By using a compact sensing device and a free downloadable app, the Breathometer is claimed to turn your smartphone into a breathalyzer that can be carried with you wherever you go. Ultimately, the company claims this will give “you the power to make smarter decisions when drinking.”

Founded in 2012 and based out of Burlingame, CA, Breathometer was originally featured on episode 505 of the popular television show Shark Tank, where all five Sharks invested a total of $1 million in the startup. Since then, the product has been written about in Gizmodo, CNET, Forbes, and many more publications.  Breathometer is not listed with the Better Business Bureau, though the most common complaint we encountered during our research cited readings that were inaccurate, or that varied greatly for no apparent reason.

How Breathometer Works

According to the Breathometer website, their patent pending breathalyzer device is equipped with an FDA-grade ethanol sensor that has undergone “rigorous government lab grade testing to ensure its accuracy of ±.01% BAC.” The device is about the same size as a standard key, and attaches directly to your smartphone’s headphone jack. Once connected, the free app will sense the amount of ethanol (a byproduct of alcohol) on your breath, and use it to estimate your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).

The company claims that the Breathometer was invented to help you “make informed decisions” by letting you know when you’ve had too much to drink. If this happens, the app can even help you get in touch with local cab company, or help you figure out how long it will be until you’re sober. The manufacturer claims the Breathometer is an FDA-registered device, and that it’s about as accurate as other “high-end breathalyzers.”

Based on information on the product’s website, using the Breathometer can be completed in three simple steps:

  1. Open the app on your smartphone.
  2. Plug the portable device into your smartphone’s audio jack (claims to be 2mm longer to accommodate phone cases—see more about this in the final section).
  3. “Whistle blow” into the illuminated hole from a distance of about an inch for a period of five seconds. For the most accurate readings, be sure to wait at least 20 minutes since your last drink before testing.

Keep in mind that as of this writing, the Breathometer is only guaranteed to work with the following phones (in other words, it you’re phone is not listed below, there’s no guarantee that it will work as advertised):

iOS (Any device that supports iOS7)

  • iPhone 4s and newer
  • iPod Touch 5th Gen and newer
  • iPad 2nd Gen and newer
  • iPad Mini

Android (Version 2.3 and above)

  • Nexus 4
  • Samsung S4
  • Samsung S2
  • HTC One X
  • HTC One
  • LG Optimus 2X
  • Sony Xperia Z

The Breathometer hardware includes an instruction manual, and the app is also claimed to feature clear instructions in case you run into any problems.

While the full tech specs can be found here, the Breathometer takes 1 AAA battery, which is claimed to last approximately 75 tests. However, you will need to treat the hardware with the same care as your phone (e.g. no dropping it, keeping it dry, etc.), and recalibrate the sensor about every 250 tests.

Breathometer Pricing

The Breathometer is currently available only for the U.S. market, and can be purchased for about $49 from the manufacturer and numerous other online retailers. However, it is currently on backorder for anywhere from 4-12 weeks, depending on which page of the product’s website you’re basing your information.

The Breathometer comes with a 1-year warranty and a 30-day money back guarantee, though you’ll need to have a valid proof of purchase. Simply contact customer service at 800-868-0496 or email them to begin the process.

Bottom Line: Does Breathometer Really Work?

As with a new tech gadget, there are always going to be some kinks to work out, and the Breathometer is no different. With this in mind, the most common complaint we ran across during our research was accuracy and failure to work on a consistent basis. For example: A user may take a reading 30 minutes after having only one drink, and their BAC would read 1.0 (or something abnormally high). Then, they would run another test an hour later, and it might still register 0.9. On the other hand, another user may have consumed 2-3 drinks in a very short period of time, and their BAC would register abnormally low.

The second most common complaint we encountered cited that the headphone jack is not long enough to work with most cases. This means that most users will be required to either remove their phones from their cases or purchase an adapter in order to use the device. The company states the Breathometer’s jack is 2mm longer than normal to accommodate the extra thickness of a case, but many users complained that this is still not long enough to work with anything other than a “bare” phone.

However, even with these kinks, the Breathometer represents a fairly large leap forward in the world of breathalyzers. Because of this—if the current backorder length is any indication—people are apparently clamoring to get their hands on one. If you decide to purchase, just keep in mind that it’s not a fail-proof way of testing your BAC, and there is no substitute for good judgement.