Rachio didn’t need to improve its top-of-the-class smart
sprinkler controller, but it did all the same. With its third
generation, this irrigation controller pulls even farther away
the rest of the field.
From a hardware perspective, Rachio hasn’t rocked the boat too
much. Both an 8-zone ($249.99) and 16-zone ($299.99) version of
the controller (we reviewed the latter) are available, and both
now support 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. Either way you go, setup
remains a snap: Just pop off the cover (which is now magnetic
and even easier to remove) to expose the wire clip terminals.
my review of the second-generation controller, I complained
that the clips were difficult to manipulate. Rachio has
corrected this so you can now use a fingertip to easily slide
wire leads into the connectors, rather than having to struggle
with a tiny screwdriver. Once your leads are connected, just
plug it into wall power, pop the lid back on, and you’re ready
to continue setup via the app. The whole process is even faster
than before, taking just minutes to complete, though note that,
as with the original Rachio, you’ll need a $30 outdoor
enclosure if you’re mounting the unit in the elements.
Rachio recently upgraded its control app, slightly streamlining
its setup and scheduling system. Rachio walks you through
configuring your zones, which again includes some simple
questions about the vegetation and soil types in your yard, its
sun exposure, and the slope of the area. It takes all of this
into account, alongside your address, to determine an ideal
watering schedule for that patch of earth. If I have any minor
complaint about the interface, it’s that the setup system makes
you manually delete all unused zones, one at a time, rather
than giving you a “bulk skip” option.
Water only when needed
You can give Rachio complete control over watering by choosing
“Flex Daily” or “Flex Monthly” schedules, which will water as
needed, or set up a manual schedule that waters only when you
want. Whichever you choose, you can also opt to turn on
Rachio’s upgraded Weather Intelligence, which will
automatically skip watering if it’s too wet, windy, or if
there’s a threat of a freeze, each of which you can select at
your discretion. You can even drill down further in the new app
by setting how much rain is required before you skip watering.
0.125 inches is default, but you can knock that down to just
0.0625 inches or up to a full inch of rain. You can also set
the windspeed above which you won’t water, or the temperature
below which you won’t water. For a gardening nerd, this stuff
is as fresh as it gets.
I found Rachio’s recommended watering schedule to be a bit
light, but better than most. As with the prior Rachio model,
however, its detection of moisture was perfect, never watering
when it was too wet outside, and helpfully keeping me informed
of its status through notifications on my phone and via email
Two major additional features are new to this third edition of
the Rachio. First is the inclusion of a water flow meter, which
will be bundled with pre-sale units of the Rachio 3 controller.
(It will later be made available separately for $100.) While
Rachio did not provide the Wireless Flow Meter for us to test,
it is designed to detect water leaks in your irrigation system
and to shut down the water supply to any affected zones if a
leak is detected, all integrating with the Rachio app.
Perhaps more exciting is the inclusion of manual-run buttons on
the face of the Rachio hardware itself. They’re so
discreet—built into the Rachio emblem—that you might miss them.
Their function is limited to selecting a zone and manually
starting or stopping a water run, which is simple, but handy if
you just need to give an extra area a little extra water
without fishing out your smart phone. All programming needs
must still be completed via the app.
Do I have any complaints with the Rachio 3, you ask? Aside from
the price (now $50 higher than last year’s), only one: When
powered up, the unit emits a high-pitched squeal that I can
hear from a few feet away. My unit is mounted in the garage, so
it’s not really a problem, but if your controller is in a more
populous part of the house, that could become a more