Neato has a new competitor called the MI Robot Vacuum that has most of the features found in it at a few hundred dollars less!
When I first laid my eyes of this robot in the flesh, my first reaction was WOW from the packaging down to the actual product inside.
The design is almost at par with brands that costs a few hundred dollars more.
It has a sleek, minimalist but fully functional design that isn’t common for a Chinese brand.
But Xiaomi isn’t just your run-the-mind brand, this is a global brand that plans to dominate the connected world.
This brand is a step up from the ILIFE robot vacuum series because of the improved navigation and battery.
It also comes with an app compatible on both android and iOS devices called the MI Home App.
This app that allows you to schedule, start or stop, recharge and even track the progress of the robot as it cleans your home even when you’re not there.
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By the way the 2nd generation Xiaomi robot vacuum is here. Click on this link for a detailed review on what this robot is all about.
Here’s the packaging…
Unlike the ILIFE series that used infrared sensors, the MI uses laser guided sensors (they call this Laser Distance Sensor or the LDS) located under the top round shell on top.
This is the same navigation system used in the close to $600 Neato BotVac Connected.
In terms of accessories that come in the box, this one comes with no extra filters or side brushes.
It does not have any remote (you have to download the app – more on that later), the only extras it gives you is a cleaning brush and the very nice mac-like charging station.
It is a bit disappointing that this product does not have any extra filters or even an extra side brush.
But that’s just a minor omission. The main goal here is to find out is how smart this robot is and how it performs.
A quick look at the features
- Uses 12 different sensors to map out an efficient cleaning pattern, avoid dropping of stairs and remember the areas it has cleaned
- The main sensor is the Laser Distance (or LDS) sensor that scans the location 360 degrees (1,800 times per second) to form a virtual map in its memory of your home’s interior layout
- Helping out in creating this virtual map is the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping Algorithm (or SLAM)
- It uses three processors to save this virtual map and then calculate the most efficient route possible
- Has a 5,200 mAH lithium ion battery that will last for 2.5 hours on a single charge
- Powering the vacuum is a powerful and efficient Nidec DC Motor that produces 1,800Pa of suction power
- 10 mm edge cleaning – the robot will stay without 10mm of the wall and will make use of the side brush to clean the edges
- Does not come with a remote but you can use the MI Home App that you can use to schedule, clean and track its progress remotely since it uses WiFi signal
- 1 year repair warranty, 45 day money back guarantee and 3 day DOA (Dead on Arrival) warranty. Click on this article for more details
- A few hundred dollars cheaper than the Neato BotVac that uses the same SLAM algorithm and WiFi enabled app
- Long run time thanks to the 5,200 mAH battery
- WiFi app allows you to control and track remotely
- You can schedule to clean more than once a day
- Uses an efficient cleaning pattern
- Has HEPA filtration
- Does not come with anything extra like an extra side brush or filter
- Struggles a bit in terms of corner cleaning
- No English manual (so far it’s only in Chinese)
- App needs more refinement (plus better instructions)
While it does they did not add a lot in terms of extra tools or accessories, it has a lot of features that make this a worthy competitor to other premium brands like the Roomba 980 and BotVac Connected.
Let’s start with the brain that is the navigation system
The MI Robot uses a total of 12 sensors not only to avoid hitting objects and go in a random direction but it actually scans a room to give it a bird’s eye view on what it has to work on before establishing a cleaning path.
Below are the sensors on top, sides and bottom of the robot plus the other components.
On top of the robot is a circular dome that houses the LDS or Laser Distance Sensor that uses laser to scan obstacles and map out the layout of the room 360 degrees.
On the left side of the robot is a wall sensor that detects anything solid so the robot can maintain a 10 millimeter distance between itself and the wall.
The Ultrasonic Sonic Sensor located in front of the robot is the “eyes” of the robot.
Underneath it are four cliff sensors that tell the robot to stop when there are drop offs.
In front of the robot is a bumper that recoils upon impact. Inside are collision sensors that detect so it tells the robot to stop when it detects an object.
Inside are three processors:
- ARM Cortex A7 quad core processor from All Winner Tech
- Digital Signal Processor from Texas Instruments
- ARM Cortex M3 Microcontroller
These processors gather data from sensors to track movement real time, calculate location and determine the most efficient route.
There is a massive improvement in terms of sophistication and refinement here.
Simultaneous Localization and Mapping
The S.L.A.M. or Simultaneous Localization and Mapping is a software used by the world’s leading robotics manufacturers.
Brands like Dyson, iRobot and Neato use this in their products to help their products navigate.
This technology is also found inside Waymo a.k.a. the Google self-driving car.
It basically draws a map of your home inside the robots internal memory that helps it remember the areas it has cleaned and the areas that aren’t.
I’m not exactly sure if the MI uses the same exact algorithm as those three brands I mentioned but the foundation is similar. This system allows it to track its exact position and remember the areas it has cleaned.
In layman terms the MI robot cleans in a more efficient back and forth pattern and does not go into the same area more than once.
This means that it will clean a larger area and is fully capable of cleaning multiple rooms (up to 250 square meters according to info in the GearBest site) which is equivalent to a small to medium sized home.
Most certainly thanks to the SLAM algorithm built into the system, this robot builds an internal map of your home and methodically cleans it one room at a time without the need for any virtual wall or lighthouses.
Check out this video by MI HongKong to see the difference between this and a robot that navigates in a random pattern…
I’ve also recorded a video to show you how this robot will work inside a small home.
I’ve also tested this if it could clean 2 rooms and a hallway in our small town house.
Here’s the layout of my home…
This is perhaps my favorite feature of this product.
It has WiFi connectivity which means you can start or stop this from anywhere as long as you’ve set it up and connected it through a router.
Take note that the app will not work without the router.
You don’t have to pay a upwards to $600 just have access to this feature.
Before I continue, I’ll just share with you how I was able to connect the MI Home App to the Robot…
Downloading the app is easy, if you own an android device you can download it through the play store by searching for the “MI Home App”. For iPhone or iPad users, do the same process in the App store.
Once you fire the app this window will appear asking to select a locale – make sure to click on Mainland China.
Create an account…
After signing up and logging into your account you will probably see something like this on screen.
Click on “My Devices” and you should see this window…
Click on the “+” button on the upper right to add the robot vacuum and these windows will appear…
You will first see the screen on the left, just tap on the “add manually” button to bring up the screen on the right.
Once you see the right screen tap on the icon that looks like the MI Robot (red arrow pointed to it).
Make sure the robot attached to the dock and WIFI blinking.
When the app detects the robot’s WiFi signal it ask you to connect to your router’s username and password.
Once you’ve connected to the app that’s where the fun begins. You can use this tool to control the robot remotely but make sure to keep the router on because this will be the gateway to the robot.
This is the main interface once you’ve connected the app to the robot…
The map above is the blue print of the third floor in our town house. Yup that’s the SLAM algorithm and laser distance sensor working together to create the map above.
I read in GearBest’s product page that you can remotely view the real time progress of the robot but so far I wasn’t able to do so.
Some neat features…
You can schedule cleaning more than once per day.
This is actually one of my favorite features of the app – you can actually set it to clean more than once per day.
The screen on the left shows you times that I’ve schedule the robot to clean – 13:04 (or 1:04pm) and 17:50pm (or 5:50pm).
You’ll notice that the software uses military time so setting it a 1:00 means that the robot will clean at 1 am in the morning.
The screen on the right is the interface where you schedule. To save just tap on the icon on the upper right.
Xiaomi added even more flexibility by giving you an option to schedule on weekdays, weekends or every day. It also has a custom option where you can schedule on certain days.
The robot actually logs every cleaning session it has made. This that includes the time it took to clean, the size of the area it cleaned and duration.
Since the app is only available in Chinese, I was not able to explore any further but it is a step in the right direction when you talk about China-branded robot vacuums.
I’ve recorded a video to show you the different features of the app.
It still lacks some polish but Xiaomi has done a lot to improve the app. The latest version added real-time updates – this means you can track where the robot is at in real-time.
Update (May 19, 2017): The MI Home App now is in English. Watch this video to find out more…
MI didn’t hold back here – this robot vacuum uses a Nidec brushless DC motor from the same supplier that supplies the motor for the Roomba 980.
Torture tested for 2,000 hours this motor is built to last.
The 5,200 mAH lithium battery gives this robot 2.5 hours of run time. Since there is minimal power fade, it will provide consistent suction.
When you combine this much run time with an efficient navigation pattern, this robot will cover a lot of ground – 250 square meters on a single charge!
Xiaomi or GearBest did not specify exactly how the charging time is. It would be best if you charge this overnight before the first use.
Not only will this battery give you a lengthy run time, it also has a specially designed CC and CV charging system and several systems that protect it from overcharging, over discharging and overheating. It also has protection against short circuiting, over-current and over-voltage.
Covering the battery is a stainless steel cover and PTC/CID protection.
All this systems ensure that the battery will last up to 2 years.
Unlike the several ILIFE robot vacuums that use two side brushes, this one only comes with a single side brush that helps it reach the edges when it cleans the perimeter.
And also it automatically adjusts rotating speed depending on the surface it is cleaning.
Here’s how the Neato’s brush looks like…
Now compare it to the MI…
Aside from the color, the design is almost the same.
In terms of design it is similar to the brush inside the Neato Botvac. This design is proven in tests to pick up pet hair very well.
Underneath the robot are three wheels.
A single caster wheel up front steers the robot. Two large rubber wheels at the back help it move through different terrain inside your home – carpet, tile, hardwood or linoleum.
These wheels are self-adjustable meaning it will automatically adjust its height depending on the surface it cleans.
Opening the top cover will reveal the transparent dirt bin that has a 420ml capacity.
It’s a bit smaller from a robot this size but I guess with the size of the battery and the DC motor, you can only cram so much inside.
One thing I notice is the lack of a mesh filter that provides some protection to the paper element filter.
Also it does not come any cleaning brush that you can use to scrap away dust bunnies off the filter and bin.
I asked GearBest whether this robot has HEPA filtration and they said yes it does have HEPA filtration so the filter isn’t washable.
When you compare this to the Neato charging base it looks the same.
As you can see on the photo above it has space on the back to store part of the cord.
When the robot detects that it’s battery level is at 20% it stops what its doing and goes back to base.
If there are areas that it wasn’t able to clean, it goes back and resumes exactly on the area it left when it docked.
The MI robot vacuum uses what it calls a virtual wall but it is actually a magnetic tape strip similar to a Neato BotVac.
For this to work, you will have to lay it out on the area that is off limits. A good example would be the pet area of the kitchen where there are puppies that this robot might scare away.
Take note that the virtual wall isn’t available out of the box and you will need to purchase it separately and these are available in GearBest for around $16 for a 78″ long strip of magnet.
It has more than enough suction to tackle bare floor. When you compare it to the ILIFE A4, it almost doubles the suction. Also the A4 didn’t have problems cleaning large messes.
Having more suction does not hurt especially if your home has old school hardwood with lots of deep cracks.
Here’s a video I recorded testing the MI Robot against a very big mess like this…
To show you how big a mess I created for this test just look at these photos…
Having 1,800 at its disposal I was expecting Xiaomi to inhale this mess but it didn’t.
When it came to cleaning fine baby powder it struggled. It looks like it does not like cleaning really fine stuff like that.
Here’s the after photos…
You will notice that it left a trail of powder but managed to pick up most of the cut paper and rolled oats.
Despite the predictable pattern it did missed some spots (watch the whole video to see).
To clean up the trail of mess I used the ILIFE V7 with the mop attached and it cleaned up almost everything.
These are the instances where a having a mop helps.
Ever since I’ve published this review, Xiaomi has since released an updated firmware that improved cleaning performance.
I mentioned previously that this robot maybe to efficient but with the update. It goes through the room twice, around the perimeter and inner parts of the room thus improving its cleaning performance.
Here are some before photos…
Some after photos…
I must say that the firmware update did a lot to improve how this robot cleans. It added a level of thoroughness that was not present before.
Now if they could only come up with an English app…
We don’t have any carpet so I used a large rug to simulate low pile carpet cleaning.
The rug had two black stripes and floral designs on both sides so this isn’t your typical carpet.
It seems that this robot hates patterns and does not go over anything black. If you have black carpet or rugs don’t buy this as it will not go over those.
Also I noticed that the MI Home App made significant upgrades to the app.
The biggest improvement would be real time updates that allows you to monitor the robot’s location.
Again the downside is the core function of the app is Chinese.
This was a big concern but it shouldn’t be anymore because these are available for sale.
Update: GearBest is selling these accessories as a set.
But what if I only need the filter and not the side brushes? The only reason why I recommend this is you can get is because you can use the coupon code “11nov329” to save around $8. Without the coupon just buy these separately.
|Battery type||5,200 mAH|
|Charger type||Charging dock|
|Charge time||Not specified|
|Water tank capacity||None|
|Dirt capacity (dry)||approx. 0.45 liters|
|Run Time||2.5 hours|
|Net weight (with battery)||8.4 pounds|
|Shipping weight||15.32 pounds|
|Full bin indicator|
|Cleaning sessions per week||Unlimited|
|Brush cleaning tools||1|
|Accessories included||Charging base|
Brush cleaning tool
|Warranty||1 year (learn more)|
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This algorithm is responsible for the efficient cleaning and multi-room cleaning capabilities of this product.
The best part is you don’t have to spend $700 for it.
It will run for around 2.5 hours before needing a charge thanks to the large capacity 5,200 mAH lithium battery.
Suction power is also above the competing brands I mentioned at 1,800 Pa. This machine is capable of cleaning low to mid pile carpet but do not expect it to deep clean.
In terms of cleaning performance, it will miss some spots here and there. My biggest concern would be edge cleaning because it didn’t perform as well as the ILIFE.
The app is a step in the right direction but it isn’t a finished product because it lacks crispness.
Xiaomi has updated the app and now you can monitor the location of the robot real time!
Remember as with all robot vacuums, this will not deep clean carpet as it lacks suction.
This robot would be best utilized as an every day cleaner that keeps dirt from piling up. In homes with only bare floor, you can use this as the primary cleaner complimented by a handheld vacuum.