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

Water is a precious resource so it's important to use it intelligently. The Rachio lets you control your home and business watering while on the road.
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1 of 12 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Rachio Smart WiFi Sprinkler system retail package

We love our green grass here in Washington, but with water as a precious resource it's also important to prevent wasting it. I've been watering my yard while on business travel with the Rachio Smart WiFi Sprinkler system and have already saved nearly 4,000 gallons thanks to the intelligence built into the system.

I tried out another competing watering system last year and while it provided easy control of my three zones, since I was at work during the day or on business travel I never knew when or how much watering was completed. The Rachio smartphone software provides me with everything I expect in a watering system, in addition to quick reports on water usage.

This 2nd generation Rachio Smart WiFi Sprinkler supports up to 16 zones, integrates with the Amazon Echo and other smart home systems, is EPA WaterSense certified, and is simple to install. I was able to mount and connect the Rachio in just a few minutes. While I mounted it in my garage, there is an optional outdoor enclosure too.

The other unit I tested connects to my network through WiFi or my home power lines while the Rachio only supports connection via WiFi. I have a new WiFi router that provides an ample signal to the Rachio. In addition, the Rachio offers you the ability to control your sprinkler system manually.

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Retail package contents include the Rachio, A/C adapter, hardware to install, and a guide

There are connection points on the Rachio controller for rain and freeze sensors, but I don't have any of these installed to test out. I only have three zones at my house with two for grass and one with a flower bed and grass mix.

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Connecting the zones

You can buy a unit with support for 8 or 16 zones. It's quick and easy to slide in your zone wire to the appropriate area.

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Connected zones with manual control option

You can also manually control the Rachio if your WiFi signal goes down. An indicator light is also present on the controller.

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Setting up the smartphone software

Setup of the software was quick and easy with a wizard that steps you through making the connection, selecting what type of vegetation you have growing in each zone, what kind of sprinkler you have in each zone, and what kind of soil you have in place. It then uses this to help you establish zone watering times.

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Choose your local soil option

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How much sun does each zone get?

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Choose what type of vegetation you have in the zone

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Make sure to specify your sprinkler type too

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View of my zone watering schedule

You can tweak your watering schedule details at any time through the app so if something is not setup quite right when you first install the system it is easy to alter things later. So far, my lawn is looking great in the early April/May heat of the Pacific Northwest and I highly recommend the Rachio Smart WiFi Sprinkler system.

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11 of 12 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Smartphone app main view

The Rachio also uses local weather stations as input to your watering schedule. In the past, I would find my sprinklers watering when it rained later in the day, but now the Rachio looks at the forecast and current conditions to intelligently manage watering. If it rains on a day when watering is scheduled, the Rachio will skip that watering period. This saves you money, saves the water resource, and makes sure your lawn and flowers are watered to the appropriate level.

There are applications for iOS and Android. The app is well designed with four main menu options at the bottom and once central quick watering button that lets you quickly choose to activate zones for a set period of time when you want. This button is great for popping up the sprinklers for the kids to play in or scaring your spouse or pet while they are out in the yard.

The first option provides you with the status of the Rachio, weather conditions, watering schedule, zone view, and current monthly water usage. The next screen over from the left provides you with the status of watering and your schedule. It confirms what zones were watered and the duration. The third menu itm is for FAQs and the fourth is the reports area of the software. It's easy to use, yet provides everything you need to manage and check on your watering.

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Watering report

The Rachio Smart WiFi Sprinkler is available now for $199.99 for 8 zones and $249.99 for 16 zones. The waterproof enclosure is $29.99. Given my experiences over the past month, you should be able to recover the cost of the sprinkler in water savings within a couple of watering seasons. In addition to cost savings, you are helping prevent wastage of water in your local area.

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