A gadget for green thumbs: Parrot’s Flower Power garden monitor reviewed

The green thumbs out there don’t often get a lot of gadgets to play with, but Parrot’s Flower Power aims to change that, with a new type of toy that will help them work out how to get the best results out of their garden.

What is it?

Unlike any other gadget we’ve seen, Parrot’s Flower Power is a device designed to monitor the moisture, temperature, sunlight, and fertiliser found in the soil of parts of your garden, and send that information to your device where it will be analysed in the cloud and related back to the type of plant you’re tracking.

The Flower Power does this through a combination of sensors running on a single AAA battery, which is easily replaced, and sent using Bluetooth Smart, a part of the Bluetooth 4.0 standard.

Currently, Parrot’s Flower Power only supports iOS, and requires either an iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, or 5S, or an iPad 3 or higher, which includes the iPad Mini models. An iPad 2 will not work with the Parrot Flower Power.

Android is also not yet supported, though Parrot says support will be coming eventually on Android 4.3 “Jelly Bean” devices.

Performance

Can technology help you raise a better plant?

That’s the question Parrot is asking with the Flower Power, a unique concept that throws sensor technology into a small tree-shaped stick of plastic, designed to monitor sunlight and soil, taking the information, coordinating it with a database relating to your plant, and providing information as to what you should be doing with your plant.

Design-wise, Parrot has crafted this to look organic, with a brown hand-height stick that looks like a small plant that’s growing, with a flat stick protruding from below to let you push the Flower Power directly into the soil and let it stand up.

Think of the signs you normally push into soil to indicate what each plant is, and replace the sign with a set of sensors encased in plastic. Essentially, that’s what the Flower Power is, and it will track a plant through the information it tracks.

Making it work is very easy, and you simply pull battery compartment open, load a single AAA in, and close it up. The little light up top will blink a few times and then switch off, ready for you to run the app.

Run the Parrot Flower Power app and it will automatically look for the Flower Power device in question, with no need to add it to your Bluetooth settings, the app doing all the work. Once you find the right one, you select it, and then add the plant you intend to monitor. You can browse through the insane amount of plants out there in Parrot’s system, choose the right one, and then take a picture of your own plants so you know which one you’re monitoring.

And then you wait.

You wait for the Flower Power to analyse what’s going on for 24 hours, and then come back and see its diagnosis.

If you don’t like waiting, you can switch into the Flower Power’s “live mode,” which basically relays a portion of data to your app about your plant in that very moment, including temperature, moisture, and how much sunlight.

When you’ve waited the 24 hours, and every day after it, the diagnosis will provide a chart on just how the plant is doing with regards to moisture, required sunlight, and if you need to add fertiliser, creating a to do list all in the hopes that you make that plant grow, grow, grow.

In use, the Flower Power can tell you some very cool things about your plants, such as how much sunlight they should be receiving, and when you should be adding more fertiliser, taking the information from the sensor and cross-checking it with the database of over 6000 plants that Parrot maintains.

Also of note are some of the things you can track yourself, like the temperature outside in the morning, which you can take from the reported temperature on the sensor, as well as how much moisture your plants require daily. In the warmer months, for instance, our tomato plant that we tracked would lose 10 percent of its moisture every day, telling us that watering it daily wasn’t a bad idea, and settled a disagreement that maybe we shouldn’t water the plant too much.

This sort of information is useful if you don’t know what you’re looking for, and you’re an amateur gardener, or starting one up just to see what happens.

When used with two or more plants – which is possible, since the Flower Power can monitor the health of several plants – you get a diagnosis of the health of each of them.

In our case, we switched the tomatoes to a bed that held both passionfruit and blueberries, and it told us basically the same set of information, that our plants required more sunlight and fertiliser, but that watering every two days – which was what we had been doing – was perfectly suitable for this plant. Once again, it’s interesting information that a new gardener might not know about.

There are some catches to Parrot’s Flower Power, though, and these may stop you from decorating your garden with multiple Flower Power tracking sticks.

One of these is the price, and at $80 per unit, this is not a cheap device.

Dedicated green thumbs probably won’t bat an eye lid, but at $80 per bed of veggies or garden, this is a price tag that will rack up in quantity very quickly.

Our garden is small. It has two different types of tomato plants, rosemary, coriander, mint, passionfruit, strawberries, blueberries, limes, citrus gems, a magnolia, and a bed of lettuce, and most of these plants are in different boxes along one of our walls. Currently, the Flower Power sits inside a tomato plant box, but if we bought a Flower Power for every one, we’d be getting close to the $500 mark quickly.

As we said before, that’s not cheap, and is quite an investment for a device that tells you to water regularly, move your flora into sunlight, and feed it fertiliser.

For many a gardener, we suspect this is common sense, and aside for reading a few books on the subject, they’ve probably picked this up from experience.

At $80 per unit, Parrot’s Flower Power can be a lot to pay for what should amount to experience and common sense.

There’s also the matter of synchronisation, and the Flower Power occasionally struggles here.

We’re not sure what the bug is, but Bluetooth Smart is a low power standard, and in this product, you’re likely to see some glitches between synchronisation taking forever, and the cloud analysis side of things taking between one and five minutes to work properly and analyse your plant.

When it’s good, the whole process takes under a minute. When it’s not, we would until the five minute mark, and then just give up and switch to the Flower Power’s live mode, which worked perfectly every time, even if it doesn’t analyse fertiliser information.

One other downside of the package is the lack of Android support.

We noted this when the product first came out, and we stand by it now: supporting one operating system is silly, especially when half the world runs on Android.

There should be an Android app. There is no reason why this shouldn’t exist, especially when the technologies Parrot is employing here exist on quite a few Android devices.

At the time of publishing this piece, there was no Android app, forcing us to review this with an iPad (this writer doesn’t use an iPhone, but does have an iPad), but Parrot has said one is coming for Android devices with 4.3 “Jelly Bean” and higher.

When that is, we have no idea, though we hope it’s soon.

Conclusion

Parrot’s Flower Power is an intriguing idea, and one we haven’t seen before, making it possible for anyone to get to know their garden without fail.

It’s quite interesting some of the things you can learn, such as how much moisture your plants actually get from the rain, and how much sunlight they need, an how much moisture disappears over the course of a regular day.

But there’s also that price factor, and at $80 per plant, the Flower Power won’t be for everyone.

If you love your garden, we’d suggest trying one out, but make sure you’re getting great results before you invest on the whole nine, or ten, or twenty yards your garden occupies.

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