Need to know
- Robot lawnmowers are more expensive than traditional lawnmowers, but the convenience factor is a big drawcard
- Our experts have tested 10 robot mower models from leading brands such as Gardena, Husqvarna, Stihl, Ambrogio and Worx
- Join CHOICE to access our full expert reviews of robot lawnmowers as well as battery and petrol lawnmowers
Australians take great pride in their lawns. Pushing a chugging mower up and down the yard in a quest for neat and perfectly clipped grass is basically a national pastime; the hum of an old-school Victa against a backdrop of thrumming cicadas, one of the iconic sounds of summer.
But could this all be a thing of the past? Robot lawnmowers are relatively new to Australia and the market is small when compared to places in Europe, but there's still a decent range of models available from well-known mower brands such as Husqvarna, Stihl, Gardena and Worx.
While many of us have embraced robot vacuums for cleaning up inside our houses, what happens when you take the tech outside?
We delve into the pros and cons with our experts, including the expensive price tags and other things you could consider before you buy.
Pros of robot lawnmowers
You'll never have to mow again
If the argument over whose turn it is to mow the lawn is a regular tiff in your house, a robot lawnmower could be the answer. The convenience of a bot that literally cuts your grass for you is the ultimate 'pro'.
CHOICE expert Matthew Steen says, "Robot lawnmowers do require a bit of setting up and you'll need to keep an eye on it for the first week to make sure it's operating properly around the various bumps and dips in your lawn.
"But otherwise you won't need to worry about it and, although there are various factors that impact performance, most of the models we tested are effective at getting the job done."
They're quiet and fairly low maintenance
Mowing the lawn is traditionally quite a noisy business, but not with this new tech. Matthew says: "Unless you're very close to the robot mower, you're unlikely to be annoyed by the noise. Close to the mower they tend to be no louder than around 60–70dB which is the volume of a normal to loud conversation."
Mostly you can just leave it to get the job done
In our expert reviews, we give each lawnmower a score for noise so you can compare how each model measures up.
Robot lawnmowers are also fairly low maintenance – you'll need to keep your machine relatively clean and give it a service every now and again (for example, sharpening or replacing blades and replacing batteries after a few years) but mostly you can just leave it to get the job done.
As they are electric and use rechargeable battery packs, they're more convenient than a petrol lawnmower that you have to buy and store fuel for – but like battery-powered lawn mowers and linetrimmers, they still need charging, and will need replacement batteries at some point.
You can control them with your smartphone
Most of the newer robot lawnmower models have apps which allow you to control and schedule your mowing from your smartphone. You can set automated jobs for specific zones on your lawn which specify when and how to mow (for example, you might like to have a different length of grass for around your pool area or have the grass near your front path mowed more frequently). And you can do it all while you're kicking back on the couch inside watching the cricket.
Some apps are better than others though, so check our reviews before you commit to a certain model to find out how easy the associated app is to use. For models that have an app, we give a score based on our assessment of a range of factors including programming the mower and using the app as a remote control.
They're safe to use
The thought of a mindless chomping machine let loose on your lawn in the vicinity of pets, children or expensive plants does sound a little frightening.
And our experts agree with the manufacturers' recommendation that you don't allow little Fido or small children (or any of their toys) near the robot lawnmower, whether or not it's in operation.
But robot lawnmowers do have a number of in-built safety features, such as blades that stop automatically when the mower is lifted, for example, which means that they're safe to use when the guidelines are followed.
We assess each one for safety – we've looked at things such as how quickly the mower stops when someone is near, or if someone, or something, touches it, and whether it's possible to pick up the mower when it's in use and if the blade stops immediately or takes a few seconds. All the models performed very well.
Cons of robot lawnmowers
If you have a robot lawnmower on your wish list, be prepared to outlay anywhere from $1200 up to tens of thousands of dollars. The models we've tested range in price from $1299 to $3639.
Matthew says the price tag is usually indicative of the size of the lawn it can cover – so before you buy, measure the size of your lawn and aim for a robot lawnmower that's designed for a lawn that's marginally larger.
The price tag is usually indicative of the size of the lawn it can cover
"A robot lawnmower that is priced at $12,000 will be designed to cover a very large yard, which of course means it needs a very large battery. This is where the high price tag comes from – lithium-ion batteries are expensive to buy and expensive to replace," he says.
The price tag is pretty hefty when you consider you can pick up one of the standard lawnmowers we've recommended for around $500, though you can pay up to $1000 or more for some models. But if you really hate mowing your lawn, perhaps the price of convenience is worth it.
They can get stolen
While they can weigh anywhere from 6 to 15kg, robot lawnmowers are portable machines that someone can certainly pick up off your lawn and carry away.
They do have various anti-theft security features, such as requiring a password to operate, anti-theft alarms and GPS tracking so you always know where they are, but if you don't want a green-fingered thief to make off with your new lawn toy, we suggest operating it within a securely fenced yard.
You'll still have to rake or clear your lawn
Robot lawnmowers do have sensors which means they can navigate large obstacles in your yard such as trees or clothesline poles. But if you have heavy leaf cover or lots of sticks or twigs about, you'll have to rake these up first before letting your robot loose to ensure effective operation. And if you have toys lying around, you'll have to clear those too.
Robot lawnmowers don't have bags attached to them, so they'll leave cut-up grass in their wake, which you may also prefer to clean up afterwards.
No neat lines like you get from a mower
Robot lawnmowers work randomly, so you won't get those neat, satisfying lines we traditionally associate with freshly cut grass.
Should you buy a robot lawnmower?
While robot lawnmowers can be an excellent and convenient option if you hate doing the lawn and you have the cash to spend (and don't mind a little bit of work setting it up to become autonomous), we're not quite ready to relegate traditional mowers to the backseat just yet.
If you're considering whether you should buy one, be sure to measure your lawn first to ensure you don't buy a pricier model than you need, and check our expert robot lawnmower reviews to compare performance and features.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.