When you first install the Orbit B-Hyve, you might not think it's that different from an ordinary sprinkler controller. The large central dial, the four large buttons and the clunky LCD display all give the impression that you're dealing with outdated technology. Indeed, Orbit's first smart sprinkler doesn't stray far from the company's non-smart options in appearance, and Orbit has been making sprinkler controllers for decades.
In this way, the B-Hyve stands in stark contrast to the excellent Rachio Smart Sprinkler, which started from scratch as a smart device. Not all of the B-Hyve's differences from Rachio's sprinkler are a bad thing. If you're a fan of manual controls or you want to save money, Orbit's B-Hyve might be the better option for you than the Rachio at about twice the price (more on pricing later). You even have to pay extra for a waterproof case from Rachio. Orbit's waterproof casing is built in and part of its industrial appearance.
Price aside, the Rachio Controller is the better smart device -- it has a wider mix of smart scheduling options and does a better job of integrating into an existing smart home setup. Taken on its own, the B-Hyve's certainly no slouch. It works with Amazon's assistant Alexa, and will schedule your sprinklers for you based on the weather. The B-Hyve is worth your consideration as a cheap, competent, but not-quite-as-smart alternative to the Rachio Controller.
The basics of the B-Hyve
Not only is the Orbit B-Hyve cheaper than Rachio, it's one of the least expensive smart sprinkler controllers you can find. Like most competitors in the growing smart sprinkler category, the B-Hyve replaces the existing controller for your in-ground sprinklers. Connect it to your Wi-Fi and download the B-Hyve app, and you'll be able to control your sprinklers with your phone.
The B-Hyve also monitors the local weather, and will schedule your sprinklers for you if you'd like. Like most smart sprinklers, it's approved by the EPA WaterSense program. Head here to see if you'd qualify for a rebate on your water bill. So not only does the B-Hyve make it easier to control and schedule your sprinklers, but it can theoretically help you water more efficiently and save you money as a result.
You can buy the Orbit B-Hyve online in the US via the company's site or Amazon. It's also available in hardware stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot. The six-zone model costs $100 and the 12-zone model is $120. The B-Hyve is also available in the UK and Australia. The six-zone controller is £150 on Amazon.co.uk. The US price converts to roughly AU$130 and AU$150 for the six- and 12-zone models respectively.
Simple setup, complex controls
If you're not familiar with advanced sprinkler timers, you might be intimidated by all of the B-Hyve's options. Setup is as simple as connecting wires for power and each of your zones. If you can install a thermostat, you can install the B-Hyve.
Once you're up and running, the left side of the screen serves as the menu. Seemingly redundant options such as "manual," "run time" and "start time" make using the display confusing. So keep the instruction manual handy if you'd rather set up your schedule with the manual controls rather than the app.
The app simplifies your options for controlling and scheduling your sprinklers, and it's generally much easier to use than the physical controls. Still, it's not perfect. I wish it showed a little more detail as far as weather info. Rachio lets you choose where you get your weather info. Orbit doesn't offer that layer of customization. The calendar could have also used an extra layer or two of info.
Once you set a program or a schedule, you'll be able to see dots on the days when your system is set to water. Tap a day, and it'll show you the start time of each program, but you can't see much more detail than that, even if you tap the time to pull up additional details. The calendar entry never shows you a full play by play of which zones are going to run and for how long in each session.
The main page of the app lets you set a rain delay, or manually turn your sprinklers on or off. You can access the details of each zone in the zone page, and set up schedules and programs in the programs page.
Under the zones page, you can give the B-Hyve the details it needs to set your schedule for you under "smart details." For each zone, you can set the soil type, plant type, sprinkler type, amount of sunlight, slope and how many sprinklers are in the zone. You can also set up catch cups to determine exactly how much water hits your yard between rain and the sprinklers for a more exact estimate of soil moisture.
If you're an expert, the B-Hyve has an advanced details section that lets you fine-tune stats such as "Reference Evapotranspiration" and "Landscape Coefficient." If you don't know what those terms mean, don't worry, the B-Hyve makes an educated guess and fills in values based on the basic details you provide. Like Rachio, Orbit does a good job of combining easy-to-use options for beginners with hidden depth for experts.
Once you get your zones set, you can turn on smart watering for each and the B-Hyve will track your soil moisture, watch the weather and water when necessary. The B-hyve specifically waters your lawn for short 10- to 15-minute bursts for each zone to prevent runoff.
You can refine the B-Hyve's smart watering program if you have watering restrictions or preferred watering times, or let the system take care of everything for you. Alternatively, you can set up scheduled programs manually and ignore the smart feature.
Over our two weeks of testing, the B-hyve's smart scheduling worked as well as the Rachio's and accurately responded to the weather. You can always manually run the sprinklers or put in a rain delay if it misses something.
Rachio offers a few more scheduling options than Orbit. With the B-Hyve, you either set a smart schedule or a manual schedule. You can combine the two, but the B-Hyve warns you of the possibility of overwatering if you do that. Rachio lets you pick from a variety of fixed or flexible schedules and always offers its smarts to make sure you're not running your sprinklers in the rain.
'Alexa, water the lawn'
Rachio's smart sprinkler not only offers more scheduling options than the B-hyve, it also works with several more smart home partners. Head here for Rachio's full list of compatible devices. Highlights include Amazon's Alexa and the Google Home for voice controls. You can also tie Rachio's sprinkler to your larger smart home setup with Wink, SmartThings and IFTTT.
The B-Hyve also works with Amazon's Alexa, but that's it. Alexa is Amazon's digital assistant built into a variety of smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo. With a simple voice command, you can turn your B-Hyve sprinklers on or off, check when they ran last or set a rain delay. Head here for the full list of the B-Hyve's Alexa commands.
Oddly, Alexa had a little trouble turning my sprinklers on at first. I had only used smart scheduling to that point, and if I gave the command "Ask B-Hyve to run the sprinklers" Alexa would agree and nothing would happen. Alexa would actually turn on the sprinkler if I said something more specific such as, "Run station 1."
Once I set a few manual programs, Alexa then properly turned on the sprinklers after my first command and ran one of my established programs. Apparently, the system doesn't know what to do if you don't offer specifics and don't have any programs set. I was also initially confused because Alexa only responds to the word "station" and not "zone," but both of these issues were minor.
Controlling Rachio's sprinkler with Alexa is more tedious. If you don't offer specifics right away, Alexa can get caught in a loop. Surprisingly, given all of Rachio's other smart home credentials, the B-Hyve's integration with Alexa works more reliably and intuitively than Rachio's. So at least the B-Hyve has a bit of quality to combat Rachio's quantity.
Between the accurate and easy-to-use smart scheduling and the helpful Alexa skill, the Orbit B-Hyve will add a lot of convenience to your life if you're used to controlling your sprinklers with an old-fashioned timer. The price is right, as the B-Hyve's only $100 for six zones or $120 for twelve -- that's as budget-friendly as it gets for a controller with comparable smarts.
Orbit deserves credit for successfully ushering its classic controller to the modern age while keeping the basics like manual controls intact. The B-Hyve isn't perfect and the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller is the better option if price isn't an issue. You'll also want to go with Rachio if you have lots of other smart home devices. The B-Hyve is the best option in terms of value, especially if you just want basic sprinkler smarts.