Can’t face another summer squandered behind your lawnmower? We trialled Husqvarna’s latest robotic mower, the Automower 430X ($4499), to see if it’s a viable alternative to hiring a professional or turning your garden over to the ewes.
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We’re based in Central Wellington so Consumer staffers generally don’t have the expansive lawns the Automower is designed for. So we let it loose at Awaiti gardens in Carterton, thanks to owners Allan and Jeanette Gates.
One day in late September, the local dealer set it up for us, a service he says is usually performed for new Automower owners at a cost of $100 (or more for larger lawns). He installed a charging dock and connected it to a mains power point, before pinning wires along the lawn edges to serve as the mower’s boundary and its guide back to base. Lastly, he programmed a daily “work period” of 10am-3pm.
This is all the mower needs to trundle out of its dock each day, zigzag in the enclosed area of lawn, and return home when it needs to recharge its battery or it’s time to knock off. It maintains your grass in a similar way a sheep would, by nibbling away at a little bit each day, rather than cutting the whole area in one go.
With spring in full swing, we didn’t hold much hope for the Automower keeping up with the rapid grass growth. But it was able to keep our test lawn down to about 30mm, an impressive result that’s largely down to its advanced on-board guidance system.
The 430X has a GPS that generates a map of the garden and adjusts its mowing pattern to ensure even coverage. Its “weather timer” makes it even smarter. This timer detects how quickly the grass is growing, then alters mowing time accordingly.
We were impressed with its cut quality: it gave a clean, carpet-like finish with no zigzag pattern left in its wake. Rather than using the long, heavy blade of a rotary mower, the Automower has three small titanium razor blades affixed to a rotating disk. So even though it doesn’t catch clippings, it cuts such small lengths of grass at a time that it leaves the turf looking like it’s been cut with a good mulching mower, and the cuttings are hardly visible on the lawn’s surface. Also, it’s strikingly quiet: all you hear is the faint whirr of its electric motors, meaning your neighbours are unlikely to complain if you put it to work overnight.
The Gates’ fox terrier Sparky didn’t share our enthusiasm for the Automower. Whenever the mower rolled out of the dock he’d give his best impression of an eye-dog to drive the mower off the lawn, but he soon resigned himself to lazing on the grass as the mower prowled around him. There’s little risk to all but the smallest pets as the Automower’s blades are recessed far behind the edge of its chassis and it stops and changes direction after even a slight collision.
The mower shuts off if it’s flipped over, and includes several anti-theft systems, including a PIN lockout and an alarm that sounds whenever it’s stopped without warning, as well as GPS tracking.
Despite being impressed with the mower’s performance, Allan says he’s not likely to invest in one any time soon. Awaiti has several small, independent lawns in addition to the main area. The trails or stone arched bridges that connect many of these are impassable for the Automower, even though it’s able to use its GPS to navigate through narrow connecting grass passages.
We think the Automower 430X is worth considering for those with a decent-sized area of contiguous lawn who might otherwise be in the market for a ride-on mower and aren’t fussed about turning their lawn over to the robot for a few hours each day or night over summer. Though its initial cost may seem steep, for a large section this would only get you three-and-a-half years of professional mowing, or a mid-range ride-on.
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.
By George Block.