We’ve stated repeatedly at Slinky Studio that cordless lawnmower models can rival their petrol or chorded siblings. But what about a cordless mower that you don't have to push - a robotic one. Nope, this isn't a concept or a prototype. This is something that you can go out and buy from major UK retailers now for £1000! It’s called the Flymo Robotic 1200R Lawnmower, and we’ve been watching it through our studio window for months - so let's spill the beans on this possible grass cutting revolution?
Flymo haven't been too ostentatious with what’s a dramatic mood change in grass cutting and have sculpted a clean looking garden product. The mower shares the obligatory orange on black Flymo colour scheme, with the typical curves of the brand and the usual dense plastics. In fact, we’d rate the construction very highly amongst even the more traditional mower designs we’ve reviewed. It feels substantial and rugged - but more astonishingly it hasn't become at all soiled from our regular usage or being left outdoors in both rain and sunshine. The only maintenance that we had to do was to clean away dirt around the wheel area and carry out a blade swap (screw driver required) after 3 months.
If we pick the lawnmower up via an integrated cut-out base handle to reveal its belly, we see the thee cutting blades and three wheels. Whilst none of the wheels can swivel or turn, they independently brake to allow the other wheels to drive the mower, thus achieving agile steering and movement. These wheels are also spring loaded and it’s clear from our usage that they work well over uneven ground. Because it only weighs 7.4kg and has a very high torque motor, the mower just strides along at an even pace over everything and the wheels don’t damage the grass by flattening it either.
Supplied with an in-depth DVD, printed manual and a more diluted quick-start guide, we did initially feel a bit intimidated by the feeling of complexity that the large bundle of goodies found in the box and the associated instructions might possibly demand. However, when it came time to go outside with our big box of toys and actually begin the setup process, we realised that this is a case of new technology needing to be properly comprehended. When we finished, on evaluating our experience, it was actually relatively easy to set up.
We opted to set up the Flymo Robotic 1200R lawnmower on a 140m² south facing flat lawn - the mower cannot facilitate larger areas than 400m². The first step is to designate the boundary, and Flymo supply pegs, the electrical boundary wire on a roll and a cardboard ruler to produce a variety of distances for different perimeters. For instance, the stone wall in our test garden required a larger gap between the wire and wall to facilitate the mower coming and going at different angles, whereas a boundary edge against a flush pathway, which our test lawn also features, can safely host the boundary wire closer to the edge for the mower to overlap the two. Once finished, we cut the wire from the roll and clamped the connectors on each end for the cables to plug into the docking base. Proceding this step we laid a guide wire from the plastic docking base station to be connected to the boundary wire, allowing the robotic mower to have a reference on how to get back to its base to charge.
Obstacles like flowers and shrubs that you don’t want to risk being damaged can also be mapped around using the boundary wire so that they’re safe from the mower attempting to pass. Whilst this is effective in keeping the mower away, we actually removed the cable and the mower used its bundle of sensors onboard to intelligently register our daffodils growing in the middle of the lawn and did not damage them.
This is the first outdoor power tool we’ve ever used that comes with an onboard computer system. That giant orange stop button on the top of the mower does indeed, with immediate effect, bring mowing to a stop and simultaneously elevates a hood which reveals a backlit LED screen (completely legible in direct sunlight!) and a numerical number pad. The pad is used to schedule things like what day and time you want the mower to operate, if it should run in normal or eco mode to save battery power and what level of security you want to establish. A four digit security code is an obligatory safeguard needed even to gain access to the menu and use the lawnmower. In more populated areas you can select a deafening high pitch alarm to sound if someone picks the mower up - and this too can only be disabled by the four digit security code.
Above the screen is a wheel which enables the adjustment of the cutting height of 2 to 5 cm in 5 settings, these being reflected on a line that gets longer and shorter underneath. It’s straightforward to use and enables precision height incremental adjustment between each of the 5 settings. An interesting intentional design notion here is that the max height of 5cm is quite low in comparison to full sized mowers - but this is because it’s designed to cut little and often. The lowest height of 2cm is actually the lowest cutting height on any mower we’ve ever reviewed.
The Flymo Robotic 1200R Lawnmower had the privilege of providing the first cut of the year on our chosen lawn. Bearing in mind the UK faced an incredibly wet, cold and dark start to 2016, it was all of no concern for the Flymo Robotic Lawnmower, which didn’t have any problem cutting in the rain, or at night for that matter - in the earlier months of the year sometimes finishing its cut in the pitch black. One of the first admirable things we noted was the lack of noise this mower makes, with only the faint sound of it moving over and daintily cutting the grass! We actually think this is possibly one of the most important factors to consumers who will ‘set and forget’; it’s quieter than a water sprinkler! We set the height on the first cut to setting 3, and following this initial cut, 2 was our preference. On the first cut the lawn was uneven in growth and, due to the mower not collecting the grass cuttings but instead mulching them, the taller grass was visibly left on top after the first pass - or so we thought. When we returned to inspect the lawn after being cut for the first time, these longer cuttings had been recut and distributed. The first cut was even - but did reveal the detrimental effects of the cold winter months which was evidenced by the array of patches. Furthermore the edges of lawn against walls weren't cut all the way. So you will still need a grass trimmer.
After regular daily mowing with some occasional breaks, our test lawn got greener and thicker as the weeks went on. We’ve always known that cutting little and often is the golden rule to achieving luscious green healthy lawns but, like so many, we assign the task as a weekend exclusive because we don’t have the time to mow daily. The Flymo Robotic lawnmower can cut daily and the results speak for themselves. Our test lawn today is looking very healthy and green - all without the aid of human intervention to get it to this point. One of the only disappointments we’ve felt is it’s strange to see the lack of mowing lines; but the grass is always cut evenly and, more importantly, smoothly. The three blade design doesn’t yank at the grass or hack inconclusively - the finished results are a clean cut that is equal to the current market established single blade design.
Whilst robotically mowing the lawn isn’t entirely comparable in experience to robotic vacuum cleaning, the way the task is undertaken is. In use you often see robotic cleaners like the iRobot Roomba 880 share the philosophy of sporadic cleaning patterns to approach the same spot from different angles. It’s slower than manual methods, but is unarguably effective and more importantly you don’t need to be present! If we watch the Flymo at work, which for some reason is very enjoyable, we see it pass the same spot multiple times, and to cut our entire 140m² test lawn takes around 45 minutes (the lithium-ion battery seems to be able to push out 70 minutes of cutting time).
The Flymo Robotic 1200R is definitely an engineering masterstroke. Its setup is straightforward for complex garden layouts, and it automatically mows your lawn when you schedule and then goes back to its dock to charge when it’s finished. Is it a cutting revolution? For lawns of 400m² and less it can definitely replace your dedicated traditional push mower with a smooth cut and much time saving. However don't forget to keep a grass trimmer handy for the lawn edge, Yes it’s expensive, but for now every robotic appliance is.