iRobot Braava 390T review: This floor-mopping robot is smart and simple, but lacks elbow grease
Sweeping and wiping robot is great with dust, but struggles with stains
The iRobot company is best known for producing the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner range. We have reviewed two of these at GearBrain — the entry-level 616 and flagship 980 — and love their blend of powerful cleaning, simple operation and living-in-the future vibe autonomous robots like these exude.
Less well-known is iRobot's Braava range of floor mopping robots. Just like the Roomba series, they use motors, wheels and a range of sensors to navigate around your home as they clean the floor.
Keen to see how the Braava range compares with Roomba, we arranged to borrow the Braava 390T. Here's how we got on:
The Braava 390T is capable of both dusting and mopping any kind of hard, smooth floor. It is designed to first pick up dust, dirt and pet hairs with an included microfiber cloth, before using a new cloth on a different, water-filled attachment to mop the floor clean.
Please note: iRobot often alters the names of its products in the US and Europe. Our London-based writer is reviewing the 390T here, which has the same features as the 380T sold in the US.
Setting up the Bravva 390T is slightly more involved than with a Roomba. Where the vacuum cleaner asks only that you charge it up and press the power button, the Braava comes with an 'indoor GPS' system, which requires a small plastic cube (included in the box) to be placed somewhere off the ground and with a clear view of the ceiling. The robot then uses this to help it navigate.
To clean our kitchen floor, we placed the cube on a work surface, attached a dry microfiber cloth — which is held in place lengthways by the blue rubber grips seen below — then fitted the magnetic cloth holder to the robot and switched it on.
Included cloth is gripped in place underneath the robotGearBrain
At first, the Braava struggled to tell the difference between the wooden floors of our kitchen and the carpet of our attached, open-plan living room. There is a metal boundary between the two surfaces, but the robot drove over this and tried to scrub the carpet clean. Curious to see how the robot would perform, we gladly offered a helping hand each time it ran onto the carpet — by which we mean, we stood in the way and let it run into our feet. It would then turn around and drive back across the kitchen.
It appeared to learn from this experience, as the second time we used the Braava it successfully turned around each time it got to the edge of the carpet.
Just like a Roomba, the Brava detects objects then slows down and taps into them gently, before softly head-butting around the edge of the object, feeling its way across the room and ensuring it gets into every corner.
As it drives around, the Braava is very quiet, making only a soft sweeping sound as it works back and forth across the room.
The Braava would sometimes drive onto the carpet with realizingGearBrain
Once the room has been swept and cleared of dust and hair, the Braava can be converted into mopping mode. This requires a new cloth — or you could use the one included in the box — and a new attachment, also included. Where the dusting attachment only serves to grip the cloth, the mopping one includes a small tank to fill with water and whichever cleaning products you use. We made sure the cloth was damp, then filled the tank, wrapped the cloth around it and secured it with the tank's integrated velcro strips. The tank then attaches to the robot with magnets, ready to be used.
Set the robot back down, press the mopping button, and it will get to work. This time, instead of simply driving up and down from one wall to the other, the Braava makes a diagonal, back-and-forth motion, as you would with a regular mop, or how you might push a vacuum cleaner around.
The tank feeds liquid onto the cloth through a small hole, ensuring the cloth stays damp but never spills pools of water onto your floor. There is a small amount of residue left in the Braava's wake, but no more than if you were mopping the floor yourself, or using a damp cloth by hand.
Water and cleaning product is held in this small tank behind the clothGearBrain
Once it has finished, the robot returns to its starting point and switches off. It does not, like the Roomba range, return to its charger when finished or in need of more power. Instead, the Braava sits on its charger vertically, so you have to lift it up and place it there yourself.
The Braava also lacks the scheduling features of some Roombas, so you can't program it to clean up while you are out. The robot also lacks an internet connection for software updates and cannot be controlled by Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, as some high-end Roombas can.
Does it actually work?
So those are the mechanics of the Braava, and everything we have described so far ran smoothly. There was a surprising amount of dirt on the cloth after both rounds of cleaning, which is a good sign, but small stains from spilt food and drink deposited during a party the previous night were untouched. The robot does well at sweeping and wiping, but does not have the weight to really put any force into its actions.
We didn't expect it to scrub away at every mark and stain, but there comes an element of disappointment with the realization that we could have done a better job ourselves, and in a similar amount of time. Where the Roomba acts just like a vacuum cleaner, picking up dirt in a way that is otherwise impossible by hand, the Braava is trying to replace a manual tool - a mop or floor wipe - rather than automating an existing machine.
You must put this GPS cube on an elevated surface for navigation to work correctlyGearBrain
Where a Roomba can be used weekly and still do a great job, we feel like the Braava needs to make an appearance every day to keep on top of the cleaning. We've no doubt that this would result in clean kitchen and bathroom floors, but it requires much more help from its owner than the Roomba.
For a busy (and perhaps somewhat lazy) household, the Braava is a nice gadget to have. It works methodically, quietly and quite quickly, and if used everyday it will keep your floors shiny and clean. We can see it being particularly useful at keeping dog and cat hairs at bay.
But where we felt the Roomba could replace a conventional vacuum cleaner (apart from on the stairs, at least), the Braava is an addition to the cleaning tools you already use.
As with the Roomba, buying a Braava will depend on your personal circumstances. If you have a large kitchen with a wooden or tiled floor which constantly attracts dog hairs, then you will likely welcome the robot into your cleaning schedule with open arms.
We can see how a daily clean in the morning or evening would help keep hairs under control - especially if anyone in the house has allergies. We can also see the Braava's strengths in bathrooms, where hair often accumulates, but we have previously found a Roomba works just as well here, albeit without the ability to use a damp cloth.
Only one cloth is included, so you'll likely want to buy moreGearBrain
However, the Braava 390T does not have the same cleaning power as a Roomba. It cannot perform more than a basic sweep and wipe, and cannot lift any stains at all. We suspect it would wipe up a small quantity of freshly spilt liquid, but no one is going to set up a robot to do that when a paper towel works just as well.
We wanted to find the Braava as useful as the Roomba series, but in our experience this has not been the case. It will keep on top of hair and dust, then give your floor a bit of a shine, but cannot do much more.
At $250, the Braava 380T is cheaper than most of the Roomba range, but we feel this is still a large investment for something which cannot replace a mop and bucket in the same way a Roomba can replace a regular vacuum cleaner.