How smart is your air-purifier? Find out with Vishal Mathur

Jan 13, 2023 06:32 PM IST

As the country’s struggles with air pollution stretch on — India accounted for six of the world’s 10 most polluted cities in 2021, with Delhi coming in at No. 4 — competition is heating up in the air-purifiers segment. How should you pick? Take a look, in this week’s Tech Tonic

In India’s intensely polluted cities, how well an air purifier cares for itself can be almost as important as how well it clears the air in the room.

Fog and smog at Delhi’s Ring Road. (Arvind Yadav / HT Photo) PREMIUM
Fog and smog at Delhi’s Ring Road. (Arvind Yadav / HT Photo)

A smart air-purifier, for instance, will tell you when to change the filters. This is crucial because, while filters must be changed once a year, they need to be changed much more often if one lives in a polluted or dusty region (a description that covers most of India’s cities). At their most basic, smart air-purifiers also offer remote and voice controls via a smartphone, app or smart assistant.

An added advantage: They can tell users what’s in their air. Smart sensors track air quality in a room in real time, with some models generating graphic charts that represent the levels of different pollutants, from fine dust and smoke to formaldehyde, exhaust fumes, standard dust and pollen.

There is a range of companies operating in this segment in India (Xiaomi, Philips, Dyson, Electrolux and Aura Air, with prices ranging from 11,000 to 60,000). As the country’s struggles with air pollution stretch on — India accounted for six of the world’s 10 most polluted cities, as of 2021, with Delhi coming in at No. 4 and Bhiwadi in Rajasthan taking the top spot — expect more models on the market, and heightened competition among brands.

Already, prices have begun to level out. Which is a good thing because, within the smart air-purifiers segment, essential function doesn’t change much across models. Sensors detect air quality, temperature and pollutants. A fan with diagonal or tangential blades pulls unclean air in, passes it through multi-layered filters (the standard now is three layers), and pushes clean air out.

The three layers typically include a pre-filter layer that captures larger dust particles; a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (or HEPA) layer that captures particles as small as 0.3 microns; and an activated carbon layer that eliminates odour and volatile organic compounds or VOCs (an example of these are chemicals such as hydrocarbons released by paint). The best air-purifiers have five layers of thick filters. The more filters a purifier contains, the more quickly it can cleanse the air in a room and keep it clean through the day.

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In terms of design, three companies hold an edge. The Israeli Aura Air has launched its first product in India. This smart air-purifier costs about 37,500 and looks like a really large puck. This means it can be mounted on a wall or tabletop, leaving the floor clear. It also uses a multi-coated ultraviolet or UV-C filter to mount an attack on airborne germs. The Aura Air app has ironed out bugs over time, but some functionality remains perplexing. Fan speed controls, for instance, seem limited to the rather vague Low, High, Silent and Auto modes.

British company Dyson’s purifiers have a unique look: a standing tower that uses a circular tube (called a bladeless fan) to eject air through narrow vents with such force that the models offer a range of projection options (forward, diffused, etc). The MyDyson app works smoothly, and prices start at about 28,000.

Electrolux’s new Well A7 is unusual too. Inspired by Scandinavian design philosophy, it looks like a little suitcase, complete with tiny peg legs and an integrated handle. It offers five-stage filtration and an ioniser that battles bacteria. But with prices starting at about 40,000, it’s up to the buyer to decide how badly they wants visitors to say, “Oh, is that an air-purifier? It really doesn’t look like one.”

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    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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