5 of the Best Robot Vacuums
Autonomous Helpers That Clean Your Home For You
Robotic vacuums have evolved since it was introduced to the scene more than a decade ago, the early versions of this seemingly high tech device suffered from reliability issues that couldn’t not seem to hold up for more than a few months.
The latest batch of these autonomous cleaners have gotten better in terms of reliability, navigation and cleaning performance but are still not up to par in terms of power with traditional vacuums.
Some innovations that were introduced not found in previous generation are WiFi connectivity and an app-based system that allows you to control these machines virtually anywhere in the world as long as you have internet connectivity.
To help you navigating through this guide, I’ve created a “table of contents” section:
- Comparison Chart
- Budget and Need, Before Buying One…
- How Do You Choose The Right One?
- New Champ: Neato BotVac Connected
- More Efficient: Roomba 980
- Tangle-Free Brushroll: Roomba 880
- A Neato For Less: Xiaomi Robot Vacuum
- The Old Reliable: Roomba 650
- Other Options
- To Wrap It Up
These tools are designed to help people with a very busy schedule to outsource their cleaning work and help them keep up with dirt piling up.
This will be best utilized as a maintenance tool in between deep cleaning sessions that will prevent dust or pet hair from piling up, especially on high traffic areas.
Without further ado here’s the list, five of the best robotic cleaners that will help your home stay clean even if you are busy doing other things.
Neato BotVac Connected
Xiaomi Robot Vacuum
|Battery type||Lithium Ion||Lithium Ion||Nickel Metal Hydride||Lithium Ion||Nickel Metal Hydride|
|Charging time||2 hours||N/A||3 hours||N/A||3 hours|
|Run time||Eco mode: 120 minutes|
Turbo mode: 90 minutes
|Up to 120 mins.||approx. 60 minus||2.5 hours||60-90 minutes (based on reviews)|
|Full bin indicator|
|Cleaning sessions per week||7||7||7||More than once a day||7|
|Weight||9 pounds||8.7 pounds||8.4 pounds||8.4 pounds||7.9 pounds|
|Warranty||1-year on robot|
6 months on battery
|1-year on robot|
6 months on battery
|1-year on robot|
6 months on battery
|1-year||1-year on robot|
6 months on battery
Since prices in amazon change frequently because of promotions, availability and various other reasons, we will not list the prices. Refer to these instead – $ = $300 and below, $$ = $301 – $400, $$$ = $401 to $500, $$$$ = $501 and up
…You have to know what to expect. Review giant Consumer Reports has gone on a limb and says that these types of cleaners aren’t going to replace a traditional vacuum, even a cordless but I’d like to counter by saying that their main purpose is to complement them, because these robots can do a boring chore again and again without getting tired or straining a back muscle. With a helper doing this lessens the time you need to manually vacuum.
No, it will not provide deep cleaning action or be as smart as a human being but with the right preparation and expectation, it will definitely help any busy mother or professional free up time to do other tasks.
Yes these products are expensive but this guide will help you get the best bang for your buck.
Here are must have features…
- Cliff sensors – these sensors prevent robots from falling down stairs or any “cliff” and damaging itself permanently.
- Self-docking – when battery is low, it tells the robot to go back to the charging base to recharge and continue its task without your help.
- Smart Navigation – this will dictate how efficient a robot is in cleaning a room, the less time it needs to clean the more efficient it is.
- Scheduling – the main point of having a robotic vacuum is automation, without this feature what’s the point in getting one?
When they unveiled the BotVac series a few years ago, they’ve a side brush to match Roomba’s side brush to help their product clean edges better.
In addition to the side brush, they also upgraded their navigation system and increased the width of the main motorized brush to reach all the way to the edge.
While cleaning performance was not an issue, the lack of a remote was and with the 980 now adding an app to their product, Neato had to step up their game thus the BotVac Connected was born.
The addition of the app changes the way we look at these appliances and what the future holds. This app uses the WiFi signal of the robot and router that will allow you to control it remotely as long as you have internet connectivity.
Neato also upgraded the battery no longer does it use a Nickel Cadmium battery that is prone to power fading, now it has equipped this with a lithium ion battery that has a better power delivery throughout the charge cycle.
This means less power fade and more cleaning but unfortunately it does not translate to longer running times.
Editor’s note: If you want a cheaper alternative, you can have a look at the MI robot vacuum. It is manufactured by MI Ecosystem startup better known as Rockrobot. It also has an app and boasts of a 2.5 hour run time thanks to the 5,200 mAH lithium ion battery.
Why is it number 1?
The main reason is two-fold, first is the price. The Roomba 980 while it is a very good robot cleaner, it a very expensive machine at close to $900. The Dyson 360 Eye boasts of a more powerful motor, larger bin and high tech navigation system but it costs nearly $1,000!
Second is the performance, Neato didn’t need to play around with the motorized brush that has been proven time and time again in tests to be one of the best in the market.
Here’s a video of it in action…
And the BotVac Connected is no different, Ryan Crist says that it is the best performing cleaning robot in the market right now and that includes the Roomba 980 and 880, though the 360 Eye was not part of the test.
One big improvement is the navigation that is more thorough. Whereas old Neatos, particularly the XV series only swept through the perimeter and middle portions of the room with one pass, this new robot will do sweep the edges multiple times and the middle part both horizontally and vertically.
This lessens the chance of it missing anything because it goes in rows and columns – a more thorough approach to cleaning.
The brush roll design is still high maintenance, especially if you have a lot of pets at home. Make sure to clean it up after every 2 uses depending on how much hair gets tangled up.
Also the app does not show you other details like how long it took the robot to clean or the battery status.
It also does not show you error details – for example something got stuck on the brush roll.
As with all new technology, these types of quirks are normal and hopefully will be ironed out in future updates.
In their previous generation robot vacuums, the Roomba used IR-sensors that pretty much resulted in a random cleaning pattern. If you are curious, the biggest difference between the 880 and 650 was the motorized brush and how it navigates against obstacles.
The 650 was pretty aggressive tackling edges and corners which resulted in a better cleaning performance but at the cost of scrapes and scratches on furniture so when they did their R&D with the 880, they decided to dial back the aggressiveness.
Cleaning performance did suffer a bit but it resulted in less damage to furniture.
Sorry for the long intro but I had to share it so you can understand the evolution of this product. The 980 totally scrapped the IR-based navigation and now uses a brand new system that combines infrared sensors and a camera on top to help map its location and the areas it has cleaned.
Why is it number 2?
Whereas previous Roomba robots wander aimlessly until battery is low, the 980 actually remembers areas it has cleaned thanks to the camera and avoids obstacles through the IR-sensors located up front the bumper.
This change enables this robot to have a much more efficient navigation compared to previous Roombas and allows this robot to clean a larger area (yes multiple rooms) without getting lost and trapped so there is less baby-sitting involved.
Here’s short video to show you the newfound efficiency of the 980…
All these features are brought together by the iAdapt 2.0 navigation system and visual localization software that keeps track of its location and even when it goes to recharge it will go back exactly to the area where it last cleaned and continue from there.
Another improvement would be the stronger motor that iRobot says is 10 times more powerful than the Roomba 650. This is the only Roomba variant that has a carpet boost feature which is just a fancy term to mean that it has a max suction feature than increases suction power that allows this to perform better on carpet.
Turning on this feature however cuts the run time from 120 minutes in normal mode down to 90 minutes.
The extended run time is a result of the brand new lithium battery that it uses (old Roombas use NiCad batteries), not only did this increase run time, it also provides a more consistent power band throughout the cleaning cycle meaning there will be minimal power fade.
iRobot also ditched the traditional remote with the 980, in its place is an App compatible for both IoS and Android devices. What does this mean? It simply means more convenience and flexibility.
No longer will you need to be in the same vicinity as the robot to use the remote, as long as you have internet connection you can turn on the robot just about anywhere and you can also schedule it to clean on its own at different times each day of the week.
What are the potential issues?
As with any camera-based navigation system, it is highly dependent on light. In total pitch darkness, it may have issues navigating and may not function as it was designed to.
If $900 is too much, you may want to have a look at the Roomba 960, it has almost the same features as the 980 but with a weaker motor and smaller battery which means less run time but it retains the same navigation and WiFi features.
Even though the Roomba 770 is a bestselling robot cleaner in Amazon, iRobot was not satisfied and improved upon it with brand new counter rotating bristle-less rubber “extractors” and a new XLife battery that according to iRobot will twice as long as the previous generation which is great news for the long term viability of this product.
Why is it number 3?
The biggest problem faced by bristled brushes is that over time hair, dander and dirt gets trapped on it and will require special cleaning tools to clean and untangle hair. If you’ve ever used a vacuum with a motorized brush, you’ll understand this problem.
Roomba 880 solves this by completely removing the bristle from the brush and instead used a specially designed “extractor” to agitate and pick up dirt and hair.
In terms of performance, it did not disappoint as it did well on CNet’s rice grain test, it also got the best score in terms of picking up saw dust on hardwood. It did struggle though with pet hair compared to the BotVac. So the later would be a better choice if you have a lot of pets at home. You can find the results of the test here.
What are the potential issues?
Even with the tangle free extractors, long hair still tends to wrap around these extractors, just look at the photos below…
So there is still some maintenance involved here but not as much compared to the old style bristle brushes.
Another issue for me is the price, even though this looks better, has more bells and whistles (virtual wall, remote, etc.) the price is a little bit too high for me. The performance compared to the Neato is virtually even and this one takes longer to clean a room and may cause damage to furniture as it bumps into them.
This would be great for the techy home owner who likes to fiddle with technology as the 880 has an IR remote and a couple of lighthouses that act as a wall or door depending on the settings. A bit pricey but it’ll still do the job.
If you’d tell me five years ago that a Chinese brand can complete with a big named brand like a Neato, I would have laughed at your face but Xiaomi has stepped up their game with their product simply known as the MI robot vacuum.
Based on my tests and research this product copied a lot of its features from the Neato BotVac Connected which isn’t all bad because more competition means better things for us consumers. At least they didn’t copy the D-shaped feature of Neato but everything else under the hood both of these robots are pretty much the same.
The biggest similarity would be navigation both Xiaomi and Neato use a LDS or Laser Distance Sensor that scans its surroundings 1,800 per second. This sensor builds a 360 degree map of the environment it is cleaning and basically helps it avoid colliding with furniture.
Along with the LDS it also uses the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping algorithm found in the Neato.
This is basically helps the robot keep track its position without needing a camera to do so. This allows this robot to run even in pitch dark conditions – this is a huge advantage over the camera based navigation used by other brands like Samsung and iRobot.
Why is it number 4?
One of the things I like most about this product is the navigation especially after downloading the firmware update. It combines efficiency and thoroughness not found in random navigating robots like the Roomba 700 series or the ILIFE robot vacuums.
Watch this video to see what I mean…
You will notice that it goes through its cleaning cycle twice! This increases cleaning performance two fold! I also like that the robot remembers exactly where the charging station is without any guess work – that’s the SLAM algorithm in action here.
Large capacity battery
To go with the efficient cleaning pattern Xiaomi also equipped this cleaning tool with a large 5,200 MaH lithium ion battery that will run for around 2.5 hours!
That’s around half an hour longer than the Neato. When you combine that with the efficient cleaning, this robot can clean up to 250 square meters in one charge and when it runs low, it goes back to the charging base, refuels and then goes back where it left and continue until it is finished.
WiFi and App
Like the Neato BotVac Connected and Roomba 980, this robot also comes with an app that allows you to schedule cleaning, monitor and turn on this robot remotely anywhere as long as you have internet connectivity.
As for the scheduling feature you can actually set it to clean at multiple times each day. You can ask it to clean once in the morning, afternoon and evening.
The downside though is that the core functionality is only available in Chinese and it lacks a bit in terms of responsiveness but it is a very good first step for Xiaomi. Perhaps their future products will have an even better and faster app.
The biggest issue for me would be the size of the bin. Despite its size, the bin could have been a little bit bigger instead it has a capacity of roughly 0.45 liters with a narrow opening that can be a bit messy to empty.
The motorized brush also is a bit narrow compared to the full-width brush found in the BotVac Connected. This means it will be less efficient and compared to the Neato.
Last issue would be corner cleaning or a lack thereof. Make no mistake this robot does a good job on straight edges but when it comes to cleaning corners the round shape hurts it. Makes me wonder why they did not adapt the D-shape of Neato.
The Roomba 650 was one of the first Roomba’s to be equipped with a scheduling feature. This would be a cheaper but worthy alternative to the more expensive 700-series that costs as much as $700. It has practically the same brush system and navigation that’ll perform up to par based on reviews.
If you look at the reviews, a lot of consumers who owned 700-series Roombas also bought and they said it performed as well as a 700-series!
This model is exactly the same as the 630. The difference is that the 630 does not have the scheduling feature. If you don’t mind not having this, then get the 630 which is $70 cheaper.
What are the downsides?
It has a rather small dirt container that needs to be emptied often. The counter rotating brushes need to be cleaned often to maintain performance because debris in particular hair tends to get stuck on the bristles of the brush, the side brush and wheels. These 3 areas need frequent cleaning.
Overall this is a good product that isn’t as expensive as the newer 700 series models but will perform close to it. You just have to be mindful that it needs frequent TLC so it does not wear out too quickly.
An Amazon Best Seller But – iRobot Roomba 770
The Roomba 770 is the bestseller in Amazon but why didn’t make it number 1?
Well a combination of two things – price and navigation.
It costs $100 more than the XV-21 and the navigation system of a Roomba is not up to part with a Neato.
Have a look at it here.
Looks like a mess right? Well that’s because iRobot uses a random algorithm. Let me explain, when it starts up it goes towards the middle of the room in an outward-moving spiral motion then goes to the perimeter. When it bumps into an object (let’s say a wall), it goes in a random direction, then goes in and bumps another object and goes again in a random direction. It does this over and over again until it covers the whole room.
It sounds primitive but this random algorithm seems to work as it is able to cover an entire room thoroughly because it will go over certain areas over and over again but it will also miss some spots.
The downside to this randomness is it takes very long to clean a room, expect around 20 minutes or more for an average sized room.
Cleaning wise, this is actually more of a sweeper because it has two counter rotating brushes that pull up dirt rather than using suction. Its vacuum motor is significantly weaker but this has a benefit, it isn’t as loud as a Neato.
Based on tests done by robot shop, it’ll hover around 70 decibels which still isn’t whisper-quite but not as loud as a Neato.
It comes with an IR-remote that can be used to start the robot and schedule as well. Scheduling can be done once a day, 7 days a week (all Roomba 700-series vacuums have this feature).
This product would be great for…
…Homeowners looking for a quiet robot cleaner that will still do the job. But remember that it’ll take much longer for this to clean a room. It costs $100 more than an XV-21 but you’ll get a more stylish product that has a remote and two virtual walls.
Back to Basics – Neato XV-11
If you’re looking for a quality product that will not break the budget, look no further than the XV-11. Of the five models featured here, this is the cheapest. I’m not going into how the navigation works or how it cleans because I’ve covered that already with the XV-21.
The XV-11 and XV-21 is basically the same robot, the difference lies in the design of the motorized brush and filtration. The XV-11 has a motorized brush that looks like a squeegee and does not have any bristles. This has some advantages over something with bristles. For one, it’ll be easier to clean hair off and it does not wear out as fast as a bristled brush would.
The downside is that it won’t be as good in picking up dust and light debris on hard wood surfaces and struggle with heavier stuff like coins and bolts as you’ll see in this video.
On carpet though it’ll perform better, picking up pet hair, dust, cobwebs, etc.
I placed this on the third spot because it is only $20 bucks cheaper than the XV-21 though it didn’t have the HEPA filter or the Pet and Allergy brush which is worth more than the price difference.
Close But Not Yet There: LG HomBot 3.0
LG is a newcomer in this field but the HomBot 3.0 surely turned some heads with its sleek low profile design. It comes with high tech features like an on-board camera for navigation and a voice system that tells you if something goes wrong.
Unfortunately all this comes at a price. If you buy this in Amazon, it’ll cost close to $750. Ouch! And even if it costs 3 times as much a Neato, the cleaning performance is not up to par hence the low raking here.
It has the lowest profile among the 5 here but the downside to this is it gets stuck quite often between floors and rugs. It is the quietest of the 5 producing only 50 decibels but won’t pick up as well as the other 4 robots above.
It has a wider side brush than the 980 which translates to a wider cleaning path, the same predictable cleaning pattern that made it so popular with consumers and here’s the clincher – it is cheaper than the Roomba.
In terms of cleaning performance, you can flip and coin between the two and there wouldn’t be much of a difference. Both have the same efficient pattern but goes about it differently.
The Neato relies on a laser guided sensor while the Roomba does so with a camera. Both are good at what it does and you cannot go wrong with either of the two but if you feel that spending close to $900 on a vacuum is too much then you can opt for their cheaper variants like the Roomba 960 or the BotVac D5.
A true budget option at least comparatively speaking to both the Roomba and Neato would be the Xiaomi or MI robot vacuum.
It has similar features as the Neato in terms of navigation but it has a round body and a narrower cleaning path and the price difference will make you pause and think. Check out the videos I recorded for the MI robot vacuum and see for yourself.