I’ve looked at a few robot cleaners over recent years for Register Hardware, where you’ll find my tests of the Samsung Navibot, Roomba 581, Neato XV-15 and very soon, the new Roomba 780, which was announced today at IFA, and which I played with last week.
There’s no doubt that for someone who detests housework as much as I do, these devices can be pretty helpful, at least in keeping things to a more manageable level. But, with varying degrees of efficacy, they’re not so brilliant in the corners or round the edges of rooms, so you’ll still probably need to get your traditional cleaner out.
If you choose a model that has side brushes – all the ones I’ve looked at, bar the Neato – and you live in a place that has mostly square rooms, without too much clutter, then I guess you might just about get away with it. But aside from those who manage to live such lives of perfect minimalism that even a stray placemat is immediately tidied away into a hidden cupboard, I think that for the majority of people, a robot cleaner really has to be considered as an extra.
True, it might mean that you have to get out the full size vacuum less often, to do the edges, and the deep cleaning that none of these robots can really manage – it’s impossible to squeeze a battery and a really powerful motor into something so small. And if you’re wealthy enough, that might mean you can cut down on how often you pay the cleaner to do those bits.
I love gadgets as much – or possibly a lot more than – the next man. And I’d quite happily have one of these robots scurrying around my flat, doing the cleaning while I get on with my work.
But, honestly, not at the current prices. You’re looking at around £400 for one of the robot cleaners that I’ve tested. Yes, you could buy the most basic Roomba for £200, but that really is entry level – no remote control, no scheduling, no virtual walls, smaller bin, and less powerful suction, so I’m not really convinced the saving would be worth it.
And, the other thing that I’ve been unable to test, but have heard from other users of robot cleaners, both personally and in the comments to some of my reviews, is that battery life is not brilliant. Not in terms of running time, but in terms of longevity; in short, many users have found that they need to replace the rechargeable battery in their cleaner, sometimes after not much more than a year. And when you’re already spending hundreds on a cleaner, another £50 or £60 every year (or even two years) seems like quite a bit to add on to the cost.
The current top of the Roomba range, the 780, that I’ve just looked at will set you back a whopping £500; the makers, iRobot, say they’ve improved battery management to extend life by 50%, but obviously that’s not something that can be tested in a one week review.
Perhaps, if a top of the range model came in at around £200, I could justify one of these. But at £500? I’m afraid not – especially not when I still need to get out the Dyson for some of the really stubborn bits of fluff, and to go round the corners of the room.
Robot cleaners are a great idea, for sure. But for me, there really needs to be a better balance between price and performance before it’s worth taking the plunge.