The slew of fitness trackers on the market have pointed to a movement toward the quantified self, learning about our habits through personal analytics and ideally improving ourselves based on this insight. But how much is too much? What about toothbrush analytics?
Officially launching at CES last week, the Beam Brush heralds itself as the world's first smart toothbrush. My take? It doesn't do a very good job applying those smarts.
If you needed an overt example of a company capitalizing on a trend where sensors and Bluetooth are haphazardly slapped onto hardware and deemed "smart," Beam is it. For the ridiculous price of $50, you get a manual toothbrush that "monitors your oral hygiene habits" (read: tracks how long you brush) and sends that data to a clunky smartphone app.
Manual Vs. Electric
When first setting up the Beam Brush, you insert a AA battery, not so you can powerfully clean your teeth, but so the toothbrush can send your data to an iOS or Android app.
While dentists might say you can brush as effectively with a manual toothbrush as an electric one, let's be frank here. To cite an example, Philips' Sonicare DiamondClean brushes at 31,000 strokes per minute and has been clinically proven to improve oral health, reducing plaque and gingivitis. You won't see comparable stats on a manual toothbrush.
While $50 is still cheaper than something like the DiamondClean, for what you're getting that price tag is absurd. Essentially, you're shelling out half a Benjamin to get the same level of cleanliness as the free toothbrush from the dentist office you're already using.
The folks at Beam Brush would argue that you're getting a more comprehensive cleaning since you're brushing for longer. Apparently, the average person doesn't hit the two-minute recommended marker. From Beam's website:
Today, the average person brushes their[sic] teeth for only 46 seconds, but is 50% more likely to brush their teeth for a full 2 minutes by using just a simple timer. Oral care is considered patient centered, since oral health is impacted significantly by your daily hygiene habits. Data from the Beam Brush is designed to raise awareness for your oral care.
The toothbrush analytics here essentially boil down to a timer that remembers the length of your brushing sessions. Nothing about stroke count, brushing efficiency or any of the like. It doesn't tell you problem areas or techniques to tackle them. For that reason, the Beam feels a lot like an overpriced toothbrush with a built-in timer. Since we already know what to aim for, the data tracked over time is painfully boring. If you do your job right, every session will say two minutes, give or take. You can achieve the same oral hygiene results by sticking with that free toothbrush your dentist gave you and using a cheap kitchen timer.
Perhaps the best example of how this toothbrush fails is in the design. Forgiving the bulky exterior and atrocious pink my review unit came in, this toothbrush can't handle exposure to water.
A toothbrush that you can't take into the shower or wash under the sink without worrying about damaging its electronic innards only reinforces how poorly executed the Beam Brush is. Completely ignoring consumer habits, this brush includes a few battery-powered components — enough to warrant a "smart" moniker in marketing speak but not much else. Buy this if you have more money than you know what to do with — sadly, in Silicon Valley, that's common enough — but if you actually want your pearly whites to shine as brightly as you do, the Beam Brush isn't any more effective than what you have in the bathroom.