Mother review: This smart-home hub makes promises the Internet of Things can’t deliver
By Michelle Mastin
TechHiveDec 16, 2014 3:00 am PST
At a Glance
Cookies are unobtrusive
Easy app switching
Mother must connect to a wired network
Limited app selection
Pricey for its current feature set
Sen.se Mother with Motion Cookies takes a different approach to home and life monitoring, providing you with the opportunity to track things you never knew you needed to know about, in an overly cute package with over designed software.
Mother and the Motion Cookies was one of the most talked-about products at last January’s CES. No one could quite figure out what it was or what it was supposed to do. Now that she’s taken up residence in my home, I’m still not entirely sure what Mother is good for. But I kinda like her and her cookies.
In very broad strokes, Mother is a data-collecting hub that you hard-wire to your router, and the Motion Cookies are wireless sensors that you attach to household objects that you want to track. Despite the name, the sensors can also track temperature and proximity to Mother, not just motion, and they send messages about what’s going on inside your home back to the hub.
Mother is a jack of all trades and comes with apps for everything from fitness tracking, to home monitoring, to sleep analysis. Messages from the apps are displayed in a portal dubbed the Senseboard, which you can access from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. As you’ve probably guessed, Mother is a master of none of these tasks.
Mother is incredibly cute. She looks like a white Russian nesting doll with a light-up face. But since she needs to be hard-wired to your router, she’ll probably get hidden away where your router lives (unless your home has hardwired ethernet ports in its walls).
In our house, the router is in the garage, but we have a wired port in a home office, so that’s where I set her up. Four color-coded Motion Cookies are included with the kit, and you can buy more in packs of four for $159. One Mother can track up to 24 of these sensors. The cookies are small and unobtrusive (they measure 1.9 by 0.8 inches), and they come with things like putty and Velcro loops for attaching them to the objects you want to track.
Motion Cookies communicate with Mother on a proprietary 915MHz frequency band, and each one can store up to 10 days worth of data before they need to be back in range of Mother to upload. The sensors’ range is comparable to a home Wi-Fi network.
The Cookies and the Mother itself are identified by charming names. The Mother reviewed here was named Jenice Faith, and the Motion Cookies had names like “Early Jardin” and “Any Bread.”
Mother is easy enough to set up. Plug in her power and Ethernet cords, open the web portal, and much of the rest takes care of itself. You must touch Mother’s face to complete the setup, and each Motion Cookie needs to be activated in close proximity to Mother, so stay close for these steps. Some apps also require the paired Motion Cookie to be physically close to Mother during setup.
Log into your Senseboard from a computer and you can manage Mother, any of the Motion Cookies you’ve enabled, and any devices on which you’ve installed the Pocket Mother app. You can also add new apps from here. When you use the smartphone or tablet version of the Pocket Mother app, you’re limited to seeing data coming in from each app; you can’t manage other devices or add other apps to the Senseboard.
When you add a new app, you’ll be guided through a short set of steps to pick settings to choose which Motion Cookie you wish to monitor, and choose which types of notifications you want to receive. Mother will notify you via text, email, the pocket Mother app on your phone or tablet, or via Mother directly (although that last one won’t be useful if Mother is in a closet chained to your router).
Senseboard looks like the live tiles in Windows 8, whether you’re using it via a browser or the Pocket Mother on a phone or tablet, but the tiles don’t present a whole lot of useful information. The “door” tile tells me the last time there was motion at the door, but the “coffee” tile just says “What does your coffee machine dream of?” Seriously?
When I click on the “sleep” tile (which just tells me it’s good to sleep on a cookie), I’m presented with some neat graphs that tell me how well I slept (not very, I have a 4-month-old baby). Similarly, clicking through to the coffee app informs me of how much coffee I’ve been drinking (a lot, I have a 4-month-old baby). Other apps let me know how many steps I’ve taken, when the door has moved, and what the temperature is at each Cookie.
I didn’t find the sleep-tracking feature to be all that useful, since I’m up often with my baby and the Cookie in my bed doesn’t know whether a lack of motion means that I’m in REM sleep or that I’m out of the bed tending to the baby. On one day, the app told me I’d had my best night’s sleep when in fact I’d been up every hour because my baby was having trouble sleeping due to vaccinations earlier in that day.
If you find that Mother’s sleep tracking works for you, the Pocket Mother app on your smartphone can use that information to gently wake you with a well-timed alarm.
The Coffee app works best with single-serve pod-based machines. It even lets you choose between a Nespresso, Keurig, or Senseo brand, showing you the best way to attach the Cookie to your machine. In my case, I used a bit of the provided putty to attach a cookie to the side.
Once you’ve selected the type of machine you’ve attached the cookie to, you enter how many pods you have left and the app will track your average daily consumption to let you know when you’re running low. It sent me a nice email just in time.
You can also choose to receive warnings if you’re drinking coffee too late at night, but there’s no way for Mother to know if you’re having a decaf or a hot chocolate after dinner.
Step counting worked well until I forgot to take the Motion Cookie I’d assigned to the task out my pocket before I put the garment in the washing machine. The Cookies are’t waterproof, but this one survived its ordeal (its non-rechargeable CR2016 button battery did not).Temperature tracking worked as advertised.
Using a Motion Cookie to monitor a door can only report if the door is moving. That’s good to know if the door opens when you don’t expect it to, especially if you’re away from home, or if you’re using it to monitor the door to your liquor or medicine cabinet. But it can’t report that the door was left open.
The toothbrush tracking app shows up in a lot of Mother’s advertising, but I have an electric toothbrush which means I don’t scrub back and forth in the same way as a manual, so sadly Mother can’t nag me about the state of my teeth. Other much-hyped apps, such as the one that tracks how much water you drink and another that can track your fridge habits, are “coming soon.”
I configured the Pocket Mother app on my smartphone to alert me of certain activities, such as door movement. Yet, every single time I tapped on a notification, I got a page-not-found error. Once I closed the alert, the app worked fine.
Should you invite Mother for a stay?
Mother is intriguing—at first. I was really into it at the beginning and was prepared to give this review four stars. But Mother’s novelty wore off after about two weeks, and I stopped checking in with Pocket Mother.
Mother needs Wi-Fi connectivity, so that you can keep her in a central area of your home, and Sense needs to offer more—and more useful—apps. Being able to track just four Motion Cookies is limiting, and it’s very expensive to buy additional sensors. There’s a lot of potential here,. I’m not convinced Mother justifies her $299 price tag.
Editor’s note, 12/16/2014: Sense has informed us that the’ve temporarily lowered Mother’s suggested retail price to $199 through December 31. Mother is available at this price at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and the Microsoft Store.