Portable breathalyzers are valuable tools for alcohol enthusiasts who are concerned about their own safety, and the safety of others. We’ve rounded up five of the best portable breathalyzers on the market today, with excellent options in every size and price range. Read on to pick which one is best for you.
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1. BACtrack S80 Breathalyzer | Best Value Portable BreathalyzerPros:
- Highly recommended by a wide variety of sources
- Heralded for its accuracy
- Yields consistent results
- Widely trusted brand
- Includes six mouthpieces
- One-year warranty
- Not cheap
- Larger than some other products
- Reliability is questionable after three years
- Cannot be re-calibrated by BACtrack
The BACtrack S80 Breathalyzer is the go-to portable breathalyzer for alcohol enthusiasts around the world. It’s renowned for its accuracy and reliability, and the product has countless happy customers that can attest to its overall quality.
What is it that makes the BACtrack S80 so good? It doesn’t have any eye-popping features that differentiate it from other products on the market; it simply works better than the rest of the products in its price range and below. Every S80 is rigorously tested for quality assurance before shipping, and the device has been approved by the Department of Transportation and the Food and Drug Administration as a personal Breath Alcohol Screener. BACtrack is an industry leader in the portable breathalyzer market (we have another of their products later in this list), and the company claims that the S80 is the most accurate of any of their products.
That being said, the BACtrack S80 isn’t perfect. It’s a little on the large side compared to some of the other breathalyzers on this list, and the warm-up time (12 seconds) is slower than more expensive products. But these are small gripes that are overshadowed by the S80’s accuracy. A bigger concern is that the S80 has a shelf life of about three to five years, after which it may no longer be accurate. There’s no way to predict when this change in accuracy will occur (it’s based on time, not on the number of uses), and there isn’t much you can do to restore the product once it’s gone bad. BACtrack allows you to send your unit in to be “re-calibrated” for a nominal fee, but some user experiences we’ve read about suggest that the process is better described as a “verification”. The company will tell you if your unit is still accurate within an acceptable range, but they can’t fix it if it’s not. Instead, they’ll tell you it’s gone bad and give you a small account credit to buy a replacement.
Shelf life aside, the S80 remains the top choice for those wanting an accurate and reliable portable breathalyzer. Anyone in the market for a portable breathalyzer who doesn’t mind the price tag and doesn’t need an ultra-portable option can’t go wrong with the S80.
An honorable mention here goes to the BACtrack Trace, which is a slightly less expensive, slightly more portable offering from BACtrack. The Trace is a bit worse on accuracy than the S80, but it uses the same technology and is still very accurate overall, making it a good alternative for people who’d prefer something a little less expensive than the S80.
2. AlcoHawk Elite Slim Breathalyzer | Best Affordable BreathalyzerPros:
- Compact folding mouthpiece design makes it very portable
- Meets FDA and DOT standards for breathalyzers
- Accurate for the price
- Trusted brand
- Less accurate than more expensive products
- Recommended calibration every six months
- Quality control issues
The AlcoHawk Elite Slim Breathalyzer is a great product for people who want a basic portable breathalyzer without breaking the bank. The Elite Slim is significantly less expensive than most of the other products on this list, and it has most of the same features: It meets the specifications set by the Department of Transportation and the Food and Drugs Administration for Breath Alcohol Screeners, is capable of measuring blood alcohol content between 0.00% and 0.40%, and is sufficiently accurate for most users’ needs.
The other great thing about the Elite Slim, besides the price, is its portability. With dimensions of 0.8 x 1.6 x 4.5 inches and a weight of 3.36 ounces, the Elite Slim is one of the smallest devices on this list—easily compact enough to fit comfortably in a pocket or purse. The foldable mouthpiece is particularly great from a portability standpoint.
However, the Elite Slim does have some drawbacks. It’s not as accurate as some of the more expensive products listed here, and the manufacturer recommends that you have it re-calibrated every six months or every 300 uses, whichever comes first. This is about twice as frequently as what is recommended for the BACtrack S80, and it will cost you a small fee (plus shipping) each time. Another potential concern is quality control. Most users are very happy with the Elite Slim, but some encounter frequent errors and inaccurate readings. The Elite Slim also does not come with a warranty, which is unfortunate, albeit understandable given the low price.
All things considered, the AlcoHawk Elite Slim Breathalyzer is a great entry-level portable breathalyzer. It’s not as sophisticated as some of the more expensive products on this list, but it’s extremely portable and a great value for the money.
3. Dräger Alcotest 3820 Breathalyzer | Most Accurate BreathalyzerPros:
- Extraordinarily accurate
- Four-second warm-up time
- Quality German construction
- Super fast read times (less than 2 seconds for 0.000% BAC)
- Two-year warranty
- Stores 10 previous test results
- Premium price
- Larger and heavier than some alternatives
- Only comes with 3 mouthpieces
- Annual re-calibration recommended
The Dräger Alcotest 3820 Breathalyzer is a great choice for those who want one of the absolute best portable breathalyzers available today, regardless of the price. The Alcotest 3820 doesn’t do anything fundamentally different than the other products on this list; you turn it on, blow into it, and it will tell you your blood alcohol content. What differentiates the Alcotest 3820 from its competitors is its accuracy and its speed. It is simultaneously faster and more accurate than any other product on this list.
In terms of accuracy, Dräger claims that the 3820 is “the only portable Breath Alcohol Tester for personal use to meet the strong requirements for EVIDENTIAL Breath Testing devices (EBTs) of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.” The accuracy required for EBT classification is significantly greater than what is required for classification as a Breath Alcohol Screener, and EBTs must also keep that standard of accuracy for longer periods of time. This means that the 3820 will be more accurate and reliable than your run-of-the-mill breathalyzer and it will also last longer.
As mentioned above, the Alcotest 3820 is also extremely quick. It warms up in less than four seconds, will display a BAC of 0.000% in just three seconds, and will display a reading of 0.100% in about 10. This is significantly faster than any other product on this list, which makes the overall experience of using the 3820 much more enjoyable.
The obvious downside of the Alcotest 3820 is its price: this is an expensive piece of hardware—though, the two-year limited warranty should give you some assurance that the product will be worth the investment. It’s also a little larger and heavier than some of the other options on this list, perhaps better to be kept in a car rather than to be carried in a pocket. But the quality of the Dräger Alcotest 3820 Breathalyzer speaks for itself, and these drawbacks are not sufficient to outweigh all of the good it has going for it.
4. BACtrack C6 Keychain Breathalyzer | Best Smartphone BreathalyzerPros:
- Fits in the palm of your hand
- Good accuracy and reliability
- Mobile app has several useful features
- Can be used with or without the app (no phone required)
- App can estimate what time you will be sober
- App can be integrated with other health applications such as Apple Health
- One-year warranty
- Accuracy is good but not great
- Connection between device and app is slow
- Should be re-calibrated every year and BACtrack cannot re-calibrate it themselves
Another great product from BACtrack, the BACtrack C6 Keychain Breathalyzer is the most portable breathalyzer on this list. It’s so small that it even comes with a key ring that you can attach to your car keys, ensuring that you’re never caught without it. It’s also one of the most affordable products listed here, making it a great entry point for anyone in the market for a portable breathalyzer.
Though portability and a low price are great, the most important consideration when choosing a portable breathalyzer is accuracy. Thankfully, the C6 is a very accurate and reliable device, which is no surprise given the product’s parent company. The C6 is slightly less accurate than the BACtrack S80 and other higher-end devices, but users say that the C6 is more than accurate enough for their needs.
One unique feature of the C6 compared to other items on this list is that it can connect to an Android and iOS app via Bluetooth. The app displays your BAC tests as you take them and even stores tests for later reference. Perhaps the coolest feature of the app is that it will give you an estimate of what time you will be completely sober by. The BACtrack app also allows you to call an Uber directly from the app, making it as easy as possible to avoid unsafe driving. A final feature users love about the app is that it is completely optional; you can measure your BAC and read it using just the C6 itself if you don’t happen to have your phone on hand.
The C6 does have a few notable downsides, including the fact that it is not as accurate as some higher-end models. Another gripe that several reviewers have is that the device is very slow when communicating with the mobile app, which sometimes makes the app seem like more of a hassle than it should be. A final downside is that the C6 should be re-calibrated every year, but as was the case with the BACtrack S80, BACtrack cannot re-calibrate it for you should the device have gone bad. Though, this is perhaps less bothersome for the C6 than the S80, as it is about half the price.
Still, the BACtrack C6 Keychain Breathalyzer is a fantastic portable breathalyzer overall and is well worth your consideration. For just a little bit more than the AlcoHawk Elite Slim, you get a keychain breathalyzer from one of the biggest brand names in the space that also comes with a mobile app. It’s a great deal.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY
A few cautionary words for anyone who is considering drinking and driving, even while using one of these devices. The legal BAC limit in the United States is 0.08, but you may be stopped by police, charged with an offense, or ticketed even if you are under that BAC level. That legal BAC limit is for persons of legal drinking age. The legal BAC limit for those who aren't yet 21 ranges from 0.00 to 0.02 percent BAC, depending on the state. For commercial drivers, a BAC of .04 percent can result in a DUI or DWI conviction nationwide.
Personal and portable breathalyzers are designed to provide you with an estimate of you intoxication so you can make an informed decision about getting behind the wheel. Most breathalyzer models recommend you wait 15-20 minutes after drinking to test your BAC, in order to ensure the most accurate results possible. The body can take even longer than this to process alcohol, so you may want to wait as long as an hour after your last drink to test your BAC.
Just because you are within the legal drinking limit does not mean you are capable of driving safely, so always use your best judgement, and stay aware of local laws that govern driving while intoxicated. Always drink responsibly, and never drive when you feel impaired, no matter what your BAC reading may be.
A portable breathalyzer is a smart investment for anyone who wants to drive responsibly after a night at the bar. Portable breathalyzers can be easily transported, either in a backpack, a purse, or even on your keychain. And of course, they're cheaper than getting a DUI.
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