More Chinese Glucometers: Sinocare Safe AQ UG

Years ago, I was visiting Shanghai for work, and picked up a Sannuo glucometer. Somehow that blog post keeps getting the interest of people, and indeed it has better stats than some of my more recent glucometer reviews. I found it strange, until one night, while my wife was playing online, I found myself browsing AliExpress and thought “I wonder if they sell glucometers”. Of course they do.

While browsing AliExpress for glucometers it dawned on me not just why so many people kept finding my blog post, but also the answers to a number of questions I had about that meter, that I don’t think I would have otherwise had answers for. And so, I decided to throw some “craic money” to getting another Chinese glucometer to look at.

So, first of all, what’s going on with my blog post? Turns out that there’s a lot of glucometers on AliExpress. Some are at least branded the same as you would find in Europe or the USA with what looks like official OneTouch and Abbott storefronts on AliExpress — which does not surprise me too much, I already found out that Abbott has a physical store in UAE that sells Libre sensors, which work with my Libre reader but not with the mobile phone app. But for the rest you find a lot of generic names that don’t inspire much — until you start noticing two big brands sold by a lot of different sellers: Sannuo and Sinocare. And as I noted in the previous post, the meter was branded Sannuo but had Sinocare names all around — turns out the former is just a brand of the latter.

I also started getting a funny feeling of understanding about the miniUSB plug that was present on the Sannuo meter: most if not all of the generic branded meters had a similar plug. But this was named “code” port. And indeed a few of the Sannuo/Sinocare models had enough explanation in English explained how this works.

Coding of testing strips is something that European and North American (at least) meters used to need in the past. You would get your packet of strips and there would be a number on the outside (the “code”), which you would select on the meter either before or right after fitting the strip inside. The code carried informations about the reactiveness of the strip and was needed to get an accurate reading. Over time, this practice has fallen out of favour with “code-less” strips becoming the norm. In particular in Europe it seems like the old style of coded strips is not even marketed anymore due to regulation.

The Sannuo meter I bought in Shanghai came with two bottles of “codeless” strips, but other strip bottles you can find on AliExpress appear to still be coded. Except instead of a two-digits “code”, they come with a “code chip”, which is pretty much a miniUSB plug connected to something. Which is why they plug is electrically active, but not making any sense when it comes to USB protocol. I have no idea how this idea came though, but I somehow suspect it has to do with miniUSB plugs being really cheap now as nobody want to deal with them.

So back to the latest glucometer I received. I chose this particular model of Sinocare because it had one feature I have never seen on any other meter: a test for uric acid. Now, I have no clue what this is meant to be, and I don’t even pretend I would understand its readings, but it sounded like something I could have at least some fun with. As it turns out this also plays to my idea of figuring out how that coding system works, as despite not needing codes for glucose results, you do need it for the uric acid strips!

The Safe AQ is just as “clunky” as I felt the previous Sannuo to be. And now I have a bit more of an idea of why: they are actually fairly easy to assemble. Unlike the press-fit of most of the “western” designs (terrible name, but it conveys the effect, so please excuse me on this one), these meters are very easy to open up. They even seem to be able to be fixed, if for instance the display was to break. I’m seriously surprised about this. The inside boards are fairly well labelled, too. And very similar between these two otherwise fairly different models. Both meters expose test points for pogo pins under the battery compartment, which are actually properly labelled as well.

Another similarity with the Sannuo, is that this meter – like nearly every meter I could see on AliExpress! – has a spring-loaded ejector for the strips. The box says “automatic” but it just means that you don’t have to touch the strip to throw it away. My best guess is that there’s some cultural significance to this, maybe it’s more common for people to to test someone else’s blood in China, and so the ejector is seen as a big improvement. Or maybe there’s an even stronger disgust with bloodied objects, and the ejector makes things cleaner. I don’t know — if anyone does, please let me know.

Now, how does this work out as a meter? My impression is fairly good overall, but the UX leaves a lot to be desired. The screen is very readable, although not backlit. The accuracy is fairly good when compared with my Libre, both with blood samples and the sensor. But figuring out how to turn it on, and how to change the date/time took a few tries. There’s no feedback that you need to keep pressed the on button for five seconds. But on the other hand the manual has fairly intelligible English, which is probably better than some of the stuff you buy directly on Amazon UK.

There’s a kicker in this whole story of course. Who is Sinocare? You would say that, since I’m always complaining about allowing usage of devices outside their spec, it would be out of character for me to make it easy to find and buy a glucometer that most likely has not been vouched by the local pharmaceutical regulations. And yet I seem to be praising a meter that I got pretty much randomly off AliExpress.

What convinced me to order and write a review about the Sinocare is that, while researching the names I found on AliExpress, I found something very interesting. Sinocare is a Chinese diagnostics company and probably the largest in the country. But they also own Trividia Health, a diagnostic company based in Florida with an UK subsidiary.

Trividia Health was a name that I already knew — they make glucometers called True Metrix, which you can find in USA at Walmart and CVS, and, as I found out more recently, in the UK at Boots. The True Metrix meters don’t seem to share anything, design-wise, with the Sinocare products, but you would expect that the two technology sets are not particularly different.

This also reminds me I need to see if Trividia sells the cradle for the True Metrix Air in the UK. I kept forgetting to try getting one in time to pick it up in the USA during a work trip, and not expecting to be there any time soon sounds like I should try to get one here.

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