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The Wealth of New Choices With Robot Vacuum Cleaners

The Wealth of New Choices With Robot Vacuum Cleaners

Robot vacuum cleaners strike me as an essential appliance for our busy modern lives. The Roomba, made by iRobot, has been my choice. But Liam McCabe, a senior writer at The Wirecutter and Sweethome, the New York Times sites that evaluate products, has been testing these things since 2013 and says there is now a better option.

Was the displacement of a Roomba by a rival a really big deal?

It was pretty surprising. The Roomba 650 had been the pick since we first had a robot vacuum guide, back in 2012. It was the lowest-cost bot that didn’t usually get stuck, and was also strong enough to pick up most of the noticeable debris on most floors. They just got undercut. (iRobot this week replaced the Roomba 650 with the Roomba 690, essentially the same robot but now compatible with Alexa and a phone app.)

How so?

The secret to the Roomba 650 was the navigation. All the other cheap competitors up until recently had poor navigation. They’d get stuck on really basic obstacles like any kind of carpet fringe or stray cable, or just bop around in circles not cleaning anything. A lot of them didn’t even have brush rollers, so they didn’t do much on carpets.

But then a batch of pretty good cheap models popped up. It sort of surprised us.

So why did the Eufy RoboVac 11 win?

It navigates just about as well as the Roomba 650 — not exactly the same behavior, but pretty close. It’s less likely to get caught on cords but slightly more likely to struggle crossing thresholds. On balance, it’s really pretty similar.

And it is cheaper?

At least $80 cheaper and it’s sometimes closer to $200 cheaper, depending on sale prices. The Roomba 650 can still cost $375. Sometimes the Eufy is $185-ish.

I will say that iRobot, the maker of Roombas, is really good about supporting its old products. I’m not sure if Eufy and some of these other low-cost brands will support their robots the way that iRobot has. But Eufy is a sub-brand of Anker, which has so far been very good at supporting its products.

The robots wear out faster than human-driven vacuums. Why?

Vacuums, in general, have a tough job. They’re picking up grime and grit that can wear on mechanical parts. The robovacs are battery powered, so that’s always a failure point. And compared to cordless human-driven vacuums, they spend more time running, so the batteries wear out in fewer uses. When you vacuum by hand, I think the average is something like 25 minutes per week, but if you run a Roomba three times a week, that’s already three hours, minimum.

How did you reach the conclusion that the Eufy is the best bet?

So I test these at home. First, I let the bots loose and try to see what they struggle with. Then I purposely set up an obstacle course. I have this Turkish-style area rug that can be pretty challenging for bots, because the edges don’t sit flush with the floor anymore; it’s not rubber-backed, so it can get pushed around; and it has tassels on the ends.

(You can see a GIF of it in the current guide.)

That can winnow out some models pretty quickly.

I test for small-particle pickup: baby powder and crumbs. Some of the weaker bots can struggle to pick those up. I also set up tightly arranged chairs because some bots can struggle to navigate around the legs effectively, or they just go around without going under them, leaving debris behind. I tie different USB and charging cords to the legs of those chairs and lay a power cable across the floor to see if they get caught.

What about pet hair?

I don’t include pet hair in the obstacle course because in my experience, most bots can get most pet hair off the floor. Sometimes it ends up wrapped around the brush rather than in the bin, but I can pretty much figure out what I need to know about the pet hair performance just by looking at the design of the brush roll.

Are you a neat freak? You must have the world’s cleanest house.

The thing is, I need to let it get kind of dirty to see how well the vacuums work.