Simpler is better -- not only for kids and the elderly, experts say, but for anyone with diabetes who uses a glucometer. Fewer steps mean fewer mistakes, so the best meters are those that make the basic process of testing your blood sure as foolproof as possible: Insert test strip, prick finger, apply blood, read result.
The tiny FreeStyle Lite (Est. $18) glucometer -- itself no bigger than a pack of gum -- goes one step further by requiring only 0.3 microliters of blood for each sample. Users love the small sample size, which they say makes the testing process much less painful and intimidating. They also appreciate that the meter beeps once you've added enough blood and that if you don't get enough blood onto the test strip with your first try, you have up to 60 seconds to add more blood. This cuts down on the number of wasted test strips, one of the biggest costs for any glucometer user.
Even more important than its comfort and user-friendly features, the FreeStyle Lite receives top scores for accuracy and repeatability in clinical trials and from a leading consumer research organization. There's no need for manual coding when you open a new set of test strips, which helps cut down on possible errors. Other features that make the FreeStyle Lite so popular with users include a simple three-button operation, a backlit screen an and illuminated test strip port for discreet testing in the dark, with storage for up to 400 readings with calculated averages.
The FreeStyle Lite also has a data port that lets you download your readings into a Windows or OS X computer using FreeStyle's Auto-Assist desktop program. The program compiles several types of reports including meter settings, meal event averages, daily statistics and a snapshot report. Finally, as tiny as it may be, users have only good things to say about the FreeStyle Lite's durability; some reviewers have been using the same meter for years with no problem. What initially look like complaints about the meter often turn out to be unhappiness with just the lancing device. Users don't like that it requires you to change the lancing needles manually.
The FreeStyle Lite's Test Strips (about $30 per box of 50) are on the pricey side but Abbott, which manufacturers the FreeStyle Lite, offers a co-pay program that limits your payments to as little as $15 per box of 50 strips if you qualify.
If the FreeStyle Lite's test strips or the meter itself are too tiny for you, consider the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus, (Est. $26) our runner up in this category. The Accu-Chek Aviva Plus's test strips are a little larger than most others, and both strips and meter are so easy to hold and manipulate that the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus was the first glucometer to earn an "Ease of Use" award from the Arthritis Foundation. If you happen to touch the testing surface on the strip, it won't skew the results and thus waste the test strip.
The Accu-Chek Aviva Plus also has a solid reputation for accuracy, with a slew of clinical trials and an "Excellent" accuracy score from a leading consumer research group to back it up, although its repeatability score is a notch below that of the FreeStyle Lite. The Accu-Chek Aviva Plus requires a reasonable 0.6 microliter blood sample -- about twice that of the FreeStyle Lite -- and returns results in about the same amount of time (5 seconds).
Other notable features include a 500-reading memory function with calculated averages, before- and after-meal markers, and four customizable alerts. Earlier versions of the Accu-Chek Aviva required you to enter a code every time you opened a new vial of test strips, but the latest version does not require coding.
The Aviva Plus comes with an infrared data transfer port for transferring your data to a computer, but most people will have to purchase the appropriate infrared cable (which is strictly optional). If you do spring for the infrared port, you can manage, track, analyze and share your downloaded readings with Accu-Chek's Diabetes Management System (Est. $55, PC only). The system includes the cable.
Some Accu-Chek Aviva meters may still accept two types of test strips: regular Aviva strips (which appear to be discontinued) and Aviva Plus test strips. The distinction between the two is important for some diabetics. The regular Aviva test strips were included in the FDA's 2009 warning to patients about GDH-PQQ (glucose dehydrogenase pyrroloquinoline quinone) test strips, which can interact with some non-glucose sugars to give falsely high blood sugar readings. The Accu-Chek website's also carries a safety warning.
Speaking of test strips, the strips for the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus are even more expensive than those for the FreeStyle Lite, starting at about $50 for a package of 50. However, Roche Diagnostics -- the company behind Accu-Chek -- also offers a savings program to make their test strips more accessible to consumers.