Face Masks Go High-Tech, But Do You Need One?
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Face Masks Go High-Tech, But Do You Need One?

We tested a few ‘smart,’ app-enabled masks to see if they’re too much trouble—or a breath of tech air.

By RACHEL WOLFE
Wed, Feb 10, 2021 2:26amGrey Clock 2 min

FOR THE PAST few weeks, I’ve been strapping on “smart” masks, a new breed of face-covering you have to plug in to charge each night or pair with a phone app. Their promise: superior, or at least geekier, pandemic protection. The brands behind them back up the claim with a dazzling range of snazzy features.

The AirPop Active+ Halo Sensor mask (above, $190, airpophealth.com), for instance, measures my breathing rate and alerts me when it’s time to change the disposable N99-equivalent filter. With a washable shell and rubber seal that moulds to my face to minimize air leaks, the mask doesn’t feel scratchy like other medical-grade models I’ve tried. People even nerdier than me will like that it tracks your location to let you know the quality of the air and the approximate number of particles it’s protected you against.

Others I tested, like the N95-equipped MaskFone (approx. $80, maskfone.com), have integrated wireless earbuds to prevent dreaded mask-muffle on calls, or mechanical ventilation systems that release heat you generate by exhaling. All are designed, according to their manufacturers, for a world where even getting vaccinated doesn’t obviate the need to wear a face-covering.

But, as buzzy as this wizardry might be, are high-tech masks really worth the fuss compared to their no-brainer counterparts?

Dale Pfriem, principal of Protective Equipment Consulting Services and part of a standards-development working group addressing federal mask guidelines, says he’s in favour of any feature that makes people more likely to wear their masks. As long as the products meet fit and filtration standards, that is. (The AirPop is compliant with EU Committee for Standardization and ASTM International barrier-mask guidelines.)

“For me,” Mr Pfriem said, “the simpler the better.” He opts for disposable N95s which he wears until they become stretched out or smelly. And, no, he doesn’t need a slickly designed app to tell him when that’s the case. “I don’t want to have to think about it too much.”

Pairing my AirPop mask to my phone certainly did not liberate me from thinking. At one point in my trial, I was forced to puzzle out why passersby were suddenly staring at me, their eyes merry. Then I realised I’d somehow triggered a “party mode” feature that makes the AirPop flash rainbow colours. After an attempt to care exactly how many particles the mask had caught, I admitted I was bored. Ultimately, I ignored the app and used the AirPop merely as a particularly protective face mask. The headphones in the MaskFone, though? Those are pretty cool.



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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”