John Deere's smart lawn tractor tracks every inch of grass and makes garden chores fun

John Deere autonomous lawn tractor
(Image credit: John Deere)

You may not know this, but you’re being tracked – and not always in a bad way. Cookies in your browser track your web visits and then pop up relevant ads on Facebook. You could call it a feature more than a bug in terms of technological advancements. Your car is also tracking your whereabouts using GPS, and that Fitbit watch knows where you run each morning.

Tracking has become part of life, and it makes sense that this has finally spilled over to the world of lawn care. Recently, I tested out a John Deere X354 Riding Mower for an entire month and used the brand new John Deere MowerPlus Smart Connector, which costs $100 (about £80, AU$150).

The basic idea with this connector is to help you improve how (and where) you mow, but it’s also helpful for maintenance, efficient use, and – let’s be honest – a bit of fun.

John Deere lawn tractor

(Image credit: John Deere)

The app shows you exactly where you mow, which is my favorite feature. You can see a bird’s eye view of your actual lawn showing the mow pattern, and then use the Bluetooth-enabled connector with your phone to see analytics like battery state (you’ll see a warning if you have a dead battery), how much fuel is in the tank, and an hour meter showing time on the tractor. There’s also a maintenance minder feature that gives you tips about oil changes, etc.

One important note here is that the connector I tested (about the size of two or three AA batteries) works with the X300 Series and the X500 Series mowers for all of the features I tested. If you own a 100 Series and S240 mower, you can only see the hourly usage meter, which is called the MowerPlus Hour Meter Connector and costs $79 (about £60, AU$120).

Mow like a pro

I mowed about four times with the X354 and liked being able to see all of this data. I’m not an overly detailed person – for example, I just jump on and mow, without thinking too much about hoses I have to move out of the way later – and I’m not a hyper-environmentalist such that I want to conserve every quart of gas at all times by adjusting my mowing pattern ever so slightly.

I am a geek, though. It’s cool to see the mowing pattern for me, not so much because I’m going to mow differently but mostly because it’s cool to see that tech is even possible.

The app has a few features that have been around for a bit, and I liked those as well. You can see an indicator of when it’s the best time to mow to avoid wet grass. There are some tips to help you mow like a pro, including one I noticed about using a mulch setting. The X354 is pretty high end and my grass looked like it had been cut by a stylist at Great Clips.

John Deere lawn tractor

(Image credit: John Deere)

The fun part of all of this is that you can challenge yourself. For each mow, I tried cutting corners a little differently, increased my speed a touch, and generally tried to make the process less tedious.

I will say the tractor itself is like a Cadillac compared to the riding mower I normally use, although neither of them can handle the steep incline of my back lawn (which requires a push mower). I forgot to set the app to 'record' my mow once, and for those like me who do not plan things out in advance, it might be hard to remember to do that. I’d prefer some built-in AI where the app knows when it is near the mower and knows when you start cutting.

That’s a minor issue, though – tracking every inch of your lawn makes sense when you have invested in a powerful lawn cutter like this, and the apps saves a history of every cut so you can compare the results and even track your lawn care from one year to the next.

It’s a brilliant idea, too, because we’re entering an age when we’re going to track everything – who is at the front door, how many times we flush the toilet or brush our teeth, how far we drive every day, and even our own health and activity down to each heartbeat.

I’m all for it – it means more to geek out over. Including lawn care.

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.