Although we’ve been very impressed with smart thermostats such as the ecobee3, the major limitation common to all such devices is that while they’re great for controlling heating, with many homes using in-window or split air conditioning systems, they fall short in their ability to also handle cooling, leaving many users to fumble with relatively primitive infrared remotes that leave their home environment feeling a lot less “smart” in the summer months. Fortunately, Sensibo has stepped up to the plate to fill this gap with its new Sky Smart Air Conditioner interface, a relatively unobtrusive little box that pairs with a companion iOS app to allow you to adjust your cooling from anywhere, beaming the necessary IR control signals to your otherwise “dumb” AC unit.
The idea behind Sensibo Sky is relatively straightforward: It’s basically an infrared emitter or “blaster” similar to those we’ve commonly seen over the years with iOS-based universal remote solutions that translates commands sent in the Sensibo app — or via Google Home or Amazon Alexa commands (but, sadly, not HomeKit) — into commands that an air conditioning unit will understand. Sky comes in at about the size of a deck of playing cards, and is packaged with a micro-USB cable and power adapter. Double-sided tape on the back allows Sky to be mounted to a wall or piece of furniture so that it’s in line-of-sight of your air conditioner, although you’ll also need to place it near a power source. Further, although Sensibo Sky is a relatively attractive unit, unless you’re willing to drill a hole for the power cable, you’ll also have to deal with a slightly unsightly wire extending below the device; the good news, however, is that the power connection is recessed at the back, so it is possible to more cleanly mount the unit and run the cable inside the wall for users who want a cleaner aesthetic look.
Sky connects to your network using Wi-Fi, and the set up process will be familiar to anybody who has configured other Wi-Fi accessories with their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch; the app starts by asking you to set up a Sensibo account and scan the QR Code on the rear of Sensibo, after which it asks you to switch back to the Settings app to connect to Sensibo’s own ad hoc Wi-Fi network, after which it scans for your Wi-Fi network and associates itself. Once that’s done, the Sensibo app will ask you to use your A/C remote to help identify your unit — in our case it was only necessary to point it at the Sensibo unit and press the power button once — and will optionally ask you to name your device and specify its geographic location. The process took under two minutes and Sensibo was immediately responsive and accessible as soon as the process was complete, even over a cellular data connection. It’s also worth noting that the Sensibo app is designed to support multiple Sensibo Sky units, even across different geographic locations.
Once up and running, the Sensibo app allows you to turn the air conditioning unit on or off with a single press, adjust temperature and fan speed, switch between modes, turn “swing” on or off, and set an off timer. Of course, not all options will be available on all air conditioning units, and the Sensibo app doesn’t appear to provide any way to program or learn additional commands — for example in our case there was no way from the Sensibo app to toggle the LED display off on our split wall unit. The timer feature on the Sensibo app also simply schedules the Sensibo Sky unit itself to transmit the off command at the appointed time, rather than setting any built-in timer functions that may be available on the A/C unit itself. Sensibo Sky also provides temperature and humidity sensors so that you can monitor environmental conditions from within the app, although unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any way to use this information to create automation rules, such as turning on the AC unit when the temperature reaches a certain value.
The Sensibo app also provides a week-based seven-day schedule so that you can set your A/C units to automatically turn on or off and/or set to a specific temperature based on the time of day and day of week — a feature that we think will be particularly great for those users in locations where hydro is billed based on time-of-use rates. Individual schedules have to be created for on and off times separately, and can be set to run once or repeat weekly based on the day of the week; rules set to run once aren’t removed after they run, but are simply switched off, meaning that they can be easily re-enabled on demand, which we thought was a nice touch. Sensibo also provides basic location-based triggers, although the company currently lists this as an “experimental feature” and it’s limited to simply turning the unit on when you arrive and off when you leave; advanced features such as setting the unit to a specific temperature are not available, so your A/C unit will simply turn on at the last temperature it was set to. As with temperature and humidity values, we’re hoping that Sensibo expands this feature in an app update, but it still works for what it’s designed to do and is a handy way to make sure the A/C gets turned off when you leave home.
Sensibo Sky does exactly what it promises, and it does it well. Although the $119 price tag may be a bit tough to swallow at first glance, if you’ve ever forgotten to turn off your A/C unit when leaving home, or left it running longer than you really needed to, you can probably imagine how Sky will pay for itself in energy savings — our quick math suggested that it could easily pay for itself over the course of a single summer. Although we were disappointed that Sensibo doesn’t (yet) provide HomeKit support, the unit and app both work very well together in providing most of the necessary functionality; Google Home and Amazon Alexa compatibility is included, although we didn’t test those services are they’re generally beyond the scope of our home product reviews. The only additional feature we would have liked to see is the ability to create rules based on the temperature and humidity detected by the Sensibo unit, and the lack of this actually seems like a strange omission. Of course, this could also be addressed with proper HomeKit support, which could also allow for integration with smart thermostats, temperature sensors, and other HomeKit accessories. We’re crossing our fingers that Sensibo will be able to take advantage of Apple’s recently relaxed policy allowing software updates to add HomeKit capabilities at some point in the future, but even without it, Sensibo Sky still works well and solves a very common problem, making it worthy of our general recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: Sky, 2nd Generation