I recently decided that I had had it with my old school sprinkler controller. It was incredibly unintuitive to use, constantly gave me problems, was physically hard to get to in my garage, quit working properly when the power went out and — did I already mention — it was anything but easy to use? Being a tech reviewer and enthusiast I knew it in my bones: it was time to find, and purchase, one of the best new smart sprinkler controllers on the market. And just like that my dilemma once again benefits the readers of this site as I went ahead and did the research for you (and narrowed it down, as I like to do, to my top three choices).
I’ve already talked a little bit about why I personally wanted to ditch my “dumb” sprinkler system, but there are actually several very good reasons why a person would want to “get smart” when it comes to watering their lawn. One big one is money: a smart sprinkler controller can save you in the neighborhood of up to 50% (in terms of water usage). Additionally — and this is just as important — they are easier and more convenient to use (and yes that includes easy installation).
At the end of the day, a smart sprinkler system may not seem as exciting as other smart devices like, say, the Amazon Echo or even a smartphone. But as the Internet of Things revolution becomes more and more mainstream, the added convenience of connecting devices and appliances that used to be “dumb” to the Internet — devices like thermostats, refrigerators and, yes, sprinkler controllers — is hard to resist. For me, at least, making the decision to get a smart sprinkler controller was absolutely a no-brainer.
Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller (2nd Generation)
The Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller, now in it’s second iteration, is probably the most popular smart controller on the market. It’s got all of the features you would expect from a smart controller as it can adjust your watering based on the local forecast, soil and plant types, sun exposure and more. But for everything it does have, the Rachio doesn’t have a screen on the unit itself; although you could water your lawn directly from the controller itself, you’d definitely rather control things from the app or from a web browser on your computer (that’s kind of the whole point of a smart sprinkler system).
Speaking of the app, I really like the clean, visually-driven design. Whereas other smart sprinkler control apps might just let you label a zone with text, the Rachio app lets you take a photo of each zone which makes the dashboard look very sharp (as well as easy to use). The app also provides realtime notifications when there are rain delays or faulty valves and will give you detailed water usage reports.
The Rachio does have some cool features you won’t necessarily find elsewhere including the ability to work with other smart gadgets around your house. I really like the Amazon Echo integration and it’s also great that there are integrations for Nest, IFTTT, Wink and Nexia.
Rachio claims that it can help you save up to 50% on your outdoor watering bill.
RainMachine Touch HD-12 Smart Sprinkler Controller
If you like the idea of a smart sprinkler controller but you really would prefer to have a screen on the control device itself then RainMachine’s Touch HD-12 is a great option (thanks to it’s beautiful touchscreen). The screen that RainMachine endowed this controller with is larger than others and neatly displays relevant info which makes viewing watering trends, managing zones and seeing how the weather forecast might affect watering in the coming days simple and straightforward.
Like other systems, the Touch HD-12 gathers information about the weather to adjust the amount of water hitting your landscaping. Perhaps more uniquely, you can actually control multiple Touch HD-12’s from within the app (which is very handy if you have multiple properties like a summer home or even if you wanted to take control of an aging parent’s lawn watering from a distance).
And the app looks to be quite useful and well designed. The main dashboard tells you how much water you’ve saved and lets you know when the next watering cycle is set to begin. It also shows you a seven day forecast along with a prediction for how much water will be needed in the upcoming week. It’s also very easy to see all zones and turn them on or off with a quick tap; you can also easily turn off all zones with one touch.
One thing that I personally like about the RainMachine setup is that it’s cloud-free; nothing is happening or stores on remote servers.
I couldn’t find any specific numbers in terms of how much water RainMachine claims it can save you, but the site does have a useful water savings calculator that can simulate potential savings for you.
Skydrop Smart Sprinkler Controller
The Skydrop Smart Sprinkler Controller is a very sleek looking device that also features a useful display (and I really love that you can fully setup and manage everything from the controller itself; in other words, it’s smartphone enabled but not required). Where RainMachine’s product emphasizes adaptability based on a seven day weather forecast, the Skydrop actually uses realtime (and hyper-local) weather monitoring to adjust water output!
Skydrop also has some additional features that help set it apart from the competition including the ability to easily add local water restrictions into your watering schedule to avoid potentially costly fines, the ability to continue working even in the event of a Wi-Fi outage, easy modular zone expansion, auto zone detection during setup and active monitoring afterward, fault detection and push notifications.
Similar to the other apps you’ll be able to see how much water you’ve saved, easily control zones, see weather information and more. The app is even smart enough to help you answer questions like: Are mushrooms supposed to grow in my lawn? Also, within the app and online interface, more that one Skydrop Sprinkler unit can be managed.
Skydrop says this product can help you use up to 50% less water.
Recommendations and Conclusion
- Largest Screen: If a large, readable screen is important to you then definitely go with the RainMachine Touch Touch HD-12.
- Most Reliable: Judging by Amazon reviews (which tend to be quite reliable), people seem to complain the lest about the Rachio and RainMachine systems (which both received 4.5 star ratings with over 500 reviews each). Note: the Skydrop system gets a very respectable 4 stars (with only 149 reviews at the time of writing).
In all honestly I’d love to have any one of the systems I’ve listed here. There are certainly other smart sprinkler control systems to choose from, but these appear to be the best (in terms of features, quality, ease of use and setup and reasonable pricing). I have no doubt in my mind that these three smart sprinkler control systems represent the best possible options for mid-to-late 2016 (and possibly beyond).