iRobot Braava 320 Review by Janyce Raynolds
The Braava 320 bears many close similarities to Evolution Robotics’ Mint 4200 robot floor cleaner. That shouldn’t be surprising since iRobot acquired the company in 2012 (read more) and renamed their products. There hasn’t been time to make too many changes. What’s here performs well, though.
The Braava 320 is the baby brother to the Braava 380t. The family resemblance shows. Here, that means a case that’s about 8.5″ square and 3″ high that weighs a mere 4 lbs.
Note, the measurements don’t convey the exact shape since the Braava case perimeter is actually shaped like a square and a rectangle joined.
Since it does go so many places it will run over many types of surface. The 320 handles them all well, whether that’s hardwood, vinyl, tile or lineoleum or even slate. Because it’s a cloth-based design it will do better over flat surfaces, though. If you have roughened floors, as for example in some foyers, this little guy won’t be as thorough since there are no brushes.
Since this floor mopping robot can be used in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen – anywhere you have floors really – the unit can make contact with things it should treat gently. Happily, the Braava 320 still sports the fine soft-touch front bumpers that have been on Mint products for some time.
2 Cleaning Modes: Dry & Damp Mopping
The Braava 320 can be used with most disposable dry and pre-moistened cleaning cloths such as Swiffer and other brands. Using the Braava in dry mode is a good choice when a floor “dusting” is all that’s needed.
In this mode, you’ll get a lot of use out of the pads before they need to be replaced. How much use depends, of course, on how dirty are your floors and how often you activate the robot. But a dozen sessions would not be out of the question.
The other major mode of operation is damp mopping. Here, you get a lot fewer uses but at the natural tradeoff of much cleaner floors. To use a hoary pun, the Braava 320 will really shine in this mode. I like to combine both modes by starting with dry sweeping to pick up dirt, dust and hair followed by a damp mopping session to get a deeper clean.
As an alternative you can use Braava’s specially designed rewashable and reusable microfiber cloths (1 microfiber dry and 1 microfiber damp mopping cloth are included in the box). No matter what type you choose the cleaning cloths are easy to attach and remove on the Braava’s magnetic Multi-Purpose Cleaning Pad as you can see in the video below.
Speaking of navigation, here’s another area where the Braava (formerly Mint) robot cleaner differs from the traditional iRobot method. Both have their pros and cons and both work well. In the 320’s case, it uses a series of IR (Infrared) beams/sensors to map out the terrain and “learn” how everything is laid out, then follow the needed path.
That NorthStar Navigation System, as they call it, can do that in conjunction with an additional component separate from the unit itself: the Cube. It allows the Braava to clean a larger area. Unlike the iRobot system, the Cube is placed not on the floor but usually on a higher surface. A nearby table or kitchen cabinet is a good choice. The base robot can communicate (by bouncing the beam off the ceiling, for example) with the Cube. Watch the video below to see this navigation system in action.
You can, at times, observe this communication visually. The 320 will leave its regular pattern and move toward the Cube to confirm its position, then resume cleaning. That’s normal behavior and it’s a tribute to the clever engineering that it doesn’t get lost, picking up where it left off.
Getting it Going
Getting it going is easy, especially since there are only three buttons on the top of the unit. The middle is the Power button, the left one starts the robot going in dry mode, and the right is used for wet mode. There are three small blue LEDs so the 320 can provide a simple level of status info.
Unfortunately, the 320 lacks an LCD to provide anything more complex. It doesn’t report battery level, for example. And, you have to read the manual to interpret what it means when one of the lights blinks.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the controls and lights, you can actually control a lot and get good info during operation. Holding down one of the cleaning mode buttons for instance will let you select Quick Cleaning mode. There’s a fair amount of sophistication built into this robot and not just in the navigation system.
That nav system is where most of the smarts are, however. Besides the IR (distance sensor) there are cliff sensors and collision sensors. If the 320 senses that it has gone up a hill it can back off and resume once on level ground again. It runs along edges/baseboards where the squarish design does a good job of getting into the close spaces.
Battery Life and Charger
The 320 doesn’t return automatically to a charging station – because there isn’t one. You just move it from wherever it stopped when it decides it’s done then plug it in.
There are two separate power systems in the complete Braava 320 system, actually. The base unit itself has a 1500 mA Ni-MH rechargeable inside. The Cube operates on two standard C batteries.
No idea how long the Cube will run on those; it will probably take a couple of years to test and the company doesn’t say. Long enough not to matter, anyway. C batteries are inexpensive.
The 320 unit itself will run about two hours on a charge in wet mode and three hours in dry mode, which is far longer than needed for most floors. Measured an alternative way, it will cover about 250 square feet when mopping or 800 square feet when sweeping in dry mode. Without the cube Braava will only clean a small area – up to 150 square feet – without performing a perimeter clean.
For all that apparent simplicity outside the inside offers some seriously good technology. And, of course, what counts in the end is how well this robot cleans floors. There, no one will have any reason to complain.