iRobot Braava 380 Review by Janyce Raynolds
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iRobot has long been a leader in robot vacuum and floor cleaners. They’ve added to that lineup in a new way this time around. In 2012 they acquired rival robot maker Evolution Robotics and its Mint line (read more) – now renamed Braava for all products. That has allowed the company to bring robot floor mopping technology not available before into the fold. The result – the Braava 380t – will give both iRobot and Mint lovers something to cheer.
The Braava 380t – comparable to the Mint 5200+ – is a robotic floor sweeper or mop. Unlike some of iRobot’s “traditional” designs, this Evolution Robotics-developed product uses cloths to clean your floors, not rollers and/or vacuum technology. We’ll look closer and in detail at some of that technology below but first a few basic specs.
The Braava line, which includes the 380t, follows the Mint design methodology. It’s square, measuring sides of 8.5″ and 3″ high. Note, the measurements don’t convey the exact shape since the Braava case perimeter is actually shaped like a square and a rectangle joined.
The unit weighs a modest 4 lbs. That’s small and lightweight even by the standards of robot vacuum and floor cleaners. That’s usually a good thing but it’s possible on certain surfaces for the 380t to lack the heft to go smoothly and well across your floor. For the most part the rubber wheels do a good job even on slick floors but there are times it might slip.
Pro-Clean Reservoir Pad
The cloth mop idea may sound elementary, and certainly the idea goes back generations, but here it consists of the latest technology. Unlike its little brother – the Braava 320 – the 380t comes with something iRobot calls a Pro-Clean Reservoir Pad for wet operation.
Using the Pro-Clean Reservoir Pad is simple as you can see in the video below. You fill the reservoir with proprietary cleaning solution. Attach the Pro-Clean microfiber cloth then set the thing on its way. The 380t drips a little solution out onto the pad as it moves along to keep the cloth damp during the cleaning session. Then empty the reservoir out in the sink when you’re done. Clever. Alternatively, the unit can be used in conjunction with plain water to cut costs when you don’t need the extra cleansing power of the solution.
Also in the package is the Multi-Purpose Cleaning Pad that is for exactly what it says – dry sweeping or wet mopping – and can be used with dry or damp disposable cleaning cloths. As an alternative you can also use Braava’s specially designed rewashable and reusable microfiber cloths.
In dry mode, the 380t acts like a robot sweeper – a sort of Swiffer without the solution. It operates reasonably well, though (it will come as no surprise) not so well as the wet mop. Sometimes that’s good enough, though when a floor “dusting” is all that’s needed. It’s rated to sweep a full 1,000 square feet and real-world use shows it lives up to that rating. In wet mode operation the 380t is rated to mop up to 350 square feet during one cleaning session.
You can’t set a cleaning schedule as you can with many iRobot models. Maybe in the future the company will blend a bit of the Mint/Evolution Robotics technology with their own and we’ll see a robot cleaner with the best of both. In the interim, it is what it is.
Of course, what makes either dry or wet mode effective – apart from the excellent fabric and fit of the mop components – is the navigation system. Here, iRobot did themselves a favor by acquiring Evolution Robotics and its advanced visualization technology. Using infrared beams and sensors, the 380t is active in sensing and reacting to its environment.
The company calls it the NorthStar Navigation System but the name isn’t terribly important. What is key is that it operates by projecting an IR beam then detecting the “echo” and storing the information. From that basic data, updated as it moves, the onboard “brain” builds a “visual” map that includes where the robot is in the terrain.
The 380t can also work with the Cube, the ER/Mint version of iRobot’s Lighthouse. It’s a small additional component that communicates with the base unit in part by bouncing the beam off the ceiling. It allows the robot to clean a larger area.
The 380t even works with multiple Cubes (sold separately). Moving from one Cube to the next, the 380t extends the cleaning area with each Cube it encounters. That allows you to clean up to 2,000 square feet when dry sweeping.
Working in cooperation with that navigation system is the Wall-Following Technology. The 380t can scoot along the room’s edges and get at dust or dirt efficiently. That’s one of the bigger challenges for a robot cleaner and the whole Mint line has always dealt with it well. That tradition continues here.
Braava Turbo Charge Cradle
The whole operation would be compromised if the 380t were unable to work long enough in a single session. Fortunately, rechargeable batteries used in robots have advanced to the point where that’s rarely a problem.
The 380t uses a 2000 mAh NiMH battery to drive the robot. A pair of C batteries is needed to power the Cube. Unlike the 320 the 380t comes with the Braava Turbo Charge Cradle. It “turbo” charges the Braava 380t in as fast as two hours.
The 380t goes far beyond “acceptable” range to work for up to 2.5 hours in wet mopping and 4 hours in dry mode. Even the lower figure is substantially longer than it would take to clean most floors. If you have a floor big enough to outlast the 380t you can probably afford a maid :).
The charger system is nothing special, but it doesn’t need to be; it just works – automatically. On the other hand, the unit does not return to any charger system automatically, as some other iRobot models do. At the price, you can’t have everything.
The Braava 380t is a dry/wet floor mopping robot cleaner. On the whole this is a less expensive alternative to iRobot’s Scooba floor washing cleaners and it works well. It will do a fine job whether you have hardwood floors, linoleum, vinyl or tile and it does so more quietly than most Scooba models.
Using cloth instead of rollers is certainly a lot safer to use on wood, but might not be as effective on a roughened surface like slate, uneven tiles, or brick. One limitation is that you can find yourself replacing the cloths often, at a moderately high operational cost, if your floors get very dirty frequently.
Taking all that into account, the Braava 380t is recommended.