How To Use The FluvalSmart Mobile App

by Adam Till


Short Take

Let our little goldfish paste give you a quick intro...

If you loved the adjustability and power of the new Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 enough to be one of the first to your hands on it, or got tired of having to run two lights on your nano tank just to be able to grow plants properly and picked up one of the new Fluval 3.0 Plant Nano's instead, either way you're going to need to be able to set and adjust it easily.

That's where the new FluvalSmart Mobile App comes in.

The Fluval 3.0 light combines a built-in Bluetooth app controller to allow the light to be controlled from your mobile device, and the FluvalSmart Mobile App is what allows that light to be controlled directly from your mobile device.

Whether you want to set colour, duration or intensity, you're able to now do that quickly and easily with the touch of a button.

That said, we've all used free apps that were a pain to work, so how does the FluvalSmart App stack up?

I put it through it's paces, and if you're interested in learning how it held up, then read on.

Quick Navigation

Downloading the App

In order to get the app on your mobile device, the first thing you're going to want to do is:

You

You can either use one of the links above, scan the QR code included with the light you purchased as it shows in the product manual, or do like I did and just search for it on your built-in device search (iPad and App Store in my case):

Search the Apple App Store for Fluval

Once you see the icon for FluvalSmart, feel free to go ahead and install it (mine has already been installed on this screen so I only see the option to open:

This is the FluvalSmart App On the App Store

Setting It Up

When you open the app for the first time, you'll be greeted by the rather pretty (if unlikely) splash loading screen shown below:

Splash screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

The first time you open the app you'll probably be challenged to select your language, and you can choose from one of the following options.

If you select the wrong one, you can always find these in the settings section to change them.

Language selection screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

When the app completely loads, you'll be greeted by a screen that will look something like the the image below.

Assuming you have your Bluetooth communication enabled, any lights you have plugged in and active will appear in the list.

If you don't see any devices and you're sure that the lights are active, double check to make sure that your Bluetooth antenna function is alive and active. 

Some user reviews I read from people said they were a little confused at first when they couldn't find a light to connect to because they were trying to connect to the lights via Wifi like the old 2.0's. As soon as they figured that out, or called Fluval for support, they were quickly sorted out.

Device connection screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

If you select a light, the app will attempt to connect to it via Bluetooth:

Connecting to device screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Programming the Day and Night Periods

The screen below is the first screen that appears once you successfully connect.

In the top header row you'll see the name of the light, a back button to get to the last screen, and on the right a button that allows you to rename the light as well as a second button to flash the light (useful if you have a few connected with ambiguous names).

On the graph itself there's a toggle that lets you select either manual or auto (timer) light modes, as well as the currently loaded light profile shown as a line graph.

In the example here the light here will be completely turned off at night, start turning on slowly at 7am, be completely at full power at 9am, stay at full power until 6pm, and ramp down to completely dark by 9pm.

Device connected landing page for FluvalSmart mobile app

Since the name of the light straight out of the box is displayed as its BluetoothID, and that ID is a mix of illegible numbers and letters that only a computer programmer could love, a good first step would be to give your light a name that's easy for you to identify it by:

Rename device screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Since you'll now probably want to dive right into programming the light, the first thing you'll want to do is specify when the light should start turning on in the morning.

Tapping the Sunrise section brings up this selector, where you can specify when sunrise starts and when you'd like the light to be at full power. You don't get to specify what the light levels are yet, but just know that it will start at whatever night level you set and will end at whatever daylight level you have set.

Hit save to go back to the main screen.

Sunrise setting screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Clicking on the Daylight section, you now have the chance to start messing with the light levels for the first time.

Here you'll specify what the levels should be for each part of the colour spectrum. For those that want to create a certain mood or a specific shade to make particular plants or fish pop, you'll want to play with the balance of the light to get the exact look you prefer.

In terms of the what each spectrum actually does, well, that's a bit beyond your humble author except for generalities. I suspect that the reds and blues are functional to a degree to ensure proper plant growth, but I also suspect most people's use of them here will be largely cosmetic. Given Cory found in his video review of the 3.0 that the full-power red LEDs measured at only 1 PAR, I don't think that playing with them will affect algae or plant growth to an enormous degree. 

In terms of the white spectrum I'll point out again that natural daylight comes in at around 5000-5800k, that cool colours are regarded as over 5000K, and warm colours tend to be those around 3000K (reference). If the entire fixture balances out at 6400K according to the box, that would mean that biasing the warm white light slider higher than the others will pull the overall spectrum lower (towards 3000K), where biasing the cold white light slider higher will pull the overall spectrum up.

I'm afraid I'll have to leave you to decide (and experiment with) whether you can achieve different results with your plants playing with the balance (PLEASE comment below if you do so I can nerd out with you), but you can certainly use the sliders to create whatever light effect you want for your fish or just leave them all even as I did.

If you want to experiment, as starting point suggestions blackwater tanks will positively glow under lower K (~3500K) lighting mixes, where reef or African cichlid tanks will sparkle with higher K light.

For those of us more interested in just generally growing "average" plants, we'll probably keep the levels each set at the same percentage but might need to tone down the overall intensity. That is to say, if 100% power on the sliders creates too much algae, reducing them all to 80% might do the trick. 

I've personally started by setting the light to full power, and I'll use algae growth in the tank to determine whether I should nudge it down from there.

Try to let the tank have at least a week or more to adjust to the new level before making changes if you're doing it for algae control reasons, since remember that your tank is a dynamic living system that takes a little while to adjust to your changes.

Once again, hitting save at the bottom of the screen confirms your changes.

Daylight setting screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Next up is the Sunset evening transition.

Though I have it set for two hours in the image below, I think I'll be changing that to a longer evening transition soon.  I like to enjoy watching my fish in the evening, and having the light turn off when it's time to go to bed is a nice reminder not to stay up too late.

Sunset setting screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Finally, you can set the Night levels to create a "night light" for lights-out viewing.

As a goldfish breeder I don't have many fish that are particularly active at night, and so I keep our lights turned completely off at night. Though some will argue that in nature there's rarely any period of complete darkness, I personally feel our fish benefit from a period of complete darkness. 

Keeping the light off at night also prevents some algae growth in the long run. Since even the blue LEDs will glow strongly enough to create light that algae can use, but not enough and a balanced enough spectrum for plants to use, you can end up giving algae a nighttime boost that you'd rather have not done.

That said, if you want some light at night, this is where you'd set it.

Some have said that it's unfortunate that it's not possible to have a period of blue nightlight that eventually turns off after an hour or two, and based off comments on Fluval's YouTube channel they seem to be considering adding that function. For now it's not available, but it may appear in future (free) updates of the app.

Night setting screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

In order to see what the day will look like without patiently waiting the entire day staring at your tank, Fluval has provided a "preview" feature that will run through the entire light cycle in about a minute.

Tapping the "preview" button as the rightmost of the buttons at the bottom of the screen starts this feature, and as soon as it's pressed it will turn to a "pause" icon.

A red line will advance across the graph, showing you where the light is in its cycle.

Preview profile screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Saving Light Profiles

Once you're happy with your choices, you have the option of saving the profile as your own preset.

Tapping the Save As button at the bottom of the screen allows you to set a name for your profile, and to save it into the app's memory.

That way even if the light were to have a problem and require replacement you'd still have your profile, or if you want to use the same profile for multiple lights that's an option as well.

On the other hand, if the light should lose power during an outage the profile will be stored in memory, so you shouldn't have to re-upload the profile to get it going again.

Unfortunately/fortunately, you can't overwrite existing profiles even if you type in the same name as one that exists.

If you do try to use a name that exists, the app presents you with an error code that only programmer would love, so just be aware that you can't use the same name for a light profile twice. 

Save profile screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

To transfer a light profile from the FluvalSmart app to the light, tap the Export button.

Once you do that, select the name of the profile you want, touch the new Export text button that's appeared in red in the bottom right of the screen, and it will work its Bluetooth magic and load that profile into the light.

If you then connect to another light using the app, you can use the same profile for your second light as well. This avoids the light show that inevitably happens when mechanical light timers are set slightly out of sync, which drives type-A people like myself just slightly bonkers!

Although it's a tiny bit confusing to use the Export button to load a profile that isn't in the light already, just be aware that it doesn't export the current profile to the light, but instead loads whatever profile you select from the list. "Select program" or something of the sort instead of "export" might have been a better choice of words here.

On the screen below you'll also be able to see the built-in Fluval profiles which come standard with the app. They are:

  • Tropical River
  • Lake Malawi, and
  • Planted

As a neat convenience, you can even slightly modify the profiles if you like (which is nice). Once they're tweaked to your taste, you then save them under a new name once you're back in the main app screen.

Though you can't currently share your light profiles with other app users (and you'll lose them if you uninstall the app or get a new phone), you can see where it would be very easy in the future to be able to do something like that.

Downloading other custom profiles from the Fluval site is also something that would be easy to imagine happening with future updates of the app. 

Export profile screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Going Manual

If you have a situation where you'd like the light to hold a particular setting until you tell it to stop (to take photos of the tank for example, or during an aquascaping competition), the app also allows you to take direct control of the light using manual mode.

If you tap the manual toggle at the top of the screen, you'll be greeted with the image below.

Here you can set the light levels for each band of light, and even save them as presets into the P1, P2, P3 and P4 slots at the bottom of the screen.

Pressing the lowermost button will power the light down entirely.

Manual control screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Though that covers most of the fun parts of playing with the app, there are a few more options to be discovered if you keep tapping buttons.

Clicking the Web button in the middle of the bottom row of buttons pulls up a link to the Fluval YouTube channel.

Fluval actually has a decent channel there, and you'll be able to find all sorts of videos related to all the different products they sell (hint: the Bug Bites "How it's Made" series is particularly cool!).

YouTube channel jump screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

Tapping the Settings button on the right side of the bottom row brings up this menu.

If you ever have to phone Fluval for assistance (and their help line is actually pretty helpful from a few comments I've read), they may ask you what version of the app you're running. This is where you'd find that information.

This is also where you'd go to change the language setting on the app as I showed earlier. 

Settings screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

At this point about all that's left is to see the credits, and that's all that happens when you tap the About Us link.

About us screen for FluvalSmart mobile app

So What Do You Think Of The FluvalSmart App Overall?

Overall, FluvalSmart by Fluval is a decently usable app that has a few small items that could benefit from touching up in future releases.

Having managed a software development shop I have some experience in picking apart app experiences, but with only a few additional tweaks Fluval could really polish up the user experience for all of us.

First off, though some of sales documentation I've seen and many YouTube reviewers are calling the light "completely customizable", as you've seen the article here so far it isn't quite that rosy in practice. There's an amazing amount of customization available, but considering that there are only two bands of light you can adjust for now (DayTime and Night), the light isn't completely open to do whatever you'd like.

So Can You Create a "Natural Planted Tank" Split Photoperiod With The Fluval 3.0?

Unfortunately, no; one of the biggest limitations of the software is that you can't create a "split photoperiod" ala Diana Walstad and her epic, groundbreaking work titled "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium".

A split photoperiod involves having the light on for some period of time in the morning (say 4 hours), turning the light off for a few hours, and then turning it on again in the afternoon again. As a result, while the light may still be on for the same 8 hours that most people end up using, there's a period of time in the middle of that 8 hour block where the light is off. Easy enough with a mechanical timer, but not possible with the Fluval 3.0 if you use auto mode.

The point of that break during the day is that it lets the plants in a "natural planted tank" (ie, one that doesn't have carbon dioxide [CO2] injected artificially) more effectively out-compete algae by providing them with more access to CO2.

Given an abundance of fertilizer from soil, fish or supplements and easy access to light, CO2 tends to be the first thing that ultimately limits plant growth.

In a tank where the light is on for 8 hours straight, the plants will normally eventually use up most of the available CO2 in the water that's dissolved there overnight.

Using a split photoperiod, that period of relative darkness in the middle of the day allows the tank to have a break where the "sun goes behind the clouds". Without the extra light the plants slow down or stop photosynthesizing (using CO2), and that break allows CO2 in the air to reenter the water slowly.

When the light turns on again the plants have a chance to grow at their most healthily, and when that happens they can hopefully out-compete algae for the available nutrients and you end up with a largely algae-free tank.

Again, though, given that there is only one daylight period on the Fluval 3.0, a split photoperiod is impossible to create.

So How Do I Manage Algae With the FluvalSmart App Then?

The way you adjust the light with the Fluval 3.0 is two-fold: you adjust the length of how long the light is on during the day, and you adjust how strong the light is when it is on.

The best way to think of this is that the tank can only tolerate so much "light energy" being added to it before algae starts to become an issue; it's simplifying things a little, but not by much. You can reach that level with:

  • "a big hose running quickly" - high light for a short period of time
  • "a medium hose running normally" - moderate light for an average period of time
  • or "a small hose running slowly" - low light for a long period of time

Some plants may have special needs for high light, or require low light to avoid scorching their leaves, but if you have average, easy to grow plants you have a little leeway where you can balance their needs with your own desire to admire your fish and plants.

That means:

  • that if you're a morning person you can bias the time the light is on more towards the morning
  • if you're a night person, you can make sure the lights are on later in the evening
  • if you're home all day, you can have the lights on for a longer time but at a lower intensity level, and finally...
  • if you have fish that are sensitive to high light (or conversely love bright light), you can balance the needs of the fish with the needs of the plants.

So is Losing the Split Photoperiod a Big Deal?

As much as I may have made it just seem like it might be, losing the split photoperiod option isn't really the end of the world.

The split photoperiod came from a time when it was basically impossible to ramp the lights up and down; they were basically on or off. As a result, you had to make adjustments to the light volume by the split method above using a break during the day.

The Fluval 3.0 also allows you to adjust the intensity of light as well as the length that it's on, so you have the ability to have more of an extended viewing period and you can help the plants extend the time where they're efficiently using underwater CO2. By customizing the light level as well as its length, you're helping to keep your tank algae free.

So would the ability to have multiple photoperiods be a good thing? Sure.

Is it required? Not really.

What About the Usability of the App? Was it Designed By An Aquarium Owner?

Well, yes and no.

One of the last downsides you'll encounter when using the app, in my opinion, is that a lot of the terms used in the app or workflows in the app were created by someone with a computer programming background rather than an aquarium hobbyist background.

That can make some of the workflows a little clunky.

It's sort of like when someone with a technical background tries to explain something in simple terms, but end up sounding like they're speaking another language.

As an example of this, remember above that I said you needed to create lighting profiles that you then export to your light? 

It would stand to reason, then, that you should be able to create those profiles without being connected to a light.

But you can't.

You need to be first connected to a light in order to create a lighting profile, and then even though you're then already connected to the light, you have an additional step to "export" the profile to the light you're already connected to.

Clear As Mud...Thanks

Essentially it just means you need to have a light physically in front of you before you can mess with the light profiles.

In my opinion it means that Fluval is missing the opportunity to let people mess with the app before they buy a light, and to get excited about the prospect of owning one.

I think you'd probably admit that daydreaming about your tanks is part of what gets you through a workday sometimes, so if they let you indulge that a bit by messing with the app on break that could only be a good thing.

If they could let you create light profiles at any time you could have something other than Facebook to mess with in line at Costco, and you could then upload your changes to the lights when you finally get home; better than seeing that package of pumpkin chocolate crunch in the impulse isle at the very least!

Seeing Double...Or Even Triple!

One of the nice parts of the app is that you can use the same profile for multiple tanks, and since I bought three lights for very similar sized tanks that's what I currently do.

Intuitively it seems like an easy thing to do, but practically the workflow again gets in the way.

Lets say you connect to light A, and create a lighting profile using the app set on auto mode. You finishing tweaking the graphs for each band of light (Sunrise, Daylight, Sunset, and Night), hit the button called Save As and then the Export button to upload it to the light.

You then go back to the devices menu, connect to light B, and notice that the settings for the light are different. You have to hit the Export button to export the profile you created for light A, but a tiny voice in the back of your mind wonders if it's going to export the light profiles from light B that you're looking at on the screen, or the ones that are part of the save profile from light A.

In a nutshell this is why I think it would be much more intuitive to be able to create the light profiles without connecting to a light first.

You could customize all the light bands, save the profiles, and THEN export them to whatever light you wanted. They could allow you to select a light to "preview" the profile on, but it wouldn't upload to anything until you told it to, and it could allow you to export the profile to multiple lights at once.

How Does the FluvalSmart App for the Fluval 3.0's Compare to the old Fluval Wifi LED Controller for the Fluval 2.0?

For those that don't know what I'm talking about, this is the old Fluval Wifi LED controller:

If you don't have a Fluval 2.0 you probably won't care too much since that controller isn't compatible with the 3.0, but it's essentially what was required to do some of the same things with the 2.0 that the 3.0 can do out of the box.

Since it's an additional purchase for 2.0 owners and the 3.0 is more-or-less the same price now as the 2.0 was then, the biggest advantage of the 3.0 is that you don't have to pay for a separate controller (and as you can see if you click the image of the controller above, you'll quickly see that it isn't an inexpensive impulse purchase).

In order to use the controller you need to connect to it in the same way you would connect to a Wifi network. This means you can't have your phone connected to Wifi to search the internet while it's also connected to the home Wifi.

This is more than a little annoying.

You also can't control anything other than the Blue light channel separately, so you can't create the same kind of custom spectrum effects that the 5-channel control of the 3.0 allows.

You do have the ability to mess with thunder effects and such if you're so inclined, but that's not something that's ever really appealed to me personally.

As a result, I include this section here for sake of completeness and for those who want to extend the functionality of their box-stock Fluval 2.0 lights, but I don't personally consider the 2.0 Wifi Controller to be nearly as functional as the new FluvalSmart app. 

So What's Your Overall Conclusion About The FluvalSmart App?

I think that overall it's a good first effort, and though a little rough around the edges in both workflow and cosmetics it's certainly usable in its current state. If you have one of the new Fluval Plant 3.0's or Fluval Plant Nano 3.0's, you won't be disappointed with the app overall.

I'm actually most excited about the fact that, since it is an app, it's also completely possible for Fluval to rewrite it and release a new version in the future. In fact, if you browse the comments section of videos on the Fluval YouTube Channel you'll see sales reps hint that this is exactly what they plant to do; even hinting that split photoperiods or fade out night lights are something they might be actively working on.

YouTube comments about the FluvalSmart app on the FluvalSmart App Operation // Plant 3.0 Bluetooth LED video

Also as discussed, one of the really cool options for the future might be that you could share light profiles with your friends, and even download them as part of a new tank build.

That way an aquascaper in Ireland could share a profile with someone recreating their setup in the States, or Cory from Aquarium Co-Op could send you a light profile on one of his trips to Peru that would let you mimic the light in your Amazom biotope to what he's seeing in the jungle.

It could be pretty neat!





Adam Till
Adam Till

Author



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