Update on on 9/1/2021: Sense is a dead platform. I believe some of the issues mentioned in this article contributed to its ultimate failure. I am using Sleep as Android as my primary sleep tracker, and I am currently testing the new Nest Hub with sleep tracking to see how it stacks up.
Update on 5/18/2017: Changed a few bits of text and decided to be more neutral about recommending Sense for new users, while still recommending existing users don’t upgrade unless Hello.is offers a better upgrade path.
In July 2015, I ordered a Sense sleep tracker from Hello.is. It was finally released after being successfully crowd-funded. I missed the funding window for this device, but quickly snatched one up once they were available for order. I’ve been using it ever since, and I have some thoughts about it.
What is it?
For those unfamiliar with Sense, it’s an attractive little orb which sits on your nightstand and collects data from either one or two (it supports a partner) “sleep pills” attached to a pillow that track your movement at night. The orb can glow many different colors and make various types of sound to assist with sleep or to wake you up. Additionally, it tracks some factors in the environment such as temperature, light, and sound levels and feeds that data into the app. Overall, it’s a really cool, futuristic, minimal-looking device that looks great on any nightstand.
Does it work?
Yes, arguably it’s able to track sleep patterns and analyze the environment, and it syncs data just fine with the application on my Android device.
As with many products, its users are like beta testers. Its users have put a lot of trust into a new company and a new device that isn’t cheap, and that many didn’t even know would for sure see the light of day. But it came out. Hello.is delivered a device much like they originally pitched to everybody who ordered one.
What’s wrong with it?
As with many things in life, the issues creep up in the form of the little details:
- It’s not very accurate at tracking sleep (but it’s gotten a lot better since launch).
- It’s not very accurate at tracking the environment (but that’s gotten a bit better, too).
- It’s really bad at differentiating between two partners both using sleep pills.
- It has no API or access to your sleep data outside of the proprietary phone app.
- There’s no “snooze” option, or a number of other features common in a sleep alarm.
Many of these issues are to be expected with a new device. It would have been great if they were partially or fully resolved before launch, but the reality is that’s often not possible to do, and I can sympathize with that.
I was happy to wait for Hello.is to fix the broken or inconsistent features, and to come through on the other promises of the device which weren’t yet fulfilled. That is, until it was announced what Hello.is were actually working on–a completely new Sense device. One that no existing users, including those who backed the project based on unfulfilled promises, would get to see the benefits of.
I reached out to Hello.is via email to ask when the promised functionality would be released for the existing Sense device, and to ask what upgrade path existing Sense backers would have to get this new, improved Sense. Their answer, unfortunately, is what spurred me to write this article, and is the main driving factor behind my recommendation at the end.
There is no timeline for the missing functionality being released. There is no upgrade path for existing users. Want the new Sense? Pay full price for a new Sense unit.
What does this mean for existing users?
For starters, it means users who trusted Hello.is with their hard-earned money will likely not see the features they’ve been waiting on for even longer. It also demonstrates that Hello.is is not very concerned with their existing user base–they have your money, you have something that resembles what you paid for, and they’ve moved on.
If you are happy with the performance of your Sense, then by all means continue using it and cross your fingers that there will be some way to access your data in the future. I don’t recommend upgrading, however–at least not until Hello.is does something to demonstrate their commitment to and appreciation for their backers and existing users as they move forward.
What about new users?
The big question: Should you buy a Sense? It depends on how OK you are with the company’s practices. It’s a cool device, and if you find a deal on it you very well might enjoy it, although some may prefer to keep their money rather than giving it to a company who doesn’t seem to value its user base.
Existing users, don’t spend your money proving to Hello.is that this behavior is OK. Sense is a cool device, and I’m willing to wager the new version is even cooler. That makes the direction that Hello.is has gone even more of a shame.
Sense’s existing user base made the device possible in the first place, and made it possible for Hello.is to create a subsequent product that fixes some of the shortcomings in the original. My response, when waiting for functionality on a device I paid a lot of money for and then suddenly being offered a new version of that device for full price instead: “WTF?"