eXtensions - Tuesday 31 May 2022


HidrateSpark Smart Water Bottle and App: Easy Recording of Liquid Intake

By Graham K. Rogers


A recent purchase of the HidrateSpark water bottle, used with the Hidrate app and synchronized with Apple Health, allows me to monitor water input more effectively. A light source at the bottom of the bottle indicates when it is time to drink and also provides other warnings. The bottle and app are both well-designed and easy to use. Within a few days I have become more aware of how much water I consume daily and have adjusted input for the better. While some manual entries are still needed, these are easily done via the app on the iPhone or Apple Watch, simplifying the whole process.

I have been a user of the Apple Health app on the iPhone almost since it arrived, although it has limitations. When I added an Apple Watch many of the activities synchronized with Health and I was able to build a more complete picture of my well-being. For older people, the data can help signal problems. As an example, a sudden weight loss over several days (with other symptoms like increased heart rate) led to a diagnosis that led to surgery. The picture that Health produced improved as other features appeared and I was able to add input from 3rd party devices, such as the Withings Scales.

Some other inputs, such as blood-sugar levels, are still not yet available although this can be done by linking to invasive devices, or entering information manually. I did this a while back with the GMate Blood-Glucose System, but it has long been hoped that non-invasive testing would be included with the Apple Watch in a similar way to how blood-oxygen levels are now checked. There are other limitations. How, for example, does a user add calories other than checking the values and calculating volume? Time excludes that for many users. That also applies to many other potential recording parameters: Biotin, Iron, Selenium, Zinc, et al. Such input may only be available from hospital tests and would thus be carried out less often despite their importance in some health situations.

This difficulty of collecting and recording data had stopped me from recording input of one important substance: water, or liquid inputs (tea, coffee, juices). While it is relatively easy to find out the volume of a cup or glass once the decision to record data is made, water input - sips, mouthfuls, glugs or chugs - is less exact.

Recently several online sources had me look at the HidrateSpark: a water bottle that synchronizes with the Health App. It was listed on the online Apple Store for Thailand (2390 baht including VAT) although it was initially unavailable. As Bluetooth is used for communication, the authorities need to approve the device, in much the same way as the FCC does in the USA. The price on the US Apple Store is $69.95 (2380 baht) so adding 7% tax to that (2547 baht) shows that the bottle is slightly cheaper here. When the Buy button went live, I placed an order and it was delivered within a couple of business days: Friday afternoon order, Tuesday morning delivery: a week ago. That weekend I downloaded the Hidrate app that would be needed and began to familiarize myself.

Hidrate app panels Hidrate app panels Hidrate app panels

Hidrate app panels: Home, History (month view) and Bottles

The Hidrate app has five main panels: Home, which displays relevant progress information; History, providing useful graphs of day and month intake; Social, with challenges, which I avoid; Bottles, with several options regarding devices in use (see below); and Settings, that shows Account (I signed in with Apple), Goal, Reminders, Help, and Other.

Near the bottom of the Home panel on the right is a glass icon with a + sign. Input can be manually entered here. There are three presets (240ml, 355ml, 500ml) which can be edited. For other quantities, the central (blue) indicator slides up and down. For example when having a meal, I drank two 330ml bottles of water, so I could enter one quantity (660ml) using this control. The Home panel also displays easy-to-read information on previous and current days. A trophy (or badge) button gives access to several award icons. I tend to ignore these in the same way as social challenges and the Apple Fitness badges although I do like to close the Activity rings.

Water bottles
Coffee flask, Hidrate Spark water bottle and 500ml water bottle

When my bottle arrived and was unpacked, I noticed that it was significantly larger and heavier than my coffee flask (450ml). The box contained a booklet with 2 pages of instructions for each of 15 languages, including Thai. Instructions were simple but clear. Reading each twice, gave me enough for setting up and use, although I learned more on the way.

The unit that contains the battery is inside the bottom of the bottle where there is also a glow light that alerts users. The unit (not the light) is removed fairly easily with a twist. That unit, also called a "puck" in the instructions, contains a sensor. Looking at how this works, it seems to measure weight: 1ml water is 1cc which weighs 1 gram. As water quantity is reduced by drinking (or increased by topping up), so the weight change is recorded and this is synchronized to the app.

Hidrate charger Before the bottle can be used, the battery in the puck needs to be charged and the bottle calibrated. Instead of USB-C or micro-USB, the unit is linked via a USB Type A cable to a magnetic connector on top of the puck. Initial charging took about 90 minutes and this should be enough for 10-15 days. After charging, or if the puck is removed, the empty bottle needs calibrating. This is a two-part process that links with the Hidrate app: when empty, then when filled. Each takes around ten seconds.

First, however, the bottle is added to the app. The process is clear, although the right type of bottle (tracking, volume) should be selected. The screens are clear enough to make this easy. The Bottles panel in the app has two main sections, with the bottom third taken up with advertisements for bottles and services. Right at the top, on the right, is a bottle icon with a + sign so users may add more bottles. That is repeated below in the second pane.

The first pane (see above) indicates on the left that a bottle is connected (e.g. Bluetooth) and that the battery is charged. When Bluetooth is off, this changes to indicate No Connection, and a small panel is shown, marked Find Bottle. Turning Bluetooth on again restores the connection and the panel information. The battery icon has just begun to change after a week of use so this does indicate level changes. When the battery is low the bottle will glow yellow initially, then red (when extremely low). The current glow setting can be tested by pressing the Glow button alongside the bottle icon.

Hidrate app panels Hidrate app panels Hidrate app panels Hidrate app panels

Hidrate app Bottle panels: Add, type selection, colors and Glow Studio

To the right of the Glow button is a Palette icon. This reveals a label that allows selection of the Glow from 7 colors plus Rainbow. I tried them all of course, and settled on blue. The panel color and bottle glow is slightly different owing to the semi-opaque material the light unit is made from. An Edit feature, also available via a panel at the bottom, accesses the Glow Studio panel, an additional (179 baht in-app) purchase that allows users to create custom glows from any 2 colors. An "Other" button opens a panel with 4 options: Change Bottle Name; Glow Colors, which opens the Palette panel; Recalibrate Sensor; and Remove Bottle. At the top of this panel is technical information about the bottle.

The second main panel here is for Bottle Settings, starting with Add New Bottle. This is a straightforward process and links the bottle to the iPhone and the Hidrate app (there is an Android version) via Bluetooth. Below this, Bottle Glows allows the user to set up when and how the visual signals appear (and therefore how effective the bottle is): How Many Per Day (default is 8 with a maximum of 12); Glow Type of Low, Medium or High which adjusts the rate of any warning; Reminders (Always or When Behind); and two options for when a drink is taken and when the goal is met. A Snooze control allows the user to avoid reminders for a range of times from 30 minutes up to 3 hours.

Hidrate glow Hidrate glow Hidrate glow Hidrate glow

Hidrate Bottle glows

A final Settings icon at the very bottom of the screen accesses several important items:

  • Account - details displayed here depend on the way the user initially sets up the account in the app. As I signed in with Apple, no data was displayed here;

  • Goal - by default this shows a recommended level, depending on user and location. For me this was 1819ml/day which I found low. I used the Manual option to increase the level;

  • Personal Parameters were added when I linked to Apple Health (one of the reasons I bought this). Other apps were shown;

  • Fluid Units available are Ounces or Milliliters;

  • Reminders allows the setting of Sleep and Wake times so that the glowing bottle does not disturb the user. The number of reminders per day can also be set here, along with the Kind: Funny, Motivational, Quotations. Again, the timing of Reminders could also be set here.

  • Help revealed a well thought-out FAQ with an effective search function that produced a useful list of relevant answers. A number of the suggestions proved links to external sources, including several YouTube videos, such as setting up for first time users. The FAQs and other information makes it clear that the bottle is only for cold water, although ice can be added.

Throughout the app I found there were duplications of some options. This was useful: I did not need to run through several menus to seek out a setting I wanted to change. There is also an Apple Watch app that displays progress. Water consumption can be added using this.

Hidrate on Apple Watch One of the unexpected bonuses from using the HidrateSpark bottle, apart from the health aspects, is the design and operation of the app. Other apps that I use for health input are not as instinctive. The interface of the Hidrate app was easy on the eyes and on the brain. Information was easily accessed. Using the app was straightforward. Synchronizing intakes via Bluetooth took about 10 seconds for the glow to appear indicating that the data had been added to the App. Data entered manually via the Hidrate app on the iPhone or Apple Watch appeared instantly and were also shown immediately in Apple Health.

I had not anticipated how using this bottle would integrate so easily into my daily routines and encourage me to up my fluid intake (see month history). The occasional reminders during the day have improved this and I now have a hybrid approach: adding liquids like juices and tea as I go, while input from the bottle is added to my intake automatically. Up to now, I might work at the computer or read a book for too long, suddenly realising I was thirsty. When I rode motorcycles for long distances, this was always a problem: once you realize you are thirsty you are already dehydrated.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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