Easy to use. Accurate chemical and temperature readings. Graphical history charts.
Expensive. Two-year lifespan.
- Bottom Line
The pHin smart water monitor lets you easily keep track of your pool or spa water chemistry using your smartphone.
Maintaining a swimming pool can be daunting; in addition to vacuuming, cleaning, and backwashing the filter, and skimming for leaves and bugs, you have to make sure the water is chemically balanced, not just for health reasons but to prevent damage to your pool structure and filter components. Enter the pHin ($299), a Wi-Fi-enabled water monitor for pools and spas. All you have to do is drop it in your pool for real-time water analysis, temperature readings, and chemical dosage recommendations on your smartphone. The monitor worked wonderfully in testing and I love the historical chemical and temperature level charts, but it's a pricey gadget that must be replaced every two years.
Design and Features
The pHin comes with a water monitor, a Wi-Fi bridge, a tether for attaching the monitor to your pool ladder, and a calibration kit. You can subscribe to one of several (optional) chemical plans. A 12-month plan for pools of up to 50,000 gallons (chlorine, salt, or bromine) goes for $598 per year and includes the pHin monitor, chlorine, shock, mineral purifier, pH Up, and pH Down. The chemicals come in color-coded pods that make it easy to apply the recommended dosage without having to measure. If you live in an area where pool use is seasonal (like I do), a four-month plan will cost you $408 per year but does not include the chemicals necessary for opening and closing your pool. You can use the pHin PSOD (Professional Service On Demand) option in the app to hook up with a pool care company in your area to have the pool opened, closed, and serviced by a qualified professional.
If you use your own chemicals, the pHin kit will cost you $299 and an additional $99 per year after the first year to cover monitoring, dosage recommendations, and replacement monitors. According to the company, the monitor itself only has a lifespan of 18-24 months before it will have to be replaced. You can continue to use the pHin even if you choose not to pay the yearly fee and you'll receive temperature and basic alerts when chemical levels are skewed, but you'll no longer receive dosage recommendations, and when its battery and internal sensors die (which they will), you're out of luck.
The monitor is white and measures 10.0 by 4.5 by 1.5 inches (HWD). It has a water drop-shaped LED at the top and a removable compartment on its base. Removing the bottom piece reveals the sensor, which collects data including chlorine, pH, and bromine levels, as well as water temperature. The monitor also has a Bluetooth radio that is used to connect to the bridge. The bridge measures 3.6 by 2.1 by 1.0 inches and plugs into a wall outlet. In addition to the above-mentioned Bluetooth radio, it has a Wi-Fi radio that connects to your home router, a LAN port for wired connectivity, and a reset button.
The calibration kit consists of a calibration card and 25 test strips that measure chlorine, pH, hardness (calcium), total alkalinity, and cyanuric acid. When you first start the app, you are prompted to dip a test strip into the water and place it on a marked area of the calibration card. The app will then use your phone's camera to take a snapshot of the reading and use it to analyze your water's chemical makeup and match it to the sensor's readings. You'll be prompted to take a new reading once a month to make sure the sensor is calibrated.
The mobile app (for Android and iOS) lets you check chemical levels at a glance and supplies notifications when it's time to add more. The home screen displays a large circle that tells you if the water is balanced or not, the water temperature, and any required actions, such as adding chemicals or taking a calibration reading. Tapping the circle takes you to a page with the same circle, only smaller, and instructions for any actions. For example, if it's time to add chlorine, tap the chlorine notification and follow the directions. If you're subscribed to the chemical plan, add the color-coded chemical pods as directed. If it's time for your monthly calibration, follow the instructions to dip a test strip in the water and enter the results into your phone, as mentioned above.
Tapping Water History in the upper right corner opens a screen with historical charts that show pH levels, sanitizer (chlorine) levels, and water temperature. Here you can see the latest readings for Total Alkalinity, Hardness, and Cyanuric Acid levels, as per your latest test strip readings. If you want to take advantage of the pHin network of pool service providers, tapping the Service icon in the lower right corner launches a web page where you can request pool cleaning, repair, leak detection, and a host of other services. Tapping the three bar icon in the upper left corner launches a main menu where you can return to the home screen, search for a service provider, email the pHin support team, check your inventory of chemicals (if you're on a subscription plan), and change network and account settings.
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Installation and Performance
To install the pHin, I started by downloading the app and creating an account. Once the account was created, I followed the in-app instructions to scan the QR code on the back of the bridge and plug it in to an indoor outlet within close proximity to the pool. It took a minute for the bridge to initialize, at which point the app displayed a list of Wi-Fi SSIDs. I chose my SSID, entered my password, and waited around 20 seconds for the bridge setup to complete.
To prepare the monitor for its first use, I twisted and removed the bottom end cap and held it up to the water drop LED momentarily until the LED flashed blue, indicating the monitor was ready to connect. I removed a small clear plastic cap that covered the sensor, dumped the fluid that preserved the sensor during shipping, and placed the cap in a slot next to the sensor. I then replaced the end cap and put the monitor in my pool. It immediately showed up in the app, along with the bridge.
The pHin monitor delivered very accurate readings. I compared the monitor's pH, chlorine, and total alkalinity levels to the readings from my trusty five-in-one test kit and the results were identical. Moreover, the monitor's water temperature readings were right in line with the readings from my floating thermometer. I use an inline chlorinator that chlorinates my pool automatically, but I knew it was time to add three-inch tablets to the chlorinator when the pHin monitor told me that my chlorine level was getting low. I also liked the reminders to add shock every so often to keep algae at bay.
With the pHin you'll never again have to wait in line, Tupperware container in hand, to have your pool water tested at the local pool store. Simply drop the monitor in your pool or spa, pair it to the bridge, and let your mobile device tell you when to add chemicals. To make things even easier you can subscribe to a treatment plan and have color-coded chemical pods sent right to your home, or you can use your own chemicals and follow the dosage recommendations in the mobile app to keep your pool or spa water clean and perfectly balanced.
The monitor's readings were spot-on in my testing, and the app made it very easy to keep track of my pool's chemical levels, but the pHin's $300 price is hard to swallow considering it will only last two years. If you're a budget-conscious pool owner, you're better off with a $50 manual test kit. You won't be able to take advantage of the pHin network of service providers, and you won't enjoy the convenience of using your phone to check your pool's chemical status, but it's a whole lot less expensive.
By John R. Delaney Contributing Editor
As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, John spent six years in retail operations for… More »
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