When we tested the Rachio Iro Smart Sprinkler Controller last year, its robust feature set, easy installation, and third-party integration earned it our Editors' Choice for connected sprinkler controllers. The latest iteration, the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller Generation 2 ($249.99), also offers easy installation, plenty of features, and third-party home-automation integration, along with onboard controls, a more compact design, and plenty of room for expansion. While it's not cheap, it is a bit less expensive than its predecessor. It's our new top pick.
Design and Features
The second-gen Rachio doesn't offer the slick aesthetics that you get with the Skydrop Wi-Fi Sprinkler Controller, but at 5.6 by 9.2 by 1.6 inches (HWD), it's a bit more compact than the original Rachio Iro controller (7.3 by 7.3 by 2.2 inches). It has a white removable cover with a round cutout that exposes a status wheel with LED indicators for setting up the controller and displaying an active watering zone. Under the cover are two buttons used to manually select a zone and start or stop watering (a feature missing from the first Rachio controller), and a wiring hub.
The Controller comes in an 8-zone configuration for $199.99 and a 16-zone configuration for $249.99, whereas last year's model cost $249 for 8 zones and $299 for 16 zones. The 16-zone hub has four common terminals and 16 zone terminals. It also has a master valve terminal for systems that use a master valve to control water flow, and four accessory terminals for systems that use rain and flow sensors (the Iro had only two rain sensor terminals). Each terminal uses a push-in connector for easy wire placement and removal.
The system uses the same intuitive Android, iOS, and Web apps as the original, although a few updates have been made since last year. For example, the opening page offers much more information, including the status of the controller, the last time it ran, the current local weather and five-day forecast, and your watering schedule. Scroll down to My Yard to see icons for each zone which, when tapped, display settings for that zone such as vegetation and soil type, exposure to the sun, sprinkler nozzle type, and land grade. You can tap Edit Watering Schedule to assign a schedule type such as Fixed Interval, Fixed Days, Flexible Monthly, and Flexible Daily, and apply the schedule to one or more zones. Each zone can have a different schedule based on soil, location, shade, and watering needs.
To manually begin and end watering for each zone, tap the round blue button at the bottom of the screen, select a zone, and set a watering time using the jog dial. Also at the bottom of the screen are buttons to view Watering History, Schedule Updates (skipped cycles), and Device Updates (on/off, standby mode). The Usage button displays a Year-To-Date Summary, Community Savings (an aggregate of all Weather Intelligence Savings across all installed Rachios), and a Daily Water Use graph.
The Rachio works with If This Then That (IFTTT) recipes, Nest thermostats, Netatmo weather stations, and the SmartThings and Wink home automation hubs. It also works with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, which allows you to use voice commands to start and stop watering sessions, but it is not yet compatible with Apple's HomeKit platform.
Installation and Performance
The controller is very easy to install. Following the instruction guide, I took a picture of the wiring on my existing controller so that I could match each wire to its appropriate zone (I have a five-zone sprinkler system). I unplugged and removed the old controller and disconnected the five zone wires and the single common wire. After removing its cover, I mounted the Rachio controller to the wall in my basement using the included mounting screws and attached the zone and common wires to their appropriate numbered terminal using the quick release push tabs. I plugged in the AC adapter, replaced the cover, and fired up the app, which I downloaded previously during my review of the original Rachio Iro. I was given the option to copy over the settings from the Iro, which I did. This imported everything I needed, including all of my watering data, schedules, zone names, and weather information.
As with the Iro, the second-gen Rachio performed wonderfully in testing. I used my previous schedule, which called for watering every other day starting at 9:00 a.m., with custom times for my front lawn (sunny), flower beds (slightly shady), and backyard lawn (mostly shady). The Rachio stuck to the schedule for the most part, but would skip watering if there was significant rain the day before a scheduled watering day, or if the weather forecast called for significant rain. I had no trouble turning zones on and off from the app or the controller itself, and always received a push notification when the controller began and ended a cycle, or when it skipped a cycle due to weather conditions.
Integration with Alexa worked like a charm, but getting the accounts linked was a bit problematic. Using my iPhone 6, I set up the Rachio as a Skill on an Amazon Tap and was able to get as far as the Link Account portion of the process before the app would freeze without completing the procedure. I disabled the skill and repeated the process several times to no avail. A call to tech support had me trying to link the accounts using several different devices, including a Windows laptop PC and an iPad mini. The accounts linked using the laptop, but when I tried to issue a watering command, Alexa did not recognize Rachio as a linked device. I was finally able to complete the process using an iPad mini. Once properly linked, the Rachio responded to every Alexa command to water specific zones for a set period of time. A word of caution: when using Alexa with the Rachio, make sure to say "stop watering" to cease watering instead of "turn off Rachio," which puts the controller in standby mode and suspends all watering schedules until you turn it on again.
With the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller Generation 2, you never have to worry about canceling your lawn watering schedule due to weather conditions and can closely monitor your daily, monthly, and yearly water usage. In addition to its flexible scheduling and easy installation process, this version adds expanded third-party integration, including support for Amazon's Alexa, as well as onboard controls that let you turn your sprinklers on and off from the controller itself. It also contains additional wiring options for rain sensors and flow sensors. As with most connected devices, you'll pay more for the Rachio than you will for a non-connected sprinkler controller, but you get total remote control via a well-designed app and alerts that tell you what is going on with your sprinkler system at all times. All this earns the second-generation Rachio Smart Sprinkler our Editors' Choice for connected sprinkler controllers.