After a couple years of startup companies inventing and dominating the WiFi-connected smart sprinkler controller market, one of the biggest players in the irrigation world has joined the fray.
Orbit’s B-Hyve 12-Zone WiFi Sprinkler System Controller is the first try at a smart sprinkler controller for a big company with a household name. After testing the unit for two weeks, it’s clear that the B-Hyve is not ready for prime time. I ran into bugs all the way through the process. I’ve been assured by the team at Orbit that this is an evolving product and that bugs are being squashed and new features will be added.
To be fair, my reviews of the current crop of smart sprinkler controllers started in January, after the likes of RainMachine and Rachio had years to dial in their product. If you go back to some of the early Amazon reviews of either controller you will see them getting beat up over and over by reviewers. But in those short couple of years they got their product working smoothly and now dominate the market.
I’m confident Orbit is constantly working on updates and will offer better software eventually. But my sprinkler controller reviews only last for 2 weeks, which is plenty of time to get a feel for each unit.
- Cheapest smart controller on the market
- Weatherproof enclosure
- Made in the USA with global materials
- Manual controls
- Beautiful timer visualization in app
- Buggy app
- Not yet EPA WaterSense certified
- Web controls not working
- No API or IFTTT integration
The B-Hyve is the best deal on the market right now when you compare it to other 12-Zone controllers. But as of this writing it is not listed as an EPA WaterSense certified controller. That means that with most water companies you will not be able to get the really nice rebates that are offered to WaterSense certified controllers. Even so, Brad Wardle, director of marketing for Orbit, said that certification is on the way and at least one city is giving rebates for the controller without certification. So check out your particular water company’s web site to see if they offer money back for buying the B-Hyve.
The B-Hyve is a really nice little machine. The weatherproof enclosure is a big plus for folks that need their controllers to be out in the elements. The manual controls on the device are also solid and work nicely. The LCD screen feels like an old Casio watch, but it gets the job done.
SETUP AND INSTALL
I had a lot of problems during setup and the first couple days using the B-Hyve. You can see my full write-up in this blog post or just watch the video above.
To summarize, the wizard setup failed to run my zones, so I added them manually. Editing each zone has inconsistent saving, after filling out all the information, exiting and coming back in to edit the zone all of my information would be gone.
Smart watering is a black-box mystery. There is no reference to smart watering in the instruction manual. I set up smart watering for all of my zones and had no feedback that it was actually going to work. But the next morning, a Monday, it started.
I went into the app to check on the smart watering cycle while I was at work and was greeted with a bugged out screen (image on the left).
Four hours later I checked back in the app and it was still showing that screen. I’m at work and I have no idea if it’s actually been watering that whole time and stuck on zone 1. I hit the “stop” button to cancel and hope it’s not watering anymore.
I contacted Orbit support and they said to close the app and open it back up and that should help fix the problem.
On Tuesday the app did not water and it reported that “no watering is planned for 30 days”. When I woke up on Wednesday morning it was watering.
This time the app showed how much time was left and the proper photo for my zone. It looks so nice when it’s working correctly (image below right).
I left the smart watering cycle alone for one full cycle of the “clock” in the app, but then it came back around for another round. I realized that water was flowing down the street at this point so I skipped through that watering. But I guess I should have “stopped” the watering because around noon the sprinklers came back on. Water was flowing down the street again and I just turned off the smart watering feature all together.
That was a sad moment, because my #1 goal of using a smart sprinkler controller is to have it do all the watering and thinking for me. If my controller can’t smart water then I can’t recommend it.
On my initial search there were no web controls, even though it is touted. If you searched for Orbit B-Hyve it just went to a product page. Now there is a web site, http://bhyve.orbitonline.com/ and you click the Login button in the top left to access the controller.
Brad Wardle, director of marketing for Orbit, told me that the B-Hyve team is constantly iterating and improving the product based on user feedback. The next update to the app is due out very soon and will show last smart watering and next smart watering, he said.
If Orbit can squash the bugs in this unit it I think it will dominate the smart sprinkler landscape. It has the right price point and the huge distribution network of Home Depot and Lowe’s. But if the product doesn’t work, those two points don’t matter.
Rachio and RainMachine would do well to get their products into more stores and to get their prices down if they want to compete with Orbit on a mass scale.
But they may be content with being an Amazon-centric boutique product that people really love.Check it out on Amazon