The PlantLink smart sensor system lacks depth, but proves itself as an honest and constant sentry for your garden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With my plant, the recommendation simply read, "Water Today!" The lack of specificity worried me. I've managed to drown almost as many plants as I've forgotten to water, and if the PlantLink is trying to end my reign of garden-based terror, it needs to give me a little more information here to stop me from going overboard with the watering. The range and percentages on the chart will be more than enough for any caretaker with experience, but it again forces those of us without a green thumb to seek outside information or do a little guesswork.
Nevertheless, given that it would be hard to kill most plants in one instance of overwatering, taking a wild guess, then adapting next time based on where the chart ended up is a fine, if imprecise, approach. The PlantLink will even help out with its refreshed readings. If you've watered enough, it will estimate the next date you should water. If not, it'll ask for more. The timeliness of these recommendations puts them miles ahead of the competition. Other smart sensors can take several hours or even a full day just for an initial reading. From there, they generally take at least a week for that first plant-specific recommendation.
The PlantLink adjusts its recommendations based on the readings of the sensor as the conditions of the soil change over time. By the time you need to water again, it will be ready to predict a long-term watering schedule, with the days marked on a pull-up calendar. With no location settings, it can't take weather into account for outdoor plants like the other systems can, but again, you will have a customized schedule to look at in about the same amount of time it takes the other guys to craft their initial recommendation.
Finally, you can even customize the desired ranges for your plant's moisture, and the PlantLink will track just as readily within your new parameters. This flexibility for experts causes me to doubt how certain Oso feels about its own recommendations. It could be a result of Oso having to do a little stipulation for house plants not explicitly covered by the USDA database they use, but the ones I checked were fine. There are chefs that like to play with every recipe, and Oso might simply be trying to accommodate that.
Since it only measures moisture, the PlantLink system is more limited than the other smart sensors we're testing. Some of these can measure temperature, ambient light, and even fertilizer and make recommendations accordingly. The Parrot Flower Power covers all of this for only $60. Again, the PlantLink package starts at $79 and gives you less. Regular, non-Internet-connected moisture sensors can even be obtained from any hardware store for as little as $10.
Given all of this, the PlantLink looks expensive. But it makes up the cost quickly as you add units to your system. With the Parrot, you'll need to pay another $60 for each unit, while the $129 Koubachi Wi-Fi plant monitor is even more expensive. Since additional units for the PlantLink are only $35, you'll already be saving money over the Parrot after your second sensor. With its excellent connection range, the PlantLink makes it possible to cheaply spread coverage throughout a moderately sized yard.
The ZigBee frequency used by PlantLink sensors is precisely aimed, meaning it can stretch farther than either a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal. The stated range is 10 to 100 meters, which will vary based on how many walls are in the way, but I was impressed with how well it transmitted in a variety of less-than-ideal locations. Our router is in an electronics closet behind thick walls. I took the pot with the link past several more walls, outside to the company parking lot, and placed it 90 meters away. It still sent updates at 10- to 15-minute intervals.
The low energy of the signal also results in great battery life. You can monitor the status of the included AAAA batteries (yep, that's a quadruple A) via your computer along with everything else, and the percentage didn't move for days. Oso claims they'll last for more than a year, and I'm inclined to believe that.
The charm PlantLink establishes with those nicknames really started to shine through for me after the range test. It might not be the smartest gadget, but it only claims to help with one thing, and after an initial adjustment period, it'll help you do that one thing quite well. It's an honest and constant sentry, monitoring your plant and guarding it both from unpredictable changes and predictable negligence. When your plant gets thirsty, PlantLink gives it the voice it needs to let you know.
As you create your "myplantlink" account, you can also set a variety of options for alerts and reminders. Wanting to see what kind of notifications I would get, I let the plant dry out. Sure enough, the notifications came through, along with more of PlantLink's distinct charm.
The email reminder is great. It gets to the point quickly with a bit of humor in tow, and my cold, plant-killing heart melted at the idea of my plant begging for its life. It shows restraint when it comes to bombarding you. Even with all four time settings turned on, it didn't keep pestering me over and over with the same reminder.
You'll still get reminders about once a day if you forget, but it knows enough not to send you the same email every couple of hours, lest it cause you to lose that feeling of mercy and launch your plant out of the window. It reminds you of the task, but does so gently.
Disappointingly, the text was missing the same humor, and the email reminder doesn't vary. The initial humor vanishes quickly over the course of a few emails. Still, it's a nice touch at first, and it helps cement the impression that this is a simple but very dedicated robot. Once the calendar is set, it's even polite enough to send reminders the day before your scheduled watering, and the status page will thank you after you've given your plant what it needs.
You'll still have to go through the trouble of actually watering the plant yourself. Some competing systems include valves you can attach to your irrigation system. If you have automatic sprinklers, these valves can turn them on when your plants need water and adjust the schedule accordingly. Oso has promised this for PlantLink soon.
The smart features it does have would mean little if the PlantLink couldn't accurately measure moisture. It certainly is a fun garden guardian, but all goodwill it builds with its diligence and humor would vanish quickly if it were giving me bad advice.
Fortunately, the PlantLink nails the accuracy tests. We set a Link up in a pot with a ponytail palm and a separate calibrated meter for moisture levels. Over the course of a month, the PlantLink showed readings consistent with our control meter.
The deviation at first is an acceptable range of error. The soil we used was porous and the meters weren't in the exact same spot, so small differences in data were expected. The fact that the PlantLink's data gets closer and closer to the control data over time as the soil settles and the watering schedule gains consistency is exactly what we were hoping for. All smart sensors we tested sensed accurately, but the PlantLink edges them out and gets better as it goes.
And since it held up well under our simulated rainfall and temperature variations, you can confidently place the PlantLink sensors throughout your yard and rely on them to accurately keep you posted.
Oso's PlantLink isn't the smartest sensor system around, but it works hard with what it has, and does so accurately and with some humor. A few of its setup shortcomings might turn off the most casual of gardeners though. And without any advice on sunlight or fertilizer, for instance, you might be forced to consult additional resources for long-term plant care.
Other smart sensors can do all of this for you. A single Parrot Flower Power costs less and measures more, and cheap devices from any hardware store can help you check moisture readings. Additionally, professionals who need more detailed information (and are willing to pay a little extra to get it) will find a better fit in the Koubachi sensor.
Still, for quick, accurate readings and recommendations, top-of-the-line range, and ease and cost of scalability, PlantLink is hard to beat. If you're ready to become a dedicated amateur, and need something to help you monitor the water level of a few household plants, or if you like gardening in your free time and need help checking on a large area of your yard, PlantLink will do the job perfectly well, and give your plants the voice -- and the personality -- that you never knew they needed.