Turn your phone into an oximeter

Mala Bhargava | Updated on May 27, 2021

Care Plix Vitals is using the camera and flash to measure heart rate, oxygen saturation and respiration rate

Some may remember that Samsung, very early on, used to have a perfectly nice way of measuring heart rate and blood oxygen saturation on its higher end phones long before the pandemic.

Back in those days no one had even heard of needing to measure oxygen level — unless a respiratory illness was involved. Unfortunately, Samsung removed the sensor from the back of the phone and even did away with the oxygen measure option altogether in the health app, so that was that. A few years down the line, everyone was frantically buying up oximeters.

Now, an app developer is using the camera and flash to measure heart rate, oxygen saturation and respiration rate.

You can download the app, Care Plix Vitals from doing a search for it on the web and following a link to the Play Store or App Store. I found searching for it separately on Google’s Play Store didn’t get me straight to the app.

How it works

There’s a bit of a registration process in which you need to give some of the usual details. And then you’re into the fairly simple interface of the app.

Tap on the Record Vitals button and the camera’s flash light will turn itself on and you’ll be prompted to place your finger on it on the rear of the phone. If you do so properly, the heart icon on the screen will turn red from your finger covering it up and you’ll be told the position is perfect and a scan is about to start. You’ll also be told about the ‘signal strength’ status. Hold steady so your finger doesn’t move from its placement and allow the 30 second scan to take place.

Some ambient music will play, probably to let you know scanning is on.

I found that the oxygen reading I got in the beginning usually maintained to the end of the scan. It’s roughly in the same range as my Apple Watch and oximeter, but usually seems to err on the higher side, giving me a bit more oxygen than I have. Heart and respiration rate seemed to be more closely in line with the other devices.

Free for now

The app asks you to specify, at the end of each scan, whether you were resting, standing, walking or running, which I duly did. In my short acquaintance with the app so far, I didn’t get any analysis of my readings however. Each time the app just said I didn’t have enough readings. The scan history also didn’t seem to show too much. An upgrade option just said the app was free for now.

Perhaps the app is to be fine tuned and developed some more in the near future — or perhaps this is what it is, but it’s interesting to give it a try if someone has walked off with your oximeter or you don’t happen to have one handy. A warning, however: from time to time, a notification pops up to tell you that they’re experiencing high traffic.

Some vitals measuring apps are being suspected of stealing fingerprints and while there's no evidence of that for this app, be careful which ones you decide to use.

Published on May 26, 2021

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