Orbit B-hyve Sprinkler Timer review: Affordable, powerful smart watering controller

While we all love green grass and healthy gardens, we are also cognizant of water restrictions and limited water supplies. The Orbit B-hyve Sprinkler Timer provides control for your home and business through your smartphone and on the controller itself.

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When I moved into my new house a few years ago I bought a Blossom sprinkler controller because I travel quite a bit and needed a way to keep the lawn green without overwatering. Last year I tested the Rachio 3 system and it is regularly rated one of the best available. The Rachio 3 is also a bit pricey at $229.99, although when you count in the savings on watering it pays for itself over a season or two as well.

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When the PR folks for Orbit reached out, I told them I was pretty satisfied with my current system and the $88 Amazon price likely meant I would be taking a few steps back if I switched out the Rachio. After more than a month of use, I was wrong and now believe the Orbit B-hyve Sprinkler Timer may be perfect for the majority of people who want to have full control over their sprinkler system.

Also: Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler hands-on: Intelligent watering controlled by your phone

A couple of years ago, CNET took a look at a B-hyve unit and awarded it a 7.8/10 rating. Since that time, there have been some major software enhancements and I honestly cannot find anything missing on the Orbit in comparison to the Rachio. Let's take a closer look at the hardware, software, and daily usage experiences.

Hardware

I was sent a six zone indoor/outdoor timer to evaluate since I have three zones in my small yard. My sprinkler wires are routed through my garage wall so I can mount my controller inside the garage. Some controller systems require that you purchase a separate enclosure to mount it outside, but the Orbit unit has the enclosure integrated into the system. This means there is also a key and lock included so you can keep your sprinkler secure if it is mounted outside.

Opening up the outside locked cover reveals what appears to be an older sprinkler controller with a monochrome LCD screen, four buttons, and a central dial. The screen, buttons, and dial let you manually setup the system so you don't need a smartphone to control your sprinkler. This is a nice option when you have network or phone issues.

Release the clasp on the right side of the display and you can then access the internals that show the wire connections and power source. A small screwdriver is included in the retail package so you can loosen and then tighten the screws after inserting the proper wires into the opening under each zone label.

After all of your zones are connected, close the display and the outer cover and then plug the power cable into an outlet. Your controller is now ready to connect to your smartphone.

Software

Download the Orbit B-hyve app to your Android or iOS device to proceed with the setup and operation. The first time you launch the app you will be walked through the setup process for the Orbit B-hyve. In order to use the Smart Watering functionality you need to go through the zone setup process that includes naming the zone, including an actual photo of the zone, choosing the soil type (clay, loam, sand), plant type (cool/warm turf, trees, annual flowers, etc.), sprinkler type, sun/shade coverage, slope, sprinkler head count, and even advanced details. Advanced details let you enter very specific data on the zone to help you fully optimize the Smart Watering process. These details include application rate, efficiency, plant factor, microclimate factor, field capacity, root zone, allowable surface accumulation, and more that I had to read about in order to understand. The software lets you enter the parameters and then shows you the computed results below so you can make sure you have fully defined the zone accurately.

If you tap on existing zones you can see what the calculated soil moisture is based on the weather and when your sprinklers last ran. This is interesting to check from time-to-time.

After your zones are setup and tested, it's then time to set up your watering schedule. Program options let you specific a start time, identify specific days to water, set up an odd or even day schedule, choose your own interval, or enable Smart Watering to let the system figure out the best frequency based on your zone definitions and local weather. There is also a water budgeting slider so you can further control the amount of water being used. There are four program slots so you can have a Smart Watering program, odd day program, or other customized program and easily switch between them.

To the far right in the program is the Settings button and within this area you can manage your B-hyve account, add other controllers (helpful if your business has many controllers to manage from your phone), view the details of your watering history, enable and manage notifications, and more. If you want to see which hyperlocal weather station is selected for your home or business by default you can tap on device details to see more. I manually selected a local school weather station that is closer to my house because we have weather that can be very specific when it comes to rain coverage. This is an awesome capability and I've honestly been blown away by the capability of this sub-$100 sprinkler controller system.

Another functionality that I have not been able to find on any other sprinkler system I have tested is the ability to run a system early in the morning and then later in the day. There are actually a couple of ways to do this with the B-hyve; setup a program with multiple start times or run multiple programs on your system.

Daily usage and experiences

When I first started using the Orbit B-hyve I started with Smart Watering. While two zones made sense and did well, my backyard zone watered for over an hour. The backyard is a large zone, but an hour is just way too much for my yard. A nice feature of the B-hyve is the way the system waters one zone, moves to another, and continues all the way through the zones before coming back and watering the first one again. This sequential means of watering lets the water settle into the turf so you don't waste water with runoff.

I am currently trying to modify the backyard zone to try to get a more reasonable time for Smart Watering, but in the meantime I just setup that zone with a manual watering schedule. There is an incredible amount of customization ability in this Orbit system, while it can also be as simple as select something and go.

The calendar view is very useful as you can tap on a day and see what the watering schedule is while also seeing what the weather forecast shows for that day. Tapping the center remote icon shows you what is coming next while also giving you one button access to rain delays. Rain delays of varying times can be set with simple taps on your display.

The Orbit B-hyve works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant so I set it up and can easily turn on a zone with just a few spoken words around my house. This is useful if it is a particularly hot day or the kids want to play in the sprinkler.

I've been extremely impressed by the capability of this inexpensive system and have been recommending it to all of my neighbors. Our new neighborhood was built with a requirement that everyone have a front sprinkler system, usually with at least two zones, so it's useful to have something like the Orbit B-hyve at each house. As a regular business traveler, I must have this control or my yard starts to look terrible and may even get into an HOA violation condition without adequate watering.

Pricing and availability

The Orbit B-hyve Smart Sprinkler controller is available now for $87.99 on Amazon for the 6 station unit and $108.99 for the 12 station model.

The Blossom 7 is down to $74.99 while the Rachio starts at $229.99 and Rainbird models start at $138.