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Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller (generation 2) review: Rachio's awesome app makes scheduling your sprinklers easy

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The Good The Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller will help you set a watering schedule based on your needs and preferences, then will watch the weather for you and adapt accordingly. The intuitive app nicely balances a wealth of options for customization with a quick and easy setup process.

The Bad Most of Rachio's flaws amount to nitpicks, but there are several: the voice controls aren't great, you can't run multiple zones at once, the watering history section in the app is confusing, the onboard controls are limited, and waterproof casing costs extra.

The Bottom Line Rachio is a smart device that genuinely feels smart and is well worth the upgrade from an ordinary sprinkler controller.

8.3 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 8
  • Design 8
  • Performance 8

Lots of smart home devices promise to revolutionize the ordinary with convenience you didn't know you needed. The Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller actually fulfills that promise. Buy it, and you'll no longer have to mess with the confusing dials and buttons of an ordinary sprinkler controller. Turn on your sprinklers with an app, or a voice command to the Amazon Echo or the Google Home. Better yet, let Rachio plan when to turn on your sprinklers for you based on the weather, and save money on water in the meantime.

It's not without its flaws -- the voice controls are wonky, you can't do much with the onboard controls if your internet is out, and you can't run multiple zones at once -- but generally, the $200 to $250 Rachio 2nd Generation Smart Sprinkler Controller succeeds at what it sets out to do. If you have an in-ground sprinkler system, the Rachio Controller is a great buy for the convenience it will add to your watering routine.

Extending the smart home outside

If you're ready to upgrade, know that the Rachio Controller isn't the only game in town. Fortunately, Rachio stacks up well next to the smart competition too.

Almost all smart sprinklers replace an existing controller for your in ground sprinkler system. Then, they connect to your home's Wi-Fi network, offer app controls, and help you save water by monitoring the weather and helping you adapt your schedule to accommodate for rain. Better yet, most smart controllers qualify for the EPA's WaterSense program, allowing you to get rebates on your utility bill.

Rachio does all of that, and separates itself with its extra smart home integrations. It works with both the Amazon Echo and the Google Home (both are always-listening speakers that respond to voice commands). It also works with the Nest Learning Thermostat, the online rule making platform IFTTT, and the Wink and SmartThings smart home ecosystems. Head here for a full list of Rachio's integrations.

Other smart sprinklers work with the Amazon Echo too, and the $250 GreenIQ has an impressive list of integrations of its own, but Rachio's list is the best of the bunch.

You can purchase the second-generation Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller now from the company's website. It's also available from AmazonHome Depot, Best Buy and Lowes. An 8-zone controller costs $200 or you can buy a 16-zone unit for $250. If you'll be replacing an outdoor controller, you'll also need Rachio's $30 weatherproof casing. The Rachio Controller will work in any country, but Rachio has distribution only in North America for now. The US price converts to roughly £150 and AU$250 for the 8-zone version and £190/AU$315 for 16 zones.

Setting up zones

I tested Rachio at the CNET Smart Home over the course of two weeks. The physical setup is roughly on the same do-it-yourself skill level as replacing your thermostat. Then, the app does the rest.

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Setting up Rachio is pretty simple, but it can handle more advanced systems with master valves and pump start relays. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

After you use the app to connect Rachio to Wi-Fi, you can hop right in and start using the controller, or you can let Rachio walk you through setting up the different zones.

Rachio's app shines both when you're setting up the zones, and when you're scheduling them. With both processes, the app puts simple, easy-to-understand options at the forefront of its interface, with plenty of room for advanced customization hidden just underneath the surface. It balances ease-of-use with depth perfectly.

Zone setup asks you to name each zone, then asks you what's growing there, what type of soil it's in, how much sun it gets, what type of sprinkler head you have in the zone, and the slope of the zone.

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Set up your zones with as many details as you know. You can even access advanced info if you're an expert. Rachio can help you determine when to water based on these details. 

Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Again, you can skip the zone-by-zone setup and jump straight to scheduling if you'd like, but the extra details help Rachio plan for you. You can fine-tune beyond the basics if you'd like. Click on a zone in the app and you can tinker with details like root depth and crop coefficient if you're an expert. The details section also shows you the moisture level, and you can see it charted over time and tweak it as well.

A schedule tailored for you

Once you have the zones set the way you want them, you can schedule your sprinklers from the main page of the app according to your local restrictions, as well as your needs and preferences.

Rachio offers four scheduling options:

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