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

Your To Do list, though handy and simple, won't even automatically update after you've completed a task. Live Mode is clearly picking up the extra water you're giving your plant, but "water" remains on your list unchecked. You'll have to mark it completed yourself, and only then will the Flower Power get back to work and check on updated recommendations.

These, like the initial recommendations, will take about 24 hours to populate. This is much slower than the turnaround for PlantLink, and you'll need to head back out to your plant and get in Bluetooth range to get the update. Occasionally, the initial time window had passed, I checked on the plant, and it still needed a couple more hours. Walking back inside and back out again after another waiting period probably brought me some much needed exercise, but I wouldn't call it a convenience.

Features

From the extensive and informative plant database to the very specific charts it compiles, to the number of facets it measures and the Live Mode, Flower Power is loaded with features. But because those features don't talk to each other in any kind of understandable fashion, many of them are much less useful than they could be.

Flower Power is even compatible with IFTTT, a website which allows you to connect smart devices to the Internet of Things and even have them communicate with each other. For Flower Power, this means you can establish triggers for any of the four parameters measured by the device, and IFTTT can send you push notifications or alerts. The possibilities of IFTTT compatibility are nearly infinite. For example, you can teach IFTTT to turn your lights on or off if the light level alert for your plant triggers. You'd need the light to be attached to another smart device like a WeMo Switch or a SmartThings hub, but it's possible.

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My Flower Power recipe on IFTTT Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Unfortunately, like the rest of Flower Power's features, this IFTTT compatibility ends up being much cooler in theory than in practice because of its Bluetooth-restricted connectivity. To get an alert based on current readings from your plant, you'll need to be close to your plant with the app open. It'll update, and you'll see the most current charts on the app you have open anyway so it can do so. Then, you'll get your push notification...with info you just saw.

Once, I received a text after the 24-hour waiting period for recommendations. It told me my plant needed more light. This was the first time Flower Power showed me its potential as a connected device. I was getting an alert based on newly processed information I had gathered yesterday; the IFTTT compatibility meant something! However, even this was based on day-old information, and I still had to go to the plant to get the updated readings and see the status of the other parameters. This was the only alert I ever received that wasn't in immediate proximity to checking my plant. I did everything I could to cross the alert thresholds in the other categories -- I let the pot dry out for days, I drenched it, I put it in the fridge -- and nothing else ever came.

All told, Flower Power's limited and inconsistent communication features means it is an unreliable garden sentinel. It knows when there is trouble, but it has no way to reach out and tell you. It gives your plant a voice, but limits that voice to a whisper.

Performance

Thankfully that whisper is accurate. The Parrot Flower Power doesn't function well as a connected plant sensor, but it's adequate as a diligent gatherer of data.

We placed the Flower Power in a pot with a ponytail palm and checked its readings over the course of a month against those from a separate calibrated meter. Parrot's measurements for soil moisture, ambient temperature, and ambient light were all within the expected margin of error.

For soil moisture, ambient temperature, and ambient light, the Parrot Flower Power does a great job of reliably collecting data. Its measurements for fertilizer disappoint.

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Screenshot by Jared Hannah/CNET

Parrot's device nailed the soil moisture test. Similar to PlantLink's performance, it started out with a small variance that decreased over the course of the month. The small variance is to be expected at first, since the Flower Power and calibrated meter weren't in the exact same spot and the soil was porous. The fact that the reading grew closer and closer to the one from the VG-200 over time, as the soil settled, is a great sign, and on par with PlantLink. The Flower Power even bests the more expensive Koubachi on this test.

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Screenshot by Jared Hannah/CNET

The ambient temperature and ambient light tests were similarly successful. In both cases, the Flower Power was slow to react to spikes, but always within an acceptable range of error.

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Screenshot by Jared Hannah/CNET

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Screenshot by Jared Hannah/CNET

The fertilizer test was not as accurate. Flower Power tracks the amount of fertilizer in the soil by measuring electrical connectivity. Since moisture is a big factor in conductivity, the meter will only take readings shortly after you've watered your plant. On the positive side, this allows the system to avoid overreacting to drops in conductivity due to decreasing moisture levels. Flower Power won't tell you to fertilize every time you need to water; that would be disastrous. This is also why fertilizer isn't available for Live Mode. The downside is this results in slow, stagnant readings that seem more like guesses.

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Screenshot by Jared Hannah/CNET

In the chart above, we fertilized and watered on the second day, and you can see the spike created by these actions above. The Flower Power didn't react to the change until after the weekend passed, and only then by jumping to a seemingly random high point. It's guessing. Again, if you looked at the chart and thought you needed to fertilize again when it got back to it's initial point, you'd be giving it more fertilizer two days later and would be badly overdoing it for almost any plant. Thus, Parrot's device is smart to only take readings at certain times, but it's fertilizer readings are still an unreliable measurement.

Conclusion

Because of its mostly accurate readings, and helpful database, the Parrot Flower Power serves a few functions well. Its recommendations for care are broad, but if you're trying to figure out how to help a suffering plant, "move to a sunnier spot" might be exactly what you need to hear. It's Bluetooth range is also comparatively small, but will serve you just fine if you have a compatible Apple device and are checking on plants in adjacent rooms of your home. Finally, it stores and charts data long term, providing a valuable service to those looking to study changes in their garden over time.

Nevertheless, it lacks automation and specificity. If, like me, you have a black thumb and need help keeping plants alive, Oso Technologies' PlantLink will serve you much better. If you need more advanced monitoring for long-term care, it might be worth the extra money for the $130 Koubachi sensor. Parrot's Flower Power has trouble with communication, and thus, doesn't quite stack up to these other connected garden sensors.

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