Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

The Narwal Freo robot vac cleans so carefully, you’ll want to leave a tip

A Narwal robot vacuum sits on a living room carpet.
Narwal Freo
MSRP $1,199.00
“The Narwal Freo is the most meticulous robot cleaner we've ever tested.”
Pros
  • Squeaky clean mopping results
  • Meticulous vacuuming
  • Dirt sensors trigger extra cleaning
  • Compact dock with LCD control panel
  • Easy setup
  • Quiet operation
Cons
  • Doesn’t tell you when it gets stuck
  • Long cleaning times
  • Base station does not empty vacuum
  • App not as polished as competitors'

There’s never been a better time to be lazy. While robot vacuums have become as commonplace as Instant Pots, a new generation of vacuum-mop combos has taken things to the next level over the last few years. And they’re just now maturing past the overpriced “early adopter” phase with the arrival of practical models you may actually want to buy.

Narwal, though you may not have heard of the company, has been leading the charge. It launched the “world’s first self-cleaning robot mop and vacuum” on Kickstarter in 2019, and defied all odds by not only delivering a product, but a pretty good one. The Freo is an evolution of that early effort that competes with other all-in-one bots like the Roborock S7 Max Ultra, Roomba Combo j9+, and Ecovacs Deebot X2 Omni.

All of them offer mopping and vacuuming with base stations that automatically scrub the mops, but Narwal stands apart with its DirtSense technology, which allows the robot to measure the filth in your floors and keep going back to problem areas until they’re clean. While that makes it one of the most impressive robo cleaners we’ve ever tested, some rough patches in its app mar the experience a bit.

All the bells and whistles

Priced at $1,199, this is a premium robot vacuum, and the packaging belies Narwal’s luxurious aspirations. From the perforated tab you pull to open the package to the custom Narwal logos embossed in the packaging foam, it feels expensive.

A hand pulls the opening tab on the packaging for the Narwal Freo robot vacuum and mop.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This white-glove experience extends to the setup, which goes as smoothly as you’d expect: download the app, slide the Narwal in its base station, connect with Bluetooth, and give it your Wi-Fi details.

I won’t burn too many words describing the Narwal itself, which looks and feels so close to every robot vacuum I’ve ever handled that it makes me question whether they might all come from the same factory. The glossy white finish stands out more than anything, giving it a friendly, appliance-like appearance in contrast with the more gadgety look of a Roborock or Roomba. It shows dust less, but shows dirt more, so pick your poison.

The vertical base station consumes barely any more floor footprint than the robot itself, and easily tucks into a nook or corner. The robot drives into a slim garage at the bottom, and the clean and dirty water tanks live above it beneath a top lid. This design does mean you need to slide the robot out to empty its dust bin, but it’s a five-second trade-off I’ll happily make in order to minimize its size. Keep in mind that unlike all the competing models I mentioned up top, the Narwal does not empty its vacuum at the base station – just mop water. That means you’ll need to tend to it between every run.

The base station for a Narwal robot vacuum and mop sits in a corner.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A top-mounted LCD touchscreen lets you cue up cleanings without using the app, while most robovacs only give you a single button to press. I still preferred opening my phone, but it’s a convenient touch if you have kids or a significant other that can’t be bothered installing the app.

The bells and whistles keep coming. A removable tray in the bottom makes it easy to clean up the gunk that inevitably builds up, and you can order this unit with a “mop water exchange unit” that automatically pumps out the dirty water and refills with fresh. I didn’t have space near a water line to pull off that install, so I hauled water for this review like a plebian. A hot air drying system also saves the Narwal from the funk our S7 MaxV Ultra encountered by drying the mop heads, so they don’t sit around wet.

Help me help you

On its first run, the Narwal cruises around your house, mapping it in detail using lidar, which has become standard tech for robovacs at this price level. It did a fine job accurately drawing a map, but it needed more manual input than Roborock’s clever app, which was able to automatically label rooms and even furniture. I had to manually splice, merge and rename rooms in Narwal’s app, but it’s a one-time task.

More frustrating was the robot’s inability to learn from repeated errors. I can accept that it’s not smart enough to detect and avoid cords, but after getting stuck on one half a dozen times, I’d expect it to automatically avoid the area, as Roborock’s vacuums will. Instead the Narwal fearlessly undertook suicide mission after suicide mission until I manually marked all the correct “no-go” zones, which took some trial and error.

A Narwal robot stuck beneath a home entertainment center.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

And when there’s an error, you won’t know. I turned on push notifications in my app, but the robot won’t use them to notify you when it’s helplessly jammed under a TV stand or teetering on the edge of a cliff. Instead, I got to play a game of “find Narwal” every time I noticed that my house wasn’t clean yet, losing hours of cleaning time because the timid bot refused to speak up. Overall, the Narwal app just doesn’t have the polish of Roborock’s best-in-class offering.

Performance

The good news is that when you finally get the Narwal dialed in, it’s more meticulous than any other robot vacuum I’ve encountered. A quick example: Where other robovacs just plowed over the gap between my rug and hardwood floors, leaving a band of unvacuumed dust at the edges that the brushes couldn’t reach, the Narwal detected the ledge and painstakingly inched along it, rotating to reach right up against the carpet.

It’s a bit agonizing to watch, but it works. In its namesake Freo mode, you basically give the robot permission to return to work the same areas over and over again if it continues to detect dirt. I’m not a slob, by my dog is, and Narwal absolutely knows it. Watching it return to the area around Marty’s dog bowl over and over again was like watching a miner fearlessly trundling underground, day after day, to do the dirty work nobody else wants to. I couldn’t help but feel a some admiration for the little guy.

A Narwal mops hardwood floors.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How does the Narwal know to go back? Dirt sensors. It washes its mops after each room, and passes the flushed-out water through a light and sensor that can measure its filth. If it’s above a certain threshold, the Narwal will return to the same room for more mopping.

This makes the Narwal one thirsty robot. In Freo mode, just one mopping run of my 525-square-foot main floor drained the entire water tank. But as one glance at the dirty tank will attest, it’s incredibly effective. I’m not even sure how the Narwal manages to recollect so much of the water it lays down, 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 down and slopping it around.

It also shows in the results. Even around my dog’s water bowl, where dried drool spots tend to stick around (sorry, he’s gross), the Narwal used enough water to remove them and leave an even shine.

While that means you’ll need to change the water frequently, it takes just a minute, and because the water doesn’t stew in a tank for weeks, it doesn’t have time to develop the gag-inducing death stench we got with the 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 attempt to clean your house in a hurry. In Freo mode, we sometimes clocked run times of more than three hours for a single floor. That’s fine if it’s running while you’re at work, but if you’re home, it’s a long time to tiptoe around a little robot moving around. The app does allow you to change settings and expedite the process, but in my experience, an hour was about the quickest it could get the job done.

A Narwal robot is flipped on its back.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On paper, the vacuum’s suction of just 3,000 pascals (Pa) leaves it outgunned by competitors like the 5,100Pa S7 MaxV Ultra and the 8,000Pa Ecovacs X2 Omni, but there’s more to vacuum performance than that. Suction matters for hoovering out embedded dirt and dust from carpets, sure, but most robot vacuums disappoint by leaving behind big clots of hair and visible dirt. On this admittedly subjective measure, the fastidious Narwal performed very well, even if we were able to go over the same rug with a Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra and get a bit more dirt out. The Narwal also benefits from bristles on its vacuum roller, which in our experience seem to do a better job of dislodging dirt than rubber fins alone. But the competing Ecovac and Roomba rock twin rollers, which typically help a lot with pet hair.

While both vacuuming and mopping, the Narwal remains shockingly quiet – maybe that’s one of the silver linings to its modest suction. I could watch TV with it running, and I consider myself easily annoyed by vacuum noise. Cleaning the mops at the base station does produce quite a bit of whirring, but it’s infrequent enough not to be much of a bother.

So close to great

The Narwal’s results speak for themselves. This is 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 attack dirt from every angle, over and over again, pays off. If robots can have personality, this is one tenacious bot.

But there’s one sin I can’t overlook: It doesn’t tell you when it gets stuck. This situation is inevitable with any robot vacuum, no matter how carefully you prep the house. Without push notifications to proactively let you know when this happens, I never felt like I could fully trust the Narwal to do its job in the background. I found myself checking in on it like a misbehaving dog, and I don’t need a second one of those. This could be a deal breaker for some buyers, but it’s still a great pick if you’re willing to do a little botsitting.

Nick Mokey
As Digital Trends’ Managing Editor, Nick Mokey oversees an editorial team delivering definitive reviews, enlightening…
Why won’t my Roomba charge? Tips to fix your robot vacuum
Underside of iRobot Roomba showing charging contacts.

iRobot’s Roomba devices are the original robot vacuums, but these days, there are dozens of different brands and models of robot vacuums. Some can be very affordable, but do-it-all bots that sweep and mop can be expensive, so when something goes wrong, it can be frustrating. A common problem is when your robot vacuum won’t charge. Fortunately, this is often an easy fix.
Why won't my robot vacuum charge? Tips to fix it
These tips will work for almost any robot vacuum or robot mop, so if your Roborock vacuum isn't charging or your Neato robot vacuum won’t run, you can try these universal fixes.
Common reasons a robot vacuum won’t charge
There are two very common reasons a robot vacuum may not be charging, and the first is the simplest: Check the plug.
Are the plugs seated correctly?
There’s s good chance your Roomba has come unplugged, and it can even be the vacuum itself that’s responsible, since repeated nudging of the base station can result in a disconnection or loose connection, either where the plug meets the base of the charging platform or at the wall. Of course, someone could have unplugged the charging station if the plug was needed for something else, too. So, a quick check to make sure all the power cables are securely connected can save you a world of time and troubleshooting.

If all that’s good, do yourself a favor and unplug then plug the bot back in. Yes, we all hate it when the IT person tells us to unplug it and plug it back in again, but that’s the most common and easy fix for some power problems since it creates a simple reset of the electrical system.

Read more
The best robot vacuums of CES 2020: Lucy, Narwal T10, RoboVac G30 Edge, and more
Narwal T10 self cleaning robot vac

This story is part of our continuing coverage of CES 2020, including tech and gadgets from the showroom floor.

CES 2020 had some interesting robot vacs debut this year. There have been bots that clean themselves, prevent their filters from clogging, and even bots that double as roving security cameras. Here are the smart vacuum cleaners that we've liked so far.

Read more
Prime Day standing desk deals: Flexispot, Marsail, SMUG, more
The Inbox Zero Dojtcho Height Adjustable Standing Desk with an all-in-one computer and laptop on top.

Standing desks have become very popular over the last few years, and for a good reason; sitting down for long periods of time is not great for your circulation or overall health, something that is easily rectified by standing up while working. Of course, the big problem then is that standing desks can get very expensive, but luckily, even though Prime Day is over, there are still quite a few standing desk deals that are worth grabbing. We've collected some of our favorites below, and while you're at it, be sure to check out any last minute Prime Day deals that are still remaining.
Best Prime Day standing desk deals

If you find yourself sitting for the most part of every single day, you're going to want to invest in a standing desk to be able to avoid various health problems. Even if you're on a tight budget, you'll be able to buy something from the Prime Day standing desk deals that we've picked, though you're also welcome to splurge on a premium model if you've got the cash to spare. You shouldn't wait until the last minute of the shopping holiday before you finalize your purchase, though, as most of these offers may already be gone by then.

Read more