I just tried a robot lawnmower for the first time — here's how it went

ECOVACS GOAT GX-600 sits on grass
(Image credit: Future)

While I've had the chance to test out many of the best robot vacuums, I've always found myself adjacent to their outdoor sibling: robot lawnmowers. These bots are similar in everything from size to scanning technology. This feels especially familiar in the way they avoid obstacles and map out your yard. Many robot lawnmowers even share smart features found on the best Roombas such as cleaning suggestions and automatically generating a weekly trim schedule. 

Sometimes when I tell people I like reviewing robot vacuums they look at me as if I just shot their dog. A buddy of mine once compared the prospect of taking notes on how a robot goes back and forth to watching paint dry. But for me, there's an ASMR-like aspect to seeing a machine suck up mess and assigning it a cleaning score. The visual results of a robot lawnmower could scratch that OCD itch to see how effective a robot can be, and has always piqued my interest. My dilemma was never having a yard to test one with.

So you can only imagine the hype I had when an opportunity to move back to Long Island's suburbs — complete with a yard — cropped up. I immediately called in three robot lawnmowers to test with Ecovacs GOAT GX-600 being the first to arrive. This bot is quite a departure from the nearly two-decade old Craftsman ride-on mower I grew up using. Read on to see how a robot lawn mower compares to the traditional lawn mowing experience in addition to how the experience differed from the expectations I had coming in.

Ecovacs GOAT GX-600 Robot Lawnmower: now $1299 @ Ecovacs

Ecovacs GOAT GX-600 Robot Lawnmower: now $1299 @ Ecovacs
This battery-powered robot lawnmower automatically maps out your yard and cuts it on demand or via a schedule through the Ecovacs app to keep your property looking fresh each day.

Robot lawnmowers are way smaller than I thought

I was caught off guard when my new robot lawnmower arrived in a single rectangular box. Its compact packaging was on par with the robot vacuums I've received for testing. Heavier, sure. But size-wise this robot lawnmower comes in much, much smaller than your average push or ride-on model. 

The picture below shows that the GOAT's setup doesn't surpass a dainty decorative birdbath. My immediate impression was that there was no way in hell this little bot would be able to tackle my 4800 square foot yard. Side by side with our Craftsman this bot is less than an eighth of the size of the ride-on mower I'm used to. 

ECOVACS GOAT GX-600 leaves docking station in backyard

(Image credit: Future)

Ecovacs fitted its robot lawnmower with a 22-centimeter floating blade disc system that lifts up and down to avoid damage from small stones or uneven terrain. This blade is controlled by a manual dial on the front of the GOAT robot and can be switched between 3 and 6-cm lengths in increments of 0.25cm for an exact cut. It's sharp and spins at a rapid 2300 RPM but the bot takes its sweet time cutting compared to the larger sharper blades of an actual mower.

With that said this smaller size allows it to fit into tight corners like the crevice around my hot tub or the window wells around my basement windows. A traditional mower's size and tighter turn radius requires you to swing wide and attack at the right angle. Plus a robot model doesn't need to collect clippings as they're so short they end up as fertilizer.

Truly hands-off performance without cleanup

The smaller overall size and little blades lack the power of my large old-school gas mower and take longer to tackle a yard with less speed and coverage. Our gas-powered Craftsman is a workhorse that's fast and thorough but requires excessive maintenance. Now that I've run a robot lawnmower through border mapping and a full cut, it's nice not having to perform maintenance or reach for gas. I can simply tap a button on an app to send it out and watch it work from my bedroom window.

ECOVACS GOAT trimmed lawn

(Image credit: Future)

While Ecovac's materials state that the GOAT is supposed to take a U-shaped path, I've noticed that the GOAT starts mowing along the outside perimeter of my yard's edges and then moves inward covering larger interior swaths at a diagonal. Like a dull razor blade, it gets the job done with the occasional strays. Throughout two test runs it got caught up once on a bed of dandelions and clovers with thicker longer greens. That's not bad at all as I'd expected it to fail frequently in taller grass. A quick shove got the bot to move past them and mow them down on its return.

ECOVACS GOAT robot lawn mower in tight crevice

(Image credit: Future)

Most of the time the GOAT heads out on its own unless you send it out from the app before you have company over. You don't need to stand around and babysit it. I tuned its dial to just 3.5-cm for a nice short buzz. Its easy-to-use app and solid performance makes it easy for anyone to use even if you aren't technology savvy. 

Newer models don't require a physical boundary wire

I didn't have to make any adjustments to my outdoor living space. That means you literally snap the base together, plug it in, and send the robot vacuum out in under ten minutes of opening it up. I simply dropped the GOAT into my fenced-in yard and ensured that its base ran perpendicular along the edge of my fence for detection purposes. 

ECOVACS SmartEdge Technology taps into the latest visual recognition technology to automatically detect lawn boundaries based on things like color and texture, eliminating the need for manual setup. I could easily pick up and play this little landscaper between my front and backyard by hitting the start and okay buttons to kick off the "Press & Mow" setting which works a lot like a bump and clean 'bot.

The GOAT's AIVI 3D depth sensing obstacle avoidance technology accurately detected borders and objects. It skipped over a hose handle and several branches in my yard. You don't need to move boundary wires around or clear the yard before each clean (although it's recommended).

ECOVACS GOAT GX-600 mows along mulch plant bed

(Image credit: Future)

I was quite impressed with the way it straddled the line between my flower beds and the grass. It knew to avoid dipping into the beds and did for the most part. That doesn't mean it was perfect but it was able to work its way out of some deep drops by slowly but strongly approaching flatter edges of slopes to crawl back up and out into my grass.

Battery life is limited so larger yards take more time with multiple runs

The Ecovacs Home app suggests mowings and automatically generates trimming schedules based on the size of your yard. This ensures your yard looks consistently fresh with almost no time or energy put in from your end. Plus it pays itself off over time if you consider the cost of hiring a landscaper. 

While robot lawnmowers are smart enough to pick up where they left off when they need to recharge and — cuts out the need for gas which is a major plus — this bot has to return to its base frequently and extends the time to cut my yard. That's fine when I'm at work but on average it only mows 10% of my yard at a time then returns to the base. A full yard trim becomes an all-day affair.

A full yard trim becomes an all-day affair.

If you actively use your yard for activities this can get annoying if the kids want to run around. On the other hand this does bring an advantage I didn't anticipate. I can let this machine run and clean after dark because of how quiet it is. The overall sound is much lower than gas or electric models.

Ecovacs GOAT robot lawn mower app on iPhone

(Image credit: Future)

Weak theft-prevention

For a pricey gadget I am a bit surprised by the minimal security features that these bots ship with. You can easily walk over and pick these up by their handles so I would be concerned with leaving a robot mower freely out and about in an unfenced yard. Ecovac's GOAT loudly announces that it has been picked up repeatedly and only works with a PIN code system. 

That won't stop someone from taking it — it just becomes a paperweight for them after it's been stolen. I would think that there would be some sort of built-in tracker, security mode, or even a basic alarm siren. I would be wary to use this somewhere open like my parents unfenced property on an avenue because anyone can see it from the street and nab it within seconds.

A robot lawnmower absolutely saves you time and effort provided you have a mostly flat yard with open space. At the price and performance, I think it still may be too niche for most homes and has some requirements. While this is a great start that works well and is completely hands-off, it's constantly recharging for runs and does require some manual touch-ups if you're a perfectionist. 

Ideally, I'd like to see bigger more powerful robot lawnmowers but I can understand why some people would be wary of a large automated bladed machine prowling their yard. Admittedly, the GOAT shredded a portion of the tube divider between my grass and the section of rock surrounding my fish pond. It'd be scary to imagine how more power or bigger blades would tear up a yard. 

If you have a lot of mowing to do, you'd be better served by a traditional lawnmower to cut the entirety of a large yard. A gas-powered mower delivers more oomph and cuts much faster while still providing extensive runtimes if you need it. But if you have a clear lawn you want to be maintained, the slow but consistent runs of a robot lawnmower deliver.

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Hunter Fenollol
Senior Editor, Smart Home

Hunter Fenollol is a Senior Editor for Tom’s Guide. He specializes in smart home gadgets and appliances. Prior to joining the team, Hunter reviewed computers, wearables, and mixed reality gear for publications that include CNN Underscored, Popular Mechanics, and Laptop Magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest cooking gadgets, you can likely find him playing a round of golf or out with friends feeding his paycheck to a QuickHit slot machine. Hunter started his career as an intern at Tom’s Guide back in 2019 while in college. He graduated from Long Island University Post with a degree in Communications and minor in Advertising. He has been vlogging ever since the iPhone 4 took front-facing cameras mainstream.

  • DarkestDot
    The luba 2 is bigger and will handle more challenging terrain. It also lets you install a sim card too help track it if it gets stolen.