Looking to cut down on your cleaning time this holiday season? Or maybe just shopping for that perfect gift for a loved one? Think robot vacuums.
Anyone who wants a clean house will appreciate having one, but pet owners, people with mobility problems, and allergy sufferers stand to benefit most from these little automated housekeepers.
While you go about your day, your robot cruises and cleans. Although they don't have the suction power of a standard canister or upright vacuum, hours of automated cleaning by one of these little warriors will trump a full-sized vacuum sitting in the closet, every time.
Earlier models of robot vacuums were criticized for small dust bins, short battery life, and glitchy navigation that made it prone to bumping walls, breaking household objects, and missing spots on the floor.
Today, new and improved models are capable of cleaning increasingly large spaces and navigating floors and furniture better than ever. The new offerings automatically dock themselves when batteries run low, are better able to tackle pet hair and allergens, and have smart features like programmable schedules and dirt sensors that automatically direct them to take multiple passes over messy areas.
The two best new robot vacuums
The iRobot Roomba was the first robot vacuum to capture the public's imagination in 2002. Its latest and greatest Roomba offering to date is the 980 model. Thanks to new, intelligent navigation, the Roomba 980 is capable of cleaning an entire floor of your home while automatically adapting to different floor surfaces. It's also the first Roomba to connect to the cloud. Using your iPhone or Android app, you can control it from almost anywhere.
The Neato Botvac Connected, on the other hand, rivals the 980 with both capability and price ($699.99 for the Neato vs. $899.99 for the 980). It is WiFi connected, can be controlled with an app on your smartphone, and has multi-room navigation with the same battery power. Major differentiators? All Roombas are round, which makes it nearly impossible for them to efficiently access corners. The Neato has straight sides and is better equipped for edge-to-edge cleaning. It is also able to climb a full inch up the base of a wall and sides of furniture.
The Roomba 980 has a Carpet Boost setting. When enabled, the Roomba will increase its air power whenever a carpet is detected underneath, thereby boosting performance without using excess energy. However, reviewers note that its default bare floor setting lags behind some of its competitors in power and performance. Luckily, a series of clever brushes help overcome the lack of sheer power.
The Neato Botvac, by comparison, has a Turbo mode that cleans debris better than any competitor. For lighter cleaning that needs less lower volume, run it in Eco mode. You can alternate between these modes at any time through manual control or remotely from its accompanying app.
Maybe you've seen the YouTube videos - but robot vacuums aren't exactly known for their graceful movements. Fortunately, their surface detection and maneuverability have come a long way. It's still common for these bots to get tripped up by smaller items like cords, but their travel patterns are more methodological, so you can now trust them to travel through separate rooms without getting confused.
To compare navigation, the round Roomba makes a bouncing, swirling pathway through a room, and it's one of the only vacuums that will venture under partially covered areas like skirted beds and couches. The straight-edged Neato takes a more linear approach, and cleans closer to walls and into corners. It also has superior abilities to traverse uneven surfaces like door thresholds.
While earlier models used nickel-metal hydride batteries, most companies have since made the switch to more powerful lithium-ion ones. That means today's robot vacuums generally have at least an hour of runtime between charges, regardless of the floor surface. When machines are working harder - for example, in Carpet Boost or Turbo modes - their battery life drops.
The Roomba 980 is designed to continuously vacuum for up to two hours (depending on the surface and level of debris), automatically return to the dock to charge, and then continue until the job is done. The Neato Botvac Connected has nearly identical auto recharge-and-resume settings; it can operate for up to two hours at a time, recharge itself, and pick up where it left off for up to three consecutive cleaning cycles.
When it comes to accessories, many leading vacs have optional accessories that limit their pathways and make them easier to control.
The Roomba 980 comes packaged with two "virtual walls," devices that are meant to keep the Roomba out of certain rooms. Each one requires two double-A batteries to run and is capable of blocking openings up to 10 feet across. You can also run it in "halo mode," which prevents the Roomba from coming within a four-foot radius. The Botvac comes with similar boundary markers. You can position these small magnets anywhere on the floor and the Botvac won't pass over them. The benefit? You can define no-clean zones in your home without the need for extra batteries.
Navigation and suction power aside, WiFi connectivity is the major differentiator between the Roomba 980, the Neato Botvac Connected, and their competitors. These are the only two options currently on the U.S. market that can be controlled from outside the home, thanks to their accompanying smartphone applications.
This is a real jump in smart technology. Perhaps you are out running errands and you find out you're having last minute company - no problem! Just log in to the app, and send the vacuum on its way with the click of a button and you'll entertain with tidy floors. The Roomba and Neato apps also help calendar cleanings and maintenance more easily. The Neato app has an additional perk: You can use it to control the exact path of your machine, much like a remote control car.
Notes on Pet Hair & Filters
Both the Roomba and Neato options come with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filters, necessary for keeping problematic particles like pet dander, dust mites, and other allergens from re-circulating into the air.
The included Roomba filter is tested to trap particles as small as 1 micron; the Neato standard filter goes down to an even more impressive 0.3 microns. It's a better option for individuals with sensitivities, though finer filters often require more frequent cleaning and replacement. Similarly, while the Neato has been found to pick up a greater amount of debris, including pet hair, this extra suction power makes it more likely to get infiltrated. You may have to spend more time on cleaning and maintenance, especially if you have a furry friend.
Whether you're looking to buy one for yourself or as a holiday gift, this is a great time to invest in a robot vacuum. You have more options than ever, with new developments that overcome the limitations of early versions. Choose a WiFi ready option, and you'll enjoy additional benefits and the futuristic fun of the latest smart technology.
Written by Michael Franco