It's the 21st century, and robots are supposed to be doing everything for us now. As with personal jet packs, that hasn't happened. But Evolution Robotics' Mint is one of a number of floor-cleaning robots designed to lighten the housework load.
Announced at CES earlier this year and shipping this fall, Mint is an automatic floor cleaner--not a vacuum like iRobot's Roomba. You put a wet or dry dust cloth on the removable cleaning pad, push a button, and Mint gets to work.
Mint is somewhat comparable to low-cost dusting robots like the $50 RoboMop, but at $249 it's almost in the same league as more sophisticated floor-washing machines like iRobot's Scooba. Scooba retails for $299 and up, and has been on the market for nearly five years.
I happened to have a Scooba 350 at home, so when I got my hands on a Mint, I decided to compare the bots' performance on my hardwood and tile floors. They're two very different machines, but let's see how they stack up.
About the size of a Netbook and weighing 4 pounds, Mint is compact and lightweight. There's even a handle on the back so you can carry it around. Its best feature, though, is ease of use--the Swiffer, Pledge, or reusable microfiber cloths are a snap to fit into the pad. When you're done you either discard or wash them. Very little maintenance is required.
Scooba, about 15 inches in diameter and weighing 8.6 pounds, needs a lot of care since it scrubs floors with brushes, water, and a cleaning solution. Filling and emptying the tank before and after each use is a chore, not to mention removing hair, dust, and other debris from the brush, filter, and port.
This can get messy. When I got lazy and didn't empty Scooba's tank, it tended to drip on my floor after I shut it off, so I placed it on an old newspaper. It felt like caring for a pet.
Scooba can clean up to 500 square feet, or one to three rooms, on a charge. When dry sweeping, Mint can cover up to 1,000 square feet in a single cleaning cycle. Both robots have to be manually recharged with plug-in adapters.
Robots are supposed to be convenient, but they also have to be useful. When it came to polishing the hardwood and killing the dust bunnies under my bed, Scooba did a much more thorough job. It has a four-stage cleaning system that does a bit of sweeping, washing, brushing, and squeegee-ing.
Using dry cloths in sweep mode, Mint captured lots of dust and hair but basically pushed other floor debris around instead of sucking it up, leaving a battlefield of rolled-up dust bunnies in its wake. It's more effective with wet cloths, moving in a back-and-forth motion when I pushed the mop mode button, and leaving floors cleaner. Its square shape allowed it to get into corners that Scooba couldn't reach.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quietly Mint toils away. The sound of its motor is a mere whisper, and it could clean while you sleep. The noise coming out of Scooba is a grating drone because it works harder.
Since Scooba follows a random cleaning pattern, using its sensors to follow walls and avoid drop-offs, it seems to take longer to complete the job (though an included Virtual Wall beacon can limit its range). Mint, on the other hand, maps out the room as it follows a guidance signal from the included Navigation Cube, working more efficiently.
At $249, Mint can clean with the included reusable microfiber cloths, or disposable wet ones like Swiffer refills (prices vary). The Scooba 350, at $399, can clean with water, vinegar, or Scooba Hard Floor Cleaner, which comes in a $6.99 bottle that's good for 64 uses.
On the whole, Scooba does a better job at cleaning than Mint, but I didn't like all the maintenance it requires. Mint worked reasonably well as a light cleaner, and I loved its simplicity and nearly noiseless operation. I'd really like to see a Mint and Scooba love child, with the best genes from both, but I won't retire my mop just yet.