Glucometer Review: Abbott FreeStyle Precision Neo

During my December trip to the United States, I did what I almost always do when I go there: I went to a pharmacy and looked through the current models of glucometers that are for sale there. Part of the reason is that I just got to the point I enjoy a challenge of figuring out what difference in the protocol the various manufacturers put version after version, and part of it is that I think it is a kind of a public service that we provide tools not only for the nice and fancy meters but also for those that most people would end up buying in store. I have one more device that I got during one of my various trips that I have not written about, too, but let’s not go there.

This time around the device I got is an Abbott FreeStyle Precision Neo device. The factors I used to choose, as usual, were price (I didn’t want to spend much, this one was on sale for less than $10), and the ability to download the data over direct USB connection (the device I have noted above requires a custom cradle which I have not managed to acquire yet). In addition, while the device did not come with any strip at all, I (mistakenly) thought it was a US brand for the Optium Neo, which looks very similar and is sold in Europe and Canada. That meter I knew used the same strips that I use for the FreeStyle Libre, which means I wouldn’t have to pay extra for it at all. As I said I was wrong, but it still accepted the same strips, more on that later.

The device itself is fairly nice: at first it may appear to share a similar shape as the Libre, but it really seems to share nothing with it. It’s significantly flatter, although a bit wider. The display is not LCD at all, but rather appears to be e-ink and reminded me of the Motorola FONE. The display is technically a “touchscreen” but rather than having a resistive or capacitive display on the device, it appears to just have switches hidden behind the screen.

Given the minimal size of the device, there is not much space for a battery and charging circuitry, like there is in the Libre, instead the device is powered by a single CR2032 battery which is very nice as they are cheap enough, and easy to carry around, although you’re not meant to leave them in checked-in luggage.

Overall, the device is flatter than my current smartphones, and extremely light, and that gives it a significant advantage over a number of other meters I tried in the past few years. The e-ink display ha very big and easily readable numbers, so it’s ideal for the elderly or those who need to take the test even without their glasses.

Putting aside the physical size factor, the package I bought contained a small case for the meter, a new lancing device, and some lancets. No strips, and I guess that explains the very low price point. I would say that it’s the perfect package for the users of previous generations’ FreeStyle devices that need an upgrade.

As I said at the start, the main reason why I buy these devices is that I want to reverse engineer their protocol, so of course I decided to find the original software from Abbott to download the data out of it. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work the way I was expecting. I expected the device to be a rebranded version of the Optium Neo, but it isn’t. So the software from the Irish Abbott website (Auto-Assist Neo, v1.22) tried connecting to the meter but reported a failure. So did the same software downloaded from the Canadian website (v1.32).

Given that this is a US device, I went to the US website (again, thank you to TunnelBear as Abbott keeps insisting with the GeoIP-locking). The US version does not offer a download of the simple desktop software I was looking for, instead pointing you to the client for their online diabetes management software. What is it with online systems for health data access? I decided not to try that one, particularly as I would be afraid of its interaction with the FreeStyle Libre software. I really should just set up a number of virtual machines, particularly given that the computer I’m using for this appears to be dying.

On the bright side it appears that, even though the software declares the device is not compatible with it, the USB capture shows that all the commands are all being sent and responded to, so I have a clear trace for at least the data download. The protocol is almost identical to the Insulinx that Xavier already reverse engineered in parts, and both seem to match the basic format that Pascal found how to dump from the Libre so it was easy to implement. I’ll write more about that separately.

So what about the strips? Since the device came with no strips, I assumed I would just use the strips I had at home, which were bought for my Libre device and were of the Optimus series, and they worked fine. But when I looked into completing the reverse engineering of the protocol by figuring out which marking is used for the β-ketone readings, the device reported E-2 on the screen. So I looked into it and I found out that the Precision Neo device is meant to be used with Precision series strips. Somehow the Optimus blood glucose strips are compatible (I would guess they are effectively the same strips) while the β-ketone strips are not. So I still don’t have data of how those readings are reported. But this put a final nail in the coffin to the idea that this is the same device as the one sold outside of the USA.

Having this device was very useful to understand and document better the shared HID protocol that is used by Abbott FreeStyle devices, which made it very easy to implement the basic info and data dump from the Libre, as well as an untested InsuLinux driver, in my glucometerutils project. So I would say it was $10 spent well.

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