Oso Technologies PlantLink review: This simple sensor will give your plant a voice

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.1
  • Features: 7.0
  • Usability: 5.0
  • Design: 8.0
  • Performance: 9.0
Review Date:

The Good Oso Technology's PlantLink tracks moisture accurately and uses that information with charming smart features to help you keep track of when your plants need water.

The Bad Since it only measures moisture, PlantLink is comparatively limited in what it can do. Recommendations won't tell you how much water to give your plant.

The Bottom Line The scalable PlantLink system isn't foolproof or comprehensive, but it does a fine job of using the Internet to communicate your plant's watering needs.

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Oso Technologies' PlantLink is hoping to usher your garden into the Internet of things. The $79 package consists of a "Basestation" that you can attach to your Wi-Fi router, and a moisture sensor called a "Link" that you insert in the soil next to the plant you want to monitor. Additional Links are available for $35 each and connect to the same Basestation.

The idea is that the sensors will pick up readings from the soil and pass that information up to the cloud. Just like that...your plants can now tell you when you need to take care of them.

Quick, accurate recommendations and a charming dose of personality give PlantLink its appeal. The recommendations lack specificity, but the signal range from Link sensor to Basestation is great, and since additional sensors are so cheap, the system is easily scalable. Whether you're a black-thumbed beginner who needs help keeping multiple houseplants alive or a gardener who wants basic monitoring throughout your yard, PlantLink is worth considering.

Basestations and Links are available to buy now from the company's website, with additional Links shipping from late June.

Design

The best feature of the PlantLink system is its ability to monitor multiple plants simultaneously. The $35 cost for each extra sensor makes them among the cheapest available, and Oso claims each Basestation can connect with up to 64 sensors. The sensors work inside and outside, and held up well under our simulated rainfall (spritzing with a spray bottle). They connect to the Basestation via a dedicated ZigBee radio signal, and the long range and low energy of the frequency make it possible to monitor the plants throughout a house and small yard.

That signal transmits the moisture level of the soil near your plant to the Basestation, and the system compares it with your plant's ideal moisture level. Since the Basestation is attached to your Wi-Fi router, you can see all of this information from any Internet-enabled device with a Web browser. Oso is also promising dedicated PlantLink iOS and Android apps soon.

I found the simple white look of the PlantLink sensor and matching base station understated and attractive. Placing the sensor next to your plant does little to distract the eye; the plant is still the star of its pot.

The package includes an Ethernet cable, a USB cable, and a power adapter. The box itself is cardboard and the instructions simply direct you to the company website for a walk-through. The recyclable packaging and paperless directions are an eco-friendly touch.

The physical setup is easy, and the website guides you through it with step-by-step pictures. You need to plug the base station into your router. The light on the front turns green so you know you have a connection. Then, you push a button under the casing of the sensor to link it to the base. The base station light changes colors so you know when the process is complete. Stick the sensor in the soil by your plant and the physical setup is done.

It only took me a few minutes to go from opening the box to inserting the Link in the soil, and the PlantLink was ready to get started trying to stop my herbicidal ways.

Once the physical pieces are in place, you tell the PlantLink system about the plant you're monitoring, so it can provide you with tailored recommendations. Registration on the website is quick; it only asks for the name of the plant and the type of soil.

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Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

You'll give your plant a nickname too, so you can readily identify which one is which if you have multiple sensors. The nickname option begins to reveal PlantLink's charm, and I really appreciated being able to view my plants by the quirky names I gave them. By personalizing my plants, PlantLink took a smart, subtle step toward inspiring me to keep them alive.

Other plant sensors on the market ask for more specifics. They check whether the plant is indoors or outside, and some can even use dedicated mobile applications and Bluetooth signals to track the specific location of the plant.

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Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Competitors also have databases that are significantly more helpful in terms of identifying your plant. If you know the scientific name of the plant you want to monitor, this won't concern you, but if you don't, the PlantLink's database won't be of much help. There are no pictures or descriptions to browse. Occasionally, even knowing the colloquial name of the plant isn't enough, as its poor search software won't recognize even minor deviations in your search.

This isn't a deal breaker, as there are plenty of websites capable of helping you out. Still, it's certainly an inconvenience to have to look elsewhere, especially since Oso boasts of the PlantLink's 50,000-plant database as a major selling point. Compared with competitors that only catalog 6,000 or 7,000 plants, PlantLink's database is certainly impressive -- but it's handcuffed by its own software. It fails to offer a way for novices to successfully navigate or gather information from it.

Identifying your soil type isn't any easier. You can't just say "topsoil" or "soil with fertilizer" and leave it at that. Instead, you're forced to pick from options like loam or silt. For experienced gardeners, this might not matter, but it places another complication in front of the earnest amateur. A visual guide, or a "don't know" option would be useful here.

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Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Usability

Get through these hoops, and the PlantLink will start gathering moisture readings. It calculates the soil moisture level in terms of percentage: 100 percent is completely saturated, 0 percent is dry. Within an hour, the PlantLink Basestation will display the current percentage on a chart, along with the ideal percentage range of your plant.

This is where the system finally puts that database to use, providing you with your plant's specific sweet spot between "Too Dry" and "Too Wet." Follow PlantLink's recommendations and keep the soil's moisture level in the middle, and your plant should stay healthy -- well, as far as watering goes.

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You might overwater without specific recommendations. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

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Where to Buy

Oso Technologies PlantLink

Part Number: CNETOso Technologies PlantLink

MSRP: $79.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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