Eve Aqua smart tap controller : Review
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With the release of iOS11 in 2017, Apple expanded the number of device classes to cover a variety of new devices capabilities. One of these capabilities was for irrigation control, specifically with a water valve type. The expected appearance of new devices was not forthcoming, however, as Apple took a while to get the spec out to device makers. Eve Systems was the first to get a product to market in what is still a short list.
The Eve Aqua is a smart tap controller in a similar vein to other Bluetooth products such as the Orbit B-Hyve Smart Hose Faucet Timer or the Holman Industries BTX1. The key difference with the Aqua is, of course, that it exclusively supports HomeKit. Before we dive into the device itself, it’s worth taking a look at what HomeKit offers for valve controllers.
When the new device class was introduced for water valves, one could expect that the HomeKit behavior would be very similar to a power outlet. You can turn it on or off, it can measure and report usage, and it can be added to automations to manage scheduled watering and so forth. You’d be wrong, at least in part.
The valve control functionality in HomeKit is oddly very different from other on/off type devices. While you can manually turn the valve on or off through the Home app or via Siri, the controller device does not actually present as an option for adding to automations or scenes at all. Instead you can specify a default run time to be used when not on a schedule, which implies you can create a schedule. The Home app doesn’t provide any way to do this, though. Instead you need to use the device maker’s app to set schedules, which HomeKit will recognize, but not control.
This all seems a little kludgy, but it works OK. Schedules aren’t something you’re going to change regularly, and Siri can be told to run a valve for a given amount of time if you want to override the default. So how does the Eve Aqua fit into this?
A Look at the Eve Aqua
The Aqua is similar in size and form factor to other tap timers you may have used, smart or otherwise. It’s essentially a plastic and aluminium box with a standard female threaded hose connection at the top, and a male one at the bottom. Like some Bluetooth timers, Eve also included a manual on/off button on the front, which is handy to have for incidental usage.
The tap thread is a standard 26.5mm (3/4”) size, with the screw coupling attached to the device. The Aqua will rotate freely while the coupling is not tight, so can be positioned at a suitable angle and then locked in place. The bottom thread can be exposed for a screw fitting (such as a Y splitter), or you can use the supplied Hozelock style clip-on fitting as shown. A word of caution is due around the screw thread. The coupling is a fairly soft plastic, and can be easily damaged by cross threading. Since it’s part of the device, it’s not something you can easily replace if you mess it up, so be careful when attaching it to your tap.
Power comes from two AA batteries which can be easily inserted via a removable panel in the bottom of the unit. As with other devices in the Eve family, battery life is excellent. With 3 months of daily usage, the batteries in my test model are still showing 100%. To achieve this the Aqua uses Bluetooth LE for communications using Elgato’s purpose built HomeKit Bluetooth solution and a simple ball valve. This approach is common with battery powered tap timers as it allows for reliable shut off of the water flow with very little power usage when used with a sufficiently low gear ratio.
The whole unit is rated to IPX4 for splash resistance, and Elgato claims it’s UV certified to Australian standards to provide maximum durability from sun damage. This might seem random, but studies indicate that Australia and New Zealand do, in fact, have higher average UV intensity that other developed countries, along with countries in the tropics, and the alpine regions of South America. So if it’s good for Australia in this case, it’ll be great for Europe and North America.
The product comes with the usual Eve reporting features including estimated water usage. Note this is estimated as the device does not actually include a flow meter. This was verified by turning the tap off and running the same daily schedule I had already configured. I’d been accumulating usage data through daily use, and with the tap off the usage data was exactly the same. It would appear the software is simply calculating an estimated consumption based on typical residential water pressure and run time.
Real World Usage
As with other devices in the Eve family, the Eve iOS app is the go to for configuration and monitoring of the Aqua. Setup can be done directly in the Apple Home app or through the Eve app as a standard new accessory. The device includes a QR code on the side of the body which can be scanned to pair the device with your HomeKit setup. Once configured, named and assigned to a room it’s pretty much good to go for manual control via the app or Siri and in that respect works much like a light or power outlet.
When using Siri you’ll notice the valve device type is expecting to be used for watering zones rather than standalone taps. I simply named the device ‘Tap’ so when asking Siri to “turn on the tap for 5 minutes”, I get something like “OK, Watering the tap for 5 minutes”. Evidently Siri is expecting the name of the device to be something like ‘Front Yard’ or ‘Lawn’ as it would be with an irrigation controller. An amusing glitch you could perhaps work around with different naming, but when using the Aqua for a simple garden hose you’re not going to be able to do much better.
Bluetooth reception is always a consideration for these devices, but being outside the home in this case it’s particularly important to test the signal strength to your nearest home hub before installing. In my case I installed outside a room with an Apple TV 4K, so reception is fine, but even so I sometimes get Siri responding with “The valve didn’t respond” when using a voice command. In almost every case it actually did respond, but the confirmation response must have been sufficiently delayed for Siri to give up waiting.
If you are looking to do scheduled watering with the Aqua this is less of an issue. The Aqua keeps any schedules internally and will run whether it has connectivity or not. You’ll need to use the Eve app to set up a schedule. This is intuitive and the app supports both multiple time periods and multiple programs, so should cover any situation you required. Watering periods can specify which days of the week for each cycle, start time and duration. Each program can have multiple cycles configured, so you can have fairly complex watering patterns if you need.
From the Eve app you can also access the analytics data, which includes Last watered (along with a graph of each time the water was run and for how long), and the estimated consumption graph, showing roughly how much water was used for each time period. As noted above, the usage is purely an estimate based on run time as the Aqua has no actual flow metering built in. Still, having this data is useful to confirm that watering has occurred as expected, and it does give an indication of consumption which can be helpful for keeping tabs on water usage.
In terms of the Apple Home app, things are less informative. You’ll get the standard name, and status info. Having the battery level alerting through the Home app is certainly useful, and more than you’d get with non connected tap timers. Beyond that, you can configure the default run time, the same as in the Eve app, but that’s it.
The Gardena Smart range includes the Gardena smart Water Control tap timer, which is now compatible via the Gardena Smart hub. This is, in fact, the only other HomeKit compatible tap controller available at this time. There are some multi-station irrigation controllers, but they require more permanent piping and wiring than these.
With a similar design to the Eve Aqua, the smart Water Control lacks some of the durability being an all plastic construction and similar plastic hose fittings. However, being focused on the European market, this one includes a temperature sensor to warn you if there is a risk of freezing and thus damaging the unit. The only protection on offer is to remove it and store it for the duration of the cold weather.
You get some status LEDs on the front panel indicating operating state and battery level, which can be triggered by pressing the button once. Pressing it again will activate the tap manually as with the Eve device.
The need for an additional hub makes this a hard sell unless you’re looking to expand into other Gardena products. The Eve Aqua does the same job, with better software control and tighter HomeKit integration.
The Eve Aqua is unique in that is is currently the only HomeKit enabled tap timer on the market without the need for a third party hub. For that privilege you pay a premium, but you also get Siri control over your tap which can be used not only to turn it on and off for a specified duration, but to check on it’s status and remaining run time as well. The Aqua is easy to install, and schedules are trivial to set up in the Eve app. In this respect it’s been a far better experience than programming a non connected timer, or muddling through the kludgy mess that is many gardening vendor’s smartphone apps.
With long battery life and internal schedule storage, watering has been rock solid reliable when connected to a drip line or sprinkler run. Obviously, being a tap timer, it’s only good for a single zone, but can be used with a splitter valve to run both a scheduled watering zone and use it for the hose as well. It’s convenient to be able to turn the hose on and off via an Apple watch without needing to go back to the tap.
Having used a variety of battery powered tap timers over the years, the Aqua gives me much greater peace of mind as I know I’ll be told when the battery is low, and can check on watering performance from the app.