Smart water bottles and tracking hydration with apps feel kind of pointless—like expensive Instagram influencer fodder. The bottles I’ve tried out in the past were way more trouble than they were worth because the last thing I want to do is charge a bottle that sends me notifications to drink more water. Not to mention that I probably have to wash the thing by hand because of electronic components and calibrate it so it can accurately track how many sips I’m taking at a given moment. So, needless to say, I was pretty skeptical about the LifeFuels bottle too.
The only reason I gave this thing a whirl is because, well, water is just so dang boring to drink. The selling point for LifeFuels is that on top of the connected hydration-tracking, the base of the bottle has slots for three flavor pods. Each pod also contains a mix of multivitamins, electrolytes, and antioxidants. Just push a button, and the pod spurts a burst of flavor and nutrition into your water. Just like that, you’re hydrated, but with more flavor and fewer calories than a sugary sports drink or soda. And if self-quantifying is really your thing, there’s a companion app where you can automatically track your water intake and set hydration goals. The bottle also lets you try your hand at being a weird flavored-water mixologist by creating your own flavor combos and adjusting flavor strength. It’s a neat pitch if, like me, you’re craving something new after trying every flavor of LaCroix out there.
Even so, I was extremely skeptical of LifeFuels. The pods seemed like a blatant cash grab, and, as I mentioned, I’ve been burned by finicky smart water bottles before. When it came to setting up the bottle, I audibly groaned at having to plug this thing in. The instructions also advised that I thoroughly clean the bottle before use, which was no small feat. I had to twist off the top half—which seemed small even though it holds 500ml or roughly 16.9 fl oz—and then run that through the dishwasher. The bottom half, which contains all the electronics, had to be cleaned by hand with a proprietary cleaning brush that came in the box. Once that was all done, I had to unwrap all the pods and cram them into the slots and wait for each to light up, indicating the bottle had recognized them. All in all, if you count the charging and my dishwasher cycle, it took about an hour before I could drink my first sip of water.
It also took a hot second to figure out how the button works—you can press multiple times to select an individual pod, and a long press will then dispense a controlled dose of flavor. Once I had everything figured out, however, hydrating became surprisingly more fun. The pods that came with my box were Blackberry Lime, Cranberry Raspberry, and Strawberry Mango. It was oddly satisfying to watch a colorful flavor cloud burst into my water. Like a total dork, I was excited to see how they’d taste. Spoiler: They tasted pretty good (or as good as unsweetened flavored water can taste), with the exception of Cranberry Raspberry, which on a scale of 1 to ass, tasted like ass. I spent a few days like this, just drinking water and pushing the button to dispense a pod before I remembered: Oh, there’s also an app.
Part of me was worried the app would ruin everything. The bottle was delightfully simple without it, and in the past, I’ve found that companion apps can overly complicate a device. Since I’d been dispensing these flavor pods willy nilly for a couple of days, I was also concerned the app wouldn’t be able to accurately tell how much was left in each.
To my surprise, the LifeFuels app was one of the better ones I’ve used in a long, long time. Not only did the bottle “remember” how much I drank before pairing, it knew how much of each pod I’d used. It also had kept track of the time of day I’d been drinking with the LifeFuels bottle. If I had the app open, it even updated my intake in real-time. Tapping on an individual pod would also take me to a full nutritional panel, where I could see how many calories and what nutrients I was drinking in a light, standard, or strong dose. Scrolling back through my history, I could even see what flavors I’d been drinking based on date and time.
That sort of seamless functionality is a self-quantifier’s dream, but what really impressed me was the ability to customize beverages. You can go into the app, select up to three types of pods, and tinker around with the doses. Once you’ve created a beverage, you’ll get an updated list of nutrients and calories based on your mix. I was limited by the fact that I only had three pods, but even so, I felt like a skilled mixologist after a few attempts. According to LifeFuels’s website, three pods is enough to mix up to 90 beverages—though I think that’s being a bit overly generous, considering people’s will and drive to experiment. After three or four mixes, I knew I didn’t particularly like the Cranberry Raspberry flavor so I wasn’t about to spend time trying every possible combo. Plus, I only have three pods and each has only 15, 2ml servings. I can only experiment for as long as these pods last me.
On that note, despite my overall enjoyment of this water bottle, there are a few things that give me pause. First off, the bottle alone is $100. Each refill pod is $12. I’ve been using this bottle for about a week now and I’m two-thirds of the way through every single pod. Granted, I’ve probably been doing a little more futzing around since I’m trying it out for the first time and that would probably die down after a bit. That said, I could easily see myself needing to reorder pods at least once or twice a month. This is the sort of thing where you’ll regularly have to fork over at least $36 to keep your bottle working optimally. That number goes up if you’re tempted to try out new flavors and combos. At a certain point, you become hyper-aware of how much you’re using of each pod, and if you start rationing flavor, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?
The pod dependency is also concerning if, for whatever reason, LifeFuels were to go out of business. It’s not like you can buy pods that work with this bottle from various vendors—they’re all proprietary. If LifeFuels were to go belly up, you’d have an expensive water bottle that no longer worked the way it was intended. That’s not unique to LifeFuels. It’s a problem inherent with all smart gadgets, but particularly those that rely on proprietary accessories or add-ons to function. Even though I really like this bottle, I’m not sure I want to effectively subscribe to flavor pods with no guarantee I could always get them.
Plus, on a more physical level, the LifeFuels bottle is kind of heavy and bulky. I get that’s likely due to the internal gadgetry, but I’m not sure how that translates to portability. It’s fine for right now while I’m stuck in my apartment thanks to the novel coronavirus, but I don’t think it’d be my water bottle of choice to carry to the gym, on a walk, or in my backpack.
The other thing is that hydration is a complicated thing. Yes, adding nutrients to your flavored water sounds better, but I hesitate to say that it’s better for hydration than a regular glass of water or an electrolyte powder/tablet recommended by a personal trainer or nutritionist. Your hydration needs will depend on your individual activity level, the type of sport you’re doing, and a number of other factors. Sure, if you’re just casually seeking to drink more water, LifeFuel’s pods probably won’t do you much harm. That said, I’m skeptical they’re going to make a big difference for most people. After all, the adage is if you’re thirsty, drink more water. If it’s hot out, drink more water. If your pee is dark yellow, drink more water. Unless you’re an endurance athlete, hydration isn’t something you have to think too hard about.
That’s the thing about smart lifestyle gadgets. While the LifeFuels bottle is well-crafted with a good app and does what it’s supposed to very well, it’s not exactly solving a problem I can’t fix on my own. I can save myself $100 and a minimum of $36 in pod refills by adding some lemon or cucumber slices to my water. I could finally remember to take my multivitamins and, I dunno, eat a bunch of berries for antioxidants. Maybe all I really need to do is set a few alarms or reminders in a free app to drink some water. As much as I like the LifeFuels water bottle, it’s not a gadget I absolutely need.
But if I was going to buy a smart water bottle, this is the one I’d pick—though, not because I want to track my water intake, even though it does that accurately and with no annoying calibration. I’d pick it because it solves my problem of wanting something more flavorful to drink during the day, because, man, I really do miss juices, sodas, and any beverage with more than zero calories. It’s way more convenient than infusing my own water and slightly more sustainable than buying cases of bottled flavored water. Usually, I’d be the first to smack a smart water bottle out of someone’s hand before launching into a rant about it’s one of the stupidest wellness gadgets man has ever wasted money developing. But for once, I’m actually pretty tempted.
- A smart water bottle that tracks hydration, but also features flavor pods so your water doesn’t have to be so boring.
- The app is excellent. Mixing your own custom beverages is fun!
- The bottle also works well if you hate apps!
- Expensive at $100; and refill pods are also pricy at $12 each.
- The pod dependency could be a problem if the company goes out of business.