February 29, 2024

Is The Narwal Freo The Best Combined Vacuum And Mop Robot Cleaner?

In early 2022, I had a chance to review the iRobot Roomba i7+ and iRobot Roomba Braava Jet M6 robot mops and was satisfied with the results from the mapping technology and the cleaning performance, which I hoped to be as there were iRobot’s near state-of-the-art devices. While these were separate devices the Narwal Freo takes a different approach combining both vacuuming and mopping into one, so I was keen to see how this compared or if it meant both functions were compromised. Also, while iRobot exclusively uses vision cameras for navigation the Narwal uses lidar – which one would prove to be superior?

Appearance

The first thing I noticed when unboxing the Narwal Freo is how large the base using is so you’ll need to find a decent amount of wall space near a power plug to house it – it does feel as if it’s made for larger homes. Its curved white plastic look has a modern, futuristic aesthetic that reminded me of the Wall-E robot, which I found appealing. On top of the base unit, there’s a bright and clear LED touchscreen that provides status information and an alternative way to control the unit aside from the smartphone app. The base also has a speaker and a female voice, that tells you when the robot is stuck or when the base needs refiling.

The base is large as it houses two large water containers, one for clean water and one for dirty water. This is because the Narwal Freo washes its own mops, keeping them free of mold and odors, which is great. It also means that, unlike the Roomba Braava Jet M6, you don’t have to manually take off the mops and wash them or spend money on replacement mops.

On the downside, you only get the relatively small vacuum bin inside the main unit, so you have to spend more time emptying that. However, as with the Roomba, I found that, just as with the Roomba, it was necessary to conduct regular maintenance of the Narwal unit, by removing hair from the wheels and keeping the filters clean, so if you’re doing that anyway it’s not much of an inconvenience to empty the bin at the same time anyway. However, it does mean tipping the dirt directly into the kitchen bin, rather than the discreet, mini bags of the Roomba, so it’s messier. You also have to spend time filling up the clean water and emptying the dirty, which I felt I had to do so often I felt like Mickey Mouse from the sorcerer’s apprentice scene in Fantasia. Which of the two approaches you prefer, is, as they say, swings and roundabouts.

Setup

You’ll need a good Wi-Fi connection to set up the Narwal and it only supports 2.4GHz, not 5GHz. The was initially simple, but in the end, I needed to run through it three times before it all worked properly. It’s possible the app downloaded a firmware update after I was first connected and then needed to be set up again. The app then further confuses me by permanently showing “Firmware update available”, even though it has been updated.

Mapping tech

As mentioned earlier, another significant difference between the Roomba and the Narwal is how it maps the space. iRobot’s Roomba robots rely entirely on vision cameras, whereas Narwal uses lidar (light detection and ranging). This is essentially a laser mounted to the top of the unit that spins around and bounces light waves around thousands of times a second to build up a very accurate map.

This is said to be faster than cameras at creating an initial map and that proved to be exactly the case, with the Freo finishing mapping and ready to go in a fraction of the time it took the Roomba

I then realized that I had inadvertently blocked half of a room, so it wasn’t mapped correctly and sent the Narwal off to vacuum the room again. This is where I discovered that, unlike the iRobot software, it won’t remap on the fly so I would need to redo the entire downstairs. However, as the lidar is so quick this proved to be a minor issue.

Lidar also doesn’t require daylight to operate, which means you could have the unit operating at night. The Narwal was notably quieter in operation than the Roomba i7+, making it less distracting having it move around the house in your presence, and also means it’s less likely to disturb you should you run it at night.

How smart is it?

While the lidar impressed, the Freo, (like the i7+) lacks any kind of AI-based object detection. Instead, it offers the standard mix of cliff sensors so it doesn’t fall downstairs and bump sensors so it can navigate around objects when it bumps into them. However, after several weeks of use, we found that the Freo had a penchant for chewing up cables and shoelaces or anything else that got caught up in its wake. This means that to ensure that it doesn’t wreak havoc, or get stuck on a cable, you have to spend time moving things off the floor before you send it out on its task – so it’s not an entirely set-and-forget thing.

App-wise, the Narwal took a bit of time to get used to, but it is a friendly environment. I had trouble using my finger to adjust the space to set up the no-go areas, but I managed it eventually. While the robot did a good job at mapping the area, it also took a bit of time to optimize it by managing the room splits accurately.

In terms of voice assistant, the Narwal can be set up to work with Alexa or Google Assitant but does not offer full Apple HomeKit integration – though it does support Siri Shortcuts, which worked adequately.

In the app, you can set the Freo to just vacuum, just mop, or do one after the other. However, the selling point is the Freo mode, from which the vacuum takes its name. This saves time by vacuuming an area and then moping it together in one pass. It uses sensors to detect how dirty an area is (dubbed ‘DirtSense’) and adjust the mopping or vacuuming to match. I was somewhat skeptical about how effective this would be but was pleasantly surprised by its effectiveness and it soon became the default mode on my cleaning schedule.

One issue to note, however, is that the default vacuum mode was not great on its default settings, compared to the iRobot Roomba i7+. This was especially true on carpet, with the Narwal somehow not picking up things. I was ready then to dismiss the Narwal Freo entirely as an effective vacuum but in the app noticed that you could set the vacuum strength to double strength by default. In this mode, it proved adequate as a vacuum. If you have a carpet that needs serious cleaning, however, the Narwal won’t be up to the task.

Should you buy it?

That said, after a few weeks of use I find that I preferred the Narwal to the iRobot iJ7+ and Braava mop combo, which gives it a thumbs up as a decent buy. This is because the Freo Mode did the job in decent time, and as long as you send it out regularly, it coped with my mostly laminate floor with one carpeted room, and two rugs.

However, with its lack of object detection and average vacuuming ability, meant that I Narwal still has some improvements to make.

US customers can pick up the Narwal Freo at Amazon or the brand’s official site. It isn’t available at Amazon UK but can be purchased on the Amazon DE site for EU customers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *