I purchased two Reef Angel controllers in June of 2012. I thought I would do a Reef Angel review since I have used them for almost a year. I’ll get into more detail through the article but the three great things this product has going for it is the ability to upload your own operating code, competitive pricing with other reef controllers, and the customer service which is fantastic. I don’t know if I have ever had better customer service with any product I have purchased. However it’s my opinion, the actual hardware itself isn’t even close to being one of the top three “positives” and has been a problem and a major headache for me.
I purchased the Reef Angel plus (+) controllers, ORP expansion, Salinity Expansion, Dimming Expansion module, and Wi-Fi attachment. The Reef Angel (+) controller alone has the ability to monitor PH, three ports for monitoring temperature, and the ability to turn on and off eight power outlets found on the relay box. The ORP expansion helps me judge how clean my water is. The Salinity Expansion monitors my salt levels. The Dimming Expansion module controls the Tunzee powerheads to make waves. On a side note, the Dimming Expansion module can also be used to simulate a sunrise/sunset effect on LEDS which are remotely dimmable. The Wi-Fi attachment allows the Reef Angel to access the Internet. This in turn lets you view your tank’s stats online through Reef Angel’s website portal or on an IPhone or Android application.
I’ll go over the key pieces and my experiences with the Reef Angel controller, what I liked about them, and if I have had any issues with them.
First, everything shipped was packaged great and all pieces ordered were accounted for.
Box as opened on arrival:
Individual expansions were packed separately and securely:
Probes were all packaged separately as well:
My first problem with the Reef Angel unit was that some of my “brand new” shipped hardware had corrosion on the inside. It may have occurred during transit which Reef Angel as a company has no control over as the boxes may have gotten wet during shipping. I did notice them being wet when they arrived. Or possibly they were stored in a high humidity area at the manufacturer, I’m not really sure how it happened. Since the corrosion was on the metal pieces inside the hardware, I had no idea that there was a problem. It took a lot of testing and many hours of me wondering if I was doing something wrong. Then, I removed the plastic enclosure and saw the corrosion. I will point out that during this time Reef Angel tech support was on the phone with me and stayed on the line for at least an hour helping me and trying to de-bug the issue. In the end and after the corrosion was discovered, it did require Reef Angel to send new pieces. The new pieces were shipped right away with no charge. By this point, I was disappointed but I chalked it up to a fluke occurrence.
After receiving the replacement parts, I glued them onto a piece of wood and connected all the wiring. I know it isn’t pretty but it sits out of view behind the tank and holds everything in place (notice I have two Wi-Fi units on the board because the glued one quit working).
After viewing some examples of code and speaking with Reef Angel, I was able to write my own personalized operating code and upload it into the Reef Angel Unit. I am a senior software developer which is why this product appealed to me so much. This is also by far my favorite feature of the Reef Angel unit, so I had to include it in my Reef Angel review. Working with some local reefers who also own this product, I quickly realized that writing your own operating code isn’t for everyone. It’s a very powerful tool, but I can see that without a programming background it can be difficult and intimidating. By writing my own code, I have my system programmed to simulate a high and low tide, monitor the temperature to turn heaters on and off, turn my lights on and off, control the powerheads for a feed mode, and also turn on and off pumps for water changes. Besides these things, the Reef Angel controller will also alert me if the temperature, PH, salinity, or ORP goes outside of preset ranges. As I didn’t know all of the syntax which was required for some of the things I wanted to do, I relied on customer service again. They excelled in giving me timely responses on coding. Overall, with the ability to upload my own operating code, I have no complaints other than it cannot be done wirelessly. You have to plug your computer directly into the main Reef Angel unit with a USB cable, but that’s not a big deal unless you do not have a laptop.
Here is an example of what the code looks like and the development environment. This particular code turns on the blue actinics of my LEDS (the metal halides on the tank are controlled separately but are on at this point) and makes the Tunzee powerheads pulse at 60% power every second causing a small wave in the tank.
Another very useful attribute of the Reef Angel controller is the ability to check the status of my tank remotely. With the Wi-Fi attachment, I am able to log onto the Reef Angel website to check on my tank or I can check my IPhone app. I am quite pleased with the IPhone application which works well. I am also able to remotely turn off and on anything that is plugged into the Reef Angel which is quite desirable. This feature though has caused me some of my biggest headaches with the Reef Angel. For some unexplained reason, at least once a week, my controller unit will freeze up and requires a restart. This of course could be a big problem if I am out of town and wanted to check on my tank. I added a timer in between the outlet and the Reef Angel unit to reset every day just in case. That’s not a huge deal, but it still shouldn’t be something someone should have to deal with. The next set back was that my Wi-Fi expansion failed and I had to have a new one shipped to me which while not a huge deal, it’s still something that is a pain. Overall, I like this feature and use it several times daily. Unfortunately, it has caused me some headaches.
Here are pictures of what the application looks like on my IPhone (notice the On/Off section port 8 at the extreme bottom of the screen is labeled “broken” since that port quit working):
I like that the Reef Angel unit is expandable so that you can purchase pieces and add-on to your unit if you would choose to do so. As mentioned before, I am able to monitor ORP and salinity since I have bought the expansion modules. I have also bought the dimming module which lets me control my Tunzee powerheads (as shown in the code example above). The ability to purchase more expansion units as they become available is a plus, and a strong point in the positive for this product.
My absolute biggest headache with the Reef Angel controller and the biggest negative against this product in this review are the probes and some of the other hardware. I have been sent every probe the Reef Angel uses to be replaced at least twice, some three times. As I’m writing this (which you can see in the IPhone app picture above) my salinity probe is currently inoperable. I don’t know what causes them to break so fast and so often but it seems like I only get a few months of life out of them. The replacements are normally different probe brands as well so maybe the company is cycling through probes till they find a good fit, but it’s still a big pain to re-calibrate probes so often. When my last ORP probe broke, I didn’t even bother contacting Reef Angel for a replacement. Instead I bought one from W. W. Grainger online. It was more expensive but so far it’s working perfectly. I’m not sure what the issue is with the probes but its driving me a little crazy. Some of the connector wires seem to be very delicate and I have had the wire ends pop out of the connectors several times. I blame that on myself but I still feel like they should be assembled better. When I have broken these, I just toss them and buy new ones since they are fairly inexpensive.
Here is a list of the issues I have had so far. Keep in mind that Reef Angel has replaced all of these pieces free of charge which is great; however, I would prefer just to not have any of these issues in the first place. I will mention at one point I was so upset with the hardware failures, I asked for a refund but with the promise of new equipment I didn’t pursue it. As you read the issues below keep in mind that I bought two separate units, one Reef Angel controller to use on the main display system and one to control my propagation system. So far I only am using one system on the display, the other I have not bothered to setup yet since I’m still a little uneasy with the products stability. I would also like to point out that I have cannibalized my “extra” Reef Angel unit so many times while waiting on spare parts to be sent in the mail that if I didn’t have the extra unit I would have been even more upset.
1. Both PH probes I initially received did not function: replaced for free.
2. I ordered two ORP expansion modules, both probes worked fine initially but after a few weeks it kept reading lower and lower. This actually caused my tanks salinity to become dangerously high because I was slowly adding extra salt with water changes not realizing salt was not needed. Now I feel as if I always have to double check my tank since I don’t have much faith in the salinity probes provided. The original probes were replaced for free, and currently my salinity probe is broke again and a replacement is in the mail for free. However, I was told that if it breaks again I will need to pay for the next one. I hope this time I get a decent life span out of the probe.
3. The Joystick broke on one of the head units: replaced for free.
4. The unit freezing and giving a red light has caused issues accessing my Reef Angel unit online: I fixed this by adding a timer to reset the unit daily. However, if the unit was to freeze five minutes after the reset I would have to wait all day to check my tank until it reset again.
5. The Wi-Fi expansion piece failed: replaced for free.
6. The LED Screen on the second head unit looked horrible compared to the other one, it was fuzzy and had lines on it: replaced for free.
7. Connector wires are cheaply made and I have broken several of them on accident: I just bought new ones instead of asking for replacements.
8. I have had one temperature probe go out: replaced for free.
9. Wi-Fi unit just randomly quit working: replaced for free.
10. Some original pieces received had corrosion on them: replaced for free.
11. The piece with the outlets had ports 5 & 6 stop working: this was replaced for free; however, port 5 on the new unit has stopped working so I just stopped using it.
If I was to start all over, it saddens me to say in this Reef Angel review that I would not have purchased a Reef Angel controller unit knowing what I know now. The hardware issues seem to be never ending. The lower price for the unit does not make up for all the problems I have had. I actually feel somewhat bad typing a negative review for this product since the customer service has all been handled by the same person who 100% of the time is outstanding and timely. Overall for me personally, the ability to check your tank online, upload your own custom code, and have great customer service might not outweigh the tons of hardware issues I have had to deal with.
Editing post to add an update on my experience with the Reef Angel Controller. Since my original issues with the system I have come around on my feelings toward the unit. It has performed very solid for over a year now with very few issues and none of the hardware issues that I had originally had. After speaking with many other Reef Angel users locally I believe that I was just the victim of very bad luck.
The reason I am updating my posting is because just today I had a very pleasant customer service experience where I needed some software updated to correctly get my Reef Angel WIFI to work with my router after I had accidentally provided the wrong network address. The Reef Angel rep asked me to install some software onto my laptop, after I did that he then remotely connected to my laptop and updated the WIFI units for me. In a matter of a few minutes everything was working again. To me that is above and beyond especially for something that was my fault. The customer service which Reef Angel has provided to me has won me over on this unit and I will not hesitate to use their product on my next propagation build which is currently in the works.