7 Smart Irrigation Systems TESTED: The Smart Sprinkler Buyers Guide

November 9, 2020

In this video I tested 7 of the most popular smart automatic sprinkler systems from Rachio, Orbit BHyve, Scotts Gro, OpenSprinkler, Rainbird and Skydrop to find the BEST system for your needs.
🔥 Amazon US Links (Top Picks) 🔥
  1. (Best Overall) Orbit BHyve Indoor 8: https://amzn.to/3mF9qAw
  2. (Best Outdoor) Orbit XR: https://amzn.to/3hOG9zB
  3. (Best Integrations) Rachio 3: https://amzn.to/3mG3fMD
 🔥 Amazon UK Links (Top Picks) 🔥
  1. (Best Overall) Orbit BHyve Indoor 8: https://amzn.to/35XSeR4
 **As an Amazon Associate I earn a % of qualifying purchases at no cost to you.**

Today on the hookup I’m going to give you an in depth look at these 7 smart irrigation controllers to help you choose the system to automatically calculate the perfect amount of water for your yard based on things like soil type, sun exposure, plant species, and of course weather.

After putting these 7 smart sprinkler systems through exhaustive testing and extensive research I feel confident saying that most people should buy the BHyve indoor.  Like even if you just clicked on this video with no intention of upgrading your sprinkler system.

There are a few special cases where you may be better off with the Rachio 3, or BHyve XR, but for the most part the ease of use, features, and value of the BHyve indoor 8 are unmatched.

Let me preface this test by saying that when switching to a smart irrigation controller I wasn’t looking for a standard timer based system with a web interface, I wanted something that I was going to do all the heavy lifting for me and determine exactly how much water my lawn needed based on things like plant and soil type, sun exposure, sprinkler design, and of course weather.  Automatic sprinkler systems have included a rain sensor for decades, but a rain sensor only measure rain that has already happened, while new systems take forecasted rain, humidity, and sun intensity into account.  Lawn science is a real thing, and if you’re not in the industry, you may not be aware of the complexity and intricacies involved with keeping your yard happy and healthy, and the fact that overwatering can be just as bad as underwatering.  The goal is to have your sprinkler system do the work for you, so you can’t screw it up.

Here’s the lineup for the smart sprinkler systems that I tested from least expensive to most:  First, for as little as $25 you can get one of the original smart sprinkler systems, the SkyDrop 8 zone indoor smart irrigation system which gives you a high quality app with weather based scheduling, a large color LCD for on device control, and a super easy installation and setup, seem to good to be true? Well, it is, don’t buy it, I’ll explain why later.

Next for $66 is the Gro sprinkler controller that was recently acquired by the fertilizer company Scotts.  Your $66 theoretically gets you a 7 zone indoor system with weather based programming, but I was never able to get the Gro controller connected to my WiFi, even after an hour of troubleshooting, so my knowledge of it stops there and I feel comfortable putting it firmly on the don’t buy list.  At $78 the BHyve indoor 8 zone is made by Orbit, one of the two big names in sprinkler systems.  The BHyve indoor 8 pretty obviously supports 8 zones and is meant to be installed indoors only.  Like the Gro controller, the BHyve Indoor 8 has no on device controls, and handles everything in the BHyve app.

After that we have a significant jump in price to the Bhyve XR comes in 8 and 16 zone versions for $149 and $179.  Also made by Orbit, the BHyve XR adds waterproofing for outdoor installations, some small LCD panels on the front of the unit to display current watering and weather information, and upgrades the wiring terminals for a more user friendly experience.

Next is the Rainbird ST8, at $160.  If you are familiar with traditional sprinkler controllers this probably looks very familiar.  The ST8 is basically just a standard high quality rainbird irrigation timer with a small wifi addon module to make it smart.  In theory, I really like Rainbird’s approach because you won’t need to throw away the whole controller if the WiFi unit goes bad, and you retain full control of your sprinkler system in the event of a wifi or internet outage, but the unfortunate truth is that using an external module makes communication between the app and the sprinkler system sluggish and clumsy.

After that we’ve got one of the pioneers of smart watering systems, Rachio, which has a huge market share in smart watering systems.  Their Rachio 3 will cost you $179 for an 8 zone indoor controller with no on device controls, but their products and customer support are top notch and may justify the cost.

And last, the most expensive option is the fully open source OpenSprinkler, which I picked up for $190, OpenSprinkler is a fully open source software that promises to free you from the cloud and give you local control of your irrigation system, which it mostly does, but it turns out that you might not actually want those things.

I’m going to be evaluating each sprinkler based on ease of installation, setup process, ease of use, app features, and reliability, also take note of the EPA WaterSense certifications on these units, WaterSense certification will determine whether you’re new sprinkler system is eligible for local rebates for installing a water saving irrigation controller. Like all rebates and a lot government programs, the WaterSense program is often full of hoops and annoyances that may prevent you from getting them so while I think the rebates are worth mentioning, they are certainly not guaranteed and may not be an important selection criteria for most people..  For instance, in Hillsborough County Florida where I live, the up to $250 rebate requires that I not only have an existing inefficient irrigation system as determined by a third party evaluation, but also that the installation of the new controller is done by a licensed installer, even though every one of these systems could be easily installed by even the least handy homeowner in a matter of minutes.

On that note, let’s talk about ease of installation, which I personally think is a relatively unimportant since you’re only going to need to endure this headache once, but I understand that a difficult physical installation method may be overwhelming for some.  So, with that said the SkyDrop installation was one of my favorites.  The wires press fit into spring terminals and can be released by pressing the small rubberized buttons on the backer plate.  After installing the wires the LCD front panel fits onto the backer plate providing power and data, super slick, but you still shouldn’t buy it.

The Rachio 3, BHyve XR and Gro are all very similar in that they have spring terminals to allow you to attach your existing sprinkler system wiring without any tools, while the BHyve Indoor and Rainbird use screw terminals to attach each wire.

None of these installations were difficult, and as I said, I firmly believe that everyone is capable of doing them, especially since there’s no live electricity to deal with, because the power for your sprinkler valves is provided by the controller itself.

After the physical installation is complete you’ll need to get your new controller connected to WiFi.

The BHyve, Gro and Rachio systems use Bluetooth to connect to the app and then transmit your WiFi credentials over the Bluetooth connection.  I had more trouble than I was expecting with this step of the process and the BHyve controllers were the only ones to complete successfully on the first try.  The Gro controller continually failed to connect to my WiFi, and after an hour of troubleshooting and trying to force it to connect to different SSIDs on my wireless access point I just gave up.  The Rachio system also had an issue where it was connecting, but not able to communicate with the rachio servers, and after two consecutive failures the app automatically filed a customer service ticket for me and let me start setting things up in the app without a WiFi connection to my controller.   The problem worked itself out after 15 minutes so I don’t actually know what the issue was.

Both the Rainbird and the OpenSprinkler controllers set up WiFi by connecting to a WiFi hotspot with your phone to input your WiFi credentials, and the process was easy and trouble free.

The $25 SkyDrop requires you to setup your WiFi directly on the large LCD screen using the input wheel, which is easy, and works perfectly, but… you still shouldn’t buy it.

Once these controllers get connected to the internet you get to see the real differences in their performance.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a lawn scientist, and you probably aren’t either.  I don’t know best practices for every season, climate zone, plant type and weather pattern, but hopefully someone at each of these companies does and is able to do all the calculations for me.

Unfortunately, setting up the Rainbird and OpenSprinkler apps felt like any traditional timer system, and while I was hoping for some sort of setup wizard to help me out, I was more or less on my own to figure out how each setting worked and how they interacted.  The OpenSprinkler app in particular had a ton of options like using Zimmerman or ETO weather delay patterns, but saying as I have no idea what either of those are, I just left everything at the default.  As a result, when I finished the setup processes I wasn’t super really sure that I had everything configured properly.

In contrast, the BHyve, SkyDrop, and Rachio were very easy to setup and inspired confidence that the app would take care of the lawn science and automatically generate the best settings for my lawn.   The BHyve app in particular walked me through the process by asking specific questions about each zone’s soil and plant type, slope, and sunlight, and included the necessary reading if I didn’t fully understand what it was asking or how I should answer.  Maybe the coolest thing that the BHyve did was walk me through the optional process of using their irrigation catch cups, which are sold separately for $20.  The app tells you how to place the cups in your lawn, run the test, and measure their contents to help the BHyve understand your sprinkler head layout and flow to optimally water your yard.

As for other features, all the systems offer some form of automatic rain delay, but the BHyve and Rachio systems also include wind and soil saturation in their irrigation calculations.  BHyve and Rachio were also the only systems where I was able to easily adjust the weather station used for calculations, and Rachio also offers an averaged system using all local weather stations in addition to choosing a single station.  The BHyve and Rachio also both support external flow controllers by companies like Flume to measure irrigation water usage and monitor for leaks and anomalies.  As BHyve and Rachio continue to add features, SkyDrop’s features have remained stagnant, and that has to do with the reason I’ve been cautioning you not to buy the SkyDrop for this whole video.

The problem with all of these controllers, even the open sprinker, is that at their heart, all of them rely on at least some cloud services.  They need to gather information about weather in your area, compare it to your specific soil type, plant species, and watering regulations and then determine your ideal watering schedule.  These services are the whole reason to get a connected controller instead of an old manual controller, but they require offsite servers that cost money to maintain, and a functional and free connection to them is not guaranteed forever.

As I mentioned earlier, SkyDrop was an early player in the smart sprinkler game, and despite an impressive product they didn’t gain the market share to maintain their service and business model.  In a move that has become all too common for these dying companies SkyDrop attempted to take features that were advertised as free and included and put them behind a monthly subscription, essentially crippling every SkyDrop controller that had been purchased in the previous two years.

After a failed deployment of this SkyDrop Plus plan, and a ton of understandable customer backlash SkyDrop ended up rolling back this subscription plan, and essentially shuttered their offices.  The service is currently still working, but according to SkyDrop themselves, their servers are being maintained by former employees who have new jobs at other tech companies.  Not only does this significantly decrease the security of thier cloud services, but it also means issues will take much longer to resolve, and the biggest problem is that there’s no guarantee that this service will be running a year from now, or even tomorrow.

So, how do you protect yourself from being extorted for a monthly fee, or being left with an expensive paperweight attached to your sprinkler system?  Well, my advice to you, is to go with market share and reputation.  Rachio, which was SkyDrop’s initial opponent in the early smart sprinkler system market has earned the lions share of the market share, meaning the company is healthy, development is continuing and products will continue to be sold, meaning the cloud service will likely remain free and operational as long as things continue to go well.  Orbit, a major player in all types of irrigation systems has invested significantly in their BHyve line of controllers.  They don’t quite have the market share of Rachio in smart sprinklers, but the parent company, Orbit, is not going out of business any time soon, and their significant investment in the BHyve line indicates that their cloud will also remain functional and free.

Rainbird is another huge player in the irrigation world, and they’ve followed suit and released a wifi controller, but the majority of their controllers are still “dumb”, non-networked controllers, and while I can’t imagine Rainbird pulling the plug on their cloud servers since it would be a PR nightmare, I don’t think the Rainbird product is on par with Rachio and BHyve.

Scotts is another company that could easily shoulder the burden of keeping a failing cloud service alive, but their line of sprinklers: Gro, is actually just another unsuccessful startup like Skydrop that needed to be acquired by a larger company to help with ongoing costs.  Scotts has no other market share in irrigation, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them cut their losses as sales of the Gro controller line stagnate and costs of maintaining the cloud remain constant.

Opensprinker seems like the safest option since it’s open source, but unfortunately I think it’s actually one of the worst.  Opensprinkler relies on free cloud services for weather, and as these services inevitably shut down or change their free APIs because they don’t make them any money, the Opensprinkler team has to scramble to find a new solution.  Originally the Opensprinkler used Weather Underground data for weather based adjustments, and have now switched to DarkSky, which was recently acquired by apple, meaning another modification will soon be needed and users will need to wait for a fix and temporary fixes are often complicated for the end user and only offer limited functionality.  I love the concept of open sprinkler, but after using it and doing more research, I think any benefits that are gained by local control, smart home integration and open source software are far outweighed by the need to constantly troubleshoot a system that I just want to install once and never think about again.

And one last word on smart home integration:  If you’re looking to use this with a smart home hub like smartthings, home assistant, or home kit, the Rachio is your best option, but for me, I don’t think it’s necessary.  My sprinkler system turns on at 2AM and is finished well before I wake up.  I can’t imagine ever needing to add my sprinklers into an automation, but if you have something in mind, the Rachio is probably your best bet.

So to recap: Rachio and Orbit BHyve are in a two man race for market share in smart sprinklers.  Between these two brands, I think the Orbit BHyve Indoor delivers the most value by far, at roughly a third of the price of the Rachio for almost the same functionality.  If your controller is outside the BHyve XR is slightly less expensive than the Rachio 3 with its outdoor installation kit, and I’d personally pick the BHyve XR because I don’t need smart home integrations other than Amazon Echo and Google Home.

SkyDrop and OpenSprinkler and Gro are firmly in my not-recommended category along with all other smaller sprinkler startups and should be viewed as “high risk” when it comes to continued free and functional cloud connectivity.

Links to all of the controllers that I tested are down in the description.  If this video helped you make your choice, please hit that like button to let YouTube know this was a good video.  If I made a mistake or missed something important please leave a comment and I’ll respond ASAP.  Thank you to all my awesome patrons over at Patreon for your continued support of my channel, if you’re interested in supporting my channel, please check out the links in the description.  If you enjoyed this video please consider subscribing, and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheHookUp1
Join me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/473812443269387/?ref=share
 Support my channel:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/thehookup
Music by www.BenSound.com

Related Posts