$5,000 for a robot lawnmower or $30/week for my lawn service? Rough call?
It doesn't cook, dance or shovel snow. I'm out!
Robot Lawn Mowers Are (Finally) Getting Good. But Are They Worth the Hefty Price Tag?
Early adopters had to manage complicated installations and live with cuts in random patterns, but manufacturers say they’ve worked out all the kinks. Our writer put a $2,899 new model from EcoFlow to the test in his own backyard.
By Sal Vaglica, WSJ
May 10, 2023 5:00 pm ET
SUBURBIA IS apparently filled with masochists—evidenced by the fact that each Sunday I wake to the sound of all my neighbors concurrently grooming their lawns. I feel compelled to join them, though I hate the two-hour chore. At least it makes my Apple Watch’s pedometer happy.
A 2019 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll with lawn mower maker Cub Cadet found that we spend an average of about six hours a month mowing our lawns, not counting extra time spent sculpting the perimeter edges with a string trimmer. You could outsource the task to an expensive landscaper, of course. Those who work at home will have to deal with the sonic blitzkrieg.
There is another way. Robot lawn mowers first gained popularity in the late ’90s. Then, they required you to pin a low-voltage ground wire around your lawn, taking care to block off areas you didn’t want your mower to go. Skip this and your robot might plow through a flower bed or roll into the street. Equally problematic: These early models trimmed unevenly, employing the same random navigation of unsophisticated robot vacuums.
The EcoFlow Blade, released last month, represents a new generation of mowers that dispense with the need for an electronic fence. Instead, the Blade relies on GPS and a single nearly-6-foot-tall antenna that you plant in your lawn, plus an onboard camera and laser to detect obstacles.
Eager to take this summer off, I welcomed the Blade into my Long Island backyard. Immediately, I discovered pain points. To place the antenna where it has the strongest satellite signal, you must download the mower’s app and consult it as you wander hopefully around your yard holding the pole. After 30 minutes of trial and error, it became clear I needed to plant it near my patio, where it is somehow both in plain sight and far from a wall outlet. Then, to make the Blade function without a ground wire, I carefully steered it around the edges of my lawn.
The robot mows in neat, orderly, enviable rows.
Once I saw the Blade at work, however, my frustration ebbed. The robot mows effectively, using its omnidirectional front wheels to pivot 180 degrees and mow in neat, orderly, enviable rows. It scoots at up to 1.8 miles an hour, carving out just over a 10-inch-wide path with its three spinning blades. The app lets you adjust the closeness of the cut, program a regular mowing schedule and (should you wish) commandeer the mower like a remote-control car. Whee!
The onboard sensors help prevent accidents, and stopped the machine when my dog ran up to sniff the new groundskeeper. And the noise? A refrigerator-like hum I could barely discern.
Ultimately, the Blade and its ilk make a stronger case for themselves than their high-maintenance predecessors did. But you might still have to go over their work. EcoFlow suggests keeping the mower about 6 inches away from the edge of the lawn while mapping the boundary.
Hope you didn’t already ditch your string trimmer.
Three Thorough Threshers
New robot lawn mowers that don’t require lengthy installations
The Year-Round Robot
Unlike most lawn robots, the EcoFlow Blade ($2,899) has an optional lawn-sweeper attachment ($700) that makes the cyborg useful even when the leaves start dropping in the fall. A roller bar in the bag flings debris like leaves, clippings, and small branches into the catcher. The battery can run for about four hours between charges, long enough, the manufacturer says, to mow just over 1/4 of an acre. The app lets you easily customize cutting height, from just over 3/4 to 3 inches high. The mower makes about as much noise as a vacuum cleaner, even when you’re standing nearby, which means it can mow at night or right by your window without interfering with your ability to chat on a Zoom call.
The Roving Eye
The Worx Landroid Vision ($1,600) works without a GPS antenna, instead using a high-definition, 140-degree field of view HDR camera to orient itself. With the camera and some onboard software, the Landroid can distinguish grass from a sprinkler or your dog, so that it can stop itself before catastrophe. With just over an hour of cutting time, enough to manage 1/5 of an acre, the Vision trims grass to between 1.5 to 3.5 inches tall, crawling along at up to 1.5 mph. The spinning wheel underneath, fitted with three blades to cut an 8.5-inch-wide path, is offset closer to one side of the robot, allowing you to cut quite close to the edge of your lawn.
The Heritage Pick
Husqvarna has been making robot mowers since 1995, which might give you enough confidence to spend the equivalent of what, say, a used 2011 Volkswagen Jetta costs on one of its models. The Automower 450XH Epos ($5,900) uses a similar setup to the Blade, but the Husqvarna must be installed by a dealer, which can add $600 to $1,000 to your outlay. Once set up, the mower can cut in tidy parallel lines about 9.5-inches wide or checkerboard patterns to give your lawn a little ballpark flavor. Working at up to 1.5 mph, the Automower can manage larger lawns up to 2.5 acres. When it tires out, it recharges in a sprightly hour before launching again to finish any uncut sections.
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