This upcoming smartphone can "taste" sweetness, measure body fat, and identify counterfeit drugs


Fancy yourself a pretty accomplished smartphone user – one who's seen phones do it all? You've slapped a pico-projector on the back of your Moto Z, created a 3D scan of your apartment with the Phab 2 Pro, and strapped your phone into a Gear VR to explore new virtual worlds? Well, you certainly seem like someone we'd like to hang out with, but not before we introduce you to a phone that's sporting some tech so advanced it sounds like something out of a movie set a hundred years in the future. This week at CES 2017, we're taking a look at the new H2 from China's Changhong, a phone with a sensor that's able to optically scan objects and tell you what they're made of.

How it works

The technology we're talking about is near-infrared spectroscopy, a technique that shines a light on an object and analyzes how that light changes as a result. The unique optical signature can then be processed to figure out what things are made of on a molecular level. It sounds all sorts of crazy advanced, we know, but we already use similar optical-scanning tech on phones today: just look at how Samsung's Galaxy flagships not only use light to track users' heart rates, but also measure blood oxygen content.

The Changhong H2 takes that sort of optical scanning one (very large) step further, and implements a general-purpose spectrometer with tech from Analog Devices Inc. and Consumer Physics.


OK, so the phone can tell what things are made of. So what? Well, take food for instance: nutrition labels are well and good, but with with a portable spectrometer you can scan any food you come across – packaged or not – and gain useful information about its composition. A diabetic might use a tool like this to evaluate what impact a possible snack might have on blood sugar levels, or you could scan fruit at the grocery store to custom-pick the sweetest, most delicious apples.

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And just like the optical heart-rate scanner on existing phones, a spectrometer can tell you about your own body, too. You might use the H2 to keep an eye on your body fat levels while you work your way through an exercise regimen.

We also took a look at apps that can be used to tell genuine materials apart from fakes; the one we got to see at Changhong's CES booth distinguishes prescription medications from counterfeits, but you could just as easily use it when shopping for jewelry to tell a real diamond from a cubic zirconia.

Really, the potential of this technology is only limited by the imagination of developers. Maybe an environmental group will come up an app to help you sort your recyclables: a quick scan could tell you what's trash from what can be reused. Or maybe an app could scan your clothing and give you tips for doing your laundry – don't want to mistake that wool sweater for an acrylic one and end up shrinking it.


The H2 may sound like exactly the sort of high-tech prototype gadget that only comes out at expos like CES, and has slim to no chance of actually becoming a real, commercially available product – but that's not at all the case here. Sales of the Changhong H2 are getting started in China early this year, and better still, it's looking good that we're eventually going to see the H2 make its way to the United States sometime this fall.

There are still lots of details to work out concerning exactly how that might happen, and under what branding the phone will arrive in the West, but we're still all sorts of excited to learn that it's in the works. And with pricing in China that comes out to the equivalent of the mid-$400 range, picking up this sci-fi sensor tech in a smartphone could prove to be surprisingly affordable. Will you be looking to take one for a spin once it lands?

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