Buyer’s Guide: Robot Vacuums
Looking to hire a high-tech robot vacuum to do the dirty work for you? These three options have impressive cleaning power at a reasonable price point.
Nobody enjoys dragging a heavy vacuum across all carpeted floors of the house and repeating the job only a week later, but dust, debris, and pet hair don’t stop for anyone. Over time, the need for a better (read: more convenient) way led to the invention of the robot vacuum. While early models were more novel than practical—the clumsy machines jerked erratically, bumped into table legs, got stuck under the sofa, and sucked up minimal dirt and debris—robot vacuums have improved through many technological advances since then, graduating to household helpers worthy of the investment. If you’re shopping for your first robot vacuum, you may even be pleasantly surprised at the relatively low price and innovative features. Keep reading to find out what you should know before shopping, and discover the the best robot vacuum options on the market.
COST VS CLEANING POWER
First and foremost, consumers must understand that even the best robot vacuum will not clean better than a traditional human-operated option. The machines cannot distinguish between areas that require light vacuuming and heavily soiled areas, so they may not suck up all stray particles. That being said, robot vacuums can still save you time in your routine and, in most circumstances, work effectively.
Although there is no standard system for testing and rating robot vacuums, more expensive models tend to have better cleaning power. Budget robot vacuums start at prices under $300, but many offer sub-par sucking power. Mid-range models, which sell for between $300 to $600, are usually more effective. High-end models run upwards of $600, and some will set you back as much as $1,000, or more. However, do not judge a robot vacuum’s power strictly on price; select a model that has excelled in independent testing and has a track record of great customer satisfaction.
FIGURE OUT THE FEATURES
When choosing a robot vacuum, homeowners are often most interested in the machine’s cleaning power. But the effectiveness of any specific model depends on a variety of factors, such as the size of the room you intend to clean, the type of flooring you have, the vacuum’s battery life, and the vacuum’s ease of operation. Before choosing a model, consider the following:
Floor Covering: Check the manufacturer’s specs carefully. Some models are designed for low pile carpeting but not shag, while others should only be used on solid flooring, such as hardwood planks or tile.
Battery Life: Even if a robot vacuum advertises great suction, it won’t clean effectively without a properly charged battery. Manufacturers often list battery run time as well as the area size (in square footage) that the vacuum will successfully clean on a single charge. During an extensive cleaning cycle, some models will even automatically dock in their charging stations until refueled and then continue vacuuming where they left off.
Remote Control: While the exact functions depend on the model, many robot vacuums come with remote controls to program the operating modes (see below) or activate the vacuum when necessary, whether to clean the whole room or just one spot on the floor.
Program Options: To cater to the amount of cleaning you need, robot vacuums often include a selection of operating modes: “turbo” modes that offer quick and intense cleaning power, “eco” modes that save battery power, and “quiet” modes that won’t interfere with your everyday (studying, working, or television time). The ability to program a cleaning schedule in advance—typically from three to seven days—may also be a high on your priority list for a vacuum that makes the whole chore practically automatic.
Smart Technology: Newer robot vacuums connect to Wi-Fi, allowing users to operate them remotely through an app on their smartphones. In addition to programming the miniature machines as a remote might otherwise do, the app may also monitor the robot’s cleaning progress, battery life, and dustbin.
OUR TOP PICKS
Using the criteria outlined above as well as reviews from consumers and experts alike, we’ve simplified your shopping trip even further by rounding up three options for the best robot vacuum. Putting your chores on autopilot has never been easier!
iRobot Roomba 650 ($325)
Wirecutter recognized the iRobot Roomba 650 as the best choice for most people, weighing cost with cleaning power. During the company’s independent testing, the Roomba picked up as much debris, dust, and animal hair as more expensive models, and features like the quiet operation mode and superior navigation system made it a hit. Amazon customers agree, awarding the Roomba 650 an impressive 4.4 out of 5 stars. At only 3.6 inches high and 13.4 inches in diameter, the machine runs for a maximum of 90 minutes and cleans up to 1,000 square feet on a single charge, all the while able to skim under open-leg chairs and sofas without getting stuck. Innovative iAdapt Navigation allows it to effectively sense walls, furniture, and drop-offs, thus preventing it from banging into objects or tumbling down stairs. While the Roomba 650 doesn’t come with a remote control, you can manually program the machine to vacuum up to seven times per week. The robot vacuum will automatically dock in its recharging station after each cleaning. Available from Amazon.
Neato Botvac Connected ($697)
When CNET tested robot vacuums, they focused on app-enabled “smart” models that can be controlled via Wi-Fi and a smartphone. The Neato Botvac Connected took top honors, impressing reviewers with multi-room navigation capabilities and its LaserSmart navigation technology, which allows the robot to vacuum in both directions (rows and columns) to efficiently pick up debris without hitting many obstacles. The D-shaped machine even memorizes and stores different room configurations for future cleanings. Amazon buyers give the Botvac 3.9 stars for its powerful suction, fast-cleaning Turbo mode, energy-saving Eco mode, and ability to suck up animal fur. The Botvac’s CornerClever technology allows it to remove crumbs along walls and in corners, while a spiral blade brush ensures a thorough clean. The robot can cover 5,800 square feet of space and can run up to 180 minutes on a single charge (360 minutes with Eco mode). With a height of 3.9 inches and a width of 13.2 inches, it maneuvers easily under most furniture. Available from Amazon.
Samsung Powerbot ($998)
Consumer Reports names the Samsung Powerbot Turbo Robotic Vacuum Cleaner as its “Best in Class” winner, citing its “superb cleaning power of carpets and bare floors.” At just under $1,000, the Powerbot doesn’t run cheap, but you get what you pay for in terms of features. Its Visionary Mapping Plus technology creates a map of your home’s entire floor plan for better efficiency. Busy homeowners can also program the Powerbot to clean a single room at any given time via a smartphone app, choosing from one of three timed programs (30, 60, and 90 minutes) and optional cleaning modes, including spot cleaning, maximum cleaning, and dust sensing—all of which earn the Powerbot 3.8 stars from Home Depot consumers. The Powerbot may be best suited for tech-lovers, though, as some customers found it difficult to program the mapping feature. When the robot wraps up the chore, it automatically docks in its charging station. Available from Home Depot.