Of course this isn't merely a multi-storey solution - it will clean all windows without any intervention. With a few caveats, of course.
What is the Hobot 388?
The Hobot is an autonomous window cleaner. Simple as that. Attach it to the window and let it do its thing. It has a dry mode and a wet mode - the manufacturer strongly recommends that a dry run is done first to remove surface dust etc. before repeating with a wet run.
In fact, although this 'initial dry run' is clearly spelled out in the operating manual (which we did find to be a little 'terse' in places), an extra instruction sheet was provided by the people who sent the unit saying exactly the same thing! Clearly, it's important.
Although it contains a battery with power to run for 20 minutes (time claimed by the manual, but not tested), it is intended that the device is connected to an electric supply. Here is the first problem. It is clear from the image that the power connection at the device is screw-on, that's great, but the connector from that cable to the power pack is a simple concentric barrel connector… which can easily pull apart with minimal stretching. Note that if disconnected from the mains power, it will NOT operate, it will simply cling to the window - we had the Hobot operating and deliberately pulled the plug; it stopped moving and simply stayed where it was. We assume that any more battery to make it independent of the mains would have made the unit too heavy to 'cling' to the glass.
We considered taping this connection, but didn't for the review as the device had proven itself able to remain attached to the window. If your house doesn't have earth current leakage detection at the power board, we would strongly recommend using a portable safety isolator since this cleaner is outside and potentially wet.
The power cable is around 4.5m in total length, meaning you will almost certainly need an extension cable. The Hobot also comes with a safety rope (of the same length as the power cable) to avoid crashing to the concrete if the device detaches itself from the window. However, it comes with a simple snap-link on the end, and there was nowhere on our house to attach this - we held onto it for a while until we were happy it wouldn't fall and then gave up on it. Presumably it would only come into play if the Hobot was running on the internal battery and ran out of juice. Perhaps people may find some way to attach the rope to something solid; alternately leave something soft beneath the window! The instructions include a detailed description of the knot to be tied, but ours was already attached and it seems from the packaging that this is normal.
What's in the box?
The shipped product comes with:
- The main HOBOT 388 device
- Safety rope
- Power pack and cables
- Remote control
- Bottle of cleaning fluid
- Spare cleaning pads and replacement mounting rings
- Simple instruction manual and quick start guide
How does it work?
It's actually quite a cunning system. This video (pay particular attention around the 1:25 mark):
shows how it 'walks' across the glass alternately applying suction to each of the circular pads, while rotating the other one.
When in 'wet' mode, it also sprays cleaning fluid in advance of the lower cleaning head (which will be used by the upper head on the next pass) - this fluid is held in a small reservoir and needs only a few ml to clean a large window. The manual is adamant that the provided fluid should be used. Replacement bottles are easily available.
When it reaches the edge - which is detected by an impediment to the crabbing motion, it checks that detection and then walks down (or up, depending on the selected motion), eventually covering *most* of the entire window. Because of the way it moves, it cannot always clean right to the edge and it cannot (obviously) work on frameless windows.
The device comers with a remote control which allows the user to modify the direction of travel and also activate or stop the water spray. The device should only be turned off from the physical switch as the suction motors will stop and it will fall off the window. There is also a mobile app, which we briefly used - it has a slightly different layout to the remote but seems to function identically. Interestingly, it appears that the mobile app can work with multiple Hobots, although with only once for review, we were unable to test this.
What are the advantages?
Effortless, non-contact window cleaning - especially for windows that would otherwise require a ladder. You may have to ask it to clean twice, but you will have well-cleaned windows. The device takes at least twice as long as a manual clean, but if it's cleaning your windows, you could be doing something else - cleaning tracks and edges, if nothing else (see the 'negatives' section below).
Alternately, just sit back with a 'beverage' and the remote for a carefree afternoon!
It will probably also clean the mirror in your bathroom (as long as it is not frameless - as ours is - we didn't test it), in addition there are reports that it may also clean ceramic tiles and other non-porous surfaces, but obviously the grouting may destroy the suction. We also idly speculated whether it might clean a granite-style kitchen floor, as long as it wasn't too dirty.
What about the negatives?
It can't quite work right to the edges of the window - this is because of the way it detects the edge and then walks down (or up, if you asked it to go that way) to prepare for the next traverse. Obviously knobs and handles that protrude over the glass will also annoy it. Also (obviously!) you will have to remove flyscreens and the like - but you'd have to do that for a manual clean anyway.
Other points to note
When attaching it to the glass, it's tempting to put the device in the middle somewhere, but generally, it will traverse its way (usually down) and stop when it reaches the bottom. Best to put it right at the top.
It is recommended that the Hobot 388 only be used on warm sunny days with low-ish humidity, mainly to reduce the incidence of water streaks and smears.
Finally, the fans used to create the suction are quite loud and caused the family cat quite a scare when she first encountered it!
We liked it. The price may scare people away, but it would fit right in to a home already populated with other 'robot' aids. It also helps to clean windows too high for a simple manual clean ; just pop it out the sliding window, attach it and close the window (if you're brave enough to run without the safety rope!) OK… so, we're off to clean the rest of the windows missed while working on this review.
Pricing and availability