Date: July 18th, 2006
Article by: Mike Carter (Hardware Reviewer)
Edited by: Nathan Glentworth (Owner / Head Editor)
Product was submitted by: Q3I Innovations
PRODUCT PICTORAL AND WALKTHROUGH
I know, you're eager to get to the testing (so am I!) but we need to go over the basics first.
The AlcoHawk Slim is made completely of plastic, and has a sturdy feel. That said, it's not as solid as the mainly metal police tester I compared it with.
The front of the AlcoHawk has three main features: The power button, the display, and a set of holes across the top of the unit. These holes are the vent holes that allow your breath to pass across the sensor and out of the tester.
On the backside is the battery compartment, which holds two AA batteries.
On the side, is the flip-out breath tube. Note that you do not breathe directly into the tube. The tube is plastic, as is the rest of the unit, and I'm a little concerned that under regular usage, the pivots might wear out. Given the low price point, though, this is an acceptable trade-off.
Instead, you slip one of the included mouthpieces over the tube. This prevents cross-contamination between test subjects. Q3I includes three mouthpieces, and you can buy more from their website, in either packs of 10 or 50, for $7 or $20 USD, respectively.
It's also important to note, as well, that the sensor used in the AlcoHawk Slim is not the same as the professional units. This unit uses a professional-grade semi-conductor sensor, while the true police units use a fuel-cell type sensor. The only difference you need to know is that the AlcoHawk's sensor is not rated for evidential testing, which means that you cannot use it to defend yourself if you do get pulled over.
Now, we can get to testing.
Just to make things interesting, I got some help with this review, in the person of a local police officer. Unfortunately, due to department regulations, I was unable to take photos of the actual testing, or of the actual portable breath analyzer he uses. It was, however, the first time I've been in a squad car with an open beer.
Now, we get to the most important feature of the AlcoHawk………..the instructions. Trust me, you need to read these. It's not as simple as pushing the power button and giving a good beer burp into the tube.
The first thing you need to do is prime the device. This needs to be done every time the device goes 24 hours without use. To do this, blow for 5 seconds or so into the tube BEFORE turning on the AlcoHawk. Obviously, this needs to be done while sober, otherwise you'll get inaccurate readings. If you're a casual user, plan on doing this each time you go out. I had initial problems getting the unit to calibrate, requiring several passes to get the tester to start up. This appeared to happen only for the first calibration.
You will also note that the device needs to be calibrated every so often, as often as every 6 months, under regular use. This coincides with the official police units. The unit must be returned to Q3I for this service, at a cost of $20 USD.
Following the instructions, I waited 15 minutes after drinking the first, and got tested with both units, the AlcoHawk, and the police unit. Note that it's important to wait at least 15 minutes after a drink or smoking, as the residue in your mouth can register abnormally high readings. I verified that this was true for the police tester as well. Both registered a solid .03. A half-hour and one beer later, we tested again. Again, both testers registered the same, .07, which is just below the legal limit in most states. After another beer, and a re-test, I registered a .11 on both units, which is well over the legal limit. This was surprising, as I didn't feel anything more than a slight, warm glow. I didn't even have to pee yet. Keep in mind that I'm a big guy, too, at 6'4” and 220 pounds. I would have figured a lower reading than we actually got.
The upside to this testing was that I proved the AlcoHawk is as accurate as the current police tester.
The downside is I was locked in the back seat of a squad car until I was below the legal limit again, which took quite awhile. It's a darn good thing I know the officer in question, or my next stop would be the local drunk tank.