Colgate’s iPhone-controlled AI toothbrush is smart, but not essential [Review]

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toothbrush
Brushing is getting a 2018 overhaul.
Photo: Luke Dormehl/Cult of Mac

Colgate’s new iPhone-compatible smart toothbrush promises to transform the way you brush your teeth, thanks to the magic of machine intelligence.

So is the E1 Smart Electronic Toothbrush With Artificial Intelligence like having a virtual dentist at your beck and call? Here’s what we make of it after a week of tooth-cleaning action.

Colgate E1 toothbrush review: ‘Nice to have’ or ‘must have’?

Gadgets are, in my book, divided into two categories. Some fulfill an obvious need that you knew about. Others try to convince you they can become indispensable, even though you never missed them before they arrived. The iPhone or iPod? The former. The iPad or Google Home? The latter.

Unveiled alongside other consumer electronics wonders at this year’s big CES show, Colgate’s E1 Smart Electronic Toothbrush With Artificial Intelligence (a bit of a mouthful, no pun intended!) is one of the latter.

Most of us probably feel happy enough with our regular dumb manual or electric toothbrushes. (And, perhaps, a timer to make sure we brush for the recommended two minutes each time.) But Colgate is jumping on the AI revolution bandwagon to convince us that keeping our teeth clean should really be the province of machine smarts.

app
A look at the Colgate Connect app in action.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

E1 Smart Electronic Toothbrush packs some serious smarts

Available exclusively in Apple Stores, the next-gen toothbrush promises some impressive smarts under the hood. It connects to your iPhone and/or Apple Watch via Bluetooth, offering data about your brushing technique as well as various “gamified” functions. Those range from grown-up toothbrushing tutorials to kid-friendly games.

As you brush your teeth, using some high-quality “sonic vibrating technology,” the E1 brush offers you real-time feedback on 16 different mouth zones. Its creators claim that it can accurately track the position and orientation of your brush using a variety of accelerometers and other smart sensors. This data can be used both for your own benefit, and also shared with your dentist — presumably provided that he or she is willing to trawl through brushing data and use this in some practical way.

As with so many AI gadgets, the promise of Colgate’s technology is to personalize the brushing experience. As it tracks your brushing over time, it can make suggestions and recommendations based on your personal brushing habits (uses amany algorithms pioneered by Kolibree, which has been working in this area for some time).

Hits and misses

The E1 toothbrush comes packaged in a solid white box that should feel very familiar to anyone who ever opened an Apple product. The brush itself is fairly minimalist in design, again very reminiscent of Apple.

I have no idea what a Jony Ive-designed toothbrush might look like. Still, I can imagine the designers at Colgate looking at the clean white design of, say, Apple’s AirPods and then trying to translate that into a toothbrush.

I found the brush to be surprisingly light compared to my existing electric toothbrush, although I quickly got used to the difference.

Some things about the toothbrush I really appreciated. I encountered no problems syncing it with my iPhone. That’s great, because such glitches cause many smart devices to fall out of favor with their users. You don’t even need to use the Colgate app every time for the toothbrush to record the information, which is very handy. The battery life proves very good, and a color-coded light shows when you might need to recharge it.

light
A handy color-coded light will show you how much battery you’ve got left.
Photo: Luke Dormehl/Cult of Mac

The future of smart toothbrushing

As for the Colgate Connect app, I found the tutorial mode to be a lot more useful than I expected. It’s certainly a step up from the “buzz every 30 seconds to move to a different mouth quadrant” feature on my regular electric toothbrush. After you finished your teeth-cleaning, you can see what percentage of your mouth your brushing covered. You can also tap on individual areas to see what recommendations the brush would make. (I didn’t try the Apple Watch app.)

I’m probably not the target market for the games, which include one about a pirate adventure (pirates presumably being well-known for their oral hygiene) and one in which rabbits run a race. That makes it a little difficult to gauge their usefulness, but I was a bit less than impressed.

If the goal is simply to make sure that kids stick to cleaning for a full two minutes, that’s fine. But it wasn’t immediately apparent how watching a rabbit leap hurdles and collect coins translates to brushing your teeth. In fact, the analogy seems totally wrong. Shouldn’t we encourage children to clean their teeth at a deliberate pace, not to race through the process and risk overbrushing?

App
The app will remind you to clean your teeth — and stop you from cleaning them too often.
Screenshot: Colgate Connect

The pirate app also failed to start correctly, with no way to progress beyond the start screen.

Evolution, not revolution

In terms of hardware, the brush arguably leaves a bit to be desired. I’m not convinced the technology offers the kind of granularity needed to map the inside of a user’s mouth just yet.

Kolibree has been working in this area for some time, so I don’t doubt that the technology works. But there were times when — in tutorial mode — I would brush an entirely different part of my mouth than the one suggested, and then be told I was doing it perfectly. It also appears to lack pressure sensors that could tell you whether you’re brushing too hard or too softly. That would certainly make for a useful addition.

Ultimately, whether you enjoy the E1 toothbrush is going to come down to what you expect from it. When it worked well, I could totally see the potential for AI-equipped toothbrushes becoming a “must have” item. Heck, pair it with the new trend for smart mirrors able to show information, and I can see this being indispensable a decade from now.

At present, though, the smart toothbrush is really more of a brushing guide than something that’s going to disrupt the dental industry. You’ll pick up some tips. You’ll receive warnings if you’re not spending the necessary amount of time cleaning your teeth. And it may prove easier to convince your kids that toothbrushing doesn’t need to feel like a chore.

Is Colgate’s E1 Smart Electronic Toothbrush With Artificial Intelligence essential? No. Would I be happy to go back to my regular electric toothbrush now that I’ve entered the brave new world of smart toothbrushes? Probably. Will I be sticking with it, though? It’s convenient and useful enough that I will.

Price: $99.95
Buy from: Apple

Colgate provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy and check out more stuff we recommend in our Best List reviews.