Sen.se is a relatively new entrant in the connected home and IoT space. The company's most prominent product is the Mother, an oddly shaped humanoid-like hub that connects to small "Cookies" you can intersperse everywhere to monitor motion, temperature, presence/absence. The concept is interesting: Sen.se bills it as a way to keep an eye on different things and people around your home, including how often someone brushes their teeth or when the cookie jar is opened. But the price is on the very exorbitant side of the equation: Sen.se sells the Mother for €242 on its store and it retails for about $200 on Amazon in the US.
I had seen Mother before but I completely dismissed it because of that price. I wasn't ready to put that much money down for something that may not prove as useful. But at nearly one tenth of the price for just one sensor? Well, now we're talking. These are the new Peanuts. They're basically the same shape as the Cookies, but instead of requiring a central hub, they have a Bluetooth chip to connect to your device directly.
This, in theory, sounds ideal. You can have all kinds of small sensors, priced at €29 / $29 each, over your home or office or attached to your belongings, and you just use your phone to monitor and control them. The reality is a little less practical, but the blame doesn't fall on Sen.se. Before I get ahead of myself, let's go back to the beginning.
|Size and colors||The Peanuts are small, offer plenty of vibrant color options, are easy to attach to any item, and can blend into any décor.|
|SensePeanut Android app||It is smooth, well designed, easy to use, and it color-matches with your Peanuts.|
|IFTTT, Nest, CSV||You can link the ThermoPeanut to your Nest to control the temperature or to your IFTTT to create as many recipes as you want. Or you can export the data as a CSV file.|
|Multiple devices||It's possible to connect many phones and tablets to the same Peanut so that whichever device is close gets the data and syncs it to the others.|
|Sound alert||Even if the Peanuts can't find a phone or tablet to connect to, they can ring on their own to alert you of an abnormal temperature or a detected motion.|
|Price||At €29 / $29, the Peanuts are affordable enough to give one a try and see how it works for you.|
|Bluetooth Smart||All the drawbacks of the Peanuts can be traced back to the use of Bluetooth connectivity. It drops for no reason, it doesn't have a long range, and it eats through batteries faster than it should.|
Small as a peanut, and versatile too
The Peanuts ship in a small packaging that shows the color through an opening at the back. There are 8 colors available (chocolate, orange, red, wine, navy, blue, emerald, and green), but you can't seem to pick a specific one when you order. So I have 3 ThermoPeanuts, two of which are green and one is navy, and one GuardPeanut that's green with an extra navy shell. I am not complaining. My pharmacy is decked in green so these fit perfectly with everything around them.
At 45 x 25 x 5mm, the Peanuts themselves are super small and cute. The front plate houses a round indent for the button, which takes a temperature measurement on ThermoPeanut and gives you sound feedback of the status, or activates motion monitoring on GuardPeanut. The back is white with a few regulatory engravings. You can pop the front off to get to the CR2032 cell battery if it needs replacement.
The ThermoPeanut (pictured below) ships with the battery, a user guide, one multipurpose clip, a key ring, some sticky putty and self-adhesive tape, and a gift bag.
The GuardPeanut (pictured below) includes most of the same accessories, minus the gift bag, and with the addition of one extra faceplate color. The clip and keyring let you attach it to your keys or other small objects. If, instead, you want to monitor the motion of a phone, computer, door, or some other rather static object, you can stick it on them with the putty or tape.
I attached the GuardPeanut to my keys to keep a virtual eye on them if I have to leave them unattended and to be able to make them ring when I lose them around the house. As for the ThermoPeanuts, I put one in the pharmacy's main store room, one in the stock room, and one inside the fridge.
Why the fridge? Because my fridge's door sometimes bounces back when you swing it closed too hard, and stays open for hours on end. The fridge makes a small beeping sound then, but it's located inside the stock room and I can't hear it when I'm back in the main store. With a ThermoPeanut there, I have one more louder beeping noise and notifications on my phones to remind me to close the door.
Easy guided setup
Before you start using the Peanuts, you will have to sign up for an account. At this point, I've resigned to having an account for everything I use, so I don't complain anymore, but some of you might be annoyed by that. The SensePeanut app will require two permissions to work well: localization to know that you're in the location where it should look for your Peanut, and disabling battery optimizations to keep running in the background. You can choose to disable these, but it'll hinder the Peanut's connectivity further.
Setting up the Peanuts was fast and easy. By removing the small strip that isolates the battery, the sensor activates and can be quickly found from the app. The setup experience is very well done with the app color-matching your Peanut from the moment it finds it, then giving you hints for ways to use it.
You can choose a name for your each sensor and, for the ThermoPeanut, the setup lets you set the minimum and maximum temperature limits as well as decide whether you want notifications on your phone or not.
For the GuardPeanut, the setup gives different hints for placements and lets you choose whether to activate alert sounds on your phone and/or on the Peanut itself when an unapproved movement is detected.
Once you're done adding all your Peanuts, they're listed in the app with their assigned color, name, and current status. The overflow menu lets you access your account, change your email address, and connect to Nest.
The app itself is snappy, well designed with lots of Material touches, and delightful to use. Swiping between Peanuts, tapping through the graphs, switching to the settings, everything is smooth and doesn't cause any hiccups.
Monitoring with the Peanuts
Peanuts use Bluetooth Smart (it seems to be 4.0) to connect to your device. That's the cause of their versatility and their pitfall as well. Bluetooth doesn't require a hub like Z-Wave or some proprietary frequency, it uses less battery than WiFi, but is nowhere near as consistent or as reliable as we'd all want it to be. But I'll address that later.
For now, you need to know that the Peanuts support multiple devices so any phone or tablet you install the app on and sign into your account from is able to talk to the sensors. You can thus leave a tablet at home with the app and it'll collect the data from the Peanuts it's connected to and upload it to your account so you can view it from your phone, away from home. That's a nice way to overcome some of the limitations of Bluetooth, but it's not nearly enough to counter them all.
I also should point that even when the Peanuts are not directly connected to your device, they can still ring their own alarm for on-the-spot alerts and they save a month's worth of data until they can sync back to your phone or tablet. That's a nice workaround when Bluetooth is unreliable.
Hot and cold with ThermoPeanut
We had some really cold days in Lebanon over the past month and thanks to the ThermoPeanut, I have an idea of what the ideal temperature is for me inside the pharmacy. If it goes below 16°C, I start feeling the ice through my bones, but if I can keep it around 19-20°C, I'm golden.
The SensePeanut app has 4 levels of temperature data to look at. The upper bubble is the last measured temperature, then there's a 24h graph with half hour bars, a 30-day graph, and a 12-month graph.
In the screenshots below you can clearly see when I turned on the heating inside the pharmacy on that specific day (when the temp started rising), the weekends in the monthly graph (days with the lowest temp since the heating is not on), and how cold December and January have been compared to November. Oh and that FAB? It can query the ThermoPeanut for a temperature reading right now, regardless of the scheduled measures.
There are a couple of bonuses in those screens. Tapping the big circle switches to show the connectivity status and battery level of the Peanut. And tapping anywhere on the graph highlights that value and shows the exact temperature.
My fridge ThermoPeanut tells a little different story. The small rise and fall cycles show clearly how the fridge manages the temperature along with any anomalies. And did you notice how the entire app shifts colors to match with the navy ThermoPeanut I have inside the fridge? Small touches like these make it delightful to use.
I have customized the Peanuts to specific high and low limits, depending on their location, and set them up to notify me when something goes wrong. So now, I get a notification when my fridge's door is left open for a while and the temperature rises, and I also get a notification when the pharmacy's main room or stock room are too cold or too hot.
But there are more settings to personalize. For example, you can choose the measurement and notification frequency, turn on the ThermoPeanut's own ringer for alerting anyone nearby, calibrate it, choose your preferred unit, link it to your Nest or IFTTT account, export its data as a CSV file to use however you'd like, and change the color it shows inside the app.
I prefer my Peanuts to be color-matched between the app and real life, but if you want to be rebellious, you can show your green ThermoPeanut as Orange inside the app, who's gonna stop you?
Motion alerts with GuardPeanut
GuardPeanut isn't active all the time. By default, it is off unless you tap and hold the Peanut's own button or you activate monitoring inside the app. When it's on, GuardPeanut will just count all instances of movement it can detect and show them as a graph.
The app displays all instances of detected motion over the past 24 hours, 7 days, and 30 days.
You can customize a lot of the GuardPeanut's settings, but the ones you're most likely to be interested in are the sensitivity level, smartphone alarm and sound type, and the peanut's alarm and mode (short discreet, long loud, continuous loud). These provide plenty of ways to monitor objects from silently keeping an eye on the cookie jar when your kids are home and you're in the other room, to a short sound every time a door or window opens, to setting up a continuous screeching sound when your possessions are moved without your permission in the coffee shop or at a public place.
I'll be honest and say I didn't have a lot of time testing GuardPeanut, but in the time that I did, it worked well. I couldn't figure out a valid use case for it in my life so I just stuck it on my car keys to be able to find them and monitor them.
However, just as I started writing this review, it occurred to me that I could use the GuardPeanut to solve a big problem in my pharmacy: patients sometimes walk in to the main store while I'm getting something from the stock room and I don't see/hear them because I don't have a door chime (I hate their annoying sounds). I could easily stick the GuardPeanut on the door and only activate it when I know I'll be going to the stock room.
And this is what I did. I only set it up and tested it yesterday and it has done its job well so far. I simply activate it before going to the stock room so I can hear its chime when someone walks in. When I'm back in the main store, I deactivate it so it doesn't annoy me constantly with every walk-in. My assistant loves its cute sound and is happy we finally have a solution for our silent doors. The only issue I ran across so far is that my GuardPeanut doesn't seem to be able to detect movement, even at the lowest sensitivity, when stuck directly on the pharmacy's glass door. It does, however, detect movement properly when stuck to an Open/Door sign that flaps each time the door is open.
Beside alerts, connecting to Nest (which I couldn't do because I don't own a Nest), and exporting the data as CSV files, you can add ThermoPeanut as a channel in IFTTT, letting you automate plenty of actions based on different temperatures. Like turning on your thermostat when it's too cold, turning off the AC when it's too hot, and more.
The applet setup lets you set which ThermoPeanut to monitor and the specific temperature it gets triggered at. It's well done and more than enough to link ThermoPeanut with the different IFTTT partners. GuardPeanut, for now, doesn't have any IFTTT integration.
Bluetooth letdowns: All is good until...
Ah Bluetooth, how I hate to love you! The thing is, everything I have said so far is peachy with the Peanuts until you factor in the limitations of Bluetooth: range, reliability and disconnections, and battery drain.
If I close the fridge's door and move my phone to the next room, the ThermoPeanut is as good as a pretty but useless piece of plastic. The quoted range is up to 60 meters (200ft) in the specs, but once you put walls and obstacles in the middle, even 5m (16.5ft) becomes a struggle for connectivity.
Second, even when the device is within range, there are instances where the SensePeanut app shows as not connected. Several times I've opened the app to see that even the closest ThermoPeanut (4m / 13ft away with direct line of sight) hasn't synced its data over the past couple of hours. That's with localization access granted and the battery optimization disabled. But I don't think there's anything that Sen.se can do here. My Fitbits and Garmin watches frequently suffer from the same issue. Either Android is having trouble keeping Bluetooth devices connected all the time or Bluetooth Smart is not working like it should. The annoying part is that when things do work like they should, they're wonderful and they give you false hope that they might stay like that, just this one time. Alas, they never do.
And finally, battery drain is a problem to consider both on your devices and on the Peanuts themselves. The first batch of ThermoPeanuts I received was faulty and the battery barely lasted 2 weeks in room temperature and 7 days in the fridge. But the second batch works better and with multiple firmware updates issued to the Peanuts, I am now counting on average more than 30 days on the same battery for all my ThermoPeanuts, even the one in the fridge. The 3 months of quoted battery life could be feasible, but probably if you limit measures to every 30 minutes or 1 hour. Still, even at 3 months, it's a little short. If these were Z-Wave sensors for example, they could last up to a year.
Fun little sensors, if you don't expect more
The idea behind the Peanuts is great. Grab a couple of sensors, forget about any constraints like electricity compatibility or hub/protocol requirements or placement problems, and put them around you or on the objects you own, then connect them to your phones and tablets and you're done. Monitoring anything is easy and the possibilities are endless with IFTTT and Nest integrations and even CSV export if you want to use that data somewhere else.
And the execution from Sen.se is commendable. The Peanuts look cute, can easily blend or stand out in any décor, are quick to set up, and have a very well executed app. When they work, they can do things that range from cool to fantastic. But you never really know when or for how long they won't reliably transmit the data back to your devices, and that's where they fail.
Sen.se does a lot of things to mitigate this limitation. The multi-device compatibility helps, but you'll have to commit to leaving one device at home all the time to gather the measures (and even then, said device might not reliably sync all the time). And the Peanuts' own button and integrated chime let you control and get feedback from them on the spot, without relying on a nearby phone to sync. Both of these mean that the Peanuts are still useful and functional, even when Bluetooth fails.
You can't solely rely on this system to automate your house's or a baby room's temperature, or trust it to immediately notify you of comings and goings. But if you don't need instant reliable notifications on your phone all the time, and you accept that there could be delays in sync and instances where you'll have to bring your phone near the sensor to trigger a sync and gather missing data, then the Peanuts are a lot of fun for not a lot of price.