Disclaimer: I was not paid by Speck (Airviz Inc.) or anyone to write this review. I did pay 199$ for my Speck Sensor (plus shipping, plus duty taxes) and I do not know anyone from that business.
Important : they are not the same kind of air quality monitoring device at all; it is comparing apples and oranges. They are for different purpose. I review the two because I bought both recently and they are two (very different) IoT devices in the air quality market. Speck is a PM2.5 sensor and Awair Glow is for CO2 and COV.
What is PM2.5?
It is the measurement of particles smaller than 2.5 microns in suspension in the air. They are harmful because your nose doesn’t filter them and they get into your lungs and your blood. Cities smog measurement is based mostly on this. But it can also happen inside your home for various reasons and reach values much higher. It has more effect on people with asthma but it is very bad nonetheless in the long term for any human.
My idea behind my purchase is that with this reading in real time I can better know what is causing PM2.5 issues inside my house. And I will be able to take specific actions or change habits to improve air quality.
For more information on PM2.5 check the Canadian Guide for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) in Residential Indoor Air and Speck Sensor website.
Speck Sensor Review
I got the Speck Sensor because it is a project backed by the CREATE Lab at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotic Institue. To me, it sounds more reliable than other startups in that industry like Foobot or Uhoo.
I know a PM 2.5 sensor is not totally rocket science: you can get such sensor for 18$ on Digikey. But calibrating it properly & using the data properly is another story. I noticed on my unit that they put multiple stickers because (I think) they calibrated the unit multiple time. I guess they calibrate before shipping if the last calibration was more than N months ago.
I have been using the speck for more than 30 days now and here are my main takeaways :
- You own your data, they are proud to say it and you can download it directly from the device as a CSV file without relying on cloud, in case you are really cloudophobic;
- They also have an API to access data uploaded on their website;
- It works well from the tests I made & the data I got. Nothing scientific, but data always seem plausible;
- The fan is too loud to be used in a bedroom (or even a quiet office) ; I have no other PM2.5 device to compare, but to me it really is deal breaker when you pay 200$ and can’t use it in half the rooms;
- You have to press the screen for 5 seconds to close it. I think they should add a presence sensor to automatically close/open the display. Or a physical button. It is another issue if you plan to use it in a bedroom at night;
- The provided USB cable is cheap and does not fold well. I could replace it with an other USB-C cable (will probably do), but keep in mind again I paid 200$;
- Update 2017-03-03 : the USB cable has stopped working! =/
- The hardware & software architecture feels old to me;
I knew the Speck would be a bit less sexy than other startups products, just not by how much. I do not really appreciate the design of the non-symmetric shape. The display design is okay and pretty straightforward. But it could also use of some more design finish.
Onboarding & Configuration Software
To setup Wifi, you have to connect the Speck to a computer via USB to upload the configuration via the Speck Chrome Application. It feels a bit like 2001 doing this. It is an annoying step to do when moving the device. I think they should allow the configuration to be set over Wifi or Bluetooh like many other IoT devices.
Web Dashboard Overview
You get to see your data on a chart. There isn’t much more to say I think. It works as advertised.
I know the review sounds negative, but it is mostly design issues that does not affect the quality or speed of the readings. I still recommend the Speck if you want the most accurate PM2.5 sensor that has a good visual display, Wifi connectivity and access to archive on the web. I think other devices showing just a color & requiring you to open a mobile app to see the exact reading doesn’t encourage you as much to change habits causing PM 2.5 issues.
To put things in perspective, you still get a lot more for your money than an old sensors like the Dylos DC1100 which cost the same price as Speck, but looks like it is from a Ghostbusters movie and has no Wifi connectivity (they do optionally offer a serial port for 60$ more).
But the noise?
Regarding the noise issue, I did not return the device because I finally use it only in the kitchen where most of the activities sources of PM2.5 occur. For example it reminds me to turn the fan ON when I cook.
I would like to compare other PM 2.5 sensors like the Foobot and the Uhoo; are they as noisy and if not, are they less accurate? The Dylos, which is often the benchmark for this price point, has a similar fan from the pictures I could find.
Thought on sensor choice
Speck advertises PM2.5 is a more important factor of health issues than CO2 or COV, which is probably very true. But in my appartement, PM2.5 levels are low most of the time and CO2 levels are pretty high because I do not have a ventilation system. It is not high enough to be toxic concerning (maximum ~1200ppm), but still, maybe in my specific case CO2 has effects on my daily health. I hope they will add such sensor in their next version.