Where most floor mopping robots are designed for light-duty maintenance cleaning, iRobot's $600 Scooba 450 can tackle heavier spills, stains, and other unsightly messes with comparable ease. That makes the Scooba 450 unique among its competitors -- it's the closest we've seen to a true replacement for your mop and dirty water bucket. Unfortunately, it can only clean about 300 square feet (40 minutes of cleaning time) before needing to charge. Still, I really like the Scooba 450 and think it's a capable (small space) floor cleaner.
The iRobot Scooba 450 looks a lot like iRobot's Roomba robot vacuums. They share the same disk-like shape and color detail, have similar handles for easy lifting, and even operate via the same iAdapt navigation algorithm. But the Scooba 450 has significantly fewer features, making it more high maintenance than I'd like.
The top of the Scooba 450 displays a power/clean button with a blue LED status ring around it. When the status lights are spinning, the Scooba is getting ready for a cleaning cycle, and when the lights are solid, the lights act as a progress guide. To the right is a room size button where you have two options: 150 square feet for 20 minutes of cleaning or 300 square feet for 40 minutes of cleaning. To the left there's an information button that you can press to get audio updates from the bot, such as "I can't detect my tank. Please make sure it is installed correctly, then press 'clean' to restart." The 450 is also programmed to talk to you when it has specific information to share (without pressing the information button for a prompt).
There's also a battery indicator light that's solid green/red when the battery is full/drained and pulses yellow or green when it's charging, in addition to a USB port under the handle and a sensor that can communicate with the included Virtual Wall device to help the bot navigate. That's it for the display panel and the top of the bot. There's no option for scheduling cleaning cycles or other such customization.
Press the water tank release button located in front of the Scooba's display for emptying and refilling the water tank (similar to a Roomba's dust bin). The tank is equipped with two separate compartments -- one for clean water and one for dirty water. That means that you won't be repurposing old water to clean the rest of your floor. As far as cleaning solution, iRobot recommends combining its concentrated hard floor cleaner with water (a 14 ounce bottle is included with the purchase) or simply using water.
Interestingly, the Scooba 450 doesn't come with a charging dock. Instead, you get a basic battery charger that connects to a port on the side of the vacuum. You do have the option of buying a separate DryDock Charging and Drying Stand for $80. That's supposed to help the bot's water tank air out faster between uses.
All of this helps explain the Scooba's lack of features. If there isn't a dock for the robot to return to after a cleaning cycle, it also can't have auto-scheduling. But I'm still not sure why it doesn't offer a dock similar to the Roomba. Of course, there would have to been some fancy engineering footwork to make sure water didn't interact with any important charging ports, but the $500has a water reservoir and auto-docking, so clearly it can be done.
The Scooba cleans floors in three steps. First, it lightly sweeps up dust and other debris while putting down a layer of cleaning solution. Then, the brush starts to spin pull dirty water off the floor and into the dirty water tank. Lastly, it squeegees the floor dry so you aren't left with massive puddles. iRobot suggests setting the bot in the middle of the room and then starting a cycle. When it's done, it will return to the center of the room and make a series of chimes.
The Scooba is fairly easy to use, although it isn't as simple as its Roomba robot vacuum counterparts. With no dock or scheduling, you have to physically press the clean button on the unit itself to tell it to start. That of course also means that you have to be home to get it running. In addition to the lack of dock, mopping bots are also inherently more involved than standard robot vacuums-- you have to add water (or water mixed with cleaning solution) and clean out both the clean and dirty water tanks regularly.