Usually a water bottle just sits there kind of dumb, giving you water when you ask for it, but not telling you much of anything else. Of course, if it started talking to you, you'd also wonder what was in it, but we digress. Sportline has introduced what it calls "the intelligent water bottle" called the HydraCoach. When we saw the first models in mid-2006, company representatives were quite adamant this really wasn't a bottle -- although it looked, smelled and felt like a bottle. Rather, they told us, it was a hydration COACH. What it does is calculate the amount of fluids you should personally drink a day (not accounting for extra needs based on activity or weather) and then measure how much you are drinking from this bottle, calculating ounces with every slug.
Basically, the HydraCoach is a rather normal-looking Lexan bottle with a bite valve to drink from and small window on its front with blinking digits reminiscent of a sports watch. In contrast to simple things like normal water bottles that you simply open, fill and close, this one requires set up (user information, time… like a simple sport watch) and that freaked out one of our four testers. He's the type whose VCR is still blinking 1200. Heck, he might even still have a VCR!
Another tester initially said when she saw the palm-sized manual, she told her husband, "Since when do you need a college degree to use a water bottle?" Bravely, she read it, although she calls herself "electronically challenged," and she said she set it up first try, no problems. Our other two testers, one woman and one man, had no issues. Small print and having to cope with simple electronic set-up could prove to be a bit of a hurdle since the audience for this bottle might well be the aging baby boomer or nearly baby boomer who didn't pop out of the womb downloading cell phone ring tones. While we found the manual simple enough to follow, we do recommend larger print since many of those potential users may also have "aging eyes" syndrome too! We'd also recommend boldly bullet-pointed directions.
There are an inordinate number of abbreviations used as delineated in the manual, but frankly once you get it set up, all you really truly need to do day-to-day is fill it, hit reset and drink.
So we were off and drinking. A couple of us (athletic types) usually keep water on our desks and sip when we think of it. What we did find is that sometimes we just forgot and, come noon or mid-afternoon, we'd look up, see the screen blinking something absurd like two ounces and we'd think, "Yikes!" and start drinking again knowing that a workout later that day may be impacted. Another tester who is on a weight-loss program said she thought she normally drank enough fluids, but discovered with the help of the HydraCoach that she indeed was not and it helped her pick up the fluid intake pace.
One issue is the need for rather vigorous pulls on the bite valve. If you take a rather low-key sip or even a low-key and long-drawn-out sip, it simply doesn't register on the device. You could in fact polish off the entire 24-ounce bottle and register very very little. But a vigorous suck and you can see the number of ounces change before your eyes. One user said she'd love to see a larger bottle since she likes iced water. That raises another issue: If you put a bunch of ice in the bottle, then finish the water and leave the ice, it could also mess with the measuring mind of the coach.
Another matter is the weight -- about 7.5 ounces compared to 6.5 for a regular Lexan and 2.5 or less for a sport bottle. A runner would never take this along as it stands now. A hiker might consider it, but may think twice. What we and several others would love to see is this kind of "coach" measuring device in tubes on hydration packs where a user simply can't see the reservoir and sometimes is unaware of how much they have had. Or not.
The biggest issue for our testing team, though, was its accuracy. We felt it measured low, sometimes as much as 10 percent and up to nearly 20 percent less than the bottle held or we had measured and poured in. Several times we drank vigorously and found the bottle (we measured it as closer to 24 ounces although the website says 22 ounces) only told us we'd downed 15 or 16 ounces. Other times, it would be nearly spot-on with the amount we had measured and poured in. Our hypothesis is that measurements vary based on how hard you drink or how much you drink at one time. The potential for drinking more water than you think, based on what the HydraCoach is telling you raises a warning that there is the possibility you could drink too much water if you used it exclusively and obsessively, and only used plain water in a hot environment.
We think until a system for hydration packs is unveiled, that the best use for this bottle is by those who are not athletic but are trying to get more active and are trying to lose weight and generally be healthier. Even if it does have the possibility of measuring low until all the kinks are worked out, it still works as a nag -- a motivator if you will and that, for many people, could be a good thing. Meanwhile, we athletic types may tinker with it at our desks now and then for fun and a reminder.
Wrote one less-active tester: "I will definitely use the HydraCoach every time I do work outside or even when at amusement parks or other leisure outside activities. My 'coach' will help me with an aspect of my life -- proper hydration level -- that I won't really have to think about any more."
Now, whether those types are willing to spend $30 is another issue, especially when cheaper bottles can run a couple of bucks and cheap sport watches can go for just a few. But we expect that will all change soon too.
SNEWS® Rating: 3.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $30
For more information:www.hydracoach.com