Reviewed: Rachio Iro lets you water your yard from anywhere

The Rachio Iro is no watered-down connected irrigation controller

Do I really need my sprinkler system hooked up to the Internet?

That point was about to become moot as I picked up the screwdriver and removed the basic timer that had served both myself and my lawn well for the past 10 years. Nothing frilly — just your basic monochrome LCD display that controlled the half-dozen zones and their numerous sprinkler heads.

Water turns on, water turns off. If it rains, and I remember to do so, I could manually turn everything off. Every spring I'd try to remember how to manually cycle the system to make sure everything still worked. Simple enough.

But we have to connect all the things these days. And when Rachio announced the Iro Smart Sprinkler Controller, well, why the hell not. We asked them to send us one to test out, and they obliged.

And in the heat of the July summer in Florida, down came the trusty old timer, and up went white Rachio Iro. We're using the $249 eight-zone model. A 16-zone Iro is available for $299.

Where to buy the Rachio Iro

You can order either size Rachio Iro from Amazon, The Home Depot, or directly from Rachio itself.

Installing the Rachio Iro

Installation of Rachio Iro

I like to do a little bit of homework before potentially upsetting something that so far has been working perfectly. A quick trip to Rachio's site and a few minutes of video later, and I had the gist of what was about to happen. I'd just undo the old time unit, plug everything into the Rachio Iro, set up the Wifi though the Rachio app, and be on my way.

Seemed simple enough. And for the most part, it was.

A reminder: The Rachio Iro is a connected device. And as such, it needs access to the Internet. And for that you'll need a Wifi router within range of wherever you're mounting your Iro. Our pals at Connectedly have a great guide for picking a Wifi router.

Out with the old Rain Bird

Out with the old Rain Bird

All I needed to do was make a note of where all the wires were plugged in on my old timer unit, and plug them into the right spot on the Rachio Iro once I'd mounted it on the wall. I managed to reverse my zones — they now turn on in the opposite order of what I'm used to — but that's not a big deal at all, and I could just change the order of the zone wires if I was so inclined.

Plug in the AC adapter and you're on your way.

How difficult was all this? Easier than putting in a Nest, mostly because the low-voltage wires with a sprinkler system are of a smaller gauge and easier to work with. If you do any sort of basic home improvement-type stuff, you should be fine here. Just take your time, read the instructions and watch the videos.

Next you'll fire up the Rachio app and register an account (we'd really love to see some single sign-on action here), answer a couple questions, then feed the app the Wifi information you want the Iro to use. You then hold the phone up to a sensor on the bottom left of the Iro. Your screen goes into a strobe-light mode, which conveys the Wifi info to the unit. It's called "Blink Up." It's strange, but it works.

Rachio Iro

But one word of caution here: It took me a few tries to get Blink Up to work, as there was too much light coming into the garage. Closing the garage door helped with that. I then repeated the process a couple more times to make sure I had all the screenshots I needed for this post. But for the next half-hour or so, my LG G3 display kept strobing. That is, there was a flicker on any screen that had color on it, in any app. It cleared up after a spell, but not before a period of brief panic on my part. I'm not sure if that's a thing with the G3 and its new QHD display — a couple hard resets didn't change things — or if you'll possibly experience the same thing. But all is well now.

Bottom line? I'd try to get Blink Up to work on the first try. You can do it in a dark room before mounting the Iro on the wall, if you're really worried.

Using the Rachio app

Rachio Iro app

There's something pretty familiar about using the Rachio app. If you've got a Nest, you'll notice it.

Setup is pretty simple. You'll tell the Iro your general location by ZIP code (if you want it to have an idea of the weather), and you'll set up all your zones. You can give each zone a specific name, and the Iro asks you a few questions in an attempt to find the best watering duration. It'll ask what you're watering — grass, shrubs, flowers, etc. It'll ask what sort of soil you have, and how much shade the zone receives. It'll also ask if the ground is sloped or level, and what kind of sprinkler nozzle you're using.

There's a little bit of trust involved here. I'm moving from a very binary system. On or off. My sprinklers were all set to run for 20 minutes in each zone. The Rachio Iro has significantly decreased the run time to 3 or 5 minutes every three days. I'll have to see how the lawn responds, and how much money I end up saving. (And being in Florida, the weather plays a major factor. There have been years where I hardly had to water during the summer.) You can set the schedule to be whatever you want — but for now I'm letting the system control things just to see how it works.

Once you're up and running, you'll be presented with an image of the Iro box. On it are options to manually start a cycle, activate the rain delay (which puts things off for 24 hours), and a refresh-type button.

There's a slide-out drawer on the left, where you can add and select which Iro to use (if you have more than one), as well as help information, and your profile.

An overflow menu in the top right lets you set location info on your Iro, see your usage history, and edit the zones and watering times you implemented at setup. You also can set an extended "sleep mode" for long times away, and control a master valve, and rain sensor, if connected. (I had neither of those.)

Down at the bottom you'll find an overview of the water schedule. Tap a day to see more detail, including predicted weather.

All in all, pretty intuitive stuff.

Do you need a connected irrigation system?

We asked at the outset whether any of this is really necessary. A sprinkler timer is (and should be, really) a mostly hands-off ordeal. You shouldn't want to have to mess with it.

But I love the idea of saving water, and saving money. I love the idea of a system that has some idea of how much water needs to be used on any given day. It's not an exact science, especially because I don't have a rain sensor installed. But the Rachio Iro is very cool. And starting at $249, it's an easy way to get yet another part of your home connected.

Phil Nickinson