A while back we reviewed the RoboReel Power Cord System. While expensive for what amounted to the smartest, most full-featured extension cord you’ve ever seen, we found it to be quite handy. The overheard version we installed in HomeFixated’s Global HQ gets regular use – it’s immensely convenient. Last year, RoboReel shipped out their new RoboReel Water Hose Reel for review, and we’ve been evaluating it since. Will this H2O-centric robot turn your garden and car-wash duties into blissful relaxation? Better yet, will it eliminate the horrors of trying to coil a messy, muddy garden hose by hand? Answers to those questions and many more you might never have thought to ask lie ahead!
Overview – Your Personal Garden Droid
Let’s start by discussing the basic problems RoboReel aims to solve with its powered water hose reel system. First, I present to you the unruly, dirty, downright combative conventional garden hose:
That’s pretty much what my old hose looked like whenever I attempted to carefully store it after use. My old hose battled me in several ways. First, its insane rubber-muscle-memory meant trying to coil it was like wrestling an angry anaconda on crack. It never wanted to coil the way I wanted it to without an awkward dance to find its “natural” coiling position. I often feared being secretly filmed by neighbors and then winding up the next unwitting YouTube sensation, “Hose-Wrestler Man – Fail Video.”
Second, by the time I was done with the coil wrestling match / dance, I was typically covered in dirt and some obnoxious black rubber residue nearly impossible to wash off.
Lastly, controlling the flow of water often involves inelegant solutions like kinking the hose manually or running back and forth between the hose bib and the business end. All this hassle and aggravation meant that what should be a simple, quick task, (deploying, using and stowing the hose), was in fact so annoying there was a strong disincentive to use the hose at all. Maybe that’s why so many of our plants are dead and my vehicle is always so dirty? Hmmmm.
Well my fellow hose-wrestlers, there is hope! The RoboReel Water Hose Reel offers several unique features to address the frustrations above, and more. If you’d like a not-so-quick overview straight from the horse’s mouth, check out this video summary before we dive into our review:
First and foremost, the RoboReel water hose features a powered reel that not only helps feed the hose out, but also reels it back in. What was once a manual, clumsy procedure (even with a hose reel), is now nearly effortless. The RoboReel also features a programmable watering timer, auto shut-off after an hour if you forget to turn it off, drip-free quick-connect couplings, a plethora of watering accessories, and a rock-solid wheeled base. Let’s talk details!
Remote Control Watering
Although its microprocessor brains are housed onboard, your gateway to immense aquatic power lies in the handheld remote control. The remote features four buttons. The two most crucial buttons turn the water supply on and off (cleverly labeled “water”), and retract the hose “home.” The remote attaches via quick-connect to the end of the hose and has a quick-connect fitting you then attach your desired accessories to. You can retract the hose via a separate button on the base unit itself, but most of the time using the remote is much easier. Despite the hedonistic pleasure of the remote, it did have two distinct downsides.
1) The remote pretty much requires line of sight to function properly. Often times I was around a corner of the house and had to walk back to point the remote more directly to the base to function. For open terrain, that’s a non-issue. If you’re watering around corners and pathways like I was, it’s a bit of a pain.
2) The remote does not provide access to its batteries. Perhaps taking a cue from the iPhone, we found this odd for a device that would be sure to run out of juice sooner or later. I contacted RoboReel for more info and they explained that because the remote could be submerged, they had to seal it completely. My watch can be submerged, but I can still change the battery. . . so I’m not sure I fully understand the need for a permanent seal. When I followed-up regarding battery life, they replied:
The only time the battery is used on the remote is literally during the time when the led light flashes to indicate a button press. That is less than a second and the life expectancy of that particular battery is 4 years when constantly being used. So you can see why we quite confident that it will last far beyond 4 years.
Despite the assurances on battery life, I still have an issue with this. . . the manual actually provides instructions for calling in to purchase a replacement remote when the battery eventually dies on the original unit. Given the complicated engineering that went into all aspects of the RoboReel, a waterproof yet user-serviceable battery in the remote seems like a reasonable expectation.
Remote concerns aside, long-distance water and retraction controls make hose-wrestling a thing of the past. The only real problem we had with remote retraction was the hose getting caught on corners, pots and other obstacles. The RoboReel automatically stops rewinding when it meets resistance. This is of course a welcome feature since you don’t want RoboReel ensnaring your neighbor’s cat while attempting to rewind. We found having the hose in direct line of sight helped prevent unwanted obstacle or cat snags.
Aside from the instant gratification of remote control watering, you can also program your RoboReel Hose Reel to water for designated lengths of time (in 20 minute increments), and optionally, for a designated number of days (up to 30 days). You can even set the RoboReel to automatically retract the hose when it’s done doing your watering for you. At first glance, the programming steps for scheduled watering appear rather cryptic and not terribly intuitive. Programmed watering involves various key-presses of the Timer, Days, Home and Water button, or some combination of those. This is one time you’ll definitely want to consult the manual. Once you study the manual a bit (or better yet, the handy quick-start guide), the system becomes less opaque. The programming is great for using the optional sprinkler accessory, or for giving select parts of your landscape an extended soak. Plus, your neighbors will be impressed when they notice your unattended RoboReel winding itself up. Hose-envy!
You know all those various watering wands and sprayers you have laying around the yard? Well, you likely won’t need any of them if you purchase a RoboReel. It comes complete with 5 nozzles and a rolling sprinkler suited for everything from gentle seedling watering to high-pressure, concentrated streams for cleaning. I am particularly fond of the fireman’s-style sprayer which can go from light rain to laser-like blast with a quick rotation. All accessories and fittings feature a double O-ring, quick-connect design that makes swapping them out easy and leak-free.
Batteries, Batteries and More Batteries
One thing we weren’t crazy about with the RoboReel Water Hose system is the number of batteries (and in some cases, the type of batteries) involved in its use. Here’s a quick breakdown:
1) Four AA Batteries for Water Valve –
These are ubiquitous and easy to replace when needed. If you’re pressing the water button within sight of the base unit and the water isn’t turning on or off, these batteries are likely the culprit.
2) One Rechargeable Main Battery –
This one comes with a charger. I had a couple instances where the charging plug apparently wasn’t fully seated which resulted in an uncharged battery when I thought I had it fully charged. Some sort of visual fuel gauge on the charger itself or on the battery would be a welcome addition. The charger’s LED status display can be a little ambiguous.
3) Non-Replaceable Remote Battery –
We already covered this in great detail under the remote section above. Great Stuff says the remote will last a very long time, we still don’t like that the battery can’t be user-replaced.
4) Coin Cell Battery on Top Retract Button –
Coin cell batteries are a pain as I inevitably have the wrong kind. Most people just don’t have a selection of coin batteries laying around. If you use the button on the RoboReel itself, you may need to replace this battery at some point.
All in all, that’s a lot of a batteries to tend to for a single system. In a perfect world, I would have loved to see the batteries consolidated.
Size, and Length Matters
The RoboReel comes endowed with a generous 100′ kink-resistant, heavy-duty, 5/8″ hose. An optional 150′ 1/2″ hose is also available. In Southern California, a 100′ hose can pretty much run the entire perimeter of most residential lots. Needless to say, we found the 100′ length completely sufficient for our watering needs. If you’re on a big lot, you may find the need to opt for the 150′ reach. With RoboReel’s handy 360 degree rotation, that would give you a full 300 foot diameter circle to work with. That’s more than enough length to cover every square inch of an acre of land (and then some).
The RoboReel water management system is a lot bigger than we expected. If you own the RoboReel Power Cord, you’ll immediately notice the Robo Reel water edition is BIG. It’s spec’d at 34 x 31 x 25 inches and 65 pounds, with an 85 pound shipping weight (it comes very carefully packaged). If you have a petite yard or limited space around your hose bibs, you may find the RoboReel Garden Hose Reel a bit obtrusive. While the wide leg footprint gives the RoboReel a virtually un-tippable, low center of gravity, it also takes up a lot of space. For large yards, the green and black RoboReel Water Hose Reel can camouflage itself nicely nestled in some shrubbery, despite its seemingly Qbert-inspired design. Smaller yards and patios may want to consider an alternative HMP (Hose Management Plan).
Based on price and sophistication, you might think that the Robo Reel is capable of driving itself around, dutifully following your vocal commands. In reality, the Robo Reel’s aforementioned size means getting it from A to B could be problematic. After all, this thing was delivered via a freight truck armed with a hydraulic liftgate and portable forklift. For those in less temperate climates than San Diego, it’s also likely some RoboReel owners will want to store their aquatic friend safely protected from winter freezings. RoboReel’s kick-to-lock/unlock wheels and rope-pull-handle make rolling this cute beast a drama-free affair.
Longevity / Warranty
When you’re spending big money on a product like the RoboReel, it’s nice to know it’s backed by a strong warranty. Otherwise, a failure on this system could turn an otherwise useful product into a Qbert sculpture for your yard. RoboReel backs their water hose reel with a 4 Year / 4,000 Winds warranty, which should provide buyers with some peace of mind.
Competition – Alternatives to the Robo Reel
Competition in the powered hose reel market isn’t exactly fierce, particularly when we’re talking about battery powered units. Gardena offers this 18v Powered Hose Reel for about half the cost of the RoboReel. While it lacks several of the RoboReel features, it’s also far more compact, with a wall-mounted design. Other hose reel options include those powered by springs and even water pressure. Most of the water-powered reels that we found had pretty iffy reviews. Spring-powered reels, while also mixed, did present quite a few options that were well-reviewed and also far less expensive than the RoboReel.
RoboReel has a lot going for it, but also a few shortcomings. A tendency to snag on obstacles, limited line-of-sight remote range, reliance on numerous batteries (including one that can’t be user-replaced), and high price top the list of downsides. While I felt the price of the RoboReel (electric) Power models to be high but reasonable at $299, the $699 retail of the RoboReel water hose reel seems a bit stratospheric. If your pockets are deep enough to contemplate spending this much on a garden hose reel, you’ll be treated to a watering system that delivers unprecedented convenience to your gardening experience. Best of all, you’ll never find yourself wrestling an unruly hose again. . . this kink-resistant hose is tamed with a single press of a button.
Where to Buy the RoboReel Water Hose Reel
You can find the RoboReel Garden Hose Reel at numerous retailers with pricing ranging from about $640 to $699.