“Narwhal Freeo is the most precise robot cleaner we’ve ever tested.”
Results of wiping clean and neat
Dirt sensors trigger additional cleaning
Compact dock with LCD control panel
Doesn’t tell when it gets stuck
long cleaning time
Base station does not empty vacuum
App not as good as competitors
There’s never been a better time to be lazy. While robot vacuums have become as common as Instant Pots, a new generation of vacuum-mop combos have taken things to the next level in the past few years. And they’re now maturing after the higher-priced “early adopter” phase with the advent of practical models you’ll actually want to buy.
Narwal, although you may not have heard of the company, is leading the charge. It launched “the world’s first self-cleaning robot mop and vacuum” on Kickstarter in 2019, and pulled out all the stops by delivering not just a product, but a very good one. The Freo is an evolution of that initial effort that competes with other all-in-one bots like the Roborock S7 Max Ultra, Roomba Combo J9+, and EchoVox Deebot X2 Omni.
These all offer mopping and vacuuming with base stations that automatically clean the mops, but the Narwhal stands out with its DirtSense technology, which lets the robot measure the dirt in your floors and then go back to problem areas. Allowed until they are cleaned. Although this makes it one of the most impressive robocleaners we’ve tested so far, some rough patches in its app spoil the experience a bit.
all the bells and whistles
Priced at around $1,600, this is a premium robot vacuum, and the packaging lives up to Narwhal’s luxurious aspirations. From the perforated tab you pull to open the package, to the custom Narwhal logo embossed into the packaging foam, it feels expensive.
This white-glove experience extends to setup, which goes as smoothly as you’d expect: download the app, slide the Narwhal into its base station, connect over Bluetooth, and give it your Wi-Fi details.
I won’t burn a lot of words describing the Narwhal, which looks and feels so close to every robot vacuum I’ve seen that it makes me question whether they could all come from the same factory. The bright white finish stands out more than anything else, giving it a friendly, appliance-like appearance as opposed to the more gadgety look of the Roborock or Roomba. It shows less dust, but shows more dirt, so pick your poison.
The vertical base station consumes barely more floor footprint than the robot, and easily tucks into a nook or corner. The robot goes into a thin garage below, and above that sit tanks of clean and dirty water under a top lid. This design means you have to slide the robot’s dustbin out to empty it, but that’s a five-second trade-off to reduce its size that I’ll happily take. Keep in mind that unlike all the competing models mentioned above, the Narwhal doesn’t empty its vacuum at the base station – it just mops up water. This means you have to pay attention to it between every run.
A top-mounted LCD touchscreen lets you clean without using an app, whereas most robovacs only give you one button to press. I still prefer to open my phone, but it’s a convenient touch if you have kids or a significant other who doesn’t mind installing apps.
The bells and whistles keep coming. A removable tray at the bottom makes it easy to clean out dirt that inevitably accumulates, and you can order this unit with a “mop water exchange unit” that automatically drains out dirty water and refills with fresh water. Is. I didn’t have room near the water line to remove that install, so I pulled water for this review like a normal person. A hot air drying system also prevents Narwhal odors from occurring while drying our S7 MaxV Ultra mop heads, so they don’t stay wet.
help me help you
On its first go, the Narwhal walks around your house, mapping it in detail using lidar, which has become standard technology for robovacs at this price level. It did a good job of accurately drawing the map, but it required more manual input than Roborock’s clever app, which was able to automatically label rooms and even furniture. I had to manually split, merge, and rename rooms in Narwal’s app, but that’s a one-time job.
More frustrating was the robot’s inability to learn from repeated errors. I can admit that it’s not smart enough to detect and avoid wires, but after getting stuck half a dozen times, I expect it to automatically avoid the area, as Roborock’s vacuum would do. Instead the Narwhal fearlessly carried out suicide mission after suicide mission until I manually marked all the correct “no-go” areas, which took some trial and error.
And you won’t know when an error occurs. I’ve turned on push notifications in my app, but won’t use them to notify you when the robot is jammed helplessly under the TV stand or teetering on the edge of a cliff. Instead, whenever I noticed my house wasn’t cleaned yet, I got to play a game of “find the narwhal”, wasting cleaning time as the sneaky bot refused to speak. Overall, the Narwhal app doesn’t have a whiff of Roborock’s best-in-class offering.
The good news is that when you finally get the Narwhal dialed in, it’s more discreet than any other robot vacuum I’ve seen. A quick example: Where other robovacs plowed the gap between my carpet and hardwood floors, leaving a band of unvacuumed dust at the edges where brushes couldn’t reach, the Narwhal swept the edge. Locate and painstakingly move around to reach it, moving around with it right in front of the carpet.
It’s a little painful to look at, but it works. In its namesake Freeo mode, you basically allow the robot to return to work on the same area over and over again as it continues to detect dirt. I’m not a slut, my dog is, and Narwhal knows it perfectly. Watching it return again and again to the area around Marty’s dog bowl was like watching a miner running around fearlessly underground day after day to do the dirty work no one else wanted to do. I couldn’t help but feel some admiration for that little boy.
How does the narwhal know how to go back? Dirt sensor. It washes its mops after each room, and passes the drained water through a light and sensors that can measure its dirtiness. If it is above a certain threshold, the narwhal will return to the same room for more cleaning.
This makes Narwhal a thirsty robot. In Freo mode, just one mopping of my 525-square-foot main floor emptied the entire water tank. But one look at the dirty tank will prove that it is incredibly effective. I don’t even know how the narwhal remembers that much water lying beneath it, but a bucket of brown water is satisfying visual evidence that this mop is actively cleaning your floors by sucking up dirt, Not just wetting it and sliding it around.
This is also visible in the results. Even around my dog’s water bowl, where dried saliva spots stuck to the surface (sorry, he’s dirty), the Narwhal used enough water to remove them and leave an even shine.
While this means you have to change the water frequently, it only takes a minute, and because the water doesn’t freeze in the tank for weeks, it doesn’t have time to develop the mouth-watering death odor that plagues us. Got Roborock S7 MaxV Plus. Using a gallon of water to mop your entire floor is, by any reasonable measure, still incredibly efficient.
Just don’t try to clean your house in a hurry. In Freeo mode, we sometimes saw run times of more than three hours for a single floor. If you’re at work and it’s up and running that’s fine, but if you’re at home, it takes a lot of time for a small robot to move around. The app allows you to change settings and speed up the process, but in my experience, one hour was the fastest time it could get the job done.
On paper, a vacuum suction of just 3,000 pascal (Pa) puts it behind competitors like the 5,100Pa S7 MaxV Ultra and the 8,000Pa Ecovacs X2 Omni, but there’s more to the vacuum performance than that. Sure, suction matters for getting grime and dust out of carpets, but most robot vacuums disappoint by leaving behind large clumps of hair and visible dirt. On this admittedly subjective measure, the flamboyant Narwhal performed very well, even though we were able to go over the same rug with the Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra and pick up a little more dirt. The Narwhal also benefits from the bristles on its vacuum roller, which in our experience do a better job of removing dirt than rubber wings alone. But competitors are the EcoVac and Roomba Rock Twin Rollers, which generally help a lot with pet hair.
During both vacuuming and mopping, the Narwhal remains surprisingly quiet – perhaps a silver lining to its modest suction. I could watch TV with it on, and I admit I get easily irritated by vacuum noise. There is a lot of wheezing while mopping at the base station, but it is so minimal that it is not much of a problem.
very close to great
Narwal’s results speak for themselves. It’s a robot vacuum and mop that will leave your floors sparkling clean. It doesn’t have the most powerful vacuum or the most aggressive rollers, but its willingness to repeatedly attack dirt from every angle proves beneficial. If a robot can have personality, it’s a tenable bot.
But there’s one sin I can’t ignore: It doesn’t tell you when it’s stuck. This situation is inevitable with any robot vacuum, no matter how carefully you prepare the house. Without push notifications to actively let you know when this happens, I never felt like I could completely trust Narwhal to do its job in the background. I found myself checking on it like an abused dog, and I don’t need another one of those dogs. This may be a deal breaker for some buyers, but it’s still a great option if you’re willing to do a little botseating.