abbey started being selling about 120 of its “All-In-One Smart Hydroponic Grow Box” on Kickstarter, with a relatively modest $100,000 raised on the crowdfunding platform. The device promises to help make growing your favorite plants more or less foolproof, especially if your “favorite plants” are marijuana. In its marketing, the company carefully shares that you can grow any plant you want, but realistically there aren’t many plants that need “replacement carbon filters delivered to your doorstep every 3 months,” and the website gives a “you should be 21 or older to enter this site” warning. The community is eager and fervent about its love of smokable plants. Let’s say if you’re going to spend $1,000 on a single-plant hydroponic box, you For real must love tomatoes to make it make sense; most of its users seem like a more, uh, valuable Crop.
Since I live in California where these things are legal, I thought I’d give it a try. I bought some seeds, got the plant about 3 inches high and planted it in the Abby to see what would happen.
On paper, the product should be such a solid solution. The unit features a hydroponic system with advanced automatic intelligent lighting featuring Samsung’s LM301H Full Spectrum Plant Lights and high power LEDs specifically designed to maximize the growth potential of plant photosynthesis. It would have “advanced sensors to track growth consistently, with ultrasonic, temperature/humidity, water temperature, water level and 5.8G radar sensors so you never have to worry about plant growth again.”
The product is an elegantly designed cabinet. Sleek and white, with wooden legs and a wooden top, it packs a ton of smart features inside the unit: water pumps, lighting and what it claims to be “sophisticated algorithms, state-of-the-art sensors” and more. With a size of about 40x40x122 cm, it is streamlined and you can probably give it a place in every home.
When the unit arrived at my home it had a dented door and missing door hinge (!) which could presumably be attributed to shipping rather than poor QA. The Abby team quickly arranged for a replacement door to be shipped along with instructions on how to replace the door, which involved unscrewing and re-tightening nine screws. I’m no stranger to taking tools to equipment, but it wasn’t the best first impression. Overall, the hardware seems very well designed, which makes it all the more painful that the product’s software tries again and again to prevent you from growing efficiently. The list of problems is as long as my arm; there was no Android app to begin with (the company finally released an Android app last month), and it only got worse from there.
The app and its integration with Abby is so bad that I totally gave up writing a review at first, but when the closet flooded my apartment floors due to a software glitch, I thought it might be best to share some of my experiences on to write…
One after the other
Connecting to the device was impossible in the first place and it took quite a bit of troubleshooting to figure out what was going on; it turns out the Abby only supports 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi, which I didn’t have set up in my house.
The app was supposed to give you 1-on-1 expert live support from the company, but the first few times I tried to submit a photo on my (admittedly old) iOS device, the app kept crashing. When I was finally able to upload a message, the message just disappeared. I don’t think I ever got an answer from Abby. The app itself is riddled with typos and bugs, and I could almost look past that if the device itself didn’t seem to let me know what to do with the plants.
The Abby occasionally beeps at me and pulses a decent green light, but when it does, the app seems to have no mind as to what I should do, and the display on the device itself – which would have been a good place to communicate what the device needs – just show the Abby logo.
The water needs to be changed occasionally, but the app never informed me when to do it. The Abby box itself has a small display, which rotates left and right, and has a button, much like a Nest thermostat. However, the display never shows anything useful. Like, for example, “hey, you need to change the water”.
When I finally figured out that I had to manually change the water, the app gives you simple instructions: take the hose out of the box and put it in a “minimum 1-gallon container.” Which I did, but it didn’t automatically stop after a gallon, and the app crashed when I hit the “stop pumping water” button, meaning the pump just kept going and sending the full amount of water into the unit’s tank. all over my floor as I ran to the sink with my overflowing one gallon container. Not ideal.
The box comes with a really clever power system: it has two places where you can put the ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ power packs. It does this because one of the packs must dissolve completely before adding the other, to prevent a chemical reaction between the two packs. Unfortunately, this only worked the very first time I set up the machine: after that it never asked for extra power packs, so the packs I’d so diligently placed in the feed slots ended up just dissolving in place and making a gooey mess. above the machine.
By the end of my review period, the plant had grown quite a bit – eventually I resorted to manually dumping the nutrient packs, as the cabinet and app never asked for nutrients. Which seemed suspicious; in front of my own, home-built hydroponic systemAt least every few weeks I need to balance and add more nutrients. Unfortunately, because Abby never warned me that the thirsty plant was drinking almost all of the water, the plant went out of water for a few days with almost all of its roots, causing many of the plant’s leaves to die. Not great, and another attack on the “infallible” nature of the Abby Cabinet.
I had connected the Abby to a power meter to see how much power it was using during my assessment. Over the course of 108 days, it burned 198 KwH, which equates to about $50 spent on a crop of weed.
The last complaint I have about Abby is that the carbon filters are not as efficient as they could be; especially towards the end there my apartment reeked of weed heaven. Not the best first impression for my landlord and a plumber when they came by to fix something. I managed to stammer “Um, it’s for work?” which of course was true, but… yes. Not good.
I should add that the app is under active development and many of the original complaints I had about the device have been resolved, at least in part. The company launched an Android version and last month “optimized” the water change process. Troubleshooting and troubleshooting instructions are built into the app and more detailed instructions will be added. The company is also adding a growing calendar, metric units, and later batches of the device are quieter than the ones I reviewed (the company claims it now hums at 40 dB, which is an improvement).
All in all, you should be terribly interested in growing a plant indoors if you’re willing to shell out a grand for the admittedly neat hardware so heavily hampered by impossible-to-use buggy software) and $50 in power to grow it all. It’s frustrating; I really wanted to love Abby, but it ended up taking way too much manual babysitting to justify the expense. If someone launches a product that delivers on Abby’s promises, I imagine it would be a great buy. This isn’t it yet.