If you lived in the 80s and 90s, you may remember how we used to dream of the smart home, where everything is automated and easily controlled from anywhere. Although we haven’t met the outrageous futuristic standard often portrayed in the Sci-Fi films back then, we could probably say that we are pretty close! During the past decade, and especially the past couple of years or so, smart technologies for households are rapidly advancing, from smart doorbells, wifi thermostats, keyless locks to security cameras to smart voice assistant.
Not only they are getting better and smarter with each passing day, they are also getting more affordable, and it’s no surprise that more and more households are upgrading with the smart technologies.
With our mission to keep you up to date with the newest smart appliances available in the market, at this start of 2021, we will discuss a smart appliance often overlooked by most of us: the smart irrigation controller.
Often called the smart sprinkler system, the technology will not only bring more convenience intending your plants and keeping your landscape healthy but can also significantly save a lot of money in water bills.
As usual, we will not only review the best irrigation controller products available in the market today but will discuss the technology behind it and all the different types to aid you in making your purchase decision.
Without further ado, let us begin this Best Smart Irrigation Controller Reviews by discussing the different types of smart irrigation systems.
- 1 Types of Smart Irrigation Controllers
- 2 4 Best Smart Sprinkler Systems in 2021
- 3 Editor’s Choice
- 4 End Words
Types of Smart Irrigation Controllers
There are many ways to classify the smart irrigation controller, but we will focus on just two different aspects: the scheduling system, and the connectivity. Those two areas will be the most important factors you may consider in a household usage, and that’s why it will be our main focus.
Let us begin by discussing the different types based on their connectivity.
Classification Based On Connectivity
Based on the connectivity system, smart irrigation controllers can be divided into several types, they are:
Self-explanatory, and seemingly the norm for so many smart products nowadays. Smart irrigation timers that belong in this type will operate through your house’s Wi-Fi connection. The main benefit of this type is its simplicity because you will not need to set up an additional connection. Also, a lot of high-end controllers nowadays can connect to other third-party devices that are also connected to your Wi-Fi.
If you already had popular smart home controllers and assistants such as Echo or Nest, you can control the irrigation controller through it. However, there could be the case when your garden is located outside your Wi-Fi range, and that is when the other connectivity systems come to play. However, with the wide popularity of Wi-Fi technology today, and how the signal can be expanded easily with affordable extenders, this could arguably be the best option.
This type will operate through GSM cellular signal. Will be useful if your garden is big, and is located outside the Wi-Fi range. A wired setup such as ethernet could also be problematic in some garden, and that’s where the cellular connection will be the best choice.
There are mainly two common types of wired connection used in smart irrigation controllers, ethernet or powerline. They are basically similar, with the powerline bridge converting your electrical outlet signal to that of the ethernet. The benefit of this type is obvious, a wired connection will always be more stable over wireless, at least for today. However, wired installation could be a hassle, especially if your landscape area is too big.
Classification Based on Scheduler System
We can generally divide the smart home controllers into two types, based on its scheduling system. The scheduler system will be the core functionality of a smart irrigation controller, as it will greatly determine how it will cater to your specific needs (more on the scheduling system later).
Here are the two different types:
In this type, the scheduling is based on historical weather data, pulled from websites or its own databases. This system is fairly simple, you put in your ZIP code, and it will pull the historical weather data of your area to make predictions.
In this day and age, weather reports and data are fairly accurate, and the smart irrigation system based on this technology can certainly be very reliable. However, that is not always the case in every area. Some areas, or countries, can have unreliable weather data, and thus this system will not be useful in that case.
Another technology that commonly used in this type is pulling data from the area’s weather station, which is more real-time. Again, this will depend on whether your are has a reliable weather station.
In this type, the smart irrigation controller will adjust the schedule based on its on-site sensors. Depending on models, there are many different types of sensors that can be used.
The most common sensor used is the water sensor. If it is raining, your smart irrigation controller will skip the scheduled watering. Another common sensor used is the moisture sensors, which are buried under the ground to measure the current moisture level in the soil. A lot of manufacturers also offer add-on sensors, whether to upgrade a weather-based smart irrigation timer or add different sensors to make it more accurate.
This type is generally more accurate and efficient, as it will operate based on the real-time data on your turf. However, they are also generally more expensive.
Some models, especially newer ones, can also have an additional (or primary) scheduling system by using a smartphone app. This way, you can intervene the schedule manually from your smartphone if necessary, while the app will also act as a monitor.
After we have discussed all the important different types of smart irrigation controllers, let us move on to the key features that make the smart irrigation controllers.
How many zones a smart irrigation controller can control will determine its quality, and often also the price tag. ‘Zones’ will refer to each individual sprinkler it can control independently, which can each be customized to its own needs.
It will be useful if your yard is a big area with different soil types, different plants, or if some areas are mostly shady while others are sunny.
The number of zoning available on different products can vary widely, with the high-end products can have more than 64 individual zones.
Will relate to the zoning functionality we have discussed above. This section refers to how far you can customize each individual sprinkler. The most advanced smart irrigation controllers can even customize each individual setting in almost unlimited ways, from season changes to soil types to the basic timer function.
The inclusion of smartphone companion apps available in a lot of products today will further improve the adjustability and will be useful if you have a large or complex landscape.
We have discussed this briefly above when we discussed the different types of smart sprinklers. You should always choose the best connectivity system that will suit your landscape best. The connectivity system will also, more or less, dictate the long-term or short-term costs.
With the smart irrigation controller pulling and sending weather or sensor data a lot, it will be an added cost to your mobile or internet data. Wired setups will also, obviously, have the added cost of the wiring. Determine the best connectivity option that will suit your garden before making any purchase.
Again, we have discussed this above. Depending on your location and needs, a certain scheduler system might be better over the other. Remember, that the more advanced the scheduling is, the higher the price tag will be.
Having a system will all the add-on sensors and latest weather data technology is nice, but consider first whether your garden will actually need them.
All smart irrigation controller system will have some form of a monitoring system. It could be in the form of its own visual monitor, it could be web-based where you can access it from any computer or device, or it can be app-based.
It is also important that the monitoring system has some form of manual control. After all, automation could be redundant sometimes, and you will need human interventions from time to time. It is good when it could be done in a fast and simple manner.
Besides convenience, the main reason to use a smart sprinkler is to save water costs in the long run. Each product will have a different efficiency rating, depending on all the features and technologies we have discussed above.
As with most appliances, the more efficient it is, generally, the more expensive your initial investment will be.
4 Best Smart Sprinkler Systems in 2021
We have come to the core of this guide, and we will finally discuss our irrigation timer reviews. After we have tried a lot of products available in the market today, with various brands, types, and price points, here are the four that we deemed the best irrigation system for 2021:
Rachio Smart Sprinkler
The name Rachio needs no introduction in the world of smart irrigation controllers. They are among the pioneers that brought the smart sprinklers to the market, and their products have been very popular, topping the best-selling list in so many marketplaces.
With the 2nd Generation version of the product they offered 8-zone weather data-based smart irrigation controller. Built on the solid foundation of the 1st generation, which is widely successful, here are the key features of the product.
-8 Individual Zones (16-zone version also available)
-Controllable from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and PC
-Use real-time, as well as predictive weather data
-Built in rain sensor and soil sensor
-A wide range of third-party integrations from Amazon Alexa, Nest, and IFTTT protocol. Check out the full list of integration here. (http://rachio.com/integrations)
Strictly (2.4 GHz) Wi-Fi connection
- One of, if not the best third party integration, including the ability to connect with different brands of smart sprinkler products
- Very durable and reliable
- The weather data technology is reliable, as long as your location allows it, in combination with its rain and soil sensor, very reliable
- Can work even when the internet is down
- EPA WaterSense certification ensuring its quality and efficiency
- 2- year limited warranty
- Supports master valve/pump relay for more complicated irrigation systems
- Leak detection will shut off automatically
- Among the best companion app from its competitors
- Additional power cover for outdoor usage available
- Not enough data logs, hard to track past data
- Limited connection option, so may limit usage
Definitely among the best Wi-Fi irrigation controller available today. Its third party integration is superb, and as a big fan of IFTTT protocol, the fact that it is one of the very few smart irrigation controllers that supports it is a big plus.
The main downside is the limited connectivity option, as it will only operate through Wi-Fi. If your yard is outside your Wi-Fi range, you will either need to add a signal extender or look another way.
RainMachine Touch HD-12
RainMachine is also one of the biggest manufacturers of smart irrigation controller products. With the 1st generation of their smart sprinkler a very successful one, this HD-12, 2nd generation version is also built on a solid foundation.
The key highlight of this product is the beautiful, 6.5″ HD touchscreen monitor, which is excellent for both monitoring and controlling purpose. The ’12’ in its name refers to its available zone, and having 12 different zones is surely sufficient for most average gardens and yards.
Here are the key features of the product.
-6.5″ HD touchscreen monitor
-12-zone (16 zone version also available)
-Weather forecast based system with up to 1.5 km of forecast spatial resolution (read: very accurate), can pull data from various sources
-Controllable from smartphone, tablet, PC and laptop, as well as from its own touchscreen monitor
-OpenAPI with a wide range of third-party integration, check the full list here.
Wi-Fi only connection
- Very nice HD touchscreen display which is also useful for manual control
- Very easy installation
- Easy-to-use smartphone and web app
- OpenAPI third-party integration, also among the best from its competitors
- EPA WaterSense certified ensuring quality and efficiency
- Sleek, modern design with great durability
- 1-year limited warranty
- Limited connectivity option
- No additional sensor will solely rely on weather data
- No expansion option
The RainMachine HD-12 is, in many ways, very similar to the Rachio we have discussed before. While Rachio offers added sensors for more real-time reliability, the HD-12 offers its beautiful and useful HD touchscreen.
Both are similarly durable and reliable, and both are limited to a Wi-Fi connection. It is a question whether you will need the touchscreen monitor over the added accuracy. For your consideration, the touchscreen will also mean that the RainMachine HD-12 must be placed strictly indoor.
One thing that might also be a consideration is that the HD-12 offers 12 zones, compared to 6 or 8 zones available in comparable products.
The Orbit B-Hyve is built with budget and efficiency as its emphases, even having its own water budget calculator, which will in turn auto- customize your schedule for the best efficiency possible. Out of the three products we have discussed so far, the B-Hyve is also the most budget-friendly, costing roughly half of both the RainMachine HD-12 and the Rachio 8-Zone.
As with any affordable product, the question is whether it sacrifices too much quality and features for its cheap price. In B-Hyve’s case, it is satisfyingly durable and reliable and is definitely a great bargain.
Here are the key features of the Orbit B-Hyve.
-Monochrome LCD monitor for monitoring purpose
-Weather forecast based system
-Controllable from smartphone, tablet, PC and laptop, as well as from its own onboard buttons
-Supports a wide range of add-on sensors
-Locking cover, can be used both indoor and outdoor
Strictly Wi-FI connection
- Very affordable
- Reliable weather prediction and auto adjustment functions
- Can be used without internet connection
- Indoor/outdoor locking cabinet
- Budget-calculation features
- EPA WaterSense certification ensuring efficiency and quality
- Surprisingly durable for its price tag
- 2-year limited warranty
- Wi-Fi only connectivity
- App sometimes unstable
- Need additional sensors to enhance functionality, which will cost more
- Only 6 zones
If you are on a budget, the Orbit B-Hyve is certainly a great investment. Even with its affordable price tag, the quality and durability of the product are surprisingly superb.
Again, it will have the issue of only having a Wi-Fi connectivity option, but can be tackled with an extender. The 6-zone it offers might be too limited for some, but will certainly be a great choice for smaller yards.
SkyDrop Wifi-Enabled Smart Sprinkler Controller
With the SkyDrop, the first thing you will notice is the eye-catching sci-fi design, which in our opinion, is the best looking of the bunch. The SkyDrop Smart Sprinkler Controller, however, is not all about looks, as it also packs serious features to ensure a more convenience and more efficient lawn watering.
The SkyDrop comes with 8 individual zones, which is expandable to 16, a touchscreen control system which not only looks cool but also offers an in-depth customization system to personalize your sole, slope, shade, and sprinkler types.
Here are the unique features of the SkyDrop Smart Sprinkler Controller
-Sleek design with touchscreen monitor and control, also controllable through smartphone, tablet, PC and laptop through the app
-Self-regulating weather data technology
-A wide array of integration with third-party smart home systems
-Simple yet in-depth customization
-8 zones, expandable to 16
Only offers Wi-Fi connectivity
- Sleek, modern design
- Beautiful touchscreen for monitoring and control
- Offers third-party integration with a lot of smart home systems available today.
- Calculates moisture loss of your soil, besides relying on weather data technology
- Great app and push notification
- Fault and leak detection
- EPA WaterSense certification ensuring quality and efficiency
- Can operate offline without Wi-Fi
- Wi-Fi connection sometimes problematic, and only limited to Wi-Fi
- Cannot pause/resume watering functions
- Relatively complicated installation process
The SkyDrop offers the high-end features from smart weather data technology and smart sensors and is very efficient in doing its job. The SkyDrop, in our opinion, is the best-looking out of the four options on this list, and that can be an appeal for a lot of us.
It is only limited to Wi-Fi Connection, as with all the others on this list. However, Wi-Fi technology nowadays is widely popular and affordable, and you can easily add an extender or additional router to increase the range, which is more affordable than adding wire, and more reliable than cellular signal.
The SkyDrop is not only good looking but very rich in features and especially its customization options.
We have come to the end of the article, and in this section we would have to choose what we deemed the best of the best from the four products. Besides the Orbit B-Hyve, the Rachio, SkyDrop, and RainMachine HD-12 are arguably very similar to each other in terms of features and selecting just one has been a very difficult choice.
However, after a serious consideration, our choice goes to:
Best overall smart irrigation controller
Rachio Smart Sprinkler 2nd Gen
The Rachio Smart Sprinkler may lack the touchscreen offered by the RainMachine HD-12 and SkyDrop. However, the Rachio comes with built-in soil and rain sensors, which allows a more reliable and efficient functionality.
It might be simpler in terms of looks and design, but in our opinion, the Rachio does its job better.
Best on-budget smart irrigation controller
The Orbit B-Hyve costs almost half of the other three we have on this list, but it doesn’t sacrifice much in features and functionality. In fact, the main differences in quality are only the limited zone (only six), and the lack of third-party integration.
You can opt for the 12-zone model if you need more zones, and it is still very affordable. If you are not planning to use any smart home system such as Alexa or Nest, the Orbit B-Hyve can certainly be a decent option.
You may notice that out of the four products, we only listed smart irrigation controllers with Wi-Fi connectivity. However, remember that the focus of our discussion is for household usage, rather than commercial or industrial usage.
For a household application, Wi-Fi is certainly the best option for connectivity. Even if you need more range, installing an extender is a lot more affordable than setting up new wires.
Having a smart irrigation controller can not only adds convenience but can also save a lot in water bills. If you haven’t invested in one, it’s definitely the right time.