Tracking sleep can be just as important and beneficial as understanding how many steps we take each day and how often we get off our lazy bottoms and move about. However, if you’re keen to track your sleep but have no wish to wear a wristband that requires regular charging or to actually affix something to the bed, your options are limited.
Here’s a solution: It’s called Sense, and it takes sleep tracking off your wrist and sets it on the nightstand. It wraps all the tech inside a neat sci-fi looking orb that would be more at home aboard the Discovery spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey than your boudoir.
Beautiful, yet odd, design
The Sense sleep monitor consists of two parts: the main unit that sits next to your bed and the Sleep Pill, which is a tiny clip-on disc that attaches to your pillow. The Sense monitor looks amazing. It’s about the size of a small orange, and the abstract geometric pattern that covers it gives it a tactility that is often missing from smart home technology. It looks like a decorative piece that might be in the room anyway, rather than a complex piece of tech.
It’s lightweight and compact, so even if bedside space is at a premium, it should still fit somewhere. But it does more than just look neat. Here’s where the Sense goes all sci-fi on us: It glows. Wave your hand over the top — it has a proximity sensor inside — and the ball will light up to give you information about the environment, or when the smart alarm sounds it’ll cycle through different colors to accompany the sound. It’s marvelous.
The Sense ball needs to have continuous power and comes with its own plug and USB cable, while the Sleep Pill takes a tiny coin cell battery that’s expected to last for a year before needing to be replaced. What’s more, Sense will support two Pills, making it far more convenient to track the sleep of more than one person in a bed. The Pill is responsible for establishing how much you move around while sleeping and is equipped with an accelerometer.
Clipping it onto your pillowcase is a pain. The clip part hardly opens up, so it’s a struggle to get it onto the case itself. One thing is for sure: once it’s on, no amount of movement will jostle it off.
Inside the Sense ball there’s a wealth of tech, including a temperature sensor, a humidity sensor, an ambient light sensor, and one for detecting the particulate matter in the air. Unlike Beddit’s sleep sensor, the Sense has its own microphone, so it doesn’t require continuous access to your smartphone during the night. It does sync sleep data to an app using Bluetooth and needs a Wi-Fi connection.
It’s easy to use, mostly
The Sense sleep ball could be the best-looking gadget ever made, but you won’t use it if it’s a pain. Hello, the company that produces the Sense, knows this and has made it incredibly easy to use — way more than any other complex sleep sensor we’ve encountered. There’s no sleep mode to activate, no app to sync in order to get things underway, and no fear that your phone will run out of juice in the night and ruin everything. If it’s plugged in, that’s all it needs, and it will start monitoring sleep at exactly the right time.
Sense consistently understood what time I went to bed, when I slept, the time I woke up, and when I got out of bed.
Interestingly, its job starts before you get into bed. Wave your hand over it and if it glows green, then the environment is conducive to a decent night’s sleep. Sense checks its sensors to see if there’s too much light, it’s too hot, or the air quality is poor. If it finds a problem, it’ll glow orange, and you’ll need to check the app to pinpoint the issue. If it’s green, it’s time for sleep.
Hop into bed, drift off to sleep, and let Sense do its job. That really is all there is to it. Simplifying the process down to this level makes us more likely to continue using it after the initial interest has passed. If you never unplug Sense, then it’ll always watch over you at night. There is one situation where you’ll want to make sure it’s not operational, and that’s if you’re not at home. Sense has a smart alarm that wakes you up within half-an-hour of your preferred time, during a light sleep phase to ensure you feel refreshed rather than groggy. However, after accidentally leaving it plugged in while away for a day, we were informed the alarm went off at the set time anyway, despite no one being in bed and the app not syncing at the time. It’s the only software issue we found with Sense.
The smart alarm feature woke us up each day, within 30 minutes of our desired hour, but there’s no snooze feature. Wave your hand over Sense and it stops for good. That’s not good, and I never trusted myself with Sense’s smart alarm, preferring to have a backup to go along with it.
We ran the Sense app on an iPhone. While it’s important that the app syncs and operates normally, it’s more important for a sleep-tracking app to present its data clearly and provide action points to help us improve. Without this, the data collected is wasted, and we’ll quickly not bother with tracking at all, leaving us with little more than an — albeit pretty — ornament in the bedroom.
Each metric — temperature, humidity, and so forth — is recorded continuously, so it provides a historical graph showing how things alter in the environment, making it easier to see how any changes affect things. For example, opening a window all night will have an effect across the range, and the app will show you the difference between the nights when the window is closed.
After your night of sleep, the app presents a summary of your rest, including any environmental changes that occurred. Additionally, it isolates deep sleep phases, counts how often you woke up, and the amount of time it took to fall asleep. The Sense is uncannily accurate. Unlike many fitness bands that track sleep, Sense consistently understood what time I went to bed, when I slept, the time I woke up, and when I got out of bed. All without me doing anything to it. This is worth stressing again: It requires absolutely no input from you whatsoever. Sense just knows.
The app is pleasingly minimalist and well designed. It’s not complicated to use but does benefit from tapping different sections, as more information can be discovered in areas that aren’t immediately obvious. We had no problem with stability, and data is collected and displayed with only the minimum of delay.
Now we encounter a problem, but not with the Sense itself. I seem to sleep very well, have a consistent wake-up time, and go to bed around the same time each night. In other words, there isn’t much for Sense to say, other than “well done.” The app compares your stats to other users, and by interpreting what the sensors tell you, it’s possible to make tiny alterations to your routine, like closing the blinds more because it’s a little too bright. Obvious stuff really, but taken with other changes may make for a better night’s sleep. Outside of this, the app suggests the time you should go to bed based on the time you’re waking up and offers tips on creating the perfect environment for sleeping.
One of my favorite features was something I’d never used before and found surprisingly beneficial. It’s called Sleep Sounds. The Sense has its own speaker and you can pick calming sounds, or white noise, to play for a set duration to help you fall asleep. Rather than a distraction, this did help me relax on several nights after traveling late into the evening. There’s a wide selection of choices, from ambient loops and white or brown noise, to the sounds of rainfall or a fire burning. For me, the forest creek bubbling away on low volume sent me into a blissful sleep in minutes.
That’s something I’ve never experienced from a sleep sensor before. It didn’t just give me suggestions on how to get a better night’s sleep; it actually helped me fall asleep.
Warranty and cost
The Sense sleep sensor with a single Sleep Pill costs $130, and each Sleep Pill is an extra $50. This is a little less than the Beddit sleep sensor, which we have found to be less reliable over time, and half the price of Withings Aura, a more complex sleep-sensing system. It’s equivalent to a Fitbit Charge HR, or similar wrist-worn sleep and fitness tracker.
Hello provides a satisfaction guarantee, where if you’re not happy with Sense, you’ve got 30 days to return it for a refund. As for a warranty on the hardware, Hello gives what it calls a limited warranty for the period of one year.
I’ve tried sleep sensors that are worn on the wrist, ones that hide under the mattress, and ones that sit under the sheets. None have been as accurate, simple to use, reliable, or as beneficial as Sense. It told me when I slept well, and on the nights when I wasn’t so relaxed, it lulled me to sleep. That’s above and beyond what I’d expect from a sleep tracker.
The DT Accessory Pack
Because there’s nothing except the Sleep Pill in or attached to the bed, there’s no stress on components, whereas the Beddit’s strap is vulnerable to failure. Perhaps best of all, there’s little setup to get it working and almost no maintenance at all. The less we have to interact with a tracker, the longer we’ll use it.
There’s a slight lack of in-depth feedback on how to improve your sleep (but then, I didn’t need much help), the Pill is a pain to clip on, and there’s no snooze mode for the smart alarm. Beddit’s comprehensive app, along with its advice on how to improve rest, is better here. Outside of this, Sense is a sleep sensor that doesn’t look like a piece of tech but works better than those that do and isn’t priced at an insane level. While not for anyone with serious sleep problems, Sense ideally suits those who want to get on the right track with their sleep and make sure they stay that way.