Narwal Freo robot vac/mop review
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Narwal Freo robot vac/mop review

Jan 30, 2024

REVIEW – There are a lot of robot floor cleaning solutions out there, and figuring out which one is right for your home can be difficult. The Freo by Narwal is a newcomer to the space, and is packed with features and tech that are absolutely worth a look.

The Narwal Freo is a robot vacuum with mopping capabilities and a base station that cleans the mop pads. Supported by a mobile application, the Freo seamlessly integrates software and hardware to deliver a versatile cleaning experience. The Freo comes very close to being a fully hands off, automated floor cleaning solution.

Narwal's mission statement centers around bringing products to market which are meant to free us from the mundane, repetitive tasks we deal with around the house. As a technology company that has invested in AI development, they currently offer two robot vacuums – the Freo, and the T10.

Out of the box, the Narwal Freo robot vac/mop impresses with a premium finish. The Freo robot is a familiar round body design, with a center roller brush flanked on the left and right with side brushes. On the top, the LiDar periscope sits in the center, with a power button and dust bin access hatch. An LED indicator acts as a halo around the power button for status at a glance.

The base station is delightfully minimalist and encapsulates the robot on three sides when docked for a very clean look. The gloss finish is adorned tastefully with the NARWAL branding on the front, with an LCD touchscreen on the top. The lid for the base station completes the aesthetic with clean lines throughout.

Narwal has designed the Freo as a robot keen to tackle hardwood or tile floors, given its lack of a self emptying dustbin and focus on mopping prowess. This is the only notable call out, as the Freo remains otherwise well equipped as a robot floor care solution at this price point should be.

Key features of the Narwal Freo include:

Generally speaking, setup is usually the least enjoyable part of welcoming a new robot helper into the house. Narwal seems to understand that first impressions are everything and offer a very simple setup process for the Freo. In addition to the clear and easy to follow quick start guide, Narwal maintains a video library of how-to's to get started. For the robot itself, the side brushes and mop pads are all that's needed to be assembled. On the base station, installing the water tanks and cleaning solution are as simple as dropping them into place. Plug it into the wall, and that's it!

I was pleasantly surprised by the Narwal app and ease of the out-of-the-box experience to get everything connected. As has unfortunately become the norm, registering for an account is required in order to connect the app to the vacuum. There are some localization issues that are typical when a Chinese company creates an app for an English audience, but they’re very minor compared to the majority of apps I’ve tested with.

It's worth mentioning that the app is not always needed to run the vacuum. The Freo has a touchscreen control panel on the base station which can be used to start a cleaning run, recall the robot, or change settings – amongst other things. It can also provide status at a glance of what the vacuum is up to. Helpful for those times you want to kick off a cleaning cycle but your phone isn't readily at hand.

Once the app is connected you can then check for updates, which my Freo was behind on. After letting the robot work through getting caught up on software, we were ready to go!

The Narwal Freo is, all around, a great robot vac/mop. One of its differentiators is its namesake Freo mode, which leverages ‘AI and algorithms’ to assure a thorough cleaning job. According to Narwal it uses to sensors to detect cleanliness and adjusts its cleaning pattern accordingly. Freo mode can be initiated as a whole-map clean from the base station, or in select rooms or areas from within the app.

In terms of ‘intelligence’, the Freo has some tricks up its sleeve that I haven't seen with other robot vacuums. If you’ve used a robot vacuum before you may be familiar with the cleaning method of perimeter first, followed by a back and forth pattern through the rest of the room. On carpet, this looks great – until the robot gets to the end of the room, and then drives vertically across all those horizontal lines to move on to the next room.

I’ve noticed that when the Narwal Freo tackles a room, it will do the perimeter first – but then begins cleaning the room from the far corner and work its way out of the room. This way there's no random carpet lines or mop streaks when the room is done.

We’ll break down the rest of the performance observations in their respective sections.

Before cleaning for the first time, the Narwal Freo robot vac does a mapping run. This is where we find out how good the navigation and mapping features are, and can be a difficult test in our house. You can't set no go zones yet as the map doesn't exist, so the robot is on its own to figure things out. I gave it a fair chance by doing some general tidying, and then turned it loose.

The floor plan mapping is outstanding. I have not had a robot more accurately get our floor plan right on the first try. The app did struggle a bit with autodetecting room boundaries (e.g. it thought the kitchen and dining room were the same room), but that is typical. The app was intuitive enough to make it easy to properly set the room borders – again a testament to the polish of the execution around the app itself.

The robot will helpfully identify where it sees carpets, which allows you to configure vacuum settings or setup zones around them from the Narwal app.

Object avoidance is average, I did periodically see the robot run into a wall or nudge a table leg. Low lying items such as power cords were not detected and run over. Before setting no go zones the robot did get stuck in a usual trouble spot for robots, where our two couches meet in a corner that has an end table.

Fault tolerance though was excellent. In the instances where the bot did manage to get itself stuck somewhere, I could move it and easily resume the cleaning run. This is usually a point of failure for robots as, at least in my experience, they don't always manage to figure out where they are after being moved. I can't recall any cleaning runs where the Narwal didn't finish and make it back to the base station.

I mentioned before that the Narwal Freo seems to lean more towards being a robot mop that happens to also include a vacuum. The filtered dustbin is larger than others I’ve seen in this form factor. The lack of a full-dustbin sensor is a disappointment, as the dustbin can become overfull and which can result in a loss of cleaning effectiveness until emptied. I also wish the Freo did a self-emptying dustbin to further set it apart from the T10. Without a self-emptying dustbin, vacuuming will never be a truly automated experience with this device.

With that said, the vacuum is still plenty up to the task and works quite well on our tile, hardwood, and low to mid-pile carpeted floors. The side brushes effectively grab pet hair and dirt, though corners remain generally elusive. I haven't yet found a robot that can fully replace the need for a traditional or stick vacuum for those detail areas. The combo brush is effective on all flooring types, but does require periodic cleaning to avoid tangling.

The mopping feature of the Narwal Freo is where it really shines (ba-dum-tss). I really appreciate the implementation of the retractable mop pads as it allows a vacuum and mopping routine to execute at the same time. It also means I don't need to remove the mop pads when I only want to run the vacuum.

The ability of the mop to apply downforce while spinning to agitate the surface lends to an effective clean. As I’ve observed with other robot mops, it does struggle with stuck-on messes. I’ve had some luck with ‘pre-soaking’ spots with a spray of floor cleaner before running the robot which can help it tackle those areas. As the Freo doesn't have an onboard water tank, it will periodically return to the base station to freshen the mop pads. The frequency is adjustable, and I found the default setting is perfect for our needs. Narwal has found the right balance of effective cleaning while being quick to dry.

Running a mopping clean in Freo mode enables the Edgeswing™ feature where, as the name implies, the Freo will swing its butt towards the wall/baseboard while running along the floor edge. This assures that the mop pads contact the entirety of the floor to get as much coverage as possible. It still isn't perfect on corners, but it's neat to watch and effective at what it does.

The base station for the Freo is built around the automation of the mopping feature, and it doesn't disappoint. The self-cleaning is very effective, and the mop pads are in great shape after a month of use. Following the cleaning cycle on the mop pads, a hot air-assisted drying sequence begins. On other vacuums, I’ve found this to just straight up not work but was pleasantly surprised to have dry mop pads after letting it run.

I am routinely grossed out by how much dirt is in the waste tank following a whole house clean, despite running the Freo 3-4 times a week. I guess a dog, a cat, and four humans can make quite a mess of things!

Narwal is continuing to invest in the automation of their mopping system in the Freo. An optional accessory that will be available allows the base station to cycle dirty and clean water without requiring the user to empty and fill tanks. I was able to install the system on my review unit in about 20 minutes, in spite of the instructions being only in Chinese (this may have just been the result of being a review sample).

The automated water tank would require access to a water line and drain in proximity to the base station. It does add some bulk to the back of the base station to handle the water lines, but it is generally well executed. Quality and finish match the rest of the Freo perfectly, so this is worth a look if you have the ability to get the base station near a plumbing stack in your home.

I was pleasantly surprised out of the gate with the Narwal app – the UX / UI is generally pleasant with only a few slight hitches in translation throughout. It's intuitive to navigate and doesn't feel like a thrown together mess as some of these companion apps are.

A new-to-me feature of the Narwal app was the ability to set different cleaning modes on specific areas which had carpet. As the Freo detects carpet on a cleaning run, those will appear in the app as crosshatch sections. You then have control over the carpet behavior, and can set default behaviors – such as cross (e.g. don't vacuum), vacuum normally, or vacuum at high power.

The usual features are all here – no go zones, no mop zones, no vacuum zones, schedules, area cleaning, room specific cleaning and tracking of consumables. I appreciate the distinction in cleaning modes of "vacuum and mop" alongside "vacuum then mop". There are a lot of ways to dial in the robot to your home and your requirements to assure you can get the most out of it.

Narwal has some of the best hardware and software that I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and the Freo is a very solid floor care solution. If your home is mostly hardwood or tile then the robust mopping features will be an immense value add. If your home leans more towards the carpeted side, the Freo may not be the best match at its price point. I genuinely hope that Narwal has a robot and base station in the works that supports automatic emptying of the dustbin. If they can achieve that while maintaining the excellence around mopping that the Freo brings to the table, they will easily have a winner.

Price: $1,299.99Where to buy: Amazon (there is currently a $250 instant coupon)Source: The sample of this product was provided by Narwal

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