Living in California means being conscious of the amount of water my household consumes, so I don’t have a huge thirsty lawn that requires an in-ground sprinkler system. But I do have planted flowerbeds all around the foundation of my home, and I have wide drought-tolerant gardens bordering my driveway and various walkways. I irrigate these using a water-efficient drip system connected to spigots on three sides of my house, and thanks to Orbit’s B-hyve Smart Hose Watering Timer, I never waste a drop.
If you’ve ever used a hose timer, you know how frustrating they are to program. Most don’t have a display for visual feedback, they rely on crude buttons that you need to press in sequences like Morse code, or dials with hard-to-read labels that you spin to set the days and times you want the spigot to open. None of them have any intelligence onboard that tells them to skip a watering cycle if it’s raining or about to. I’ve seen a few that connect to optional probes that measure the soil’s moisture content, but good luck finding those accessories at the store. And the only way you’ll know when the batteries powering them have died is when you notice your plants wilting.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart sprinkler controllers, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.
Orbit’s device, powered by two AA batteries, doesn’t have a single button, because you program it with your smartphone. The timer is outfitted with a Bluetooth 4.2 radio that you can connect to directly with your smartphone, but you can also buy a kit that includes a Wi-Fi bridge that connects to your 2.4GHz home network (the kit is what’s reviewed here). That bridge plugs into an AC outlet, so you never need to worry about it running out of juice, and it can control multiple timers, monitor their batteries, and warn you when they’re low (the timers also have LED indicators that report their status).
The Bluetooth radios in the timers and in the bridge are surprisingly strong. One of the three I’ve deployed is at the opposite side of my house, about 150 feet from the bridge with several walls in between, but the timers are power hungry. I’ve needed at least two sets of batteries each watering season (I take them off the spigots in the winter, so they don’t freeze—and yes, the app will warn you of freeze conditions, too).
Programming the B-hyve
Programming the system with a smartphone app is exceedingly simple: You can specify that watering should occur on weekdays, even or odd days, or on an interval (e.g., every three days). What’s more, you can create more than one program for each timer. You might want to create one for the spring and a second that waters more frequently during the summer. The app’s “smart watering” feature will take a wealth of details about your landscaping into account: The type of soil, the plants you’re watering, whether the garden is primarily in the sun or in the shade, the slope of the area where you’ve deployed your sprinklers, and more.
Since the system is connected to the internet via your Wi-Fi network (provided you also purchase the bridge), it monitors local weather data based on your address, and you can enable a “smart watering” feature that will prevent the valve from opening if it’s raining or it’s about to. The B-hyve will even delay turning on your water if windy conditions exist, so the water coming out of your sprinkler doesn’t just dissipate into the air. This wouldn’t necessarily apply to a drip system, however, and while you can indicate what type of irrigation system is attached to the end of the hose, I use a mixture of drip emitters for individual shrubs and micro sprayers for ground covers.
You can program the app to send you push notifications when a rain or wind delay has started, when watering is complete, if temperatures are expected to drop to freezing, when there’s a timer fault, and if the device has been turned off or if its batteries have been depleted. The app also maintains a history of watering events for each zone. It doesn’t report how long the events last, but it does show what time watering started and a different part of the app will log how many gallons of water have been dispensed (based on a sensor in the unit).
Orbit also has an Alexa skill, so you can use voice commands to start or stop watering, set a manual rain delay, and change your timer mode.
You can also operate the system manually, which is mostly useful when you have a conventional sprinkler at the end of a hose that you move from one location to the next. This helps eliminate water waste because you can program the device to open the valve for a defined number of minutes and then have it automatically shut off. The one frustration I’ve had with the B-hyve Smart Hose Watering Timer is a practical one: If you need to use the hose for things other than watering your plants—filling a bucket, for example, or washing your car—you’ll need to have your smartphone in hand. It would be great to have a button on the device that would open the valve when you don’t have your phone with you.
Apart from that, this product has been one of the most useful outdoor devices I’ve set up in my smart home. It’s not cheap, by any means, with the valve and Wi-Fi bridge combo street priced at $80 and each additional timer costing $40 (those are Amazon’s prices at the time of this review). But it shouldn’t take long to recoup that expense in water savings—and your plants will thank you, too.