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Notion review: Notion’s multitasking sensors are too single-minded

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Notion on the ceiling. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Notion can multitask in theory. In practice, you can combine a temperature sensor with any of the other functions, but can't realistically combine anything else.

Testing the Notion

At each individual task, Notion performs admirably. I always received a notification within a few seconds of the front door opening. You can also turn notifications off when you're at home, away, or at night. You can manually tell Notion when you leave, or let it use your phone for geofencing.

In the app, you can tap on your door icon to see a simple log of when the door opened and closed. The leak and sound sensors record a similar log. The temperature sensor actually charts its measurements over the course of the past day, week, and month. You can customize notifications with each enabled sense. So with the temperature sensor, you can put it in your wine cellar, pick an ideal temperature threshold, and have Notion let you know if it ever gets hotter or cooler.

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Notion's home page gives an overview. Click on any task for more details. When your alert settings trip, you'll get a push notification and an in-app alert. 

Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

The app lets you add and remove functions from each sensor as you please. Even after the initial setup, you're limited in what senses you can use together, but Notion's main advantage over the competition comes if you change your mind about what you want to monitor. You could fairly easily repurpose a door sensor into a flood sensor in the furnace room if you think there might be a problem.

As a flood sensor, Notion picked up water pretty quickly, and the sensor is somewhat water resistant. Notion has two probes on one side of the sensor. When water connects them, it completes a circuit and Notion sends you a push notification. The tech is similar to the other flood sensors we've tested, though some have an option to sound an alarm or interact with your larger smart home to flash the lights.

I also fooled the Notion's flood sensor when I used my finger instead of water to complete the circuit. Plus, Notion's pretty small, so you'll want to be strategic with where you place it if you want it to detect a problem early.

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These are the flood-sensing probes on the bottom of Notion. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

When I sounded the smoke alarm, Notion responded quickly with a push notification if it was in the same room. Notion's hearing ability did prove more spotty when I moved the sensor a room away. It's understandable that Notion can't hear as far as the Kidde or Leeo monitors -- both of those plug directly into a wall. Notion needs to conserve power since it's running on a battery. Still, because of this limitation, it's less useful as a safety device as it can realistically only listen for one alarm.

I also ran into a strange glitch while testing Notion's listening functionality. The coin cell battery in each Notion sensor is supposed to last a year or two. Mine died within a couple of weeks. According to a company representative, it woke up to listen too frequently, but the problem only affects a small percentage of customers.

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I ran into a strange glitch where Notion's battery died quickly. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I haven't been able to replicate the problem on a second sensor yet -- I repurposed the laundry room sensor as a listening device. I did run into another glitch with that sensor, as it looked to have lost all temperature data for a morning, but the charts eventually repopulated after a couple of hours.

The same company representative hinted that the next generation of Notion sensors will be arriving shortly -- hopefully by the end of this calendar year. Glitches aside, Notion functions well enough, but if you're interested in the system, it's worth waiting for the second generation of the product to see if it polishes the edges of the experience and handles multitasking better.

The verdict

Yes, Notion's $50 sensors are multipurpose, but because of where you need to place them, you'll likely only use them for one task at a time. You can turn on leak sensing in your door monitor, but the app asks you to place it in the top corner of your door. If the water level rises that high, I'm pretty sure you'd know something was wrong already.

Getting started with a $220 three-pack of sensors and a bridge isn't a bad deal, but it's a little expensive. Notion does well enough at each individual task you ask it to do, but it fails to separate itself from the multitude of capable smart home sensors you can find with any of the major platforms such as SmartThings, Wink, and Insteon. If you want connected monitoring, I'd pick what you want to monitor and start with a single purpose sensor. Hopefully, the second generation of Notion sensors will follow through on the promise shown by the first gen, but I wouldn't recommend spending $220 on potential.

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