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Abbott FreeStyle Libre review

Abbott FreeStyle Libre is a non-invasive, pain free glucometer that doesn't require finger-sticks and has CGM app support.

Abbott FreeStyle Libre review
(Image: © Abbott)

Our Verdict

The Abbott FreeStyle Libre is a non-invasive way to measure your blood glucose levels. While accuracy isn't at the level of a blood sample this is plenty for lots of people and the lack of pain could be a big attraction.

For

  • Non-invasive
  • Constant monitoring
  • Smart app supported

Against

  • Not FDA level accurate

The Abbott FreeStyle Libre is one of the few glucometers that is non-invasive, meaning you don't need to take blood - at all. As such we consider it one of the best glucose meters out there for anyone that finds lancing a strenuous process.

Of course this isn't a perfect alternative to the current systems since this doesn't take blood. As such you get access to the top layer of tissue meaning there is about a 15 minute lag on what's happening in your blood in realtime. But since this monitors all day you get an excellent picture of trends in your blood glucose. Everything is easy to setup and use and means you can check your glucose levels anytime, anywhere without a lot of kit. 

The FreeStyle Libre comprises a monitor that sticks to your upper rear arm and stays there for two weeks, as well as a unit to take the measurement, or just use your phone's contactless to scan. There is also an add-on called MiaoMiao which attaches to the sensor and feeds data directly to your phone live making it a Constant Glucose Monitor (CGM). All this could be the future or, since it's not legally accurate enough to use before driving, could be a step in the right direction. But is it right for you?

Abbott FreeStyle Libre review: Design and portability

Key specs

Memory: 90 days
Results: Instant
Blood sample size: None needed
Battery: 14 days

  • Subtle sensor
  • Portable reader
  • Easy application

The FreeStyle Libre sensor itself is a small white round unit, about the size of two quarters stacked up. To apply you simply peel off the back and stick it to the prepared arm area - solutions can be applied before to make removal easier and less skin-affecting for those with sensitive skin. An alcohol scrub is a good tip to make sure the connection is ideal and the sensor stays for the full lifetime.

The unit has a built-in battery and should last 14 days. Once depleted it can be removed using a few options as laid out on the guide, and another can then be applied. It's so comfortable you'll forget it's there, which is fine as long as you don't spend more than 30 minutes submerged in a pool, as it's water-resistant not waterproof. It's probably best to have a back-up too, like the CareTouch Blood Glucose Management System, which is cheap, so an ideal secondary device.

The sensor itself looks minimal and the scanner is similarly simple - a small black unit. Although now you can use a phone with the app to scan the sensor so even the scanner is no longer required. 

The sensor is self-calibrating but it does take an hour before you can get your first reading, so be sure to have it ready if needed ahead of time. The reader features a large colour display that clearly shows off data in graph and number format and can be recharged as you need weekly.

Abbott FreeStyle Libre review: Memory and connectivity

  • Swipe to scan
  • Eight hour cycles

The unit attaches to your arm and records data every 60 seconds for an eight hour cycle, as long as you scan every eight hours you'll get all that data with a current reading at the top. 

This also means you get a graph for the last period showing if you're up or down from your target and the last reading. As a result it's super simple to read and see how you're doing. 

So with your current reading, trend arrow and glucose history for the last eight hours, you get a good picture but on top of that you can add notes like food, insulin use, exercise and more. The reader device is able to store data for up to 90 days so you can see patterns and trends over that period before it's lost. Or you can store it all on your phone's app.

Abbott FreeStyle Libre review: App and software

  • iPhone and Android
  • Share results automatically

If you have a phone with contactless then you can use the FreeStyle LibreLink app to scan the FreeStyle Libre on your arm and get all that data right there on the phone screen. This is ideal as it means you don't have to think about carrying the reader or charging that as yet another device with a battery.

While data can be transferred easily, the app will only store it for 90 days before the new information pushes that out the back end. So you'll need to back that up if you want to get a more long-term picture of your results. In terms of apps, it doesn't quite match the Contour Next One for data gathering and tracking, but it's still very good.

Sharing the results is also easy thanks to the additional, also free, FreeStyle LibreLinkUp app. Anyone with this installed on their device can see your data live from when you upload it to your phone. This allows you to share with up to 20 people. 

Abbott FreeStyle Libre: Sampling and accuracy

  • Within 30-40 points
  • CGM adapter option

The accuracy of the FreeStyle Libre is something of great importance since this isn't the usual FDA approved lance method. As such you need to take into account the fact that this will be about 15 minutes behind the real-time of your blood. This is because data is taken from the interstitial fluid (ISF) which is a thin layer of liquid that surrounds the cells of the tissue just below your skin. But since the data is more regular you can hopefully see patterns and avoid any problems more easily than you might with the traditional lance method.

That said, results have been found to be within 30-40 points, checked by lance when the unit says "check blood glucose". You don't get alerts but simply see them when you scan. 

However, there is an add-on that can make the device a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), this is called Miao Miao. This will attach to the sensor on the arm and send data directly to a connected phone in real-time, allowing you to get alerts when you need them and, crucially, only if you want them.

The FreeStyle Libre is accurate but it's not approved to be used before driving so if you really want to be sure of your levels before a trip out then a lance may still be the best option. If accuracy is the most important aspect to you, we recommend the Accu-Chek Guide, which is fast and hugely accurate. The Freestyle Libre could be used as a complimentary measuring device to cut back on blood sampling a lot more than is usually needed. 

Should you choose the Abbott FreeStyle Libre?

The Abbott FreeStyle Libre is a great alternative to lance-based glucometers. The pain free process is easy to use with a sensor that is simply applied and stays in place, even when swimming. Scanning is super simple with the supplied reader or a smartphone with contactless, meaning data is right there to see in colour instantly. 

Since data is taken from eight hour cycles it means not only a current reading when you scan but a graph and arrow showing your trends and if you're up or down. This, ideally, helps you track trends and remain on target.

This isn't a total alternative to lancing though as you may still be required to take a further test if the unit spots any issues, or if you're about to drive, legally. For that we'd recommend the Dario LC Blood Glucose Management System, our top pick. The addition of the Miao Miao to make this into a full CGM is a wonderful extra that makes real-time glucose monitoring from your phone a real and affordable reality.  You could be eligible for a prescription FreeStyle Libre system which could save you money in the long run too.