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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
More modern, portable design than BACtrack’s S80
Features built-in memory, saving your last 10 BAC readings
Convenient one-touch operation
Better accuracy than mobile breathalyzers
Lacks any connectivity to smartphones or other devices
Not as accurate as higher-end models
The BACtrack Trace is a cheaper and more portable version of the S80 breathalyzer. The two devices are nearly identical, and though the Trace isn’t quite as accurate, it has the advantage in portability and affordability.
A relatively recent addition to the BACtrack lineup is their Trace breathalyzer. This slimmer unit makes a few noteworthy changes when compared to the tried-and-true S80, but it comes in at a lower price at the cost of some sensor accuracy. For most people, the newer Trace will serve as a great entry-level personal breathalyzer.
Also, we’d like to make a quick note that you shouldn’t unquestionably trust these devices when determining whether you’re too drunk to drive or under the legal limit. Personal breathalyzers such as these can be crucial devices for many people wanting to make responsible decisions while drinking, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution and just call a rideshare service or a cab. Regardless of the accuracy personal breathalyzers can deliver when used properly, it’s better not to chance it.
Right out of the box, the BACtrack Trace is a noticeably smaller and lighter device than the S80 (BACtrack’s flagship breathalyzer) and feels more modernized and updated overall. The sleek black rectangle features the unit’s LCD display at the top, a Power button, a Mode button, and the company’s logo.
On the side, you’ll find the port for the removable mouthpieces like you would on any other unit, but with the Trace, this mouthpiece is conveniently illuminated by a blue LED, letting you see it better in a dimly lit bar or in your car at night. Aside from the mouthpiece light, the LCD on the Trace feels much clearer and brighter than the S80.
For $100 or less, the more portable Trace is easily the best option for a personal breathalyzer out there.
The Trace also comes with a nice little carrying case (though not as nice as the S80’s, which is neoprene vs. polyester) and six disposable mouthpieces to prevent any cross-contamination between uses or if you simply want to let someone else try it. The case is quite small, but is able to hold the device, a few mouthpieces, and some spare batteries so you never get caught with a dead device when you need it most. It feels marginally sturdier than the S80, but you definitely don’t want to drop the Trace or leave it anywhere it might get crushed since we doubt it would survive much trauma.
As far as personal breathalyzers go, the Trace couldn’t be any simpler to use. Drop in two AAA batteries, slide in a mouthpiece, and your device is ready to work. With the same one-touch operation found on other BACtrack devices, all you need to do is hold down the large power button at the center of the unit for about a second or two. The breathalyzer will then beep to let you know it’s alive and begin heating the sensor. This process is quick and only takes about 12 seconds. The mouthpiece also illuminates, which is a clever feature for those who may need to use the device in the dark or when they’re a bit inebriated.
As far as personal breathalyzers go, the Trace couldn’t be any simpler to use.
Once it’s ready for testing, the Trace will beep once more, indicating it’s ready. To properly use the Trace, simply take a nice deep inhale and then slowly but steadily exhale into the mouthpiece for about five seconds. It’ll beep when you’re done and have correctly blown (there’s also a noticeable click that indicates the internal air pump worked correctly). Moments later, your results will pop up on the display and you can be on your way. It should be noted that you need to wait at least 15 minutes between eating, drinking, or smoking to get accurate results.
The Trace also has the ability to record and track your last 10 readings, which can be a handy feature for those who want to keep track of their results over time. To access these, just tap the “M” or Mode button to see previous test results. It’ll also show you how many tests the unit has completed, so you can send in the device when it’s time for recalibration. According to the manufacturer, the Trace will last about 3 to 5 years, or 1,500 uses.
Features and aesthetics aside, a sleek-looking breathalyzer is no better than a paperweight if it can’t deliver consistent, accurate results when you need it to. The Trace implements the same technology as the S80 for its testing, which is a good thing. BACtrack’s Xtend Fuel Cell Sensor Technology combined with their “Optimal Breath Capture” system (designed to exclude ambient air, fumes, and other airborne gases that could contaminate results) deliver accurate and consistent BAC results for the most part.
Testing the Trace with a moderate amount of booze in our system, we were able to get fairly consistent and accurate results over the course of an afternoon of drinking (according to an online BAC calculator). While not quite as accurate as the S80—we typically got a margin of error at plus 0.02—the test results make us confident in the Trace’s ability to get the job done for most personal consumer needs.
Although reliable, the slight margin of error might make the S80 a the better choice for those who want the most accurate breathalyzer available to them, especially when you have no room for error. That being said, the Trace is also approved by both the US Department of Transportation (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), so it’s trustworthy, but if you have any doubt at all, the safest option is to never drink and drive, regardless of what your unit is telling you at that time.
The Trace is on the cheaper side of the spectrum when it comes to comparable units. You can typically get this device for around $100 at MSRP, which makes it a bit more affordable than the competition, especially considering you get a case and six mouthpieces. One major point of consideration is that this unit (and all other BACtrack breathalyzers) will ultimately require sensor recalibration. This means you’ll have to send it to the manufacturer, pay a fee ($25 at the time of this review), and then wait a week or so to get it back. While that may not be an issue to some, the ability to replace the sensor yourself like with the AlcoMate can be a big savings in the long run.
If you want a slightly cheaper, more portable device and can afford a slightly larger margin of error on your tests, the Trace should be fine.
Probably the biggest competitor to the Trace is BACtrack’s own S80. We’ve made some comparisons to their flagship breathalyzer throughout this review, but we’ll break down a bit more of the details here. The devices themselves are quite similar. They both use the same testing methods and sensors, both store data on tests and essentially do the same job, so what’re the biggest differences?
The main thing here is that the Trace is a bit more compact and portable. While the S80 isn’t all that much bigger, the Trace fits easily in your pocket, while the S80 isn’t the most comfortable, especially if you don’t want a big bulky outline jutting out from your pants leg. The Trace itself also feels a little more modernized and updated, sporting an improved LCD display.
Aesthetics aside, the S80 really is the better option. Breathalyzers need to do one thing: give accurate test results, and the S80 is superior in this crucial area. The price difference between the two is $100 for the Trace, $150 for the S80, so the latter isn’t dramatically more expensive either. If you want a slightly cheaper, more portable device and can afford a slightly larger margin of error on your tests, the Trace should be fine. But if you simply want the best and most accurate device with no room for errors, just go with the S80.
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The best personal breathalyzer under $100.
For $100 or less, the more portable Trace is easily the best option for a personal breathalyzer out there. It’s accurate and consistent, but not quite as superb as BACtrack’s own S80 in test accuracy.