When it comes to blood glucose meters, fewer steps mean fewer mistakes. So the best glucose 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. $25) home glucose monitor -- 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. There's also no need for manual coding when you open a new set of test strips, which helps cut down on possible errors.
Even more important than its comfort and user-friendly features, the FreeStyle Lite receives some of the best scores for accuracy and repeatability in clinical trials and from a leading consumer research organization. And although this isn't the newest meter on the block, users still love it for its reliability.
Other features that make the FreeStyle Lite so popular with users include its simple three-button operation, a backlit screen and illuminated test strip port for discreet testing in the dark, and the ability to store up to 400 readings and calculate averages that show blood glucose trends over time.
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 (Est. $30 per pack 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.
The FreeStyle Freedom Lite (Est. $25) performs almost as well as the FreeStyle Lite in clinical tests, and actually bests it by a narrow margin in a hands-on test from a leading consumer lab. Users also love this meter for its accuracy and consistency.
The only real differences are that the FreeStyle Freedom's digits are slightly larger. It operates with only two buttons, and it lacks the backlit screen and lighted test port that make the FreeStyle Lite so easy to use. Still, one user points out that if you don't really need those lights, you might actually prefer this meter because its battery lasts longer. The FreeStyle Freedom Lite also doesn't have as broad a base of user feedback as the dependable, much-loved FreeStyle Lite, but most is overwhelmingly positive.
If the FreeStyle test strips or meters are too tiny for you, consider the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus (Est. $30). 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 Excellent scores for accuracy and convenience from a leading consumer research group. It 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 and the ability to calculate average readings, before- and after-meal markers, and four customizable alerts. Current versions of the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus do not require you to code the meter when you open a new vial of test strips.
The Accu-Chek Aviva Plus comes with an infrared data transfer port for transferring your data to a computer, but most people will have to purchase the required infrared reader to make use of that function. Don't worry; you can still use this glucose meter without it. 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), which also comes with the necessary infrared reader.
One note: The Accu-Chek Aviva Plus is sometimes marketed simply as the Accu-Chek Aviva, which was also the name of a previous model. Always double-check the labeling to make sure you're actually getting the Aviva Plus meter and Aviva Plus test strips. Although the information is no longer available online, 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.
Speaking of test strips, Accu-Chek Aviva Plus Test Strips (Est. $60 for pack of 50) are even more expensive than those for the FreeStyle Lite. However, Roche Diagnostics -- the company behind Accu-Chek -- also offers a savings program to make their test strips more accessible to consumers.
If a small meter and simple functionality are your highest priorities, you might like the OneTouch Ultra Mini (Est. $20). It receives excellent scores for accuracy and repeatability in tests from a leading consumer laboratory, and users love its small size and ease of use. The OneTouch Ultra Mini can store 500 glucose readings in its memory, but that's about it as far as features go; there's no backlight on the display, and it requires a fairly sizable 1-microliter blood sample. The manufacturer warns that if you use less, your results may be inaccurate.
OneTouch Ultra Mini test strips (Est. $30 for pack of 50) are fairly expensive, but many users post to say this is one of the few meters their insurance company will cover. We did see some reports that a meter this small is hard to use for those with arthritis or shaky hands. Still, if you're looking for a simple, functional and highly portable meter that's typically covered by insurance, this is a good option.