Air purification gets mobile, irregularly, with the AirLabs AirBubbl Portable Air Purifier, a device that promises to bring industrial-grade purification power to small spaces, including your car.
In many ways, a mobile purifier makes perfect sense. If you drive a taxi or work as a ridesharing operator, or even if you are on the rideshare service picking up kids from school, the car provides a much cramped and cramped environment than even the dirtiest home or office. That guy breaking a lung while sitting behind you? Well, that’s why most Lyfts and Ubers installed Plexiglass screens when the pandemic started.
AirBubbl is a USB-powered device that can be clipped to the back of your headrest, putting the purifying power as close to your face (and the face of any passenger sitting behind you) as you can. It also makes bold claims about its capabilities, boasting that it is “the only air purifier independently tested and verified to be 99% + effective in removing hazardous particulates, airborne human coronavirus, and gas pollutants.” I can’t judge medical claims like this, but they’re at least worth considering.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart air purifiers, where you will find reviews of competing offerings, as well as a buyer’s guide on the features to consider when purchasing this type of product.
The device is constructed as a compact cylinder, 30 centimeters long, with a rubber strap that allows it to be attached to the headrest. Its maximum airflow speed of 22 cubic feet per minute is small but adequate for a tiny space like the interior cabin of a car, especially when you consider that clean air is blown directly at the head. The unit can be disassembled for filter replacement ($ 50 each) after 1,000 hours of operation, and the outer sleeve is washable. AirBubbl’s filter is not HEPA rated, but AirBubbl says its filter handles 2.5 micron particles as well as volatile gases, all of which are relevant in an automotive environment.
The unit can be controlled manually via a single button on one side that alternates between “boost”, normal and automatic modes, the latter being a five minute boost followed by two hours in normal mode. By connecting the system via Bluetooth to your single-screen mobile app, you gain access to a somewhat more intuitive operating system, plus a filter monitor that alerts you when it’s time to replace it.
First, you will need to complete the registration. A very primitive registration routine requires you to provide a collection of personal information, plus an email address and password, all of which seem overkill for a device that can’t even connect to Wi-Fi. A confirmation was promised soon, but I had to wait a day before I received an apology email from AirBubbl, a temporary password (which cannot be changed), and the promise that a new app would improve all of this soon. That’s good news, because as it is, the registration process couldn’t get any worse.
With that settled, it was time to get the device up and running. If you have practical USB ports in your car, it will be much easier for you to connect the wiring where it needs to go; otherwise you will need to use the included 12 volt adapter (cigarette lighter) to power it up. (The unit does not include a battery, so it must remain connected every time you use it.)
The first thing you’ll notice when you hit the road with AirBubbl, besides the gentle breeze blowing inside your car, is how strong it is. At a specified 44dB in normal mode and 48dB in boost mode, it’s loud and annoying no matter how loud you turn the radio on. Conversing with a person sitting directly behind you is very difficult, at least for me.
Smart features are decidedly limited; the application offers nothing more than the ability to turn the device on and off and change the mode; there are no timers, no settings, no indication of the actual air quality in the car. The unit also cannot be configured to regulate itself based on ambient conditions. At one point, I received an alert on my phone that I had earned a badge, presumably from simply using the device, although there is no in-app mechanism to view such badges, so I’m really just guessing. Perhaps that is something that is to come in the new version of the application.
At $ 299, AirBubbl isn’t a cheap endeavor, but assuming its claims are accurate, it seems to offer a reasonably effective way to clean the air while on the go, and the new app will certainly help in that regard. However, you would probably avoid using the device while other people are in the car; it’s just too loud and too invasive. Once they’ve paid for their fare and hit the curb, feel free to turn it on.