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RainMachine HD-12 review with video

The RainMachine HD-12 is a damn fine device. There are so many things I like about it and very few things that are off. It’s beautiful inside and out, so easy to use and works without interruption. I can finally stop worrying about turning the sprinklers off when it rains and then remembering to turn them back on when it’s dry. And yes, that’s something I’m willing to pay a premium for.

I will admit that I’m looking at this device with fresh eyes in January 2016 – I’ve never used it before this year. RainMachine has had growing pains over the past couple years, and you can find some harsh reviews on Amazon from when they were still working out the kinks. But such is technology, and I think this device has evolved into something special.

SUMMARY

PROS

  • Beautiful hardware
  • Great manual control touchscreen
  • Easy installation
  • Beautiful and easy iOS and web app
  • Easily connect from anywhere
  • Open API
  • WaterSense certified might save you big money
  • Will save you big money on water bill

CONS

  • No warning with conflicting watering schedules
  • Off-brand app icon (Am I downloading the right thing? Yes, you are.)
  • API doesn’t emit events, so you can’t trigger actions like push notifications
  • Can’t expand to more zones

REVIEW VIDEO

HARDWARE

The HD-12 has a really nice touch screen that makes setup very easy. It’s pretty washed out when it shows the map of my neighborhood, but we’re not watching movies on this thing, we’re spending maybe 10 minutes a year navigating through menus. The RainMachine HD-12 would win the beauty contest if all the different units on the market were lined up in the store.

RainMachine HD-12 Screw template and installation guide.
Screw template and installation guide.

Installation was quick and easy. I think all WiFi sprinkler controllers can tout how easy it is to remove the wires from your old unit and plug them into your new one. The RainMachine even came with a small flat head screwdriver, which was a great touch. It also came with a screw template that shows where your holes need to be drilled, so I marked the holes with a Sharpie and sunk the screws with my cordless drill.

There are no inputs for a physical rain sensor or flow sensor, just inputs for the A/C adapter and 12 zones. If you believe the hype, you don’t need a rain sensor anymore, the forecast from NOAA will determine if it’s raining in your neighborhood. I’ve found that the hype is real. It rained several times over the review period and my watering program adjusted accordingly, saving me a ton of water in the process.

The unit is limited to 12 zones with no ability to expand, so if you are running a Disneyland-type operation this might not be the controller for you. Many units on the market will allow you to buy an add-on for more zones.

PROGRAMMING

Setting up my watering schedule was quite simple. I set up four zones to water every other day for 25 minutes each. If each zone needs its own special schedule then you can set it up on it’s own program. My old RainBird controller let me water multiple times a day at the push of a button, not so easy with the RainMachine. You need to create separate programs or enable Cycle & Soak to water multiple times a day with the RainMachine. Cycle & Soak will take the total number of minutes you want to water and divide it into X number of cycles, with a user-defined timed delay between waterings.

One problem I found was that my programs could overlap without any kind of warning. I set up several schedules that overlapped to see what would happen, and there was no indication of a conflict. Each program will eventually run, they are just queued up behind each other.

The biggest weak point I could find about the RainMachine is that I’m still doing the guesswork when it comes to how much water my plants and lawn need. I have to say “OK, I think I need to water for 25 minutes in each zone on a typical Summer day” and then figure out if that’s working.

Option to change vegetation type RainMachine HD-12
Option to change vegetation type

I wish it was a little more smart, and took into account soil type and what is growing to give me a better guess. I do concede that unless you have a soil sensor that can really get in there and report the facts, it’s never going to be perfect. I’ve read that other smart WiFi sprinkler controllers offer you a better guess, so we’ll see when I eventually review them.

There is an option for vegetation when you edit a zone (left image), but I have no idea what bearing that has on the watering.

I did all of my initial programming on the touch screen. It was a nice experience, with a decent keyboard and all of my touches being detected. It’s nice to have the touch screen for a gardener to come in and be able to program it without needing app access.

APPS

Speaking of apps, this is where RainMachine really shines. The iOS app and web app are so nicely polished and cool. They have lots of beautiful charts and data to satisfy my inner weather nerd.

Off-brand RainMachine app icon.
Off-brand RainMachine app logo
Beautiful RainMachine logo
Beautiful RainMachine logo

But what is the deal with the app icon? RainMachine has this beautiful branding from top to bottom, except with the app icon. It’s totally off-brand and makes you question if you are downloading the right thing.

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation, but it spoils a nice experience every time you go looking for the app on your home screen.

I don’t have an Android device to test that version of the app, but the review average is 4/5 on the Google Play Store.

One of the great pieces of the RainMachine puzzle is that you can connect to the device from outside of your home network. It doesn’t require port forwarding or anything special, it just works. This is a huge plus if you want to set up the system at grandma’s house, or if you are a commercial gardener that has a bunch of clients. Being able to access all of the controllers in your domain from anywhere in the world is a great feature.

GEEKINESS

When I first plugged in the RainMachine it went through a firmware upgrade. Everything went smooth. A week into using the unit another firmware update was released and that one also went through smooth without any problems.

RainMachine's awesome REST API
RainMachine’s awesome REST API

From a geek perspective, one of the coolest features of the RainMachine is the open API. This means that RainMachine has provided developers with the ability to build their own apps that hook into the controller. If you don’t like the iOS app you can build your own version. If you are building a smart home app that controls all of your various devices then you can add the RainMachine right in.

It’s the way of the world these days. There are so many possibilities and surprises that happen when you leave the door open for developers to build around your device. Big kudos to RainMachine for this.

One of the things that I was most looking forward to was the IFTTT (If This Then That) integration. IFTTT allows you to easily plug different applications together to make life easier. One of the things I was hoping to have with the RainMachine was an IFTTT recipe that sent a push notification to my phone when watering was skipped due to rain. This isn’t possible with RainMachine’s current setup. There are currently no triggers on IFTTT, but according to a recent blog post there will be support for triggers in March 2016. Hopefully the triggers they implement down the road are awesome. The Rachio IRO supports IFTTT triggers today.

I would have also liked an easy way to export the data from the RainMachine. It will hold a year’s worth of watering data, but you’ll have to be a programmer to access it. A nice little button for CSV download would be cool.

VALUE

I got the mid-range version of the RainMachine, with 12 zones because I want to be a resource for residential and commercial customers that are trying to figure out which device they should buy. If you want to save money and don’t have a bunch of zones there is an 8-zone version, and if you have more than 12 zones there is a 16-zone version.

This device is EPA WaterSense certified. In my county I can get a 50% rebate on the cost of a weather-based irrigation controller if I follow the guidelines and buy a certified unit. They send a person out to your house, check out what kind of “dumb” sprinkler system you have and check out your landscape. You install the new unit, they come back with another survey and you get the rebate.

Many reviewers on Amazon report water savings that paid for the unit in the first year.

CONCLUSION

The RainMachine HD-12 is a fantastic smart sprinkler controller. I’m very impressed with it’s abilities, but it’s the first of many controllers that I will review on the site. My next review will be on the BlueSpray 16 Zone WiFi controller and I’m excited to see how it stacks up.

Check it out on Amazon

INSTALL & SETUP VIDEO

PHOTOS

RainMachine HD-12
RainMachine HD-12
RainMachine HD-12
RainMachine HD-12
RainMachine HD-12 box contents
RainMachine HD-12 box contents
RainMachine iOS app
RainMachine iOS app
RainMachine HD-12 box
RainMachine HD-12 box

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