Winbot: How well does it work?

By now, most of us have seen the little robots that vacuum your floor so you don't have to. The latest trend in robotic cleaning is bots that clean big windows and mirrors -- and I finally got my hands on one. It's called Winbot, by a Chinese company called Ecovacs Robotics. Retail price? Around $350.

Winbot weighs about two pounds and runs on electricity with a back-up battery -- in case the power cord gets unplugged, or the power goes out during use. The unit comes with a special cleaner and two cleaning pads that attach to the front and back of the undercarriage. The larger, front pad is sprayed with the cleaner, while the smaller back pad dries the glass as the bot moves over the window.

For our test, we smudged two 12' X 4' windows (previously sparkling clean) with water, dirt, vacuum dust and hand lotion. Then, following instructions, placed the unit onto the window with the switch under the handle turned to the on position. The unit made loud humming sound as we held it to the window, 4 inches from the lower corner. When the indicator light turned blue the humming stopped and we were able to let go. The bot was security attached to the window using suction.

Next step -- press the start button. The Winbot immediatly turned and went to work, up, down and across the window in a controlled pattern that almost seemed like it knew where the dirt was. When it missed a dirty area or left streaks, it actually circled back up, down and across and cleaned the areas in question.

It took about 10 minutes to clean one glass panel. When finished, the bot moved back to it's original position and made an audio alert to let us know it was time to release the suction and remove the unit from the window. Overall, Winbot did a good job of cleaning. So yes, it works. But you have to work too.

As our partners at Consumer Reports pointed out during their tests- it not a matter of set it and forget it. You must spray the pad, move the bot from one window to the next, and be there when the Winbot stops to detach it from the window. You need to be in the vicinity in case it becomes necessary to interrupt the process for some reason. We also found you'll likely need to wipe away residual water that's left behind when you take it off the window.

The instructions make it clear that the Winbot is not intended to replace heavy duty or first time cleaning- only maintenance. That means you'll need to do an initial cleaning first the low-tech way. Some people report streaking with the Winbot, but we did not have that experience. Winbot is not designed for small windows. And where height is concerned, you can only use the unit on windows the unit can easily clean without straining the attached power cord. The Winbot is not designed to be used with regular household power cords but the company does sell its own power cords designed specifically for the unit.