Smart AC Control: Sensibo vs Cielo
Smart thermostats are a mainstay of the smart home device landscape, and often an entry point for many on their smart home journey. There are many options available today covering a wide range of platforms and in most countries, but what if you don’t have a centrally controlled heating or cooling system? For those with stand a lone air conditioners, whether in-wall or split systems, there are a few options that provide very similar capabilities.
I looked at the two prominent options a while back comparing the Sensibo Sky and the tado Smart AC Control. These are quite different products in terms of how they are designed to operate, but now we have some new players in this space offering a very similar product to the Sensibo Sky. One of these is the Cielo Breez range, and specifically the Breez Eco, which is a good match for the Sky. Let’s take a look at how these two stack up.
Both the Breez Eco and the Sky are essentially network connected remote control emulators that are packaged in a small plastic case. In both cases the top portion of the case is an infra-red transparent plastic which allows the IR signal to be sent to the air conditioner. They both come with a micro USB cable and a power adaptor. The Sky has a few international variants, but the Breez only comes with a US Type A configuration. This isn’t a big deal, however, as any USB charger can be used for either device.
Each device has integrated temperature and humidity sensors to provide monitoring of the room condition, as well as triggering some automation capabilities through their respective apps. Both also use 2.4GHz b/g/n WiFi only, and have no other protocol support.
The two devices are intended to be wall mounted, with the Sensibo Sky coming with a pre-attached adhesive pad. Mounting is a simple matter of removing the backing strip and pressing it to the wall. It holds well, but it’s a one time thing so you need to be sure of the placement first. Alternatively, the Breez comes with both a strip of double-sided tape, and two screws with wall plugs. The latter can be used to hang the Breez using the two keyhole slots on the back if you prefer something sturdier than the tape. The Breez also comes with an optional desk stand, which can be snapped into place on the back and allows the device to be placed on a tabletop, night stand, desk or whatever.
The reason you may want to use the desk stand is not only for easier relocation, but because the Breez Eco includes a touch sensitive manual on/off control on the front. This is distinct from the Sensibo Sky which has no user interface to speak of, barring the pinhole reset button on the side. In terms of status indication, both devices use a simple flashing LED to indicate various states such as during setup, to show loss of internet connection, or similar errors. They also both flash the LED once when a signal is sent to the AC to give a confirmation that they responded to a command. On the Breez, the LED is integrated with the on/off control, while the Sky uses it’s logo in the top portion of the case.
Both of these devices need to be controlled via their respective smart phone apps which are freely available on the App Store and the Play Store in both cases. You’ll need to create an account in either case, as the primary control of the devices is managed by a cloud service. This is required to allow for connectivity with your device from outside your home WiFi network, and to enable things like account sharing for multiple family members. This also has a security benefit, as it means you can set up the devices in a guest network, which provides protection against a security flaw on the devices being used as an entry point to your home network.
The apps step you through the device setup in a fairly typical fashion. In both cases you need to connect to an ad-hoc WiFi network created by the device when it first boots in order to provide your WiFi network details for it to join. Once on the network, you’ll be able to program your AC settings so the device can communicate with it. Both the Breez and the Sky have you point the remote at the device and press the on/off button. This provides enough info to the backend cloud service to match the command set, and then you should be done.
Manual setup may also be required if either device fails to match the remote after a few tries. This is simple enough on the Breez app, as the manual setup process is easily accessed from the device settings, but for the Sensibo, you need to log into the website and do it from there. Having tried three different AC models, I didn’t have any issues with auto detection, and both devices have extensive model support. You can check for yours here for Cielo, and here for Sensibo.
The Sensibo and Cielo offerings here are very comparable. Both devices are intended to provide smart phone control of a single air conditioner via an app, with the app enabling the management of multiple devices throughout the home. They both connect to a back end cloud service which provides encrypted connectivity between the device and the app (they don’t communicate directly), which means they don’t function without an internet connection. Finally, they both offer a similar range of ‘smart’ features which provide value added capabilities beyond just having remote control on your phone.
It is the smart features where we start to see some differences between the two. Although the feature sets are competitive, the implementation varies somewhat. There would have been a bigger gap here as when I first reviewed the Cielo Breez range I noted a number of deficiencies. Since then Cielo has moved to remedy most of those in their latest software update, but not all.
In terms of the app design, Sensibo has gone with a more minimalist approach keeping much of the functionality right up on the home page through a set of icons at the top, and presenting a clean status view of the individual devices in list form below. To add or remove a device, you tap the pencil and can add, delete and re-order rows in the list. Cielo separates these functions out between the large plus button to add, a delete option under the devices individual spanner button (or by tapping and holding on the device), and offers no way to re-order the list. You can, however, switch between the larger tile view, and a list view similar to the Sensibo approach, but you loose much of the status info (only set temperature is left). A big chunk of screen real estate is taken up by Cielo with a ‘home’ image. This is customizable, but other than cosmetic appeal it seems a bit excessive.
The status info available on the home screen varies between the apps. Sensibo is more comprehensive as it includes not only current temp and humidity, but operating mode and a customizable icon for the room. Cielo offers the temp and humidity (in tile the tile layout only) and the current set temperature (or OFF).
Given the low cost nature of the sensors in these devices they both offer a calibration feature to adjust the reported temperature and humidity, with Cielo providing this in app via the spanner icon and Sensibo requiring you to log into the website and go to Advanced settings on the device page. While it’s not something you would need to do often, having no mention in the app means a lot of Sensibo users won’t even know it’s possible.
Geo-fencing is offered by both devices, which I would consider an important feature if you’re looking for energy savings. Being able to have your AC turn off when everyone leaves the house and turn on again as someone approaches is a practical automation opportunity with real benefits. From a single user standpoint, both apps work similarly by giving you the option to turn each individual device on or off as you arrive or leave at given radius. The radius is configurable in both cases, with Cielo having a 1-10 mile range, and Sensibo offering a more granular 300ft to 5 miles.
Beyond that basic functionality, Sensibo wins out by additionally allowing their Climate React feature to be turned on and off instead of, or along with, the AC itself. More importantly, Sensibo offers true multi-user support, with the ‘last to leave/first to arrive’ functionality that goes along with that. What this means is that in a home with multiple residents, you can share the devices with other members of the household, each having their own Sensibo account, and the geo-fencing can sensibly respond to that scenario where no one is home, or anyone arrives. Cielo currently does not provide account sharing, but has advised me that they are working on it.
Testing the Sensibo account sharing and the geo-fencing behaviors, I had some issues. Sharing a device has a trap for the unwary in that if you send a sharing invite to someone who hasn’t already installed the app and created their own account it will fail and instead prompt the new user to install a new device. I’ve also had inconsistent results with the geo-fencing, where even with a shared device, I still had it regularly turn off the AC when one person left the house and the other was home.
I mentioned Sensibo’s Climate React feature, which allows the device to automatically set the air conditioner state based on temperature and humidity readings. This works by setting an upper and lower range (temperature for example) and an action. This action could be to turn the AC off, or to turn it on with specific settings (mode, temperature and fan speed). Cielo has a similar feature called Comfy (Comfy Temperature and Comfy Humidity), but only offers it on their PLUS model.
As an example, you could have Climate React set to turn off the AC as the temperature falls below a certain threshold, and have it turn on in cooling mode above are certain threshold. Alternatively, you might have the lower threshold set low enough to turn on the AC in heat mode to cover all seasons. Climate React can be configured per device, so you can have different behaviors for each AC in the home.
Scheduling is, of course, on offer with both apps, with Sensibo placing it front and center on the Home screen under the clock icon. This allows you to set any number of scheduled actions for any of your devices. By simply tapping the + button, you can add an entry to turn on or off the AC, and if turned on you can specify the mode, temp and fan speed to use. You can specify both time and day of the week (any or all of them) to repeat the schedule. The Cielo app provides virtually identical functionality, but hides it under the eSaver menu on the individual device screen.
In terms of actual manual control, both apps provide a similar device page where the action happens. Both have a screen dominated by a central temperature setting dial and an on/off button. Surrounding that are buttons to set other mode options, and both have controls for swing position/mode, fan speed, and operating mode (cool, heat, dry etc). Sensibo has a few extras though, being a delay start/stop option, and a Quiet mode toggle if your AC model has that feature. Both of these displays also include the current temperature and humidity readings clearly.
Beyond the core functionality, the navigation approach taken by the two device makers is apparent here. Sensibo has a cog button to give access to various device-specifc configuration options, where Cielo has most of these located under the spanner icon on the home page for each device. Conversely, Cielo has their smart features (scheduling and location control) on this page under eSaver, where Sensibo places those centrally on the home screen for all devices. The Timeline option you can see on the Cielo device screen provides a log of any controller activity for that device, including any external IR signals that were detected (say, by the normal remote control). Sensibo has the exact same feature located under the cog icon called Recent Events.
Cielo does have one up on Sensibo on this screen with the History button. This is an analytics feature that shows how long the AC was on and at what temperature setting for up to 30 days. This can be potentially useful for monitoring your schedules and usage by other household members, but I’m not convinced it’s a big loss for Sensibo users.
Finally, we come to notifications. While both devices can send comprehensive notifications to your phone when events occur, there is some differences in handling. Sensibo provides granular notification controls, allowing you to enable each category specifically. This includes errors, scheduled activation, location triggers, Climate React, and promotional messages. Cielo, only allows you to turn notification on or off as a whole. What’s worse is that it will notify of every manual change to the AC settings as well as automated activity. This makes is particularly spammy if you have other folks using the app regularly, and it’s all or nothing. As such, you’re likely to go with nothing in many cases.
Sensibo and Cielo have both produced pretty solid entries in the standalone AC control market. Both the Sky and the Breez Eco are very comparable on features, with the key standout being the inclusion of Climate React by Sensibo. Cielo’s (virtually identical) equivalent is only available on their more expensive Breez PLUS model, but that may not be a deal breaker for everyone. Sensibo wins out on notifications by providing better control and more practical alerts, and also offers multi-user device sharing which the Breez lacks.
I find the Sensibo app to be slicker and more polished in terms of navigation and design, but the chunkier design choices of Cielo are not without appeal and shouldn’t really be a factor in a purchase decision as functionality is not in any way compromised. Both apps were responsive, with a comparable few seconds delay on start to connect to the back end. I’ve also found both cloud services to be fairly reliable in several months of testing.
Integrations favor Sensibo as well, as they support IFTTT and Siri Shortcuts (not Homekit, although there is a good Homebridge plugin available) in addition to the Alexa and Google Assistant support offered by Cielo.
Cielo is the newer player here, and they are working on upping their game on software features as evidence by their recent updates, but they still have a little ways to go. This is reflected in their pricing though, as they consistently come in about $20 less than the Sky, so if you aren’t phased by multi-user support or automated triggers, you may find a better deal going with Cielo.