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Face masks go high-tech

When a face mask for gamers becomes one of the highlights of a global tech expo, it’s time to explore the best in consumer mask technology, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Facemasks are not technically, err, tech. But the tech built into some facemasks qualify them eminently in this category. In 2021, however, this is likely to become a major marketing differentiator in the race to own the face.

The starter’s gun went off at last month’s annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), staged virtually for the first time. One of the highlights of the show was the prototype of a high-tech mask for gamers, unveiled by Razer, best known for some of the coolest gaming accessories around.

Its Project Hazel face mask features an N95 medical-grade respirator with detachable and rechargeable ventilators to regulate airflow. Smart pods designed for bacteria filtration keep out 95% of airborne particles — including those containing the Covid-19 virus. A mobile app warns when filters need to be replaced. Despite this, its transparent design allows others to see the wearer’s facial cues and allow lip-reading. The coolest element of all, however, is interior LED lighting that activates automatically in the dark, and allows people to see one’s mouth in low light. And an amplifier projects one’s voice.

Not very practical? Of course not, but it shows what is possible. And it is still just a concept, so technophiles will have to find their masked thrills in more mundane options. These are the best of the high-tech face masks we have tried (some of these were also covered in our roundup of the best serious tech of 2020):

Best high-end air filtering mask: AirPOP Original Mask

Before there were Covid-19 masks, anti-pollution masks were commonplace in the East. A leader in the field, Shanghai-based Aetheris Technology, lays claim to pioneering the “Air Wearables” category with its AirPOP range. At the ultra high-end, its intelligent facemasks filter airborne pollution and contaminants — including bacteria and viral matter. It offers optional sensing capability to analyse surrounding air pollution and record data through a smartphone app.

However, South Africans are being introduced to the “standard high-end” via a well-known high-tech outlet, the iStore.  Top of its range is the newly launched AirPOP Original Mask, which is packaged with four replaceable and washable filters, each of which promises around 40 hours of use.

The Original sets itself apart from the opening of its packaging: it is an experience akin to the unboxing of the more regular tech one expects in an iStore, and highlights the quality of materials and information provided.

Made from soft-touch microfiber, it has more than 300 micro-apertures to channel air to the nose and mouth evenly, according to Aetheris. This ensures optimal heat and moisture exchange.

“With its patented 360 degrees sealing, medical-grade soft touch membrane, and super light construction, the Original mask filters adaptively seal to the contours of your face,” says the company. “Our specialised 3D structure creates a canopy of air that keeps the mask off the face for effortless breathability. Paired with low resistance materials, the Original mask delivers unrestricted airflow for easy breathing.”

The claimed numbers are dramatic: 99.3% particle filtration (PFE) and 99.9% bacterial filtration (BFE), along with fluid resistance.  Its costs R1,199 from the iStore.

Go to the next page to read about the best mid-range, fashion, sports and low-end face masks.

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