iRobot's short range mop concentrates on cleaning

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Josh Miller/CNET

iRobot's newest robot mop will focus on quality over quantity. The Braava Jet 240 can only cover 150 to 200 square feet, a big step down from the 300-to-1,000 sq. ft. range of its predecessor -- the Braava 380t. But with a vibrating cleaning head to increase agitation, a water nozzle to spray the area it's covering, and premixed detergent in its disposable pads, the Jet 240 should do a better job of scrubbing the smaller area it can reach.

The Braava Jet 240 goes on sale today on iRobot's site for $200 -- the cheapest robot cleaner the company's released to date. Starting April 1, you'll be able to purchase it from a variety of retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target. The price converts to approximately £140 and AU$270 for our readers in the UK and Australia, respectively, and I'll update the piece with specific availability in those regions once that info becomes available.

How it works

Designed around accessibility, the Jet only has one button that turns it on and starts it. It has three different modes -- dry sweeping, damp sweeping and wet mopping -- but you won't have to adjust any settings yourself. Each mode has its own unique Swiffer-style cleaning pad. Slide the one you want into place, and the Jet will detect your selection.

You also won't need to set up any sensors to help the Jet navigate. It uses a bumper to detect objects, a wheel count to tell how far it's traveled, and a gyroscope to keep track of how much it turns. The Jet 240 will cover your floor one quadrant at a time -- row by row like a Zamboni, slowly circling the objects it comes across.

For dry dusting, it'll cover the room once with little overlap. The damp cycle covers everything twice, and wet mopping uses more water and goes over it all three times, hitting the lower end of the product's area range as a result of the extra passes. During the demonstration, the wet mopping process looked less like a Zamboni in action and more like a person traditionally mopping, going back and forth over one spot then branching out from there.

Both the damp and wet modes employ the Jet's water nozzle to spray the area in front of it. You'll fill the reservoir with water before each run, which will activate the cleaning agent in those specific pads once they get wet. Cleverly, the bot will wipe an area, then back up and spray what it just covered before wiping it again, which helps it avoid accidentally spraying any furniture. The pads absorb liquid, so the floor should feel dry shortly after it's done. And since the electronics of the Jet are sealed, you supposedly won't have to worry about spilling and ruining your expensive new cleaner when you fill the reservoir.

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Fill the reservoir before running a damp or wet cleaning cycle.

Josh Miller/CNET

Once the Jet finishes, you can hold it over a trash can and hit an eject lever to dump the disposable pad without needing to touch it. Two of each pad ship with the product, and they're only meant to be used once, so you'll need to buy replacement packs of ten each for $8 or reusable pads you can wash for $20 a piece.

Impressions

The lower price helps mitigate this somewhat, but iRobot's taking a big gamble here in reducing the range and run-time of this model. Basically, the Jet 240 is a one-room-at-a-time cleaner, and after each room, you'll have to swap out the pad and charge the battery yourself, making the whole process much more hands-on than the latest Roombas, one of which can take care of a whole floor of your home with little to no supervision and can even find its docking station and charge itself when it necessary.

The improvements to the cleaning process sound promising, and they're necessary, as the Braava 380 didn't impress us in our review. The improved navigation should help the Jet efficiently cover a single room. It'll detect carpet and use that as a boundary. You can also create virtual boundaries yourself by putting it on one side of a line you don't want crossed and holding the start button.

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The new Braava will need to clean well to be worth the price.

Josh Miller/CNET

Still, even though the price is in the range of a reasonable splurge, if it can't mop as well as a human with an actual mop, it'll have a hard time proving itself a worthwhile machine. Again, iRobot prioritized quality over quantity, so the quality aspect better pay off. During the demo, the Jet did a great job cleaning up dirt and even coffee stains, but couldn't remove some tough rubber scruffs.

Outlook

iRobot's aiming for accessibility and thoroughness here. A company representative said, "We hope to get to consumers who haven't adopted robotic cleaning yet." Given that we've yet to be impressed by any robot mops, maybe the "less is more" approach is the way to go. Once we get our hands on the Braava Jet, we'll put it through a variety of cleaning tests to see where its cleaning limits lie.

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  • Cleaner Type robotic