CubeSensors review: These little cubes want to make you and your home healthier
In a bid to improve their lifestyles an increasing number of people are turning to sensor-toting wearables, but your environment can be just as important as your body. CubeSensors are sensor-packed devices which monitor external factors and give advice to improve your relaxation, productivity or, in conjunction with a Jawbone or Fitbit tracker, sleep quality. Never missing the chance to sleep in the name of work, we recently spent some quality time with the little cubes.
The wireless CubeSensors themselves are stylish and unobtrusive little cubes which can be deployed in most rooms without worrying about disrupting the decor. Once in place they use an array of sensors to monitor aspects of the environment including air quality, temperature, humidity, temperature, noise, light and pressure. Feedback is given based on what you want to do in that room, either with a shake-prompted glowing light, or in more detail via a web app.
In the box you'll find a micro USB power adapter, a base unit which connects to your router via ethernet cable, along with the CubeSensors and micro USB charging cables (the CubeSensors can last a month on a single charge). CubeSensors come in bundles of two, four or six depending on the number of rooms, and what you want to monitor. We were using the smaller pack for the review, and this meant quite a bit of moving them around around the house over the month-long test to use them in bedrooms, the living room and an office. If you want to monitor a number of rooms simultaneously, we'd advise opting for the bigger packs.
Simple and friendly instructions make setting up the CubeSensors a painless operation which simply involves plugging everything in and going to the set-up website. During this process you'll also name each cube, and tell it what sort of environment it is to be located in with a choice of Live (for general living spaces), Work (offices) and Sleep (bedrooms). This sets the optimal target levels for the various settings based on research on indoor comfort and productivity.
If you've assigned one of the CubeSensors to sleep, you can also pair it with a sleep-tracking Fitbit or Jawbone device. This lets you see the data from the CubeSensors along with that from the fitness tracker at the same time, the idea being that you can see if the room temperature, humidity or light coming in through the window is causing periods of disrupted sleep. Not only will you know how many times you woke up, but also why.
In our time with the CubeSensors, we were impressed by not only the amount of information they can monitor, but also how they're not the sort of tech which requires constant attention. If you want to dive into the info via the web app you can, but equally the cubes can sit unnoticed unless you shake or tap them to prompt a blue or red light which shines through the white plastic and the pattern of holes in the metal front and rear. Blue means everything is fine, while red means you need to check the app to see what's wrong.
When going to the web app, users can check the status of real-time monitored levels from the CubeSensors on a very accessible scale which ranges from sad face, to happy face. You can also scroll down to see how they've changed over the previous 24 hours. This 24 hour history can also be viewed by category across all wirelessly connected cubes. While most of these categories and their respective units of measure are fairly self explanatory, air quality detects VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
Along with letting users check specific numbers, the app provides real world actionable advice in a "Ways to Feel Better" section. This could tell you to "Open the windows as soon as possible" or "You might be comfortable with extra heating". While these might seem basic, the team behind CubeSensors say acting on this advice could help users avoid getting a cold, control allergies, or prevent a headache before it happens.
In our tests the information from the CubeSensors was more useful than expected. For example, I found my living-room was frequently registered as colder than it should be for relaxing, and increasing the heating slightly did make it feel more comfortable (I wasn't doing this before as it didn't feel particularly cold). Meanwhile in my office the CubeSensor identified that more light would be beneficial for my productivity, and in my son's bedroom (where I really wanted to ensure the best sleep conditions) I found that the windows needed to be open for longer to get the air quality closer to the identified target.
The way in which the CubeSensors use the information from an activity tracker to provide sleep environment analysis was also impressive. If looking at sleep information, users are presented with the various pieces of information tracked by the CubeSensor, and the optional sleep tracking from your fitness tracker. In our case this was a Fitbit Charge HR and sleep tracking was broken into periods of being awake, restless or asleep. This allowed me to see that a seemingly random but frequent 3am period of restfulness was actually being caused by a stray setting on my central heating kicking in for 15 minutes.
However, the CubeSensors are not without issues. The big one being that information is currently only available for the previous 24 hours. This means you can't easily see if a change in habit is having the desired effect on your environment over a period of time. Another issue experienced is that the optimal ranges for the various settings are not universal: being used in a city it was nearly impossible for me to get the air quality to what was deemed a good level.
Other things we'd like to see improved are the way in which you need to manually switch a sensor between modes. It would be nice to set a cube to act in Sleep mode from early evening and overnight, but maybe function to advise on Work or Live modes during the rest of the day.
Considering how well the information is integrated between activity trackers and CubeSensors during sleep, it would also be nice if this could be expanded to work throughout the day. If you threw sensor-laden wearables like the Basis Peak into the mix, there could be some really interesting possibilities to provide an all-day body and environment picture.
As the CubeSensors system develops and matures we have no doubt it will continue to improve. Updates in the pipeline include allowing users to access more historical sensor data to discover meaningful trends over longer periods of time. IFTTT integration is also due to land later this year so the measurements from the CubeSensors can be used to affect the behavior of other smart home devices, not just to track the environment.
We were surprised by just how useful the CubeSensors were. In retrospect it's obvious environmental factors are as important to how you feel as your own body metrics, but it was interesting to see (and feel) the real world changes that could be experienced by acting on the CubeSensors' advice. Though we were checking the CubeSensors far less towards the end of our test, because we had nailed-down conditions in various rooms, seasonal changes would mean the CubeSensors kept being useful longer term.
Getting started with the CubeSensors has a US$300 entry price for the small pack with two CubeSensors, $450 for the medium pack with four CubeSensors, and $600 for the large pack with six CubeSensors. This isn't cheap, but it's a household product rather than an individual one like an activity tracker and could benefit everyone there. For workplaces trying to optimize productivity conditions, it's not hard to see how the CubeSensors could easily pay for themselves several times over.
Product page: CubeSensors