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Scooba's coolness level outshines cleaning ability
In nearly four years of testing infomercial products, one of my favorites has been the Roomba, the saucer-shaped robotic vacuum cleaner that makes it so much easier to frantically get the house in order the night before the cleaning lady comes.
It was an ambitious product to launch on TV, costing many times more than the $9.95 and $14.95 price points that are so popular with many of the gadgets and gizmos on the airwaves.
The quirky little vacuum was a big hit, and today iRobot sells 10 different versions of the Roomba, with models that can find their way back to the recharging station, models with remote controls, and even models for pet owners with extra hair-scooping capabilities.
But the company's boldest move yet came about a year ago, when it introduced the Scooba, a wet-washing robot that is to the mop what the original Roomba was to the broom.
The Scooba is designed to automatically prep, wet, wash and dry hard floors, preferably while its owner is lounging in front of a plasma TV watching reruns of "The Jetsons."
Housecleaning at the push of a button would, I believe, rank as one of the great leaps forward for humankind, right up there with the invention of the telephone and the pizza.
So with a few months left before a possible change in corporate ownership threatens my expense account, I plunked down $240 for the Scooba and prepared to set it loose on the hardwood floor in my kitchen.
Alas, when it comes to replacing the mop and bucket, gratification is not so instant. Nor so complete.
With Roomba, it's a simple matter of placing the little guy in the middle of the floor and pushing the "Clean" button (after, of course, blocking the exits to the room).
But the Scooba takes a little more work, with a separate battery pack that must be installed each time it's used, as well as a removable tank that must be filled with water and a measured amount of cleaning solution. When Scooba has done its thing, a different tank must be emptied, and a filter, brush and water port must be removed and rinsed with each use.
I don't remember Rosie the Robot on "The Jetsons" being this high maintenance.
It's not a lot of work, but the concept of a robotic cleaner tends to bring out the lazy-Earthling-of-the-25th-Century in me, so even this modest prep and clean-up work seems excessive.
That helping hand might seem less burdensome if the Scooba did a fantastic cleaning job, or, and I don't mean to fall into marketing speak here, offered a fantastic cleaning experience.
While the Scooba is a capable floor washer, the overall event is not as carefree and rewarding as I'd like, particularly when compared with the Roomba.
When we first bought the Roomba, we stared like idiots as the disc motored around the room for half an hour, magically figuring out where to go next as it sucked up bits of dirt and dust. But in time, the novelty faded sufficiently so that we could set it down to clean while we went about our business.
But leaving the Scooba unattended leaves me nervous. The Roomba occasionally escaped the barriers we set up to keep it in a single room, and we would find it mischievously hiding under the sofa in the living room or chewing on rug tassels in the dining room.
The Scooba has a very low profile that is designed to bump into rugs and carpeting and turn around. Nevertheless, I still fear that if it were to jump the barricades leading out of the kitchen, the soggy result could be disastrous.
The Scooba, even more so that its dry cousin, also doesn't clean corners and has trouble getting right up to the edge of the wall. Depending on how demanding you are about clean floors, that can be frustrating.
And the Scooba can't intuitively identify areas that need a vigorous scrubbing, so those dried splatters of spaghetti sauce or cake batter have no better than a 50-50 chance of actually coming off the floor.
But hey, the Scooba is a motorized electronic device, and I'm a guy, so let's talk about the positives. Those criticisms are, after all, not much more serious than nit-picks. And the Scooba deserves praise as a technological marvel, with a four-step cleaning process built into a machine only slightly larger than the original Roomba.
Inside its 14-inch diameter, the Scooba simultaneously vacuums the floor, lays down a spritz of diluted cleaning solution, scrubs the floor with a rotating rubber brush, and sucks up the dirty solution. The result is not immediately walk-on dry, but it's close.
And the truly filthy contents that end up in the dirty-water tank at the end of the 45-minute cycle are strong evidence that the Scooba is doing at least a decent cleaning job. And knowing that nearly all of the dirty water is sucked off the floor is plus.
The Scooba also uses a variety of sensors and an internal algorithm to map a path around the room, and, like all of iRobot's products, that ranks it pretty high on the cool scale.
All of which has me a little torn over whether to recommend the Scooba. It's expensive, and in my home it has not had the workout that the Roomba has.
But I do like seeing its sleek design in the corner.
Maybe that's it. It's hard to justify Scooba's hefty price tag for its cleaning ability alone. But if you've got the bucks, and see the added value of having the latest and coolest technology, then who am I to get in the way of your happiness?
Matthew Kauffman is a staff reporter for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Co. newspaper. E-mail him at email@example.com.