Blood pressure monitors or sphygmomanometers are not something which the vast majority of us think about on a daily basis. We may have an annual checkup with a nurse or GP and have a large inflatable cuff with a pipe attached connected to a pump that shows us our readings but that may be it. If you have blood pressure issues or one of many chronic conditions the chances are that you will have far more experience with them and that you may have one at home as well.
Their basic design has not really changed since digital monitors became widespread in the 1980s but startup Qardio are looking to bring it into the modern design era.
The QardioArm is a single self-contained, battery operated unit that connects to your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. When folded up I found that it looked a little like a small rounded brick wrapped in a piece of cloth and more like a gadget than a medical device.
To use it I unroll the cuff which automatically switches it on. This leaves a small tab sticking up out of a metal loop. Pull the tab and the cuff opens up; slide my arm in and position the whole thing on the inside of my arm a couple of centimetres above my elbow. Wrap the rest of the cuff around the loop so that it stays snug but not tight on thearm. Rest my arm on a flat surface with my hand facing up and I can then trigger a read of my blood pressure and heartrate from my smartphone. Once I had done it a couple of times I found it straightforward and intuative. The only thing that I did get wrong a couple of times was putting it on upside down.
Once the readings are on the smartphone Qardio provides a number of ways to use the data including graphing over time, graphing against location, comparison to others of the same BMI, age, weight and sex, the ability to share the data with anyone you want to and reminders to take your blood pressure based on time or location. I found the ability to take readings on a daily basis and have them graphed revealing and I can see that if you have a particularly stressful job or commute it could be interesting to see the variance between home and work.
In short the QardioArm does not do anything that I could not find a way to do before but takes it all, simplifies and wraps the whole thing up in a straightforward, compact and beautiful package.
The QardioArm is designed for that subset of people who need to monitor their own blood pressure on a daily or even hour by hour basis. It is designed to be as portable as possible and as quick and simple to use as it can be. I found it a little large to slip in my pocket as the advertising shows being done but it fit in my day bag with no problems. The fact that the data is stored on my phone rather than the device also has the advantage that even if I do not have the QardioArm with me – for example at a doctor’s appointment – I will have all of my data.
Operating System: Android 4.4 or later iOS 7.0 or later
Size: 68 x 140 x 38 mm when folded up
Cuff Size: 22 – 37 cm
Weight: 310g including batteries
Colour: Black cuff and colored bodies including black, white, blue, red or yellow
Optimised for right-handed use but useable by either
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 LE or later required
Power: 4 1.5V AAA batteries
Warranty: Limited three-year warranty, with the cuff covered for 2 years or 1000 measurements
Measurement mechanism: Oscillometric method with automatic inflation and controlled pressure release valve
Blood pressure range: 40~250 mmHg
Pulse Range: 40~200 beats/minute
Blood pressure accuracy:±3mmHg or ±2% of readout value
Pulse accuracy: ±5% of readout
Pressure resolution: 1mmHg for blood pressure
Pulse resolution: 1 beat/min for pulse
The QardioArm runs on three AAA batteries which Qardio says will last about a year of regular use. I’ve been using it regularly for about a month with no issues.
Once paired the QardioArm needs a compatible smartphone within bluetooth range to run. The actual triggering is done via the phone or tablet as is the display of results. Qardio publishes a list of proven compatible phones and tablets here which includes most big name modern smartphones. Note that it does need Android 4.4 and Bluetooth LE.
The QardioArm has no light or indeed any form of indicator on it being controlled entirely by the app. The only exception to this is the printed Qardio Logo which is used to indicate which way the device should be orientated on your arm in use. It would be possible to use the buckle instead which is very easy to find. The physical device could be used completely without vision.
The Qardio App is likewise well designed for those with visual issues. The presentation of data is kept simple and there is no reliance on color at any point. Some of the controls and information particularly on the graphs are not as high contrast as would be ideal but this tends to be secondary information. There is no flash, flicker or potentially bothersome graphics at any point.
I was able to get the accessibility features of both Android and iOS to work with the Qardio apps including screen reading and color inversion.
The QardioArm has no speaker or microphone built-in and the app is silent, with the exception of any notifications set up through Android or iOS.
It does however make noise in two significant ways. Firstly when activated it uses a pump to expand the cuff. This is among the least noisy inflations that I have heard on a pressure monitor but it is still a significant noise. The second noise is also unsurprising – it uses velcro to hold the cuff closed and opening this makes the expected velcro noises.
If you have any form of hearing loss or deafness the QardioArm is completely accessible to you. Conversely if you have any form of hypersensitivity to sound you may well have a problem with the QardioArm but it if you need to measure your blood pressure it is probably the quietest electronic way to do so.
Input and touch
The QardioArm is held in its closed position for travel by a magnet. This is strong enough to hold it closed but needs little force to open. When open it is fairly easy to put on requiring a certain amount of precision but not that much strength. Starting the reading via the app is straightforward needing only a tap on a very large button.
Once used the only physical problem becomes clear – the cuff uses velcro to hold itself tight against your arm. This velcro has to resist a fair amount of pressure in use and is of a high quality and so has the side effect that it needs quite a lot of force to break its seal and get it off. If you are careful and able to pull from corner at the right angle it is possible to get it off without too much strength in your hands and fingers but a certain amount of coordination or hand strength is required.
Motion sickness and balance disorders
The QardioArm will cause no problems for anyone with motion sickness or balance disorders.
Ease of Use
Setup for the QardioArm is straightforward. It comes with the batteries already installed. Install the app on your iOS or Android device and it will take you through setting up an account and then a simple bluetooth pairing. An account is required to use the QuardioArm and your data is synced to their servers.
Batteries are simple to change, although they should last around a year of frequent use.
Once setup the QardioArm is very easy to use. Unroll it, and put it on, launch the app and push the start button.
No significant maintenance is required other than an occasional clean with a cloth. The plastic is smooth and picks up some fingerprints but is not a magnet for them like some items.
Cognitive, language and math
Only a very small amount of language or math abilities is required to use the QuardioArm when it is set up. Interpreting the results needs a little more math abilities but Qardio have provided a simple graph system which places your readings against others of similar age, sex and weight and uses a traffic light system to indicate if it is a good reading or not.
The QardioArm could be setup to take regular prompted readings from someone who could not easily interpret the results for later interpretation by another person.
There is no required social interaction with the QardioArm however it is possible to follow other users or allow other users to follow you. By default this is turned off and your data is personal.
The QardioArm is made from a combination of a nylon cloth cuff, a plastic box and a metal loop. The plastic box does not need to touch the skin at any time for use and the loop can also be almost completely avoided if required. This leaves the nylon cuff. If you have a severe nylon allergy this may be an issue for you, although it would only be in contact with your skin for a couple of minutes at a time and most allergies need longer term contact to be an issue.
Qardio is a small startup based in San Fransisco, the UK and is expanding into the Netherlands. They design and make smart healthcare monitoring devices. So far they have produced the QardioArm, the QardioBase (a wireless weight scale) and the QardioCore (a medical grade EEG/EKG ). They are also working on a cloud data system aimed at doctors called Qardio MD which is to bring together their sensors and look for trends in a patients condition or care.
Included In The Box
- Qardio Heart Rate Monitor
- Quick start guide
- User Guide
- 4 AAA batteries
Blood pressure monitors are not usually a design category which incites much interest. They are usually functional rather than elegant and bare bones rather than fully featured. The QardioArm takes this preconception and turns it on its head. It is easy to use, compact and very portable in a elegantly designed package.
It really starts to shine when you take its well written app into account. I found the ability to clearly graph and analyse my readings very useful. In short if you need to take your blood pressure regularly this is not the cheapest option but it is the best designed and quality one.
The review is based on a QardioArm used with a Nexus 5, MTC One M8 and iPad Air kindly provided by Qardio.