Review: abby smart grow box

It wasn’t long ago that growing your special plants at home meant cobbling together an ugly—yet somehow still expensive—grow box out of plywood and foam insulation. But with the widespread decriminalization of special plants has come a new crop of tailor-made devices. abby is a smart grow box that promises to make growing your plants as easy as baking a cake. The folks at abby were kind enough to send me a unit to review so I can help you decide if this smart grow box is worth your time and money.

Disclaimer: abby provided me with this grow box free of charge, but this review is as unbiased as possible. abby did not pay for this review and these are entirely my own thoughts.

abby launched on Kickstarter back in May, raising a whopping $102,794 and reaching full funding in three days. Clearly, people were excited about this grow box and it is easy to see why. It offers two very enticing features:

  • A beautiful design that you don’t need to hide in a closet
  • Smart automation that takes the hard work out of the growing process

This is a hydroponic grow box, meaning the plant’s roots sit in water that contains all of the nutrients needed for growth. abby has a built-in LED grow light array, an automatic nutrient-dispensing system, a host of sensors, and a companion app to guide users.

I’ve been using abby for a few weeks now and feel ready to relay my initial impressions. But first, let’s take a look at the feedback from Kickstarter users.

Kickstarter backer feedback

The most common complaint that I saw from Kickstarter backers was that their units were damaged during shipping. Some users reported some pretty substantial damage. But to abby’s credit, it seems that those users received replacement units in a timely manner.

And while I don’t have details, I think abby may have sought out shipping companies that provide more careful handling. For my delivery, abby made sure that the unit arrived safely. It didn’t have any damage whatsoever and even the cardboard shipping box was pristine.

Kickstarter backers also noted two other points: that plant clones take time to adjust to the hydroponic system and that the abby app offers little transparency. I’ll touch on both of these points in my review.

Unpacking and first impressions

The first thing I noticed when my abby grow box arrived was that it is very big and very heavy. It came packed securely in a heavy duty cardboard box with foam protection, but the weight of the unit made it a little difficult to unpack. If at all possible, you’ll want a helper for the unpacking process.

After getting my abby out of the shipping box, I found myself very impressed with the build quality and style. The enclosure is heavy gauge sheet steel and it feels absurdly sturdy. It is also a very attractive design, with nice white paint and real wood accents.

The abby team clearly didn’t cut any corners on design or materials and it really shows. This grow box is pretty enough that my girlfriend and I are happy to keep it in our living room. If any squares were to come into our home, I’m confident that they would never suspect abby’s purpose or what it contains.

Setup

Getting abby setup for the first time is overwhelming—especially for someone like me who has never grown a plant before (much less a special plant). But the companion app walks you through every step of the process, which helps a lot.

When you first turn on your abby grow box, it asks you to connect to a smartphone app in order to get abby on your WiFi network. After that, the app guides you through putting your plant in the box, filling the box with water, and adding the initial nutrients.

Our clone was originally grown in soil, so it took us some time to get the roots clean enough to pull through the hydroponic basket. After that, the rest was easy. We simply filled the reservoir with purified water and then placed the two nutrient packs in their respective chutes. After closing the door, abby took care of dispensing the nutrients and everything else.

Just a note: closing and locking the door had us befuddled for a while. It turns out that we had to push the door really hard to get the lock to engage. That may or may not be an issue for others, but it seemed worth mentioning.

Day-to-day

After the initial setup, abby requires very little attention. It is packed with sensors that monitor chamber temperature, water temperature, water level, humidity, and so on. It even has sensors to monitor the size of the plant, which it shows in the app.

With that data and abby’s knowledge of optimal growth conditions, the grow box can handle everything on its own. So far, the only things we’ve had to do were change the water and add more nutrients once, and trim the plant a little.

The display on the front of the grow box shows the current sensor readings, which is nice if you’re curious about such information. But you don’t need to keep an eye on it if you don’t want to. If Abby ever needs your attention, it sounds a chime and notifies you through the app.

Even though we can just “set it and forget it,” we’ve found ourselves taking a peek at the plant every day or two. There is a large window on the front of the box with a nice magnetic cover. If you don’t want people to see what is inside, you can keep the cover in place. Any time you want to take a look, you can pull off that cover.

Plant progress

We’re now on the third week since we planted our clone and it seems to be growing well. We had initial concerns, as the plant did not look healthy for the first couple of weeks. But then the plant adjusted to the hydroponic system and now it is thriving.

It isn’t anywhere close to ready for harvesting (that can take months), but it has a lot of new leaf and stem growth. We can also see the roots growing out into the water and they look healthy. At this point, we’re confident that our plant will flower at some point. Though, of course, we don’t know what the yield will be.

Transparency

At this point, my only real complaint is abby’s lack of transparency. For example, I do not know when I will need to change the water or add nutrients again, because the app doesn’t provide that information. That makes it difficult to plan, such as for a trip that will take us out of town for a few days.

It is possible that abby doesn’t provide that information because it simply doesn’t know—maybe it adjusts the schedule based on sensor readings. But it would be nice to at least see some sort of estimate of the future schedule.

Related to that is the community aspect of the app. The app does have a feed where other abby users can post photos and such, but communication features are lacking. There isn’t any straightforward way to talk to other users, ask questions, or participate in discussions. It would be nice if the abby team expanded the app to include that ability, as it would be helpful to learn from the experiences of other users.

Summary

I will update this review in a few months, when our plant flowers and is ready for harvesting. But at this stage, I feel pretty confident in recommending abby to the right kind of customer.

That customer is someone willing to spend the money (abby isn’t cheap) in order to get an automated experience in an attractive package. abby isn’t suitable for industrial farming operations, but it wasn’t designed to be. abby is for the enthusiast who wants to grow a plant for their own personal use and wants a streamlined experience.

For that person, I think the abby smart grow box is a fantastic choice.

I’m a writer, maker, retrocomputing enthusiast, and former mechanical designer. Currently a full-time freelance technical writer and I am taking on new clients!

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