Parrot Flower Power review: This connected garden sensor has trouble with communication

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CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars OK
  • Overall: 5.9
  • Features: 5.0
  • Usability: 3.5
  • Design: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.5
Review Date:

The Good The Parrot Flower Power collects a variety of plant-relevant data accurately and uses it in conjunction with its excellent database to make plant-specific recommendations.

The Bad The device can only transmit data to a Bluetooth LE-enabled iOS device, meaning you need to have a relatively recent version of an Apple device just to use it. You also have to be close to the device to get any data, limiting your ability to monitor your plant or get alerts on the go.

The Bottom Line For data lovers, the Flower Power tracks and charts well. For everybody else, the Flower Power lacks the convenience of the competition.

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Parrot, the maker of the AR Drone and a multitude of hands-free communication devices for cars, brings its connectivity prowess to the world of plants with the $60 Parrot Flower Power. A standalone sensor, Flower Power is battery-operated and Bluetooth-enabled. You place it in the soil next to your plant, pick your plant from the Parrot plant database, and it will diagnose any issues and help you monitor your plant's needs for long-term care. Flower Power monitors and collects data on soil moisture, sunlight, temperature, and fertilizer. With all of that capability in tow, Flower Power hopes to be the all-purpose garden guardian.

As a plant rescuer, Parrot's product works well, if a bit slowly. If you have a plant that's suffering and you're having trouble figuring out why, Parrot can help. However, as a plant monitor, Parrot's offering doesn't stack up to the competition. Oso Technologies' PlantLink is faster and monitors moisture levels more efficiently, and Koubachi monitors the same conditions as the Flower Power and offers better connectivity for long-term care. I can't broadly recommend the Flower Power, since most consumers will find a better fit for their garden care elsewhere.

Design

Available on Amazon, the Apple Store online, and on Parrot's website, the Flower Power is an unobtrusive, twig-shaped sensor available in blue, green, or brown. You insert the included AAA battery into the short stem. Put the cap on to hold it in place and the light on the long stem will blink as it looks to establish a connection.

Insert Flower Power into the soil next to your plant and and it will collect and store data on moisture levels, sunlight, temperature, and even fertilizer. It communicates that information to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth Low Energy. You'll need to have the app installed to receive the data, and currently the app is only available on iOS, though Parrot has promised an Android version soon. Your phone or tablet will also need to be compatible with Bluetooth LE, meaning you'll need at least the iPhone 4S, the iPad 3, or a fifth-generation iPod touch.

You'll finish the setup by connecting the Flower Power with Parrot's free app. Through the app, you'll tell Parrot about the plant you're monitoring, identifying the type of plant via the extensive plant database, then filling in the location and a nickname. Flower Power works both indoors and outdoors, and can use the GPS of your connected device to find the exact location of your plant.

The initial setup is quick, but you'll need to wait 24 to 48 hours for Flower Power to read the conditions before it can make its first plant-specific recommendations. It does have a Live Mode which you can use to see data immediately for moisture, light, and temperature (fertilizer doesn't work with this mode), but you'll need to be patient for it to start interpreting what you're seeing.

flowerpowerapp-5.jpg
Colin West McDonald/CNET

After the initial adjustment, Flower Power will chart data over time, and make recommendations on all four categories that it tracks. For instance, it might tell you that your plant doesn't have enough water or sunlight, but has plenty of fertilizer and is in comfortable temperature conditions. The app will then add anything you need to change to a convenient To Do list. Once you check things off, it'll read the new conditions and give you an updated recommendation 24 hours later.

Additionally, Flower Power gathers and stores all of the data between check-ins. Once you're up and running, you can move within range of the plant and pull up the app. The Flower Power will use your app to update the cloud-based database with all of the new information it gathered since you were last in range, and you'll then be able to see all four categories graphed over time on both your phone and on any internet capable device. Give it a couple of weeks, and it'll even start to make long-term recommendations about when you need to water and fertilize, and it'll update your To Do list on both your phone and browser with that information as well.

Usability

If you have a passion for gardening, and have run into a situation where a plant keeps wilting despite your best efforts and you're stumped, the Flower Power can come to your rescue thanks to its recommendation function.

The specific data will also be useful if you're a budding citizen scientist looking to study the conditions of your garden. Unfortunately, anyone simply looking to add convenience to plant care will be disappointed by the Parrot Flower Power.

To start, the Flower Power doesn't add that much convenience. The PlantLink, by Oso Technologies, uses a Zigbee radio signal to consistently send updates about your plant's moisture to the cloud, without any additional effort on your part. The Koubachi Wi-Fi Sensor functions similarly, and can communicate directly with the cloud as long as it's in range of your router. For the Parrot to get any info, you need to be within Bluetooth range of your sensor and update the information manually.

If, like me, you tend to kill plants with accidental negligence, this lack of automation will result in just as many garden-based fatalities; I won't be any more likely to remember to check on my plant with my phone in hand, than I would be to water it.

You'll also need to go back and forth from the app to your browser to get all of the information you want. You can manage and add plants, and also get updates via the app. However, the browser is the only way to check specific data points. You can see charts on the app, but if you want to know a specific moisture percentage at a specific time, the full Web page is the only way to do it.

This strange disconnect carries over to the recommendations as well. Parrot has a great plant database. It's the most functional that I've tested. It only has 6,000 entries compared to the 50,000 PlantLink boasts, but that 6,000 feels much more useful. The search software works well, and the accompanying pictures and information make it easy to not only find your plant but to learn about it. All of that information comes from Parrot's research in conjunction with Dutch university Wageningen UR, and is used to make those recommendations on how to care for your plant.

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Specific data on where your plant is, but no indication of where it should be. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Yet it keeps you in the dark about how it arrives at its recommendations, or how the data from your plant compares to the ideals it needs. Without this specificity, you're left to guess what exactly "Water Your Plant" means. How much water should you give it? The charts will tell you how much moisture it has in terms of a percent -- 0 percent is completely dry, 100 percent is soaking wet -- but the chart won't show you how much moisture your plant likes. The database will give you this info in broader terms, but how does the fact that your plant likes two drops (out of a possible five) translate to soil moisture percentage? Parrot never helps you take that leap. The database must talk to the data to create the recommendations it gives you, but you're certainly not privy to the conversation.

Live Mode would be a great way to make sure you're giving your plant exactly the right amount of water or sun. It's a feature of the app that shows a moving graph with current conditions, and it's quite cool to watch the soil moisture increase instantly as you pour more and more water into the soil by your plant. Again, though, without knowing what percentage to aim for, this feature is much less useful than it could be.

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