A Premium Clean for a Premium Price
As homes get smarter, technology entrenches itself more and more into our daily lives. From smart bulbs to smart speakers to smart thermostats, the overuse of that word makes you wonder how we ever survived in our ‘dumb’ homes in previous generations. Now, I love technology. I love how it improves my efficiency, helps manage my day, and removes manual tasks from my plate. As an early adopter and frequent user of smart gadgets and products, one lesson I have learned is that not all technology is created equal.
Smart robot vacuums are a perfect example. There are countless options from many companies, from long-time juggernauts like iRobot to options from existing behemoths like Samsung, the market is flooded. Eufy, Neato, and Ecovacs are all becoming household names thanks to their robot vacuum lines. So, how do you choose?
Entry Level Has A Place and Purpose
I have direct experience with multiple robot vacuum brands and models, from my own use to close family members and friends, and I spent time researching each product’s options, apps (or lack thereof), AI, and real-world usage. Starting on the economical end, I did not like my experience with the Ecovacs Deebot N78. I understand the price is attractive, but the amount of necessary features and intelligence stripped away to provide that price, no longer makes this a ‘smart’ vacuum. Many of these entry level robot vacuums do not have dedicated apps, and instead require the use of onboard controls or a proprietary remote. What happens if you misplace or break the remote? Well, you can attempt to buy another from the manufacturer, or pay a premium on OfferUp, but until then cannot schedule your vacuum. This is quite annoying. In addition, because of a lack of AI and mapping, these vacuums chart a completely random course, swinging back and forth and around with no apparent logic. It is difficult to trust whether it even covered an entire room before it moved on.
Next, reviewing the Samsung Powerbot R7040, I found that a jump to the mid-tier still generated similar uncertainties. While a dedicated mobile app exists, it does not compare to the features and UI of the iRobot mobile app. Even with the Powerbot’s mapping capabilities, it still did not track it’s movements or follow a logical path as one would expect an intelligent machine to do. To compete with iRobot, many brands, including Samsung and Neato, have designed their hardware with a 90 degree edge to capture dirt in the corners. While the concept seems valuable, the rotating brushes that reach out from the Roomba’s circular design do just as good, if not better of a job. Many robot vacuums in this tier also struggle with efficiency, requiring numerous recharge breaks before completely cleaning a modest sized space. This again might cover the casual needs of many people, at a savings of several hundred dollars to the premium models, but it is important to know what you will be missing.
My Pick: iRobot Roomba i7
Now we come to my recommendation, the iRobot Roomba i7. I love this vacuum. Let’s start with the exterior design. It follows familiar suit to the years of Roomba vacuums leading up to it. It is robust, heavy-duty, and manufactured from quality materials. The rollers are well designed to pick up crumbs of many sizes, and the spinning brush reaches into the corners nicely. I have been operating my i7 for over a year, and have never had a problem with it missing debris, whether on wood floors or vinyl or carpet. It’s adaptation to the floor beneath it is automated and effective. It rolls smoothly over transition pieces, climbs over low desk feet, and navigates around any barriers in front of it.
The i7 picks up a lot of dust, dirt, and crumbs, even compared to well-known high powered vacuums like the Dyson. The first time running it on each floor I had to empty the bin more than once, and that was after vacuuming with an upright a few days earlier. After that first time, it is so simple to run a schedule, or tell Google to start the vacuum, and it can complete a floor and just barely fill its bin to capacity. Emptying the bin is a breeze, and the filters can be dusted off and blown clean with an air compressor for months before needing to be replaced. To be worth the high price tag, the vacuum needed to have the intelligence to clean the entire space reliably, without concern that it was following a random path and missing spots. The i7 delivers, following razor-clean lines, in baseball outfield style perfection. The proof is in the picture:
The lines are so perfect, each and every time, it makes me want to run the vacuum every day just to stare at them. It takes a clean home to another level. I know it seems minor, but I assure you, it is mesmerizing, even one year later. Let’s take one more look.
Fun factor aside, this represents the accuracy in the intelligence of the bot, tracking itself and it’s progress with each and every row. It knows when to go over an area a second time based on its size and location, it covers every edge and corner, and it navigates well around furniture. The i7 is the first vacuum to not only 3D map it’s surroundings, but store this data to fill out ‘smart maps’ of each floor it cleans. You can move it to different floors, and as soon as it undocks to begin vacuuming, it begins visualizing its location and can verify which floor it is on. The result is an accurate depiction of the space, and confidence that every inch was covered. This is verified in the app, which shows everything it covered in green.
Similarly, since it stores this map data, you can segment rooms and sections of your home, name them, and instruct the vacuum to “clean the office”, and it will undock and move directly to that space. It will then return to the dock on its own. The i7 is a value-add increment in iRobot’s line-up, both from a hardware and software perspective. Until this model, I’ve felt the Roomba models have blended very close together. The i7 has a partner in crime, the i7+, which is the same Roomba vacuum, but adds a self-emptying charging base to reduce the need to empty the basin manually after every clean. This is a nice feature, since the i7’s bin typically fills completely after every use. The vacuum will self-empty more than two dozen times before the base bag needs to be emptied.
The iRobot i7 and i7+ are a premium set of robot vacuums. While the cost is higher than most upright vacuums on the market, the cleaning power, intelligent mapping and onboard software are worth the price. The real opportunity cost with a robotic vacuum is the time it saves you, that can instead be spent with your family or other interests. In order for a vacuum to truly take this cleaning off your hands, it needs to be reliable and thorough, and the i7 delivers.
The Look Ahead
This year, iRobot released the new ‘s Series’, which extends their innovation in a unique way. The s9 and s9+ follow a similar naming structure, with the difference being the self-emptying base on the s9+. The primary reason to get this series is that iRobot has added a wireless connection in these models to its new mop vacuum, the Braava Jet m6. When the s9 and s9+ complete their cleaning job, they will dock themselves and then send a wireless signal to the Braava robot mop, which will then take over and mop the newly vacuumed space. It is certainly cool, but does require the purchase of both units to make the innovation worth it.
Regardless of the robot vacuum model you choose, the goal is to have it save you time and energy, which you can invest in other places of your life. Here’s hoping that a future model will be able to climb a flight of stairs!
Please share your smart vacuum experiences below!