Narwal Robotic Cleaner review: This self-cleaning robot mop/vacuum combo frees you from dirty work Credit: NarwalSupplied Art
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Narwal Robotic Cleaner review: This self-cleaning robot mop/vacuum combo frees you from dirty work

Periodic wet mopping is the best way to keep hard floors clean, but many of us don’t make the recommended once-weekly effort. If the required physical labor isn’t enough of a deterrent, there’s all that dirty water to deal with afterward. The Kickstarter-funded Narwal Robotic Cleaner aims to solve both those problems.

Equipped with smart sensors and LIDAR navigation technology, the Narwal automatically sweeps and then mops laminate, linoleum, tile, hardwood, and other hard floor surfaces. And when it’s done, it even cleans itself!

It bears repeating that the Narwal is not yet available to purchase. We typically cover crowd-funding campaigns only if the developer is willing to loan us a working prototype that we can review as a finished product, which is what Narwal Robotics has done here. The Narwal Kickstarter campaign offers backers several options, with a minimum pledge of $549 to reserve a Narwal Robotic Cleaner for a September 2019 delivery. The company says that is a 31.2-percent discount off the eventual retail price of the product.

Design

The Narwal Robotic Cleaner and vacuum looks much like its carpet-cleaning counterparts, with a roundish body, a sensor built into its front bumper, and a laser turret on top. A pair of drive wheels, an omni-directional wheel, cliff sensors, and the vacuum inlet are on its bottom. But instead of the roller and spin brushes you’ll find on the typical robot vacuum, the Narwal has a pair of studs to which you attach either a sweeping or mopping module, depending on the job you want it to tackle.

The Narwal comes with a base station that both charges the robot and cleans and dries the mops once it finishes a job. This 17-pound base measures 15.8 by 14.1 by 17.2 inches and includes a pair of removable 5-liter tanks, one for fresh water and one for waste, and a charging dock at the bottom where the robot slots in.

narwal base Narwal

The Narwal base station charges the dock and holds two 5-liter water tanks for mopping.

How it works

Roomba-style robot vacuums approach mopping as an afterthought. A slim water-filled reservoir with an attached cloth is slotted into the rear of the device when you want to clean uncarpeted floors. The robot vacuum drags the dampened cloth behind it with fairly predictable results: some loose surface dirt gets picked up—and some just gets pushed around—but deeper grime gets left behind along with a thin film of water. The fact that you must refill the reservoir and remove and clean the cloth several times per job ads a level of tedium.

The Narwal takes a more diligent and wholly automated tack. Instead of a thin cloth, it spins microfiber mops, using a combination of speed and pressure to lift up dirt and scrub stains. The robot periodically and automatically returns to its base station, where these mops are sprayed with clean water by a built-in pump and scraped against a washboard to remove captured dirt. The two-tank system separates fresh and used water and has capacity enough to clean up to 2,150 square feet of space over a three-hour period.

Setup and performance

Before it can start cleaning, the Narwal must map your space so it can plot an efficient course through the environment. You’ll need to attach its sweeping module to accomplish this. The manufacturer also recommended that you lay down some of the supplied magnetic strips around any space or furniture that you want the robot to steer clear of. I created a boundary where the hardwood floor in my entryway meets my living room carpet.

narwal sensors Narwal

The Narwal robot mop and vacuum can fit under counters and will recognize virtual boundaries around carpetes and furniture.

Once your space is prepared, you plug the base station in, put the Narwal inside and press the station’s Home button to start the mapping process. The robot’s voice prompt gives you status updates and lets you know if the bot runs into any trouble. A display on the base station also keeps you apprised of the job’s progress, the current battery level, and other particulars.

After the Narwal has recorded the layout of your home, all you need to do is attach the sweeping or mopping module, depending on the type of cleaning you want done, and press the start button on either the robot or the base station.

I first had the Narwal do a sweep of my entryway and kitchen. The sweeping module has the typical pair of spinning brushes that pick up debris and direct it into the vacuum inlet. With 1800Pa of suction power, the robot sucks up anything that’s not firmly stuck to the floor, and its 0.4-liter dustbin allowed to do several sweeps before I needed to empty it.

For mopping jobs, you fill the freshwater tank from your tap—you can add some of the provided cleaning solution for tougher jobs—and then return it to the base station. Next, attach the mopping module to the robot, put it back in its dock, and hit the start button. The Narwal takes a minute or so to moisten its mopping pads, and then it gets to cleaning.

narwal app Michael Ansaldo/IDG

The Narwal app displays real-time and historical cleaning data.

The Narwal did a much better job than the cloth-dragging hybrid vacuum/mops I’ve used, and about as good as I would do with a Swiffer. There was a blob of unidentifiable gunk the consistency of children’s putty that I thought sure I’d have to scrape up manually, but the Narwal scrubbed it off with no problem. Best of all, I didn’t have to clean that or any other dirt off the mop once the job was done—I just emptied the dirty water tank.

Though the Narwal companion app isn’t yet available in stores, I was provided a trial download. In addition to providing remote control for starting and stopping cleaning jobs, the app displays real-time and historical cleaning and mapping data and offers some cleaning customization options. Coming features include the ability to set virtual no-go areas and adjust the wetness of the mops.

The Narwal was generally adept at getting around furniture and doorways, and though it’s turret will prevent it from getting under some couches and low chairs, the front of it’s body was slim enough to get under my kitchen and bathroom cabinets to give those kickspaces a much needed cleaning.

As to be expected with a prototype, the Narwal’s performance wasn’t without hiccups. The robot would occasionally fail to connect to the app, and other times it would claim to be trapped by an obstacle even though it was in open space. The developers gave me a heads-up about both of these issues and were already working on fixes at press time.

Bottom line

Those bugs aside, the Narwal Robotic Cleaner is pretty impressive. It’s probably not for everyone, though. I found its bulky base station and 5-liter tanks too much for my living space and my cleaning needs. The Narwal is clearly designed for larger homes with a lot more hard flooring. In those cases, it’s a great solution for regular maintenance cleanings and minimizing how often you have to break out the stick mop. For apartment and condo dwellers, the smaller iRobot Braava Jet 240 is a better investment.

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