SINGAPORE – 2020 has sent us into a weird era where face masks are an essential part of our lives. This is no different in 2021 as well. With masks being the essential tool in stopping transmissions of bacteria and viruses, companies have innovated masks that can do more than your standard surgical masks. Not to mention, they also contain built-in fans that help the circulation of air in the masks, making them possible to be worn when doing strenuous activities as well.
These masks can also be a fashion statement for some. Because, why look like everyone else when you can have a mask that helps you stand out from the crowd? (lol)
We at Yahoo Life SEA recently received four electronic masks from three different companies, and I have put them through some tests to see if it's any better than wearing a regular mask. To be clear, we have no way to test if any of these masks block any kind of virus or bacteria transmission, so we will not say how 'effective' these masks are in that regard.
I will, however, will review these masks based on several points, mainly:
- Ease of use & battery life
- Price & value
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LG PuriCare Version 1
Let's start with the mask that started it all, the original LG PuriCare Version 1.
Fitted with two side fans, the LG PuriCare contains two HEPA filters that can be placed on the side of the mask. It also has a silicone faceguard at the mouth area, which contains a filter as well.
This thing is huge! You will likely get stares if you wear this out in public, but it is far from the most outlandish-looking mask on this list. It covers the entirety of the bottom half of your face, and it does look a bit bulky as well.
The LG PuriCare V1 is quite comfortable to wear. Despite its size, it is pretty light, but it does droop a little if it isn't secured properly. On the other hand, the silicone guard sits comfortably on the face with no annoyances whatsoever. LG also provides a strap extender with the product so that you can secure the straps of the masks together for a more secure fit on your head.
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This is, perhaps, the most amazing thing about the mask. The fans in the unit pull air from your surroundings through the HEPA filters, allowing a constant flow of air to be delivered to your face. The fans have three speeds, slow, medium and fast.
The 'slow' speed is recommended for sedentary activities like sitting down in a park or at your desk in the office. The 'medium' setting is recommended for light activities, such as strolling or walking, whereas the 'high' setting is recommended for strenuous activities like sports.
I personally have worn this mask for exercise before, and I must say, the amount of air pushed through at the 'high' setting not only allows me to do high-intensity workouts with the mask comfortably, it also cools the face so that I do not get heated up in the mask while doing such activities. The airflow of the 'slow' and 'medium' settings are also spot-on for their intended activities.
Ease of use & battery life:
You are advised to change the inner filter every day if you wear the mask, while the HEPA filters can last about 30 days before needing a change. It is pretty easy to swap these filters, with not much hassle.
Putting on the mask is also easy, just like a regular face mask. The straps are adjustable, so you can adjust them to secure them on your ears. The silicone faceguard is easy to clean. You can take it off and wipe it with a damp cloth or wash it with water.
For battery usage, I have managed to get the mask to last about two hours on a fully 'high' fan setting mode, while the 'medium' setting drains the battery fully at around three and a half hours. The 'slow' setting took about six hours to drain the battery.
However, this mask contains a very detrimental flaw (fixed in the PuriCare Version 2): This mask muffles your speech. It blocks a lot of sound from travelling out of the mask, and it will make you hard to listen to if you are planning to talk to someone.
Price & value:
I'll be honest, the LG PuriCare line of masks aren't cheap. Retailing at S$229, you will also need to spend S$30 a month replacing the HEPA filters on the mask. You will also need to replace the mask's inner filters as well. But it does what it is supposed to do, and I would dare say, even better than an ordinary N95 mask (yes, not just a surgical mask). I have passed areas with a high density of smoke from cars and smokers, and I usually don't smell anything, if not only a tiny waft of smell from them.
Also, because this is Version 1 of the product, and LG has since released Version 2 out into the wild, you may be able to get this version on the cheaper side if you are not too bothered about its bulkiness and the way it mutes your speech.
A supposed upgrade from Version 1, LG has reduced the bulkiness of the product for Version 2 while still maintaining most of the original features, with a few extras as well.
The V2 is much less bulky than its predecessor. It doesn't have the protruding sides that contain the filter and fans like the V1 and is now a smooth rounded surface. The mask also comes in black and white, unlike the V1, which only came in white.
Much like the V1, the V2 also uses the same silicone face guard with an inner filter. It also uses the same strap on the mechanism, with LG providing a strap extender to secure the mask to the head. The weight of the mask also feels a little bit more balanced than the V1. Because of that, besides using the mask for activities with heavy movement, it can sit securely on the face without the strap extender.
This is, perhaps, one of the biggest changes besides the looks for the LG PuriCare. Gone are the three levels of fan speeds in the V1, and it is replaced with an automated system that senses your breathing intensity. The PuriCare V2 'feels' your breathing and automatically adjusts its fan speeds according to it.
I would say that this is an excellent implementation in theory to prolong the filters' battery life and lifespan. Still, I couldn't use the mask for high-intensity exercises. I kept feeling that there was not enough air passing through the mask for exercise-related heavy breathing, unlike the V1. I had to take out the mask in the middle of my exercise session because I was short on breath.
However, for normal daily usage, the mask serves its intended purpose.
Ease of use & battery life:
The inner filter and the HEPA filter have the same lifespan as the V1. However, you are advised to change the inner filter once every usage, and the HEPA filter needs to be changed every 30 days. So if you decide to upgrade from the V1 to V2 and have spare HEPA filters lying around, you can use them in the V2 as they use the same filters.
The mask is also easy to put on with no hassle. The straps are adjustable.
You can also clean the silicone face guard with a damp cloth or wash it with water.
For battery usage, the V2 lasted about six to eight hours of continuous use for me, which is a big step up from the previous gen. But, of course, it depends on your activity for the day and how hard you push the fans with your breathing. This model also charges with a USB-C charger.
The V2 has addressed the biggest problem with the V1 – your ability to communicate through the mask. It now comes with a built-in mic and speaker, and it performs admirably without the speaker being too loud. I wish it came with an option to adjust the speaker's volume, though, because you will still need to raise your voice a tiny bit for people to hear you in noisy and outdoor areas. You are also able to turn this function on and off with just a press of a button.
Price & value:
The LG PuriCare Version 2 retails at S$249 and it is more expensive than the V1. You will also need to take the replacement HEPA filters and the inner filters into account.
But just like the V1, the V2 doesn't change any of the facts that it is a great device to filter out bad smells and smoke. If this is extremely important to you, perhaps paying this much for fresher air is worth the price. Not to mention, the V2 also looks much slicker than the V1.
Razer came up with the idea of their version of a mask after LG released the first version of the PuriCare, with the codename of Project Hazel. The initial design concept was a sleek, black mask with a built-in mic as well. Razer, a company that focuses a lot on releasing gaming peripherals, didn't fail to include the ever performance-boosting RGB lights on it.
The final product that was released came out a little different, though, with the mask being slightly bulkier than the concept, with the omission of the in-built mic and speaker to keep its weight down. The RGB, however, made the cut. I'm pretty sure the lights will be able to make you breathe at 1000 fps (no, it won't).
It looks like some form of a riot gas mask. It has RGB lights that are configurable through an app (yes, you can opt to turn them off, too, if you like). The front of the Zephyr is translucent, with lights shining on your mouth so that people that you talk to can see your mouth movements.
That's all I am going to say about the looks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The mask is surprisingly comfortable and light despite its size. I can see why they removed the voice module from the mask, because if this mask were any heavier, it would be tough to balance the weight to stop the mask from drooping down the wearer's face.
It also comes with a silicone faceguard like the PuriCares, which sits very comfortably on the face. So again, I do not feel any differences in comfort from the LGs in this regard.
The strap on the mechanism, however, is interesting. The mask comes with two straps, one to be placed at the neck, and one on the top of your head. These straps are adjustable to provide a secure fit. The strap that secures the mask at the top of your head has a fastener to lock in the straps. While this provides a very comfortable and secure fit, you all also have a little bit of strap string hanging from the top of your head unless you tuck it in somewhere.
The Zephyr comes with three modes of fan speed – high, low and off. It performs in the same way as the PuriCare V1, so there is ample air to breathe in the 'high' setting when you are working out. The 'low' setting is meant for regular day-to-day use, and it provides ample air for light activities. Finally, the 'off' function is when you would like to use it with just its passive airflow (while the RGB is turned on). The breathability on this mode is akin to a standard surgical face mask.
Ease of use & battery life:
One minor gripe I have with the Zephyr while changing the fan speeds was the lack of indication of what fan speed I was on. Perhaps I am spoilt by the PuriCare V1's audible beeps whenever I change fan speeds, but do note that you will probably need to cycle through the fan speeds to know your current settings if you forget what rate you're on.
The fans on the Zephyr are LOUD. The 'high' setting emits a very high-pitched motor sound that will probably annoy you and your neighbour. Even on the 'low' setting, it still whirrs a little bit but is tolerable.
The filters on the Zephyr are easy to replace. Simply pull out the magnetic side vent covers, and you can swap the side filters. The front filter used for additional breathability can be accessed through the front cover and easily changed. The silicone faceguard is easy to detach and clean as well, just like the PuriCares.
The battery lasted about 7 hours at the 'low' fan speed and around four to five hours at 'high' fan speed. Both of these were tested with the LEDs turned on. Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to try these numbers with the LEDs turned off, so you may be able to get more battery life out of the mask if you do decide to turn them off. The Razer Zephyr charges with a USB-C charger.
Sound is definitely muffled while speaking through this mask, but not as bad as the PuriCare V1. I personally would have appreciated the voice module, but a lighter mask is definitely a much better trade-off for this feature.
Price & value:
Coming in at S$159, it is a good 70 dollars cheaper than the PuriCare V1. It doesn't filter bad smells or smoke as the PuriCare (due to the lack of the dedicated HEPA filter) but can still be as effective as an N95 mask when it comes to odour and smoke.
A pack of replacement filters for the Zephyr also costs S$50 for a month's usage. It will come with 10 sets of replacement filters per pack. To be fair, each set of filters are rated to last for three days with eight hours of usage. So if you have days that you do not use your mask at all, you can save on your filter usage (after replacing the old ones, of course).
The most significant divisive factor with this mask is definitely its looks. With such a distinct design, you must be a fan of the Zephyr's look to bring yourself to purchase one.
The Philips Fresh Air Mask is probably the most normal-looking out of the four masks featured here. Functioning just like a cloth mask with a built-in fan, this is a mask that I will not hesitate to take out as a daily driver due to how "normal" it looks. However, it does have some shortcomings. Philips
The mask resembles a regular black cloth mask. It only has a protruding silver port on it for the fan that is present on the mask. Nothing much to say here as I haven't gotten any stares from anyone while using it outdoors.
The mask is soft, with Philips calling the outer layer an 'Air Mesh' material. It is incredibly light due to the mask's nature and sits on the face just like a regular cloth mask. In addition, the filter inside the mask barely touches the face, so it doesn't irritate the face.
The filter portion of the mask also comes with a light and soft sponge for it to hang on your nose to keep it stable. The straps on the mask are also adjustable and comfortable for the ears.
Unlike the three previous masks, the Philips mask uses negative pressure to pull fresh air into the mask. While the other masks on this list have the fans blowing inwards towards the user, the fan on the Philips is blowing outwards, dispelling the air that you breathe out and allowing the negative pressure in the mask to pull air in through its filter and the mask's fabric.
It has three fan modes – low, medium and high. It passes the high-intensity workout test on the 'high' setting, with the fan being strong enough to pull in enough air through the mask to keep me breathing normally during a workout session. The 'medium' is meant for low-intensity activities, and the 'low' is intended for sedentary activities. They perform well, and I have no issues with those modes.
When the mask is turned off, the airflow is just as restrictive as a normal surgical mask.
Ease of use & battery life:
The mask is straightforward. You can place a filter inside the 'Air Mesh' layer, and you are good to go. Press the button on the silver portion of the outer layer, and the mask instantly activates. Press the button again to adjust the fan speed. Like my gripe with the Razer Zephyr, I wish it had an audible beep to let me know which speed the fan is on while cycling through the settings.
You are also able to detach the fan module from the outer layer of the mask. You can then wash it with cold water to keep it clean, much like a cloth mask.
The straps are also easy to adjust for all ear sizes.
The mask filter fits nicely inside of the mask. You can keep the filter in place by locking it into a few grooves on the inner part of the mask.
Battery life on the Philips is not as long as the competition, however. I only managed to squeeze out around one to two hours of usage on the 'high' setting, two and a half hours on the 'medium' setting, and around 3 hours on the 'low' setting. So if you plan to purchase and use this mask outdoors for long hours, my advice is to keep the fans off unless you need them. Of course, it still can protect you through its dual filtration of the mesh and the filter even if the fan isn't turned on (but then, what's the point of buying an electronic mask anyway?).
What's even more frustrating is the implementation of a micro-USB for charging. Because micro-USB cannot carry that much juice, unlike USB-C chargers, it takes about two to three hours to get this mask fully charged if you deplete its battery. So you aren't able to have any kind of "fast charge" going for this unit.
Since the mask is like a cloth mask, you are still audible when you talk with it on your face. It barely muffles any sound, so no issues there.
Price & value:
Going at S$159, this is a tough one. On the one hand, it serves its purpose as an electronic mask with great airflow, but the battery life hampers it. As a result, you aren't able to use it for long hours for its intended purpose. Granted, as I've written earlier, you can still get enough protection and filtration with the fans turned off. Still, one can argue that even a standard cloth mask with an additional layer of the surgical mask will perform the same. However, Philips touts that the filter "provides N95 level filtration performance", which may be its saving grace.
Each filter is rated for use up to 122 hours, so you do not need to change it out as often as something like the Razer Zephyr. Wearing the mask for 8 hours a day will get you 15 days' worth of usage. A filter pack costs S$39 and will contain five filters, so this has the lowest cost for changing the filters out of the four masks featured here.
It doesn't filter out much of the odour around you as well, but it does manage to keep the air you are breathing relatively fresh.
If the battery life doesn't bother you, this mask is a worthy buy. It looks 'normal' and is comfortable to wear, while also doing its job pretty well.
I wish I could let you know which is the best mask, but they are so drastically different from one another that it really depends on you, the user, to decide which is the best for you and your use case. But whatever it is, if you are looking for more protection than your average surgical mask, these are the best picks that you can find today in the market.