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Hands-on review: Airthings View Plus air quality monitor

Image credit: Airthings

Keep tabs on the quality of the air in your home or shared space.

Air pollution: it's a hot topic. We're increasingly aware of the dangers of breathing in various nefarious airborne particles over the long-term - and you don't have to be living in New Delhi, by the side of a busy London road, or in the path of a Californian wildfire to be concerned about the quality of the air around you.

Accordingly, with increased consumer interest in a subject comes increased consumer technology to assist us in our quest for a deeper understanding. The market for both air quality monitors and air purifiers is an active one now and, with the View Plus, Airthings has released its most comprehensive monitoring device to date.

Building on its previous air-monitoring devices, such as the Wave Plus (which had no screen, so all data and interaction had to be done via an app on your phone), Airthings is looking to strike a middle ground with the View Plus - a low-power, full-function device but also one with key data feedback visible on the unit itself.

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Image credit: Airthings

Thus, the View Plus has a screen. Not a huge screen, at 2.9 inches, but big enough to convey whatever specific sensor information you wish to check. The black-and-white LCD display uses e-ink, the same technology as an Amazon Kindle, which helps to explain the long battery life - up to two years, Airthings suggests, using the six rechargeable batteries supplied. It's probably more like one year with real-world use, when the unit is busy every day capturing and transmitting data from multiple sensors, but swapping the batteries is still going to be an infrequent occurence. You can also power it using the included USB-C cable, if you have a wall socket nearby.

There's actually no good reason for a fancier screen, such as full colour or a backlit display - this isn't a video screen and not something you'll be continuously checking, plus the additional battery drain would be significant for minimal UI return.

The device screen only has room to display two sensor readings simultaneously: you can select your preferred pair from the Airthings app. People will have their individual needs about the specific air-quality data that they most want to keep an eye on. The View Plus has sensors to detect levels of radon (the radioactive gas produced by the decay of naturally occuring uranium); small particulate matter PM2.5; carbon dioxide (CO2), although not carbon monoxide; temperature; humidity; air pressure, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), e.g. from household products.

As well as radon detection - an uncommon feature on this type of device - the addition of PM detection is a major boon for anyone concerned about the air outside their home as well as inside. Particulate matter can come from vehicle exhausts, but also from nearby industrial activity, wood-burning stoves, wildfires, cigarettes, cooking, even from pets or burning incense. Given the part PMs play in agitating debilitating lung conditions, the detection of these particles will be most welcome to many people.

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Image credit: Airthings

To get up and running with View Plus, you simply put the unit wherever you like - either hung on the wall (3M Command mounting strips are in the box) or freestanding on any shelf. It's a relatively small and neat object, sitting unobtrusively in a modern home with its minimalist appearance and matt white finish. Airthings advises that optimum placement is at 'breathing height', which it defines as being between 110cm and 170cm above floor level.

After the initial set-up process - the unit has Wi-Fi built in to connect to your local network - the device starts a seven-day calibration process while it learns about the quality of the air in your environment. During this period, the data captured may fluctuate wildly - this is normal. Once it settles down, you can rely more on whatever the device is telling you.

Two sensors and an LED lamp sit above the display, with more sensors at the sides. For a quick check of air quality in your space, you just wave your hand in front of the unit and the LED will glow either green (good quality air), yellow (fair to middling), or red (danger, danger). The screen itself also displays a related status message. Aside from the on-screen feedback, all other interaction with the device is done via the smartphone app or a web browser.

With the View Plus connected to your Wi-Fi network, data is synced with the Airthings cloud servers every 10 minutes. This cloud connection is what enables you to check the data from your phone or from any web browser, from anywhere. The sensors take measurements every few minutes, with slight variations between each type of sensor. Using the app, you can break down all the captured data to varying degrees of granularity or simply enjoy a quick graphical overview of both current and recent air activity.

The app also shows you the preset thresholds - which cannot be user defined - for each sensor. You can also set up notifications if any of these sensor thresholds are breached, as well as configure which pair of sensor data is displayed on the View Plus screen.

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Image credit: Airthings

The View Plus also technically supports voice assistants and skills with Alexa and Google Assistant, although in the spirit of full disclosure we should say that we haven't delved too deeply into this aspect. Mixed results have been reported elsewhere.

The device also supports IFTTT applets and can work as a hub for other Airthings products, so in theory you could set it up to trigger an action on another gadget if a sensor threshold were to be exceeded - for example, controlling a smart plug to turn on an air purifier. As the View Plus is connected to Wi-Fi, such actions would be triggered automatically without any further input from you, giving you one less thing to worry about/remember. Hello, smart home or workspace.

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Image credit: Airthings

This last scenario raises a fair conceptual question about the View Plus and air monitors in general: what can you actually do with all the data you're presented with? Once you know that your air has problems, what action can you take? The View Plus alone doesn't actually have any answers: it will simply alert you to any problems, as and when they occur. What you do with this information is up to you.

Not that this is a major issue, per se. If you were previously unaware of, for example, unusual and fast-rising PM2.5 levels in your home, it's good to know that and to have your attention drawn to it by a device like the View Plus. You may not always be able to take action after every warning (if you already live in a high radon area, say), but much of the time you can take productive and beneficial steps to help yourself, such as opening or closing a window, or turning on your oven's ventilation hood.

If you actually want a device that also cleans your air, you'll have to pay considerably more for an air purifier - typically, twice as much as the cost of the View Plus. The Airthings device is already not what you'd call cheap, so it's another major financial step up to get something that also scrubs the air clean, such as the Prosenic A9, Aura Air or Dyson Pure Humidity+Cool.

None of this is any slight on the performance of the Airthings View Plus. It's designed to be a class-leading air-monitoring device and in that respect it unquestionably does an excellent job of detecting the broadest range of atmospheric conditions and airborne particles. If you want to know more about the air that you breathe, the View Plus will see you right.

Airthings View Plus

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