If you’re not keen on pushing a lawnmower around this summer, you could consider a robotic mower. The Automower 305 is Husqvarna’s smallest autonomous mower, designed for lawns up to 500m2.
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It operates in the same way as a robotic vacuum cleaner, zig-zagging about your lawn, and automatically returning to a charging station when the battery runs low. Husqvarna compares its operation to that of a grazing sheep, and says it will eventually result in “the perfect lawn”. We put the Automower through its paces to see if these bold claims stack up.
Before letting the Automower loose on your lawn, you need to lay out a boundary wire around the area to be mowed, and around any obstacles like trees or garden beds. We found this a difficult and time-consuming process. Husqvarna says the wire can be pegged down on top of the grass, but unless we set the Automower’s cutting height very high it was prone to slicing through the wire. If it’s pegged on top of the grass the wire also poses a tripping hazard.
It became clear the only sensible option was to bury the boundary wire at a depth of about 5cm – no small task considering the wire can be up to 250 metres long. Some Husqvarna specialist dealers offer an installation service for an additional fee, which we think is well worth considering.
Once the boundary wire is installed you need to set up the recharging station, and a guide wire so the Automower can find its way back to the station, so make sure there’s a power outlet within one extension cord’s distance of your lawn.
Any objects not enclosed by the boundary wire, such as hoses or children’s toys, must be removed from the lawn. If your grass is much longer than the Automower’s highest cut setting of 5cm you should consider mowing the lawn down to a suitable height before running the Automower.
You then need to set its daily ‘work period’, for example between 10am and 2pm, and the days on which you want the mower to run. The idea is that – apart from occasional maintenance like changing the blades – you can then leave the Automower to maintain your lawn without any further input. The Automower is designed to maintain your grass at a constant length by operating much more regularly than a traditional lawnmower, rather than cutting the whole lawn in one go every couple of weeks. If you don’t like the idea of the Automower regularly rolling up and down your lawn, then it’s probably not for you.
After completing the laborious installation process, we found the Automower cut short- to medium-length grass very well, without requiring any further input. It ran for about an hour, trundling steadily along the lawn, redirecting itself when it reached the boundary wire, and returning to recharge for about 140 minutes before setting off again.
The first cut left some grass on the surface (there’s no catcher), but eventually these clippings were cut finer and dispersed evenly over the lawn leaving a neat surface appearance. These cuttings are fine enough that the Automower essentially mulches while it cuts, which is great for the health of your turf.
The Automower cuts about 20m2 of grass per hour, including charging time, so to cover an entire 200m2 lawn it would need to run for 10 hours. While it’s nowhere near as loud as a petrol mower, the Automower emits a whine similar to a swimming pool pump and can be easily heard at 10m, and faintly at 20m, so it’s probably best to leave it parked up overnight.
We tested it on a flat surface, but Husqvarna says it can handle slopes up to 24 degrees. As for safety, the Automower stops automatically if it’s lifted up or turned over, but we think it’s best to be on the safe side and keep it clear of pets and small children. Husqvarna say it can operate in the rain and handle wet grass. But we don’t recommend cutting grass in wet conditions, as the clippings are likely to clump together and your lawn won’t look its best. The Automower also has an anti-theft PIN code lock and alarm, which sounds if the mower is stopped without the PIN being entered.
On performance alone, we were impressed – the Automower does exactly what it says on the box, maintaining the lawn neatly and effectively with minimal user input. But it’s let down by how hard it is to setup. There are other limitations, such as the need to keep the lawn clear of obstacles, and the hassle of maintaining gardens with separate lawn areas. The Automower also needs to operate fairly regularly – for at least a few hours a day every weekend during summer – so it’s probably not the best choice if you play a lot of backyard cricket.
At $2399, the Automower 305 costs around twice as much as the most expensive petrol mower we’ve tested this year, and it’s just the baby of the Automower range, with the 330X (designed for areas up to 3200m2) coming in at $4799. But when you compare its cost to a mowing service, costing say $40 an hour and mowing your lawn once every four weeks in autumn/winter and every two weeks in spring/summer, the Automower could pay for itself in under three years.
It’s not for everyone, but if you can handle the tricky installation process (or are willing to pay someone to do it for you), and want to free up your weekends, we think it’s worth considering.
Motor type: Electric
Battery type: Lithium-Ion, 18V/1.6Ah
Claimed battery life: 2-4 years
Main body material: Plastic
Cutting blades: 3 pivoting knife blades
Cutting blade life (claimed): 2–4 months in areas larger than 300m2, longer in smaller areas. Life dependent on conditions and presence of foreign objects
Dimensions (HxLxW): Mower 250 x 545 x 385mm, charging station 180 x 650 x 500mm
Width of cut (measured): 168mm
Maximum length of boundary wire: 250m
Maximum distance from mower to boundary wire within entire working area: 15m
Cutting height range: Lowest 20mm, highest 50mm
Alarm – can be set to sound if incorrect PIN is entered
PIN – needs to be entered before mower will operate
Timer – for number of hours per day and number of days per week you want it to operate
Installation options – several programming options available to get the best coverage of areas difficult to reach
Fault indicator – series of coloured lights to indicate faults with the operating system
By George Block.
First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.