and, although very small, are actually said to be the main cause of haze in the US.

The smaller particulate matter is the biggest problem because it can go into your lungs and even your bloodstream, where the nastier chemicals can cause decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat and increased respiratory symptoms such as coughing.

Foobot’s optical sensor can measure particles in the air ranging from 0.003 to 2.5μg. The World Health Organisation advises the average concentration over 24 hours should be no higher than 50 µg/m3 for PM10 and smaller particulates.

Humidity

Humidity is measured because it can affect your health. Too dry and it can cause sinus problems, dry skin and itchy eyes. Too humid and it can help mould and bacteria grow, neither of which are good for you and your body.

Temperature

Self-explanatory, this one. Measuring temperature lets you see how warm or cold your home is. Too hot and it can contribute to the growth of certain nasties. You can change between Celsius and Fahrenheit in the settings.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

We breathe out CO2 so it makes sense to measure it because too much suggests the air in your home is stale and needs refreshing, something you can usually achieve by letting new air in and the old air out.

Generally, somewhere between 350 and 1,000ppm is acceptable. 1,000 to 2,000ppm is referred to as poor air and can cause drowsiness.

2,500 to 5,000ppm is said to be where a number of nasty things can happen, including headaches, sleepiness, poor concentration, loss off attention, increased heart rate and maybe even slight nausea.

Foobot review: How do I use Foobot?

Once setup, the app displays all five of the above constantly. A tab at the top called ‘Outdoor’ lets you see an average for your area to give you an idea of how clean or unclear your home’s air is. A score of 0-25 is considered great, 25-50 is good, 50-75 is poor and 75+ is poor. The lower the better, then.

The Foobot app background changes colour to reflect the band you are currently in, as does the Foobot device. You could actually use it as a light, such is the brightness, but the settings do let you turn down the intensity or use a timer to select when they switch on and off.

Press the arrow at the bottom of the main air quality monitor screen in the app and a Global Pollution Index pops up. Here you can monitor the change in air quality in minutes, hours, days and weeks for a clearer picture of what goes on.

You can press a little drop-down arrow up top to select a particular subject, including VOCs and particular matter. Do so and you can drill down into why your score is what it is.

Another feature you can use from the main air quality monitor part of the app is called ‘tips’. Select VOCs, PM or carbon dioxide and then press the button to see suggestions on what you can do to help improve the air quality situation.

Little tip: You can double tap on the Foobot unit to send a notification to your phone with the current readings.

Foobot review: So what can I do to improve the air quality?

Move home to the countryside although that would potentially only reduce some of the problem, especially if your home was recently painted or features lots of chemicals in the air.

Foobot suggests to improve your CO2 level you need only ‘renew the outdoor air’, which means open some windows and doors. PM can be sorted by reducing your usage of a gas cooker or switch to electric hobs as well as ensure you always use a hood to ventilate your air as you cook.

The tip for VOCs says ‘cleaning with chemicals is like poisoning your body’, which means you should probably ventilate your house as much as possible when you bust out the sprays and bleaches.

Arguably more useful is the graph the app draws because you can see when certain types of pollution spike. If it is around 7pm, is it your cooker that is doing it? Around 3:30pm? Could be the greater number of cars on the school run.

Because the app and Foobot device update constantly, you can see it react very quickly to an air quality changes. Spray a deodrant can nearby and it will typically jump from in the blue to the red in a second or two.

Foobot review: What does the IFTTT stuff do?

Because Foobot can use IFTTT, a simple conditional code for automating certain tasks, you can actually let it turn on, say, a dehumidifier if the air reaches a certain level of pollution.

Meanwhile Alexa support lets you ask Alexa what the air quality of your house is, to which it will use Foobot to give you a reading. Hardly that useful, but the novelty is something the first few times.

Foobot review: What are the negatives?

Foobot only monitors the air, which means you will need a humidifier and other air cleaner if you want to make your air cleaner. It is there to tell you if you have a problem and how big it is.

This is all well and good, except for the fact the tips it offers are obvious at best and non-existent at worst. The aforementioned VOCs tip, for instance, never suggests you do anything.

But you can swipe through the tips to more useful stuff such as performing a gentle and regular clean as opposed to one big one every now and then with really harsh chemicals. It also suggests cleaning the air in the room is as important as cleaning the room itself.

Another tip is to avoid artificial smells such as fabric softener and incense. Instead, the app suggests you ventilate your home because good air has no smell.

These are valuable points, but more specific tips would help. Should you open a window if your room overlooks a busy road? Can plants such as a peace lily help? What else can be done to help you improve your air quality situation?

It would be great if Foobot helped you along in the journey to breathing better quality air, as opposed to merely directing you. Why does the app not link you to the Foobot website resources page? Here, you can find a lot of useful stuff such as the NASA advice to have at least one plant per 100 square feet of living space. Seems a shame there is less integration between the information and app.

Foobot review: Should I buy one, then?

People with allergies are probably keen to find out if they could improve their situation. Foobot can help with this. Or maybe you want to ensure your air is as good as it can be to ensure a long and healthy life (or as close as possible), which is another thing Foobot can do.

It seems a shame you need to do a lot of the research yourself to make an improvement, but then if you are willing to spend £170 on a air quality gadget you are probably concerned enough to bother. In fairness, Foobot is one of the most feature-packed air quality monitors you can buy.

The Foobot is expensive, but then can you put a price on your health? We will let you decide the answer, but we will say that air pollution is only set to get worse and any gadget that helps highlight the situation is worth mentioning.

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