We live in a world full of fabulous idle distractions -- a million TV channels, videogames at our fingertips, the world's greatest literature just a few menu selections away. Yet still we're stuck cleaning the same floors more or less the same way our forefathers did, despite the fact that they had a lot less fun stuff they could be doing instead. The $249 Mint Automatic Floor Cleaner is another attempt to free us from that burdensome task and, like the Neato XV-11 we recently reviewed, it is quite clinical and comprehensive in the way that it does things. However, while this one is likewise a heck of a lot smarter than a Roomba, for some it'll be of rather more limited usefulness. Why? Read on to find out.

Mint Automatic Floor Cleaner

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Hardware

When we reviewed the Neato XV-11 we told you the sorry story of Geeves, our tired old Roomba 560 who's been doing faithful duty around the house for many years now, with the battle scars to prove it. Brownish gash on the front? Got stuck under a hand-me-down hutch with a tricky base. Scratches on top? Curious puppy who got spooked.

We figure Geeves was understandably uncomfortable around the XV-11, with its room-sweeping radar array perched on top. The Mint, though, why that's not even a vacuum! It's a robot sweeper, effectively a self-propelled version of those Swiffer mops (and their various generic imitators) that fill the cleaning aisle at the grocery store. Indeed, it even accepts Swiffer pads.

The bot works by pushing a cleaning pad along your floor, including a selection of re-usable cloth ones for either dry or wet cleaning. Pick the appropriate one, tuck it into the rubber grippers on the front pad holder, put the little guy where you want him to go, and set him free. From here the two-wheeled rover is on its own to find its way around, featuring no tricky laser scanner but not necessarily flying blind thanks to a NorthStar beacon.

This is a little cube (powered by a pair of C cell batteries) that beams an IR pattern onto the ceiling. The Mint, meanwhile, has a camera on its top and can use that pattern to steer itself around. Mind you, the Mint is quite good at determining the size of a given room without navigation, but it'll limit itself to cleaning about 350 square feet of dirty floor if it has no backup. It'll do about 1000 if that cube is in sights -- though that drops to 250 if you put it in wet mopping mode, where it does an extra thorough job of scrubbing to get things spic-and-span.

Testing


We used the bot around the house for a number of days on various floor surfaces. Naturally it's useless on carpet, and indeed it'll actively avoid the stuff if its front pressure sensor thinks that it's rolling up onto it. That worked fine, but the robot's sensors weren't always so keen. We have one section of flooring where hardwood transitions to linoleum. The Mint had no qualms about going up from hardwood to the fake tile, but absolutely refused to go back onto the hardwood.

We spoke with folks at Mint about this, who indicated that the bot thought it was perched precariously close to falling off a cliff, instead of simply sitting at the edge of an eighth-inch transition. The bot is smart enough to figure out the shape and size of the room, and so it knew it was supposed to be going back to finish its job on the other side. However, since it refused to go over the transition, it couldn't find a way back. It'd spend about five minutes going back and forth along that transition, beeping and blinking confusedly, hopelessly, before finally giving up. Roomba Geeves, meanwhile, clunks right over that little divider without thinking twice -- or, perhaps, even once. Since there are no virtual walls or any way to tell the Mint to stay out of a given area, we simply were unable to use it in that room.

The folks at Mint assure us that a firmware fix for this is coming, and yes, this is a floor cleaner that you can update the firmware on. Tucked away beneath the thing is a hidden miniUSB port not mentioned in any of the documentation -- in fact it's been kept secret until now. The company has an update client they'll be releasing to the public in the coming months and is considering releasing specs on the thing to allow tweakers and hackers to see what they can do. But, that's all in the future, and for now if you have such a transition you might want to avoid the Mint.


Put the Mint in a room with no such deviations in flooring, however, and it does a quite comprehensive job. It doesn't have any fancy onboard sensors (indeed it often bangs into the wall to know when to turn around) but it still maps out the room, efficiently crossing going back and forth like the XV-11, a stark contrast to a Roomba's chaotic beauty. However, where the XV-11 is smart enough to find doorways and basically clean an entire level of a home, the Mint is best suited for cleaning a single room at a time. Surprisingly, having the NorthStar cube on doesn't really help much when it comes to finding its way around, really only enabling it to clean larger areas and, once it's through, make an extra lap around the edge, as shown in the video above comparing both modes.

With or without the cube the Mint does a respectable job of either dusting or mopping, though when used with a wet pad it simply isn't scrubbing hard enough to lift off any stains that have been sitting there for long. The thing only weighs a couple of pounds, so imagine using a mop with that little pressure and you can see this is something that would need to be set loose very regularly to keep a given floor clean. And you might just be inclined to do so, as unlike the robo vacs it makes virtually no noise -- well, except for the banging on the walls bit.

It does, however, require a lot of manual attention. There's no charging base for it to return to, so you'll need to flip it over and plug it in by hand. Also the pad must be replaced and cleaned after every use, so you'll need to pop that off and put a new one on. But, that's not to say it isn't worth doing, and it's a lot better than dealing with chemical refills for an iRobot Scooba.

Wrap-up

Is the Mint Automatic Floor Cleaner for you? Are you the sort who primarily cleans your floors with a wet or dry mop -- or simply by shuffling around in formerly clean socks? If so it could be, but we'd say only if you're looking to maintain a smallish area, as unlike the XV-11 this one doesn't do very good at finding its way from room to room, and only if you don't mind taking care of the thing, as it will need attention after every use. It is wonderfully quiet compared to the rest and, at $250, relatively affordable, but not cheap enough to warrant a universal recommendation.
Mint

Automatic Floor Cleaner

Pros

  • Blissfully quiet
  • Quite comprehensive in its cleaning
  • Sweeps or mops

Cons

  • Gets hung up on floor transitions
  • No way to restrict its path
  • Requires a lot of manual help
Conclusion

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