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Airthings View Plus, hands on: Smart but pricey air quality monitoring

This is a comprehensive air quality monitor with a handy display and wi-fi data sync that could enable automation.
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Written by Mary Branscombe, Freelance blogger on
Pros
  • Multiple sensors
  • Wi-fi sync
  • Long battery life
Cons
  • Expensive
  • ePaper screen flashes on updating

Given the amount of time people are spending inside and worries about air pollution drifting in through the window, an air quality monitor is a reassuring addition to the office. The latest Airthings monitor, View Plus, has more sensors, plus an ePaper screen to give you an instant view without you having to pull out your phone. It also uses Wi-Fi to sync data when your phone isn't around, giving you the option to use it for automation.  

This extra functionality adds up though: at $299/£249, this is something of an investment -- especially as some sensors have a limited lifespan. 

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The Airthings View Plus has a comprehensive set of air quality sensors.

Image: Mary Branscombe / ZDNet

Fitting in sensors for carbon dioxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM1 and PM2.5), temperature, humidity and air pressure makes the View Plus quite a bit bigger than the Wave Plus, and about three times the size of the dinky Wave Mini. It also takes six (non-rechargeable) AA batteries to power it, or you can plug it in to a USB-C charger. After 10 weeks of use, the battery was down to 76%, which is in line with the promised two years of battery life. 

The ePaper display on the front means that, while you'll still want the smartphone app or web dashboard to examine data in detail, you can also see quickly if the two metrics you care most about are good or bad. You can pick which two to see all the time, and waving your hand in front of the device triggers it to turn on an LED to give you an overall red, yellow or green rating and flash through all the measurements in sequence. 

SEE: Our old devices are creating a mountain of e-waste. And it's getting a lot bigger

The good news about the ePaper display is that it's easy on battery life and is legible from many angles. But it's also the kind of ePaper that shows previous readings very faintly when you're close enough to wave your hand at the device -- the display looks nice and clear when you're further away. You may also find the not-quite-instantaneous flash to black and back as it updates every few minutes distracting if it's in your eyeline. 

The View Plus syncs over Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth, although you still need to use a smartphone to set up the device and get it onto Wi-Fi in the first place (setup is the same simple process as with previous models). That means it can sync data when your phone isn't nearby with the app running, so you can keep an eye on office temperatures overnight to see the heating hasn't been left on, or check in on air quality before you get home, or just not have to remember to turn on the app when you're in range.  

The View Plus can also act as a hub for other Airthings monitors to sync through rather than using Bluetooth (we discovered during this review than our Wave Mini hadn't synced data in a couple of months), although you have to power it over USB-C for this to work.  

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The measurements for the days immediately before and after getting a new air quality filter (with a VOC spike when it was first unpacked).

Image: Mary Branscombe / ZDNet  

Understanding your air quality 

The View Plus is one of the most comprehensive consumer air quality monitors on the market. Many of the sensors are the same as in the Wave Plus, although it doesn't have the mould sensor of the Wave Mini because humidity so high as to need a mould monitor will degrade some of the other sensors too quickly. The carbon dioxide measure will be helpful if you want to monitor ventilation levels, while the new PM2.5 sensor shows you what most people think of when they say 'air pollution': the tiny little particles that can cause long-term health issues. 

The phone app gives you a certain level of historical data, and for more you can dig into the charts on the Airthings dashboard in a web browser. 

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Looking at the carbon dioxide levels over the course of two days, you can see when more people enter the room.

Image: Mary Branscombe / ZDNet   

What you can do about the measurements depends on your situation and the cause of the problem, but at least with this kind of data you can get a better picture of your air situation. Having purchased a powerful air filter (a Blueair model that claims to remove particles as small as viruses) halfway through testing the View Plus, we could see that PM levels were generally lower after it was installed in the office. Also, turning the air filter up would often drop the PM level quickly. But on days when external air pollution was high or the air filter was running on automatic, the PM level would stay higher in the office. 

Opening the window in the office clearly makes a difference to CO2 levels and VOCs (volatile organic compounds from a variety of sources including plastic packaging). We saw a spike in VOCs the day we hung up a string of battery-powered lights covered in little plastic unicorns and, ironically, the day we unpacked the air filter unit.  

Routinely having the windows open in the spring had shown lower CO2 and VOC levels (measured with the Wave Plus, which gives consistent readings to the View Plus) than those we measured in the (somewhat cold) late summer and early autumn. CO2 levels also clearly track office occupancy (from no-one overnight to two people and two cats during working hours). We could also look at air quality indicators for the days the ink-jet printer was running and confirm that it doesn't correlate to an increase in VOCs or particulate matter.  

Because the Wi-Fi connection means it's a more consistently available data source, the View Plus also gets an API and an IFTTT connection. The API is getting picked up by ecosystems like HomeAssistant and Homebridge, so you can connect up multiple devices, perhaps automating a humidifier, dehumidifier, fan or air filter when readings hit a certain level. 

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Image: Airthings

As with the other Airthings monitors, how useful you find the View Plus depends on what issues you have with your air quality and what you're able to do about them. If it's too cold to open a window (especially with energy prices going up the way they are in the UK), knowing that the CO2 level is higher than recommended levels might be a worry you can't do much about. But if you are able to make changes, this is a comprehensive, if expensive, option for tracking down data to help you understand your air quality and see whether those changes improve it. 

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