X

Sense Mother review: "Mother" is here to take charge of your smart home

This data tracking device excels at organizing your day-to-day -- just like an over-zealous parent.

meganwollertonportraits0719-23a
Megan Wollerton
meganwollertonportraits0719-23a

Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

See full bio
5 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Sense's $300 Mother has been making the rounds at recent tech conferences and every time we spot those blank, lifeless eyes and ever so slightly upturned smile among the chaos we're unanimously struck by its sheer creepiness. Factor in Sense's bizarre branding messages -- "Who takes care of you better than your mom? Mother only takes care of what you want. Here's Mother: she's like a mom, only better." --and I'm thinking that I'd rather meet Hannibal Lecter in a dark alleyway than "Mother."

sense-mother-18.jpg
7.7

Sense Mother

The Good

Sense's $299 Mother is as flexible a home automation kit as we've ever seen.

The Bad

$299 is a high price to pay for an automated, organized smart home, and the remote sensors are limited to a 65-foot range. A bit pricy, Limited by range.

The Bottom Line

If you can get past Mother's odd and occasionally downright spooky branding, Sense's home automation hub is actually a pretty clever way to organize your life.

Since Sense's quirky smart home product just made the leap to production, we thought we'd suspend our initial design reservations and actually figure out what this thing does. And while I still haven't warmed to its aesthetics or in-your-face marketing, it all started to make a lot more sense when I began testing this (surprisingly) delightful home-automation kit.

Sense's Mother hub knows all (pictures)

See all photos

Essentially, Mother is a data-tracker with a ton of built-in flexibility. Four "Cookies," or remote sensors, come with your purchase and you can use them to monitor motion and temperature. Cookies communicate with the Mother hub and display all sorts of useful information on the related web and mobile apps -- up to 65 feet. When Cookies exceed 65 feet, they will continue to log data, but you won't be able to access it until you're back in range of Mother (See? Doesn't that just sound creepy?).

Yes, Sense's Mother is on the pricy side and the 65-foot range is a bit of a bummer, but this $300 kit is uniquely versatile, giving you the freedom to track pretty much anything from how many steps you walk in a day to how well you sleep at night.

Getting to know Mother

Mother is a bulbous, glossy white hub that's shaped like a bowling pin or a Russian nesting doll. Connect it directly to your Wi-Fi router via the included Ethernet cable and follow the instructions on the Web app to register it and pair its four colorful motion-and-temperature-sensing Cookies.

This process was simple enough, but did nothing to counter our first impressions of Mother.

sense-mother-13.jpg
Megan Wollerton/CNET

Each hub has a unique identifier, but instead of a 24-digit alphanumeric code or some other randomly generated ID number, Mother has a name. Mine's called "Elwanda Melinda" -- certainly easier to type in than a long string of letters and numbers, but significantly weirder.

The same goes for each Cookie. The orange one is called "United Sundae," the yellow one is called "Adored Crunch," the green one is called "Natural Connection," and the blue one is called "Ideal Mountain."

You can also change Mother's LED eye color during the initial setup and in settings afterwards. There are eight options, including blue, pink, light blue, yellow, green, purple, orange and red. I steered clear of red and opted for sedate purple, lest this inanimate Mother-hub comes alive and starts taking over my condo, the neighborhood, and eventually, the whole world.

sense-mother-16.jpg
Megan Wollerton/CNET

Once everything is configured to your satisfaction on the web app, you can use the same login info to access the mobile version, which is available for Android, iOS, and Windows users.

See what Mother can do

Select "Add an app" from the Web app's Senseboard homepage to start tracking things; the Web app is where you'll want to go to make any major adjustments to Mother's setup. The mobile app is well designed, but it provides a limited snapshot, whereas the Web app offers the full breadth of customization options available to you.

And your options are pretty diverse -- I used each of the four Cookies to test Mother's many features and some sensors even performed more than one function simultaneously.

senseboard1.png
Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

I attached two of the sensors to my doors (front and patio) to receive push notifications whenever they opened. I also used them to track the ambient temperate. I put another sensor in my pocket and it worked just like a pedometer, tracking my steps and telling me how many calories I was burning. I also set it up to act as a proximity sensor, so that Mother would disable the door-related motion alerts when it sensed that I was home. I shoved another sensor under my fitted sheet and it sent sleep data to the app and acted as my alarm in the morning, one that went ahead and woke me up when it noticed that I was stirring shortly before my official alarm time, similar to the Hello Sense sleep system .

All of the most recent data collected will be displayed on the Senseboard and you can temporarily disable, delete and adjust any Cookie and any of its functions any time you want. When you click on one of the functions, you will get a more detailed look, so you can see a sleep graph and itemized sleep stats: I got 79 percent deep sleep, 7 percent light sleep, 6 percent intermediate sleep and 8 percent awake sleep on the night of September 25.

senseboard4.jpg
Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Most importantly, everything worked as expected. I received push notifications whenever the doors opened, got sleep cycle-related data and was able to monitor my steps and calories burned all from one central location. It's like a fitness band, a home-automation kit and a security system all in one, and the results are very intriguing. There's really nothing quite like Mother on the market today.

Still it does have some limitations. Cookies can only communicate with the hub up to roughly 65 feet. So, any time you take a one outside of that range, you won't receive the data until you return. I also found the fitness tracker setup slightly annoying. While you can switch between Metric and Imperial units, there was no place to enter height in feet and inches -- it only had a section for feet, so I had to enter that I was 5.6 feet tall instead of 5 feet and 7 inches. Close enough.

The verdict

Sense's $300 Mother home automation and data-tracking kit is definitely unconventional, but that doesn't mean that it wouldn't make a good addition to your smart home. If you find that you're looking for a little organization in your life and like the idea of a Mother/hub/red-eyed overlord to keep you in check, Sense has a solid solution. Still, Mother is on the pricy side and you're out of luck if you want to track your steps on-the-go. Then again, it's highly adaptable and might just make some sense out of your hectic routine -- just like the overbearing mother you never had.

sense-mother-18.jpg
7.7

Sense Mother

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 7Design 7Performance 9