Thursday, November 16, 2017


Back and January iRobot teased the release of the company’s newest floor washing robot, the Scooba 450. This was the model that would replace the Scooba 390 as iRobot’s full-sized mop-bot and work alongside the Roomba 650. The Scooba 450 is an upgrade to the previous robot — not a full overhaul — with the main features being a revamped 3-cycle cleaning system, more efficient use of the bot’s 750 ml of clean water, and a streamlined design. The Scooba 650 sells for $600, making it a considerable purchase even for the most dedicated of robot owners.

The cleaning process is quite simple: you fill the Scooba’s tank with water plus a squirt of cleaning solution, place your virtual wall if there anywhere the bot shouldn’t go, choose the size of the room being cleaned, and then you set the robot in motion. The Scooba 450 can handle a large room (300 square feet) or small one (15o square feet) in either 40 or 20 minutes. Unlike a Roomba which will understand the size of a space and simply turn itself off or return to a dock when it’s done cleaning, the Scooba is designed to clean for the entire time cycle. Because its dirty water must be removed from the bot after a cycle, the it isn’t designed to return to a dock and it doesn’t work on a schedule. This means the amount of human interaction is much greater with scrubbing compared to vacuuming.

Once the cleaning has started the Scooba 450 definitely is an improvement on the previous models. The IROBOT SCOOBA is surprisingly loud, given that it’s essentially a mop, but you have to remember it’s more a scrubbing bot that vacuums up the cleaning solution than it is a mop. The Scooba navigates the room as well as any Roomba (which is to say quite well) and lays down a thin layer of water as it goes by. Most of this is vacuumed up and the rest evaporates, which can leave the floor slightly tacky but quite clean.

Interestingly, the robot can be seen to slightly wiggle as it navigates around a room. This is done on purpose: knowing that it will be on wet surfaces, the the robot has to deal with an occassional loss of traction. To compensate for this the Scooba has onboard gyroscope, the reading of which it measures against an expected value in to order to ensure the the wheels have proper traction and that the bot is going where it intends to.

A full cleaning cycle will take 40 minutes and clean 300 square feet. That’s an adequate amount of space for most apartment dwellers, but it’s something to consider if your entire first floor is tile or hardwood, as you might be looking at multiple runs to get your house clean. Also, the robot is nearly 15 inches across which means it’s not overly effective in smaller bathrooms. During testing I was reminded of why the tiny Scooba 230 exists: I put the 450 in my bathroom and shut the door so a) I wouldn’t have to hear it and b) it could clean behind the door. The Scooba ended up jamming itself between the toilet and the door and getting stuck. The door opens inwards so I was locked out of the bathroom. Long story short, I was able to wiggle a metal roasting fork (long, thin, and relatively strong) and unseat the Scooba enough to push it out of the way, but it was not a fun experience.

Once the cleaning is done the robot will stop where it is and go to sleep. There is no charging base to return to, but perhaps one day a Scooba will go back to the sink in the bathroom and wait there to be emptied out? At this point you’ll see just how much cleaning the Scooba 450 has done. When emptying the dirty water you’ll be greeted by a dark liquid that filled with a surprising amount of dust, dirt, and grime. Pouring all this stuff out is a gross but quite satisfying experience.

The only bad part here is that some of the hair and assorted debris doesn’t make it into the reservoir and instead gets stuck between the reservoir component in the bot’s spring-loaded door. This final cleaning task is sort of like clearing out the shower drain — it’s kind of gross but in the scheme of things not too bad.

Once the robot is emptied it’s time to recharge. This can be done by plugging the included charger into a tiny, well-hidden, splash-proof port. The other option is to purchase a DryDock, which is a standing drying/charging stand for the Scooba. $80 is a steep fee for a plastic stand that uses the Scooba’s built-in charger, but it keeps the bot dry and it gives it a nice place to live. Just to be entirely clear, you need to pick up the Scooba and place it in the stand so there is no automatic behavior here, it’s just more convenient than finding the plug and it looks much neater than the bot sitting on your freshly cleaned floor.
Should you buy a Scooba?

The Scooba 450 does a good job of cleaning and navigates your home as well as a current-gen Roomba, but requires a lot of human interaction. It’s thorough and reliable, but can only clean up to 300 square feet, during which you need to hear it doing its job for 40 minutes. Ultimately, this is a product with some serious tradeoffs, so can it justify a $600 price tag?

Before you give a reflexive “no” you should consider this simple thought: mopping is much more of a hassle than sweeping or vacuuming. Many people simply don’t mop their homes very often (or at all) so paying this much for a mopping bot might seems like a dumb idea, but if you actually get out a mop and a bucket and start to clean the floor you might change your mind.

That’s not to say that the Scooba 450 is worth the price for most people, that’s totally up to individual judgement. Mopping 300 square feet won’t take you 40 minutes, but the time you do spend is downright unpleasant and you probably won’t do it, so if you want fully clean floors then this robot is more than happy — and more than capable — of doing the job for you.

The Scooba 450 does the job it was designed to do, but by lacking scheduling and needing frequent human care-taking, the bot doesn’t seem to offer the same level of value as the Roomba. The 450’s performances upgrades are considerable and the new features are useful, in an incremental sort of way. Ultimately, if you want a floor washing robot the Scooba 450 is the best one available, but it’s not as easy a sell as the Roomba.

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