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Robot Vacuums: Worth The Price Tag?

January 13, 2017
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Recent years have seen a surging interest in robot vacuums - smart, compact and adorable pieces of tech with a passion for sucking out dirt. Its premise is enticingly simple - it eliminates the time-consuming and tiring task of manually vacuuming your home. Why not just kick back as something else does the job more thorough than you?

Unsurprisingly, any newfangled form of technology comes with a hefty price tag - these intelligent, independent bots can easily set you back a couple hundred dollars. So, is this cleaning gadget mere fluff, or the cleaning staple of the future? In this guide, we break down the mechanics, comparing popular robot vacuums and weighing in on whether this device is worth its (ouch, expensive) price tag.

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

How does a robot vacuum know what it should do or where it should go? Most vacuum models make use of 4 key sensors to scan and navigate its surroundings, determine their plan of movement, and sense dirt in areas.

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Thinking Processes

We know how a bot vacuum figures out its surroundings, but how does it choose to move the way it moves, then? In short, the appliance has a set number of rules that instruct the bot on how to act when a certain scenario happens.

For example, when a bot vacuum hits a surface while moving straight, it will then be instructed to do the following actions of backing up, rotating and moving away from the surface.

What Are Some Robot Vacuums Available On The Market?

Bot vacuums have come a long way from being a tech geek’s pet project. A wide range of models are available, harking amazing features at various price points. We take a look at three of the most popular and well-known models on the market, comparing their specifications and overall user experience.

1. iRobot’s Roomba 980

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Yay: Cleaning carpets and big particles. Room corners.
Nay: Floors with a lot of obstacles, as it will avoid cleaning the area.
Great For: Status-seekers who want the best and most expensive stuff.

Its latest and most advanced offering, the iRobot Roomba 980 is packed with a ton of features, including remote connectivity via the iRobot HOME app. However, its premium price might be hard to swallow for first-time owners.

Price: SGD 1,295 - 1,498

Features:

  • Low-res camera for visual navigation
  • Wi-fi enabled. Remote connectivity using the iRobot HOME app. Homeowners can schedule cleanings, monitor the Roomba and look at statistics through the app platform.
  • HEPA dust filter, able to capture particles up to 10 microns small
  • 3-Stage cleaning brush system (agitation, extraction and suction)
  • Carpet Boost for higher suction power.

Cleaning Modes:

  • Spot cleaning (for confined messes)
  • Home cleaning
  • Carpet Boost cleaning
  • Eco mode

Battery Power: Usually lasts about 1 - 2.5 hours, depending on the energy mode (eco/carpet boost).

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Cleaning Pattern: Figures out its surroundings by a blend of scanning and bumping around the space. Moves in straight lines, zig-zagging through a set perimeter. Its low-res camera helps the bot avoid colliding into obstacles, allowing the vacuum to go around the object, before continuing on the straight path after.

For spot cleaning, the Roomba 980 uses a circular, spiralling cleaning pattern. However, it isn’t smart enough to adapt to oncoming obstacles as it spirals out. So, it has a tendency to ignore and overlook the areas which are obstructed by the object.

Suction Power: High suction power, at 1,670 pa. The Roomba 980 uses the counteracting rubber instead of normal bristles. This makes it less likely for specks of dirt to be stuck on the brush, but extended items like human hair might be tangled up within the roller.

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Dirt Capacity: Dust bag can hold up to 0.4L.

Cleaning Performance: The Roomba 980 cleans a particular area multiple times, which makes for a very thorough process. Despite its round shape, it is able to grab dirt from sharp edges well, due to its side brush which pulls particles into the vacuum. It cleans up well on low-pile carpets, with its Carpet Boost technology, as well as pet hairs and crumbly dirt. However, it is not as effective in sucking up tiny debris like sand.

2. Neato Botvac Connected

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Yay: Spot cleaning, maneuvering around places with many objects and furniture, a quick clean.

Nay: Smaller items that it cannot detect, different surface levels (e.g. grouting)

Great For: Fast-paced individuals who crave instant gratification.

Another close contender to the Roomba, the Neato Botvac Connected is relatively cheaper, and boasts a smarter navigation and movement system.

Price: SGD 999

Features:

  • Laser technology navigation system
  • LCD panel showing information such as battery life, cleaning mode and status.
  • Filter captures particles up to 0.3 micron small.
  • Wi-fi enabled. Remote connectivity via the Neato app, where users can schedule cleans, and monitor status reports.

Cleaning Modes:

  • Spot cleaning
  • Home cleaning
  • Eco mode
  • Turbo mode

Battery Power: Ranges from 1.5 - 2 hours, depending on mode.

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Cleaning Pattern: Unlike the Roomba, the Neato Botvac Connected maps out the entire area using its laser sensors before starting. It adopts an orderly cleaning path, moving in linear, zig-zagging motion.

For spot cleaning, the Botvac will determine the dirty spot, setting a perimeter and moving within the set area, vacuuming from the edges into the centre.

Suction Power: The Botvac Connected has a lower suction rating, of about 1,400 - 1,500 pa. It uses a more conventional brush system, which is more likely to accumulate tangles due to its small bristles. However, it’s wide brush length allows it to be exposed to a larger surface area, accumulating more dirt.

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Dirt Capacity: It uses a bagless system, which is more cost-effective and easier to dispose dust of. In addition, the Neato’s container capacity is larger than most, at about 0.7L, which means it can be filled up over multiple cleaning sessions before it needs to be cleaned out.

Cleaning Performance: It’s an aggressive bot, this one. The Neato tackles obstacles differently, and is willing to go closer and deeper into corners and objects instead of avoiding them. Likewise, it cleans faster, perhaps due to its improved navigation system.

Unfortunately, it also has its shortfalls; It has a problem with sifting out dirt from uneven surfaces, like grouting, as its bristles are unable to go deeper.

3. Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum

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Yay: High suction speed, budget friendly, longer battery life

Nay: Big homes, messy or cluttered areas, users who do not understand Chinese

Great For: Casual, first-time users.

For its price point, the Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum really outshines its other more expensive competitors in terms of its efficiency and navigation technology. However, there’s room for improvement in its remote app, which is underdeveloped and mainly in Chinese.

Price: SGD 400 - 499

Features:

  • High suction power, at about 1,800 pa
  • Laser Technology Navigation System
  • 12 types of sensors (gyroscopic, speedometer) for more accurate movements.
  • Wi-fi enabled, able to control the vacuum and schedule cleanings via the Mi Home app.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) controlled.

Cleaning Modes:

  • Spot cleaning
  • Home cleaning
  • Eco mode
  • Power mode

Battery Power: Longest battery life out of the 3. It can run for about 2.5 - 3 hours (depending on mode).

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Cleaning Pattern: The Mi Robot Vacuum is similar to Neato’s Botvac here; Using lasers, it maps out the entire area, before systematically moving through the room in straight lines. Likewise, it starts from the outside perimeters, moving inward.

When it comes to spot cleaning, the Xiaomi vacuum would start off by bordering a square in which the dirty area is located in. It proceeds to clean within the area, before moving elsewhere to suck up any residual dirt.

Suction Power: One of its biggest draws, the Mi Vacuum claims to have a larger suction speed than other well known competitors like Neato and iRobot, at 1,800 pa. It also includes two spinning brushes on the side that help gather dirt for sucking into its main brush

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Dirt Capacity: Slightly smaller than its counterparts, at about 0.4L. However, its mobile app has the ability to send notifications and live updates about bin capacity, which definitely helps to speed up the changing process.

Cleaning Performance: The Mi vacuum’s bristle and silicon suction blade combination help to suck in materials like pet hairs/human hairs better than the bristle-free Roomba 980. The device is also able to adjust to different surfaces by tweaking its speed and height. It is particularly good with lightweight, hard and bigger debris, like pallets and cereals.

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In Summary: Pros vs Cons

Overall, here are some of the pros and cons to owning a robot vacuum.

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The Verdict: Should You Buy A Robot Vacuum?

It really all boils down to how much you clean and how lazy you are. If you like your house spotless at all times, the relative autonomy of a robot vacuum can help you maintain it without the daily hassle of manual labour. Of course, if you’re fine with a bit of sweeping and a monthly vacuum, owning a robot vacuum would prove to be a waste of its resources.

Check out more robot vacuums and cleaning devices here.


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