The following post is brought to you by Gregory Han
If there’s any indication that smart cleaning devices are evolving at a dizzying pace compared to their traditional vacuum and mop counterparts, the introduction of the Narwal Freo stands as a prime example. It was only earlier this year that we tested the Narwal T10, an impressive dual vacuum and mop robot vacuum that earned accolades (including from us) for its functional capabilities cleaning both soft and hard surfaces. Throw in its friendly rounded contemporary design, inspired by that most magical of cetaceans of its namesake, and you have a standout in a category of lookalikes.
Fast forward to the latter half of this same year, and the Narwal team has surprisingly announced the Narwal Freo, accompanied with a slew of software, sensor, and hardware improvements engineered to keep the flagship robot vacuum at the top of the category.
On the surface The Narwal Freo appears to be more of an incrementally-improved sequel to the T10 than something wholly new. In function, the Freo does initially seem to offer the same combination of wet/dry surface dual cleaning acumen as the T10’s cleaning experience, one guided by a mix of onboard sensors, including time-of-flight sensor, LIDAR Navigation, LSD Laser mapping algorithms, and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). Except for some subtle, yet noticeable physical cues, the newer Freo shares the brand’s design lineage. Thus, we were very curious whether Narwal’s follow-up could improve on what we thought was already a considerately quiet, highly efficient, and proficient robotic cleaning companion that happened to look unlike the competition.
One thing to note is we’ve moved since that review in early April, where the T10 was tested within the restricted layout of a small apartment. The Freo, on the other hand, was unleashed to clean a mix of tiles, hardwood floors, rugs, and carpet tiles within a much larger and open house floor plan, so it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. However, many of the same pile rugs, FLOR carpet tiles, and mixture of ceramic tiles and hardwood floors were there to test Narwal’s newest vacuum.
At first glance, the only indication anything has changed from the T10 is the Freo’s upgraded LCD Touch Display. It’s been relocated to the right versus the center of the base. It’s also bright, legible, responsive, and allows operation sans the app if you’re within arm’s length. But most of the time, we suspect homeowners will be just as apt to interact using the Freo by app as they are with the circular touchscreen. And unsurprisingly so, as scheduling, custom mapping, room cordoning, and report features are more easily accessible and viewable using a mobile device screen than hunched down at the base LCD display.
The Narwal app thankfully remains cleanly designed and intuitive to use, with the clean by “Room” or “Area” where most users will primarily interact with when deviating from a set day/time Scheduled Plan.
Otherwise, the actual physical design of the Freo still resembles a futuristic bulbous form reminiscent of EVE from Pixar’s WALL-E, with the same wide gaping bay for the vacuum to exit and reenter to recharge or to clean itself between sessions. The vacuum itself hides a noteworthy improvement, with increased suction power now able to hoover at up to 3,000 Pa versus the T10’s maximum 1,800 Pa suction specs. That in itself results in a much more thorough cleaning, especially when handling more stubborn debris that can have a tendency to cling to edges where soft rugs and hard flooring meet. Paired with a dust bin increased to 480ml capacity, and the brand could have called it a day with a “T10+” moniker update.
But Narwal Freo’s greatest improvements are mostly invisible and algorithmic in nature, something only realized after observing a few cleaning sessions. The newer model is engineered not only to better sense what it’s cleaning and what to avoid while doing so, but to unsully rooms using a multitude of passes to ensure a fully pristine surface, with the capability to automatically switch from dry vacuuming to wet mopping as different surfaces are registered. It now also knows when the mop heads are dirtied enough to deserve a cleaning back at the base station, before heading back out to wet wash hard surfaces.
The Freo’s thoroughness is its most standout feature; it will continue to clean a surface until its Dirtsense sensors register the surface as truly clean or will boomerang back for another pass, regardless of often deceiving appearances. This does mean the Freo can sometimes require a longer cleaning period when set to Freo Mode, which activates the vacuum to reactively mopping as sensed, but also results in thoroughly cleaned flooring. The system is most convenient when programmed ahead to operate at scheduled hours when you’re away or out of the home. The ability to map and program specific sections to clean is a practical necessity, and conveniently the final version of the Freo app permitted us to clean just one or two rooms at a time rather than the entire house layout.
Another very welcome feature is that the Freo is equipped with heated dual air tunnels capable of drying surfaces at 40℃/104°F temps. This feature is intended to help inhibit the growth of bacteria, but we really appreciate it for expediting dry time and extending the mops’ span of use before replacements are ever required.
Ideally, robot vacuums are scheduled to clean the house when the owner is away; cleaning devices are best neither seen nor heard in our opinion. But there are occasions when you might want to clean an area immediately. The previous T10 earned kudos for being quieter than other vacuums while mopping or vacuuming, and the Freo follows in those hushed footsteps, registering as low as 39dB at its quietest setting, averaging less than 55dB while vacuuming or 51dB while mopping. Even the aforementioned air drying mode blows at an even quieter realm of 43dB, which means just like the T10, the Freo is a WFH-compliant cleaner.
When most of us manually vacuum or mop, it’s likely you pass over surfaces a multitude of times even after the first indication you’ve successfully removed dust, debris, or a surface stain from view. An example of what I call the “a couple more passes just to be sure” mode that gives us the peace of mind that we’ve really done the job. The Narwal Freo is laudable in its ability not only to mimic our best proclivities to keeping the home orderly, but to improve upon our cleaning habits aided by sensors that can “see” the world at a higher degree of accuracy – something increasingly best left to our robotic cleaning companions.