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Three things set Davis Instruments’s air quality monitor apart from the competition. First, its AirLink monitor can detect particulate matter as small as 1 micron that’s floating in the air; the competition we’ve reviewed is only capable of detecting particles measuring 2.5-microns or larger. Second, the AirLink can be deployed indoors or out; everything else we’ve reviewed is designed for indoor use only. And third, AirLink reports its findings to Davis’ WeatherLink software, so the sensor can be used in conjunction with the company’s highly regarded weather stations.
The AirLink is a deceptively simple piece of hardware. Its ABS plastic housing measures 2 x 3.5 x 1 inches (HxWxD) and is bare of ornamentation apart from the Davis logo embossed on top. The sensor can be set freely on a tabletop or mounted to a wall via a bracket attached to the back of the housing. It can also be used outdoors and has an operating temperature of 14°F to 140°F. Should you decide to deploy it outdoors, you can slip a second plastic cover over it, which increases its dimensions to 4 x 4.5 x 1.5 inches. Keep in mind that you’ll need to plug the sensor into an AC outlet.
The AirLink provides a range of air quality data similar to other air quality sensors. It pulls real-time data from the NowCast air quality index, tracks air quality trends, displays weather data, and delivers real-time text and email alerts about changes in air quality.
The list of pollutants the AirLink monitors is pretty short compared to other sensors. It tracks only particulate matter, the mix of particles and droplets in the air produced by our environment. Some particles, such as dust and smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen by the naked eye. Others—those with a particle diameter of 10 microns or less—are too small to be visible without an electron microscope and are fine enough to be inhaled. These are classified as PM10, PM2.5, and PM1, with the number denoting their diameter: 10 microns, 2.5 microns, and 1 micron.
These particles can get deep in your lungs, exacerbating existing medical problems such as asthma and heart disease and causing allergy-like symptoms and shortness of breath in otherwise healthy people. PM1, which is less commonly tracked by consumer-level air quality monitors, has recently been strongly linked to the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. Davis’ AirLink tracks all three types.
Before setting up the sensor, you’ll need to download and register an account in Davis’ WeatherLink app. Then, making sure Bluetooth is enabled on your phone, tap the Account icon in the upper right of the app’s home screen, tap the Add button next to Devices, and choose AirLink. From that point, the app effectively walks you through powering on and connecting the sensor.
Like any effective air quality sensor, the AirLink pulls hyperlocal air quality data (it asks for access to your location during the setup process) to contextualize your home’s readings. An overview of the most salient information is displayed right at the top of the apps’ home screen: the current AQI score as well the score for the previous hour; the current weather; PM10, PM2.5, and PM1 readings; indoor temperature and humidity; and sunrise and sunset times. It’s an at-a-glance snapshot perfect for quick check-ins.
That was all I needed to know most of the time, but more detailed air quality information is displayed in designated sections as you scroll down the screen. In order, you get a full 7-day and hourly weather forecast; finer parsing of AQI readings, including an hourly average; indoor temperature/humidity/heat index readings; and a Records section that lets you view the high and low AQI for any particular day that your AirLink has been in use. You can jump directly to any of these sections by selecting the appropriate icon from a fly-out toolbar on the right of the app.
This is all included with the free Basic plan. You can upgrade to the Pro plan for $3.95 per month via in-app purchase to increase the speed of data uploads and to get historical data and charts along with monthly summaries. A $7.95-per-month Pro+ plan is also available, but add-ons like “Pest Management tools” suggest it’s aimed at industrial users.
The AirLink is a pretty utilitarian device, as you’d expect from a company whose business is professional-grade environmental hardware and software rather than consumer devices. Blending in with or complementing your home furnishings certainly wasn’t a design concern, and the device lacks features like an onboard display or color-coded LEDs that make consumer-grade air quality monitors intuitive to use—with or without a phone.
What you’re paying for is the quality of the air quality data. Davis has a global network of hundreds of thousands of weather stations that are used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Citizen Weather Observer Program, and other institutions.
If you live where wildfires, urban pollution, or other environmental factors are degrading local air quality, the accuracy AirLink offers is particularly beneficial, especially if you have health issues that render you vulnerable to pollutants. It’s also worth considering if the weather is your jam, personally or professionally, as it integrates with Davis’ personal weather stations.
More casual users, however, will probably be better served by something like the Awair Element, which can also report on carbon dioxide, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and humidity levels in the air. This slightly less-expensive device, however, is limited to measuring larger (PM2.5) particulate matter.