I have had an on-and-off allergic cough since May 2019. You can’t imagine how “fun” it has been to navigate two years of a deadly epidemic where coughing is the most notable outward symptom all while getting violent coughing fits every hour or so in public. Recently, that cough got diagnosed as a result of chronic asthma, forcing me to rethink a lot of things about my life, especially the quality of the air that I breathe.
While I can’t do much about the outside air here in Paris besides avoiding second-hand smoke and extremely polluted areas, I still have some control over the air in my own home. I had been looking at connected air quality monitors for a few weeks when Sensibo reached out to me about the new Elements — a perfect coincidence between personal need and product release.
A month later, the Sensibo Elements has become a constant indicator in my apartment and a welcome addition to my smart home collection. It sits idly in the corner of our office/living room, and my husband and I glance at it every now and then to see if we should aerate the room. Green is good, orange is a warning, and red is bad. It’s as simple as that, but the sensor technology and capabilities of the Elements are much more intricate than this simple LED indicator would lead you to believe.
About this Sensibo Elements review: I tested the Sensibo Elements for one month. The unit was provided by Sensibo, but Sensibo had no say in the direction or published content.
Six sensors in one
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
There’s an air quality monitor for everyone these days, from cheap temperature and humidity monitors with an LED display to high-end connected monitors with multiple sensors. The Sensibo Elements falls on the higher end of the spectrum with six different sensors: temperature, humidity, VOCs, PM2.5, CO2, and ethanol. For anyone who isn’t a chemistry or air quality savant, let’s explain what those last four are.
- VOCs stand for Volatile Organic Compounds. They’re found in perfumes, sprays, and pollutants, but also in various materials and coverings in new buildings. They’re often generated when you cook, clean, paint, or spray perfume or deodorant.
- PM2.5 are fine suspended particles with a smaller diameter than 2.5 microns, i.e. what we’d call dust. They’re usually generated when there’s smoke or exhaust, and they can penetrate the lungs and are tightly associated with lung cancer.
- CO2, or carbon dioxide, is found in every house because it’s part of the air we exhale every time we breathe. It is also generated from combustion and can reach higher than normal levels if you have a faulty water heater or furnace, or if your house is poorly ventilated.
- Ethanol is an alcohol found in air fresheners, perfumes, and many scented sprayable or evaporating products.
All of these occur naturally in any home, at lower levels. Higher concentrations, however, can cause respiratory irritation, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and yes, cough and asthma flairs as is my case.
The Sensibo Elements categorizes each of these into good (green), moderate (orange), and high (red) levels. It also calculates the overall air quality and assigns a score to it using the same good, moderate, and high indicators.
It’s worth noting that the Elements is not a traditional smoke detector, nor does it have carbon monoxide or radon sensors. If you’re looking to monitor those, you need to look at other models. The Airthings View Plus ($299 on Amazon) is very similar to Sensibo’s Elements, but replaces the ethanol sensor with radon. The lüft ($249 on Amazon) measures radon and pressure, but skips the ethanol and more crucially, the PM2.5 sensor. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are often standalone, without other air quality sensors.
How accurate is the Sensibo Elements?
I don’t have other air quality monitors to compare it against, but my month with the Elements didn’t result in any noticeable anomaly. VOCs climbed up each time we cooked and dropped down when we ventilated, ethanol shot up whenever we sprayed something next to it, and CO2 was always a little bit higher when we were in the room versus when we weren’t. All of these are logical and expected measures.
What I can compare are the temperature and humidity readings. My Tado thermostat sits about two meters (six feet) away from the Sensibo Elements and measures those too. In general, the Tado and Sensibo have values within the same range — a difference of one Celsius degree or a single percent of humidity can be attributed to their slightly different location or different calibration.
Monitoring air quality with the Sensibo Elements
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
The easiest way to tell if something is currently off with the air in my home is to look at the Sensibo logo-shaped LED light at the front of the Elements.
I was relieved to discover that the base status of air in my apartment is good. The LED stays green most of the day, only veering to orange or red when I cook or when it’s been a while since I’ve aerated the room. At least I’m now sure that my indoor air is not actively harming me by default, and it’s only my own normal everyday activities that generate some harmful substances.
I discovered that the base status of air in my apartment is good. But the Elements reminds me to aerate the room a lot more often than I usually do.
Because of its ambient light nature, the Elements has quickly become a frequent reminder that I should aerate the room. We do this a lot more often now, and I consider that a positive outcome for sure. Even in the middle of winter and near-freezing temperatures, we’re making a conscious effort to ventilate our apartment — something we rarely did last winter. Anything to get rid of the nagging orange or red light.
The Sensibo app provides a lot more context around air quality. Whenever I’m curious about the reason for an orange or red light, I can drill down to see the reason. Every metric is separated with graphs for the last hour, day, week, or month. The last two are behind a paid subscription, sadly. I’ll get to this in a bit.
I can also receive notifications on my phone whenever something is off, a neat feature when I’m not near the Elements.
And finally, I integrated it with Google Assistant (there’s also an Alexa counterpart). Now, I can simply ask the Nest Audio in the room for more details without having to dig into the app.
All of these voice commands are supported. The only metric that doesn’t seem to be assigned a command is the ethanol level.
- What’s the temperature
- What’s the humidity level
- What’s the air quality
- What’s the CO2 level
- What’s the particulate matter level
- What’s the VOC level.
What I’ve learned about the air in my apartment
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
The first thing we tested when we got the Elements was spraying a bit of deodorant next to it. For a few months, I’d been experiencing some irritation each time my husband used that spray, sometimes resulting in coughing fits. When we saw the number of VOCs and ethanol climb so ridiculously high, my husband just walked to the trash and threw his deodorant. He was already talking about moving to something less harmful for me, but seeing it clearly in number form was the final straw. He understood why this was affecting me so much.
After seeing how many VOCs a single deodorant spray caused, we threw it in the garbage.
The Elements eased our minds regarding PM2.5, CO2, and ethanol. Over the course of a month, these numbers have stayed within the lower limits, so we’re not concerned about them long-term. Still, it’s nice to know that we’ll be notified if they ever go up.
VOCs are the biggest variable in our apartment, and in any other home I suppose, and they’re immediately linked to our presence and activities within this tight space. Cooking is the biggest culprit, but they even climb up from actions we would never consider as harmful, like brewing tea or microwaving water or milk. Even waking up and coming to my desk in the living room causes VOCs to shoot up each morning. The first few days, we obsessed over the VOC-triggered orange and red indicators on the Elements, but we’ve since accepted them as part of just living. We only start questioning them when they last for more than an hour.
At first, I obsessed over the high VOC levels, but I’ve since accepted them as part of just living. I learned that the worst thing for air quality in my home is me.
And funnily enough, the best air quality we recorded on the Sensibo Elements was when we were on vacation over the holidays. I guess I learned that the worst thing for air quality in my home is me.
What do you do with this air quality information?
Aside from ditching the deodorant and aerating the apartment more often, the final step we’re considering is getting an air purifier. Right now, my asthma is under control and we know nothing is inherently wrong with our indoor air, but it’d help if we could get rid of the cooking smells and VOCs faster to avoid any potential irritations. Since ventilating takes forever and is not always practical in freezing temperatures or scorching heat, an air purifier should help.
Sensibo Elements review: The good and the bad
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
The Sensibo Elements uses USB-C for power, so you can simply use an existing multiport wall charger to plug it in. I like that. It also looks clean and inconspicuous enough.
It acts like a constant watchful eye over the air in your home. Just like a smoke or monoxide detector, you may never need it, but you’ll be very happy to have it that one time when things go haywire. And if you have some respiratory or allergic issues like me, it’ll help you identify some irritants and remind you to ventilate your house more frequently.
You may never need an air quality monitor, but you’ll be very happy to have it that one time when things go haywire.
The Elements also integrates with the rest of Sensibo’s portfolio, allowing you to trigger an air purifier or an air conditioner any time it senses that things are wrong.
Six sensors in one • Simple indicator • Smart home integrations
A connected six-in-one air quality monitor with Assistant and Alexa integrations
Sensibo Elements is a smart air quality monitor that measures six different variables: temperature, humidity, VOC, PM2.5, CO2, and ethanol. It can detect small variations in each of these and notify you directly on its colored LED light or through its Android or iOS app. Hourly to monthly graphs show the progression of each pollutant in your home. The Sensibo Elements also integrates with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
My only issue with the Elements is the pricing strategy Sensibo has taken. The device’s MSRP is supposed to be $259, which is in line with the Airthings View Plus ($299) and lüft ($249) I mentioned earlier, as well as the similar Awair Element ($299). But the sales price has been way lower, at $179 since the Elements’ launch.
Now, this may seem like a fantastic deal, but Sensibo is hiding two important features behind a paid $4.99 monthly subscription (or $2.49 if you commit to an entire year).
Sensibo is locking weekly and monthly graphs as well as outdoor air quality behind a paid subscription.
The first paid feature is weekly and monthly graphs, i.e. data that is already collected by your device and that shouldn’t require any additional payment. You’re paying for the hardware which is continuously measuring six variables, so why is there a virtual paywall behind some of this data? The second paid feature is outdoor air quality and notifications, which is potentially more excusable because it’s not coming straight off your device but from Sensibo’s servers.
What I take issue with, more than the subscription itself, is the fact that this requirement isn’t mentioned anywhere in the product’s listing on Sensibo’s website or Amazon. You won’t know that some functions are locked behind an extra subscription until you set up the Elements. Other competing smart air quality monitors don’t appear to be arbitrarily locking some features like this.
Overall, if you don’t care about radon levels, the Sensibo Elements is a great choice among other air quality monitors. Just beware that the lower price comes with a $30-60 annual subscription if you want to get more data.