After running more than 70 cleaning cycles over 10 weeks with eight of the most promising robot vacuums, we think the Eufy RoboVac 11 is the right choice for most people who want an automated, affordable helper to keep their floors tidy. It’s not the most powerful or cleverest bot out there. But it’s nimble enough to navigate through most homes without getting stuck—and that’s what makes most bot owners happy. It also costs less than other comparable bots.
The Eufy RoboVac 11 can do a good job keeping most spaces up 1,200 square feet tidy. Its battery life is among the longest we’ve seen in a bot, which helps offset its modest cleaning power and quirky navigation pattern. It’s also the quietest bot we’ve tested, and the brand has a good reputation for customer support, too.
Yes, the RoboVac 11 leaves behind some debris in carpet, and it can miss some parts of your floor during a cleaning cycle—limitations that stronger, smarter, pricier bots don’t have. But if you run the RoboVac 11 at least a few times per week, it can keep your floors free of obvious debris, with very little effort on your part.
If the price of the Eufy RoboVac 11 jumps above $220, check out the iRobot Roomba 650 instead. It is an older model, with a shorter battery life and a steeper price, and is a little more likely to get stuck than our main pick. But it’s also a somewhat stronger cleaner, and has a years-long track record for reliability and owner satisfaction. It was also our top pick in this guide from 2013 through early 2017. On balance, the Roomba 650 works about as well as the RoboVac 11. Make your choice based on price and availability.
If you’re having a hard time finding our main pick or runner-up, consider the Ecovacs Deebot M82. It has a smaller dust bin and a less-effective brush roll than our main pick, yet it costs extra. We’re also not sure what to expect from the brand’s customer service. But it’s another decent, relatively affordable option if the other choices aren’t available.
For tougher jobs, like cleaning a large home or digging a lot of pet hair out of carpets, we really like the iRobot Roomba 960. It has more cleaning power than our main pick or runners-up, and a sophisticated navigation system that lets it clean an entire level of your home, room by room, without missing any patches. It also works with a smartphone app, so you can control and monitor it when you’re away from home. When we compare it with other high-end, full-featured robot vacuums, we think the Roomba 960 hits the right balance of price and performance.
I’ve covered robot vacuums for The Sweethome since 2013, logging hundreds of hours of research and testing in that time. Altogether I’ve tried out 17 bots from seven brands. I also write about other types of vacuums for The Sweethome, including cordless, handheld, and traditional plug-in styles.
This update covers all robot vacuums available in the US as of mid-January 2017, and is the first major update since February 2016. I put about 25 hours of new research into the latest robots, 20 hours into comparative side-by-side testing, and dozens of hours of just letting the best few bots do their thing cleaning my condo.
Over the years, we’ve also spoken with several experts, including:
I’ve also made a point to listen to as many of our readers as I can, through comments on our guides, emails, and tweets. I’ve spent some time on message boards, too, particularly Robot Reviews.
I also like to read vacuum reviews from a variety of other sources. I have scanned through a few thousand user reviews and read dozens of product-specific reviews from testing houses including CNET, Consumer Reports (subscription required), Reviewed.com, and Good Housekeeping.
On top of all that, I’ve run about 150 at-home cleaning cycles over the years with our previous picks. It would be more, but I have to test a whole mess of other vacuums, too.
A robot vacuum can’t fully replace a regular vacuum. However, it’s a hell of a lot more convenient than doing the entire thing by hand all the time. The bot does a great job keeping your floors tidy with very little effort on your part, and while you’ll still need a human-operated vacuum for tough jobs like deep-cleaning dust out of plush carpet, a bot lets you wait longer between those big cleanings. A bot that runs 90 minutes a day, three times per week, will keep your home much tidier than 10 minutes of half-assed, human-driven vacuuming a few times per month.
“[Robot vacuums] are best at what I’d call maintenance cleaning,” said Sal Cangeloso, former editor in chief at Geek.com. He reviewed a bunch of different bots during his tenure, and has owned a few iRobot Roomba models. “The human does the big clean, say, once a month, and then you have the robot clean a few times a week. This’ll keep your place clean and make it so that a few missed corners and stuck-on grime aren’t a big deal.”
Over several years of research and testing, we’ve found that a robot vacuum can work well for most people in most homes on most kinds of flooring. Any decent bot can pick up obvious, surface-level debris like pet hair, crumbs, road grit, or anything else you can see from eye level or feel stuck to your feet.
Most people who own a robot vacuum also own another human-driven vacuum, and most bot manufacturers recommend this approach. But it’s not mandatory, and some people (including some Sweethome staff members) use a bot as their only vacuum at home.
All that said, robot vacuums are imperfect. They can’t crank out as much suction or agitation as human-driven vacuums, so they struggle to clean fine dust out of carpets. Long carpets are a no-no, because the fibers can jam the bot’s wheels and brushes. Even the best bots get stuck or tangled occasionally, and in some homes they may get stuck fairly often. They can’t climb stairs on their own. And they often navigate in ways that don’t make sense to human observers.
Most owners learn to accept these quirks, or make small changes to adapt to them, or simply don’t notice them at all. But some people, in the end, can’t get comfortable with the limitations. Try to buy from a retailer with a return policy of at least a few weeks, in case the bot just isn’t working out for you.
We started by making a list of all the cordless vacuums we could find. Since 2013, we’ve tracked 98 models (though many are now discontinued). Then we prioritized some baseline specs:
Beyond that, we tried to keep an open mind.1 Experience has taught us that flashier specs often don’t add up to a better bot for the money, so we stayed impartial to all navigation styles, battery run times, brush designs, and control schemes.
The least you can pay for a decent bot (at the time of writing, at least) is about $180. Most bots below that price don’t meet our baseline specs, and tend to have low user ratings due to dumb navigation and poor cleaning ability.
Up to $300, the best bots are good enough and cheap enough to make most people happy. They won’t work flawlessly, but they’ll keep your floors tidy if you run them a few times per week. They have semi-random navigation patterns and modest cleaning power, but the good models don’t get stuck and they do have enough battery life to offset their limitations. They’re at their best in smaller spaces (comfortably up to 800 square feet, stretching it up to 1,200 square feet) with mostly bare floors. We never used to consider bots in this price range, but they’re much better than they used to be. Our main pick falls into this category, and our runners-up usually do now, too.
Between $300 and $600, some advanced features start to appear, including orderly room-to-room navigation, or stronger cleaning power, or wireless connectivity. None of them have all of those features, though. Some people will find their ideal bot in this price range (we’ll talk about a few of the best models later), but each has some important caveat that stops us from recommending any of them to most people.
At $600 and above, the fully featured bots start to appear. These high-end models come with all of the useful advanced features found smattered across the mid-range bots. That is, they can clean an entire floor of your home in an orderly fashion, they can be controlled with a smartphone, and they have more cleaning power than the cheaper models. For people in larger homes, with some extra money, and who don’t want to mess around with the limitations of cheaper bots, this is where you should look. Our upgrade pick falls into this category.
We settled on 10 finalists across all price ranges:
|Basic ($180-$300)||Mid-range ($301-$600)||High-end ($601 and up)|
|iLife A4||Neato Botvac D80||iRobot Roomba 960|
|Eufy RoboVac 11||Neato Botvac D3 Connected||Neato Botvac Connected|
|Ecovacs Deebot M82||iRobot Roomba 860||iRobot Roomba 980|
|iRobot Roomba 650|
Among our finalists, the most important trait we looked for was continuous navigation, without getting stuck or otherwise quitting mid-cleaning. Over many years of testing, we have found that as long as a robot keeps moving, it will do a good job keeping your floors tidy. To do this in most homes, this means the robot will need to be able to successfully navigate around or through the most common bot traps including:
We also looked for the finalists that pick up as much debris as possible. Realistically, this means it can clean all the obvious, surface-level bits on your floors, including along edges and in corners, without missing big patches of open ground. (Pricier bots should be able to get more debris out of carpets.) There’s more than one way to achieve this goal. Some try to clean everything in one pass with strong suction and aggressive brushes, others make multiple passes with weaker cleaning. We think that either approach is valid, and results are what matter.
A big chunk of our testing was using the bots for around the house cleaning, like a regular owner.We ran most of the cycles in my current condo, which has roughly 1,000 square feet of robot-accessible floor space. It has no permanent carpet, but it does have 10 different area rugs, ranging from lightweight doormats to heavy plush rugs that take up half a room. The home was built in the 1920s and still has an old-school layout, with several small rooms rather than a few large spaces. So the bots had lots of edges, thresholds, and tight spaces to navigate. This is one of the trickier environments for a bot to navigate smoothly.2
For variety, we also did some testing in a 1,300-square-foot condo with an open floor plan and a mix of wood, rugs, and permanent carpeting. This is one of the easier types of layouts for a bot to handle.
During the testing period, we ran about 70 robot cleaning cycles in total. That included at least three cycles with each finalist, and up to 15 cycles with some models. (And this is on top of about 150 cycles I’ve run at home since I started covering robots in 2013.)
For the first couple of sessions, we closely monitored how each bot navigated, how it handled obstacles, and how full its bin was at the end of every cycle. For the following sessions, we stayed out of the way and let each bot do its thing, checking in with it at the end of the cycle—or when it got stuck, which happened a few times. (To save time, we ran some bots concurrently in this stage—yes, it’s fun to watch robots bash into each other.) We moved the starting docks around and played with different cleaning settings when the option was available. Sometimes we’d pick up all the potential bot-traps, and run a half-dozen cycles in a day. Other times we’d leave the floor in a total mess, with all sorts of hazards and debris everywhere.
We also ran a more-controlled stress test where we enclosed each robot vacuum into an area cluttered with several chairs, stray USB cables, a sock, a medium-lightweight area rug with tassels, and a tall threshold, plus 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/8 cup ground coffee spread across the floor and rug, including along a baseboard. Watching the bots deal with these obstacles gave us a clearer idea of how each one handled certain obstacles that are known to cause trouble for some robots, and it also gave us an obvious visual of how well it handled difficult debris.
The Eufy RoboVac 11 is the smart-money pick for most people who want a robot vacuum cleaner. In our testing and research, the RoboVac 11 was the most likely to complete a cleaning cycle on its own, without getting stuck and waiting for a human to rescue it. That’s the most important part of a robot vacuum’s job, and the Eufy 11 does it better than almost any other model we’ve seen, even those that cost hundreds more. It’s also quieter than most other bots, is one of the lower-cost models to come with a remote control, and the brand (an offshoot of Anker3) has a good track record for customer service. Its cleaning power is not particularly strong, and its semi-random navigation system may miss patches of floor. But the 2.5-hour battery life (among the longest we’ve seen) helps to offset those limitations. Overall, it’s good enough to keep the floors tidy in just about any home if you run it at a few times per week, yet costs much less and comes with fewer caveats than any other robot vacuums that can say the same.
If you have higher expectations for a robot vacuum, plenty of models have more cleaning power, more precise navigation, and more advanced control. They’re also much more expensive. Get one if you want one. But use the RoboVac 11 as a baseline for what to expect for your money.
The RoboVac 11 has a navigation system that is as adaptive, persistent, and resilient as we’ve seen in any robot vacuum at any price. It’s more likely to miss patches of your floor than many pricier bots, but it’s also less likely to get stuck mid-session. And after years of experience, we’ve found that the most important trait a bot can have is to just keep driving. Look at it this way: If you schedule your bot to clean while you’re at work and it gets stuck on carpet fringe 10 minutes into the cleaning cycle, your floors will still be dirty when you get home. Defeats the purpose of having an automatic cleaner, no?
We ran about 15 cleaning cycles with the RoboVac 11, and it got stuck only once, on a stray USB charging cable. It looks like it’s smarter than its competitors about backing away from bunched-up rugs, and untangling itself from cables and cords. When it senses one of these obstacles, it turns off its brushes and rolls backward, away from the hazard until the coast is clear. Most other bots try to power through those obstacles, and they sometimes get stuck because of that.
The RoboVac 11 also gets into some areas that some competitors can’t or won’t. It’s shorter and narrower than most of its rivals, so it gets under more furniture and toe kicks, and it’s more likely to glide between tighter chair legs. It’s not shy about driving into crowded areas, like the space under a dining room table—smarter bots may avoid those types of hazards.
We’re not exactly sure why the RoboVac 11 is more flexible and less prone to getting stuck than others. It’s pretty similar to most sub-$600 robot vacuums, in that it uses a semi-random, bump-and-run navigation style that relies on near-range sensors to feel its way around an environment:
As far as we can tell, the RoboVac 11 doesn’t have any special technology that gives it an edge, just a smarter implementation of existing designs. Eufy suggested that it has more anti-collision infrared sensors than its closest competitors. We think that its lighter body weight and higher wheel clearance might help, too.
The RoboVac 11 is the quietest bot we’ve tested (tied with the iLife A4 and Ecovacs M82), and probably won’t disturb you if you’re home while it’s running. From 6 feet away, we measured the volume at a comfortable 60 dBC, with no mid-range whooshing or high-end whining appearing on our frequency chart. From two rooms away, we measured it at 44 dBC, which is barely audible. If you’re out of the house when your bot runs, as most people are, noise is a non-issue anyhow. But it’s nice to have the option to run it peacefully while you’re watching TV, and the inoffensive whirring and seemingly nonsensical cleaning patterns almost make it feel like a pet. It’s a little easier on the ears than the Roomba 650, which runs at about the same volume but has a bit of a spike in the mid-range frequency. And it’s much quieter than any Neato models.
A few of the control features on the RoboVac 11 are useful yet uncommon in most competitors at this price. It comes with a remote control, which Roomba and Neato models do not. It’s also one of the few vacuums with a manual steering option, which is not only fun but also actually useful if your bot has trouble getting out of a certain area of your home. Like most bots, the RoboVac 11 lets you pre-schedule cleanings so that the bot can start a cycle when you’re away from home (though it has some limitations that we’ll cover in the next section). In our around-the-house testing, we mostly just used auto mode and did not find settings like edge-cleaning priority, spot cleaning, or room cleaning to be particularly useful.
Eufy is the new housewares sub-brand of Anker, which has been one of the more reliable and value-minded mobile-accessories brands of the past few years. The RoboVac 11 has a one-year warranty, which is typical for robot vacuums. It’s hard to get an accurate gauge on the quality of any brand’s customer service, particularly a new, smallish brand like Eufy. But for what it’s worth, we can’t recall hearing any unresolved complaints about Anker or Eufy customer service. Their customer service representatives are present in the Q&A sections of Amazon product listings. And the shipping for the RoboVac 11 is also “Fulfilled by Amazon,” so you get the protections of Amazon’s return and exchange policy. We think you can buy this bot with confidence.
It is a good-enough cleaner to pick up the vast majority of the debris you can see from eye level or feel stuck to the bottom of your feet. In our testing, the RoboVac 11 regularly sucked up just about all of the pet hair, crumbs, and grit in our 1,000-square-foot test home, from bare floors and plush rugs alike, and even along edges. Because it has such a long battery life (up to 150 minutes), it was more consistent than its closest price competitor, the Roomba 650 (up to 90 minutes), at hitting every patch of open floor during a cycle.
Reviews are limited for now, but most people who have used this bot seem happy with it. At Amazon, which is the only authorized Eufy distributor in the US, it has an average customer rating of 4.7 out of five stars based on 107 reviews at the time of writing. Very few products ever score that high, and Fakespot found a few reviews that may come from inauthentic reviewers, inappropriately boosting the overall rating. But they deem the product ratings trustworthy overall, awarding it a letter grade of B. And ReviewsMeta gives the ratings a Pass. We also did our due diligence looking through reviews and found plenty of well-written, carefully considered reviews both positive and critical, from Amazon customer profiles with deep and varied posting histories. Reviewed.com also writes good things about the RoboVac 11, originally giving it a score of seven out 10 before bumping the score to 9.2 out of 10 (we’re not sure how that happened).
Maintenance on the RoboVac 11 is pretty typical of most bots. Most of the important parts, including the brush rolls and caster, pop right out for cleaning, no tools needed. You’ll need a tiny screwdriver to remove the side brushes for de-tangling or replacement, but Eufy includes the tool you’ll need. It also comes with some spare side brushes and filters and a brush-cleaning tool (as most bots do). The RoboVac 11 is about as easy to maintain as the Roomba 650, and it’s easier to maintain than Neato models, at least in the short- and medium-term. Since Eufy is new to bots, we’re not sure yet how its products will hold up over time or whether replacement parts will be readily available in a few years.
The RoboVac 11 does not have as much raw cleaning power as many competing models, including the Roomba 650 or any Neato bot. Skip it if you have lots of carpet and pets. While we don’t have a great way to measure this, the suction seems slightly weaker than other models. Its brush roll also covers less surface area—it’s a single 5.5-inch-wide combo brush, whereas Roomba models have dual 6.5-inch brush rolls, and Neato bots each have a 10.5-inch-wide brush roll. Although the RoboVac 11 has two spinning side brushes to help sweep debris into the path of its brush roll (other bots have one or none), it just can’t create as much airflow or agitation as other robot vacuums.
So, to pick up as much debris as stronger bots, the RoboVac 11 needs to make more passes over a given area. The difference is subtle on bare floors, where it might leave behind a stray crumb or two that stronger bots would get. But it’s more obvious on rugs and carpets, where the RoboVac needs multiple passes to get hair and dusty debris. We found that in our testing, no matter how many times it made the rounds, it always left behind some cat hair and dust (flour) that stronger bots were able to pick up. Over a couple of weeks of consistent, multiple-times-per-day cleaning sessions with several bots, we found that the RoboVac 11 started coming back with minute amounts of debris in its bin, while our upgrade pick consistently collected noticeable amounts of hair and dust. (When we scaled back the frequency of cleaning sessions, the RoboVac 11 started coming back with full bins again.)
Eufy’s bot is effective enough in the real world to make your floors look and feel tidy, if not keep your carpets perfectly debris-free. We’ve heard from many of our readers over the years that clean enough is good enough, and the RoboVac 11 hits that mark. If you deep-clean your carpets with a strong human-powered vacuum anyway (as most bot manufacturers suggest that you do), then the RoboVac 11 can keep the crumbs and hair off the floor between the big sessions. It performs about as well as other bots in its price range, including the Roomba 650, because it has a much longer battery life. It’s able to make many, many passes every session, enough to offset its weaker cleaning power to some degree. On balance, we’ve found it’s just as effective as the Roomba 650 at tidying up most homes.
The RoboVac 11 navigates semi-randomly. It scoots forward until it gets right near an obstacle, then turns at an angle, and repeats until the battery runs low (with a few exceptions like edge-cleaning runs and trap-escaping routines). It doesn’t remember where it’s been in your home and doesn’t really plan where it’s going either. That bump-and-run nav style has a few limitations compared with the orderly, straight-line method that higher-end robot vacuums like Neato uses.
Some people just hate the “aggravating randomness” of the bump-and-run style, as former Wirecutter editor John Neff put it. He has owned both an older bump-and-run Roomba and a straight-line Neato, and he greatly prefers the straight-line style. “I guess I’m a perfectionist-type, logical person in that regard,” he said.
A bump-and-run bot like the RoboVac 11 is also not ideal for cleaning large spaces. The more space it has to wander, the more likely it is to miss an entire room, or at least obvious streaks of debris that an orderly, straight-line bot would be able to get. We’d estimate that its effectiveness starts to drop off pretty fast in spaces larger than 1,200 square feet. (To its credit, that’s a few hundred square feet more than the Roomba 650 can comfortably do, because the Roomba has a shorter battery life.) That said, the RoboVac 11 can still be useful in bigger homes if you’re willing to adapt to the limitations by starting it in different rooms of your home on different days or shutting some doors to help it focus on a specific area. (Unlike many other robot vacuums, it does not come with any “virtual barriers,” so you’ll need physical barriers.)
The best thing to do is to run the robot every day, or at least a few times per week, and whatever it misses today, it will almost always get the next time. We’ve found time and time again that this system works as well as orderly, straight-line navigation for keeping floors tidy over time, as long as the area isn’t too large. It’s not the flashiest technology, but it keeps the cost of the Eufy vacuum way down and still gets results. As one Amazon customer reviewer put it, “It is not a super artificial intelligence robot, but in its own dumb way it will get the job done more often than not.” We’d estimate that under 800 square feet, the RoboVac 11 will usually get pretty close to 100 percent coverage. Between 800 and 1,200 square feet it should still get at least 90 percent (and then the next cleaning session should cover the remaining 10 percent).
Like all other robot vacuums, the RoboVac 11 struggles with certain hazards. It can’t deal with high thresholds (anything taller than 15 millimeters, according to Eufy). It can get caught on stray cords or curtains, and will usually get jammed if it drives into laundry that’s been left on the floor. And like other robots with ledge sensors, it does not always work on dark, non-reflective surfaces like matte black wood floors or very dark rugs. The sensor interprets the absence of a reflection as a drop-off, so it stops in place to prevent itself from face-planting down the stairs. All of these issues are typical of most other robot vacuums.
The scheduling system on the RoboVac 11 isn’t as robust or flexible as the other bots’ systems. You can pre-set a start time using the remote control. But unlike most competing models (including the Roomba 650), you can’t set an entire seven-day schedule with different start times for each day. The RoboVac 11 also needs to be in a line-of-sight with the remote for any pre-scheduled cleaning to start, whereas other models keep their schedule on-board, or get pinged through a smartphone app.
Eufy does not currently sell replacement parts for the RoboVac 11 through its retail channels. You’ll need new parts eventually—at least new filters, brushes, and maybe a battery. Eufy told us that it’ll start selling parts by the end of March 2017, and we’ll follow up to see if they become available.
Since the Eufy has no on-board LCD (Neato), spoken codes (Roomba), or companion app (many), it can be a little tricky to figure out what’s wrong with it when it throws up an error code. Instead it relies on a series of timed, color-coded blinks, so you’ll need to dig out your user manual to figure out what it’s trying to tell you.
If the price jumps on the Eufy RoboVac 11, or you’d rather pay a little extra to buy from a brand with an established reputation, the iRobot Roomba 650 is another effective, relatively affordable robot vacuum that works well in most homes.
The main argument in favor of the Roomba 650 is its reputation. It has been available since 2012 and was our top recommendation for a robot vacuum from 2013 through early 2017. It has an average Amazon customer rating of 4.5 stars out of five, based on more than 4,000 reviews. (Fakespot gives the customer review quality an A grade, and ReviewMeta gives it a Pass.) That’s an enormous number of ratings over many years, and it suggests that people are happy with what they paid for. The ratings have stayed high over time. Within the reviews, we have not found any indications of long-term reliability problems, outside of the typical wear-and-tear that iRobot tells owners to expect. For what it’s worth, we’ve been long-term testing it on and off for more than three years (about 120 cleaning cycles, we’re estimating) and apart from having to replace the brushes and filters, it has not given us any trouble. Our main pick just has not been out long enough to get a feel for its long-term viability. The parent company behind the RoboVac 11 is barely even older than the Roomba 650!
iRobot also makes it easy to continually repair the Roomba 650 over time. Beyond the basic parts, like filters, brushes, and the battery, iRobot also sells replacement wheels, bins, and cleaning heads (the brush roll assembly, basically). They’re easy enough to replace with simple tools, so you can keep the Roomba 650 going for a long time (though you’ll need to pay for the replacement parts). As we mentioned earlier, Eufy does not sell individual replacement parts for the RoboVac 11 through its retail channels, not even filters, let alone wheel assemblies.
We also have found the Roomba 650 to have moderately stronger cleaning power than our main pick. We’re not sure if its airflow is any stronger than the RoboVac’s, but it has two brush rolls instead of one, each an inch wider, so it creates more agitation over a wider area. However, the Roomba 650 has a significantly shorter battery life than the RoboVac 11, and we found that both bots pick up about the same amount of debris per cleaning cycle.
And if scheduling is important to you, the Roomba 650 lets you pre-set seven cleaning sessions: one per day of the week, at any time of day. So you can set it to clean at 9 am on Monday, 2 pm on Tuesday, 11:30 am on Wednesday, and so on. The RoboVac 11 allows you to pre-set only one cleaning time.
The main downside to the Roomba 650 is the price. At the time of writing, the typical daily low price was $300, though the official list price is still $375 and several retailers still charge that much. Any way you slice it, it’s more expensive than our main pick, even though they have similar capabilities.
The Roomba 650 also has a shorter battery life than our main pick (90 minutes versus 150 minutes), and its effective cleaning area is a little bit smaller (about 1,000 square feet versus about 1,200 square feet, both rough estimates that may vary according to your expectations).
We’ve found that the Roomba 650 is slightly more prone to getting stuck mid-cycle than our main pick, particularly on cables and cords. We think this is because it uses two brush rolls instead of one, increasing the chances of a serious tangle. But relative to most other bots from other brands, it’s still one of the nimblest bots available.
The Roomba 650 also bonks into walls and furniture harder than our main pick (or any robot vacuum we’ve tested, actually). For most people, this isn’t going to matter. It can occasionally leave smudges along baseboards and on light-colored furniture. We’ve been long-term testing this robot for more than three years and can count on one hand the number of Roomba smudges we’ve seen, and they’ve been easy enough to clean with a little dish detergent and water. But most other bots are gentler than the Roomba 650, so just look elsewhere if that really makes you skittish.
Like the Eufy bot, the 650 navigates with a semi-random bump-and-run style, which can bother some people. As Amazon customer reviewer Jack V. Briner put it in his take on the bump-and-run Roomba 650, “If you are a micro manager, you will have problems with how Roomba gets the job done. If you are results driven manager, you will find that the Roomba does a good job.” Life is chaotic, so if a robot that drives in straight lines will bring you a small sense of order or peace or whatever, then step up to our upgrade pick, or look into one of the mid-range Neato models.
The Ecovacs Deebot M82 is almost the same machine as our main pick. We’re not wild about the M82 because its specs and performance are slightly worse than the RoboVac 11, yet it costs about $30 extra.
The dust bin in the M82 is about 25 percent smaller, so it’s more likely to get stuffed up in the middle of a cycle, to the point where it leaves debris behind. The brush roll only has bristles, no rubber blades, and in our testing we found that scooped a little less debris off bare floors. We’re not sure what to expect from Ecovacs’s customer service, either, because there are too few user reviews for their products for us to draw conclusions.
Otherwise, the Ecovacs M82 uses pretty much the same hardware as our main pick: motor, battery, sensors, bump-and-run nav system, even the remote has the same functions. If you’re having trouble finding the RoboVac 11, and really don’t want to pay extra for the Roomba 650, the M82 is another decent option.
If you want the best of what robot vacuums have to offer, check out the iRobot Roomba 960. Its nav system can clean an entire level of a house, no matter how large or small, without missing any spots. It still has all the trap-escaping agility of the lower-priced Roomba models, and its brush rolls are even less likely to get tangled on hazards. It’s a strong cleaner, even on carpet, and it can be controlled with a smartphone app. Plenty of other high-end bots have similar features, but the Roomba 960 runs more reliably in more homes with less fuss than just about all of them, and actually costs hundreds of dollars less than many.
The feature that sets the Roomba 960 apart from almost all of its competitors (at any price) is the navigation system. It’s built on the same base as the lower-priced Roomba models, using loads of short-range sensors and clever software to work its way around obstacles and wiggle out of hazards, so that it doesn’t get stuck before the cleaning cycle is done. As we said earlier, as long as a bot can just keep moving, it’s going to do a pretty good job keeping floors tidy. This basic Roomba nav system is one of the very best at doing that.
But the Roomba 960 adds an extra layer to the nav system that cheaper Roomba models don’t have, allowing it to clean an entire level of your home. It uses a camera on the top of the body and an optical sensor on the bottom (like most computer mice) to map your floor plan and track its location within that map, so that it cleans your entire floor in a logical, orderly fashion without missing spots. If the battery runs out before the cleaning is complete, it can return to the dock on its own, recharge for a while, then pick up where it left off. This means that it can work effectively even in homes with sprawling floor plans.
Plenty of other bots can work in large homes, or clean reliably without getting stuck even in a cluttered floor plan. But the Roomba 960 does both, and it’s the one that we’re most confident will work very well in almost any home. Most others come with significant caveats. Other bots that can clean an entire level of a large home, like Neato, Samsung, and Dyson models, tend to get stuck mid-cycle more often than the Roomba 960. Cheaper bots that don’t get stuck, like our main pick or runner-up, struggle to clean larger spaces (greater than 1,200 square feet, roughly) thoroughly in a single session.
The Roomba 960 also has a set of tangle-resistant brush rolls, unique to higher-end Roomba models. iRobot actually calls the rolls “extractors,” since they don’t really have any brushes, just nubbed ridges. The extractors don’t get all wrapped up with hair over time like other styles of brush rolls do, so you won’t need to put as much effort into cleaning them out every few weeks.
The extractors are also less likely than other brush roll styles to get caught on your power cords and charging cables. The Roomba 960 didn’t get caught on any dangling USB cables or power cords during our stress testing or around-the-house testing. None of the user reviews we’d seen at the time of publication mentioned it as a problem either. Almost every other model we’ve tested in the past few years got caught on a cable at least once while we used it (except for the Roomba 860 and 980, which both use the extractors), ending the cleaning session.
Like most other high-end robot vacuums now, the Roomba 960 works with a smartphone app (for iOS and Android) that can start or stop a cycle, notify you of any errors, help you pre-schedule daily cleanings, and track the bot’s maintenance schedule. Setup is pretty simple, the bot didn’t lose its connection to our home Wi-Fi network during testing, and the app works fine. It’s nothing fancy, but some people may find it useful to control their bot from work, or the store, or whatever. We’ve found the network reliability to be better and the app to more robust than with connected Neato models. But we have not tested connected bots from other manufacturers.
The Roomba 960 is a strong cleaner by robot vacuum standards, and notably better than our main pick at digging hair (and other debris) out of carpet. In our semi-controlled testing, we found that it picked up just about all of the hair and crumbs (coffee grounds) from a wood floor, area rug, and along a baseboard, and managed to get most of the finer dust (flour) we laid out as well—something most other bots struggled with. During our around-the-house testing, it always finished a cleaning cycle with notable amounts of hair and small debris in the bin, even when we’d been running lots of cycles with other models and thought the floors were pretty clean. Part of the extra cleaning power comes from the extractors, which are wider and more aggressive than the bristle and blade brushes that many cheaper bots use. Some of it also comes from the motor, which iRobot claims has “5x the air power” of the Roomba 650, our runner-up pick. (However, it’s not the absolute strongest robot vacuum out there—more on that soon.)
Reviews for the Roomba 960 are strong. The average customer rating at Amazon is 4.4 out of five stars based on 215 reviews at the time of writing. That’s a strong rating for a robot vacuum, and consistent with other Roomba models. None of the major editorial testing houses have posted a hands-on review yet, though Consumer Reports (subscription required) gives it a score of 87 and a Recommended status based on its review of the Roomba 880. (We don’t think this is a good comparison, because the Roomba 880 has a much different navigation system, much more like the bump-and-run approach that cheaper robots usually take.)
On the downside, the Roomba 960 may be reasonably priced compared with similar models, but it is wicked expensive in an absolute sense. It costs almost as much as a full-featured dishwasher or washing machine, and is unlikely to last as long without several rounds of replacement batteries and brushes (which all cost extra). You can get a decent robot vacuum for much less money than this! But if you want the best of what the robot vacuum world has to offer, this is the most sensible way to get it.
A few other models have more raw cleaning power than the Roomba 960, as best we can tell. The Roomba 980 has a motor that can pull twice as much “air power.” CNET wrote that the flagship Neato Botvac Connected is the strongest cleaner they’ve tested. The Dyson 360 Eye is built around a motor that was used in a real vacuum (the cordless DC44 from a few years back), and we do not doubt the company’s claim that it has “twice the suction of any robot vacuum.” But the Roomba 960 still gets great results.
Like cheaper Roomba models, the Roomba 960 doesn’t really work on matte-black flooring, very dark carpets, or other dark non-reflective surfaces. It can still get stuck on a hazard in the middle of a cleaning cycle from time to time, though we believe that it will happen less often than with other bots.
It may also struggle in low light. We ran into this issue with the Roomba 980 last year, and some user reviews indicate it’s still a problem with the Roomba 960. iRobot told us last year that “the robot is able to go under dark beds and into a dark room. However, all vision-based systems need at least some light and the 980 will have a limited range in very low light. The [low-light] Error 17 is more likely to happen in a crowded area, like if someone runs it in a dining room in the dark or near dark—because the error in the other sensors becomes too great. iRobot’s customer feedback/studies has found that the vast majority of people run their Roomba during the day.” We asked if anything had improved in the Roomba 960, and an iRobot rep replied, “There has likely been firmware updates that may or may not have helped. I can’t tell you for sure.”
Some owner reviews mention more significant navigation errors with the Roomba 960. Several mentioned that it has trouble transitioning between floors and area rugs, and a few more said that it seemed to struggle to navigate around objects and back to its dock. We’re not sure why that seems to happen to some owners; it did not happen with our test unit, and plenty of other owner reviews say the opposite, that it transitions and navigates very smoothly. A representative from iRobot told us that when a Roomba can’t return to its dock, it’s “almost always caused by misplaced home bases, or virtual walls pointing in the wrong direction.” They also pointed out that the Roomba needs “a clear runway on the sides, in front, and above” the dock.
We also noticed that the “full bin” indicator is prone to going on before the bin is actually full, which stops the cycle if a certain setting is enabled. A handful of user reviews pointed this out as well. An iRobot rep told us that this can happen when the sensors get covered in dust, and can be fixed by just wiping the sensors clean. But if it’s a common occurrence during most of your cleaning cycles, just make sure the setting that ends the cycle stays turned off. This way, if the bin isn’t actually full, it’ll keep cleaning. If the bin is full, there’s really no harm—the debris will just stay on the ground, like it would if the bot wasn’t cleaning at all.
The iLife A4 is similar to the Eufy RoboVac 11 and Ecovacs M82, and costs a bit less ($180 most days). But it’s different enough that we don’t recommend it. It sits lower to the ground, which causes it to get caught up on carpet fringe more easily. It also tries to power through traps instead of backing out of them, so it ends up getting stuck mid-cycle more often. Maybe if you only have bare floors, you could consider it, but we think most people are better off just going right for the Eufy RoboVac 11.
Right before we published this guide, iLife also released the A4s, which is just like the Ecovacs M82 we recommend above, as well as the A6, which has a longer battery life than our main pick, possibly a stronger motor, and a virtual wall. But it’s notably more expensive.
The iRobot Roomba 860, which has essentially the same bump-and-run navigation system as the Roomba 650, but with the same cleaning hardware as the Roomba 960 (our upgrade) so that it picks up more debris without the brush rolls getting wrapped up with hair. We tested it, and it’s a fine robot, particularly if you’re cleaning up after many pets. But it costs more than twice as much as our main pick, with no substantial upgrade to the nav system, so it’s not something we’d recommend to most people. But if you have a small home with lots of carpet and a lot of pet hair to pick up, this might be your best bet.
And we’ve also tested out the flagship Roomba 980. It’s a lot like the Roomba 960 (our upgrade pick), but with stronger suction and a longer battery life. It probably does pick up more debris from carpets, but we don’t have any hard data to show how much more debris it really gets. We’re guessing it’s a pretty marginal amount, since the motor itself isn’t any different (the power boost comes from a software tweak). And it’s nowhere near as powerful as a plug-in or even a good cordless vacuum anyway. Some people might be comfortable spending the extra $200 for these upgrades, but we think most people will have almost the same experience with the Roomba 960.
A few other discontinued or retailer-specific Roomba bots from the 600 and 700 series are still floating around. You can expect similar capabilities to the Roomba 650, though some of them may not have a scheduling feature. The Roomba 880 is still widely available as well, though it’s no longer a current product. It’s like the Roomba 860, but works with “lighthouses,” which help the robot divide a large space into rooms. Since the 900 Series bots do this on their own now, the lighthouse isn’t a necessary technology anymore.
We’ve tested five Neato robot vacuums over the past three years in four different homes. The trouble with Neato bots is that they get stuck in silly places much more often than their competitors. We’ve seen them freak out and shut down in crowded areas, like under a dining room table. They’re more prone to wedging themselves between and under furniture. When they get caught on a cable or cord, they’re pretty rough, and we’ve even seen them strip the housing off a USB cable. They’re more likely to get stuck on carpet fringe, too, and can’t deal with lightweight area rugs (anything without rubber backing, basically). They don’t really know how to navigate around objects with chrome finish, or objects that curve on a vertical plane, like inclined furniture legs.
From a geeky technological perspective, Neato models use the coolest and most precise mapping system in any robot vacuum. It’s based around LIDAR, essentially a laser rangefinder. The bot can map out walls and obstacles before it starts cleaning, so it can follow a logical, pre-planned route through your home, without bumping into objects as often. But LIDAR only creates a two-dimensional map, and real homes are three-dimensional, filled with obstacles that the map doesn’t account for. Neato bots do have some touch-based sensors like all of our picks in this guide, so they can adjust to obstacles on the fly. But they sometimes don’t realize that they need to make an adjustment until they’re already totally stuck in the trap.
All that said, a Neato bot can be an excellent choice if your home has an open, uncluttered floor plan. We think the best model right now is the Botvac D80. It was our runner-up pick in the last version of this guide (it’s just not as attractive as it used to be, because the competition has improved). It costs less than most other bots that can clean an entire level of your home, and it’s a great cleaner, with two types of brushes to suit different kinds of debris and flooring. The Botvac D5 Connected is mostly like the D80, but it works with a smartphone app and has a longer battery life, though it costs $100 extra and only comes with one brush. The flagship Botvac Connected adds back the second brush and a very long battery life, and works with the Alexa smarthome platform, so we think it’s a better value than the D5, but not a great value next to our favorite high-end bot. The Botvac D3 Connected is the most affordable Neato, but has no side brush so it leaves debris along baseboards. That’s a real and frustrating weakness.
We have not tested the Dyson 360 Eye, but we’ve heard enough about it to say with confidence that we will not be recommending this product. Tests suggest that the 360 Eye has the most raw cleaning power of any robot vacuum (it’s built around the same motor as one of the company’s great cordless vacuums from a few years ago). But it’s a poor navigator, struggling with even basic floor plans. In this Today Show segment, it needed human attention five times in one session. The average Amazon customer rating at the time of writing is three out of five stars, making it the highest-priced and lowest-rated robot from a major brand. Skip it.
The Samsung PowerBot VR9000 series suffered from navigational woes when we tested one of the models in 2015. User reviews were also mediocre. We would not recommend buying one of these bots. Redesigned Samsung bots are coming in early 2017.
The LG Hom-Bot series is overpriced. They are simple bump-and-run bots that cost about as much as our upgrade pick. New models with more advanced navigation systems are coming later in 2017.
We briefly tested the Hoover Quest 1000, which actually has room-to-room navigation and costs less than many other bots that do the same. But it gets confused and gives up cleaning so easily (sort of like the Dyson and Samsung models) that we don’t think it’s worth considering. The Quest 700 and 800 models are simple bump-and-run bots that cost more than their competitors for no discernible advantage.
We also researched dozens of other robot vacuums from Bissell, Bobi, Ecovacs, Infinuvo, iClebo, Kobot, and a handful of other lesser-known brands. They tend to be cheaper bump-and-run models, prone to getting stuck where better models do not. Some are from brands with very little presence in the US, so customer service can be difficult to find if you need it. At this time, we don’t recommend any models from these brands.
Eufy is known to improve on its products quickly, and we would not be surprised to see an update to the RoboVac line later this year.
Samsung has redesigned its entire lineup of robot vacuums, and the new VR7000 series will be coming out sometime in the first half of 2017. We got a chance to check out the new models briefly at CES 2017, and they are significantly different than the last generation. The bodies are much slimmer, the brush is wider, and some versions even have neat features we have not seen on other robots. One cool-looking feature is a brush that extends from the side of the robot in order to clean along edges, when the bot senses it’s near a wall or other barrier. Some models also have rough, grooved metal on the brush-roll cage, meant to break up hairs that get wrapped around the roll. Those will be neat if they work properly, and if Samsung has managed to iron out the serious navigation flaws from its older models.
LG showed off some new Hom-Bot models at CES 2017 as well. Most of them look like typical overpriced Hom-Bots, but the new flagship model is equipped with a camera for room-to-room navigation, and apparently taps into the company’s DeepThinQ machine-learning expertise. It would be LG’s first advanced-navigation robot, and while DeepThinQ seems an awful lot like standard obstacle-detection and avoidance, we’ll check it out if it becomes available in the US.
Depending on your bot, you may need to do a little tidying up before you start a cleaning session. These days, I prep my apartment by picking up any laundry and charging cables off the floor. With the older Roomba 650, I had to move my cat’s water bowl and stow a couple of small, light area rugs, but that’s no longer necessary with the RoboVac 11 (it avoids collision) and Roomba 960 (it comes with a virtual wall to block the bot from reaching certain areas).
Expect a few hiccups during the first few sessions. But after that, you’ll figure out your bot’s pain points and learn to make quick adjustments to your home to help it run more smoothly.
All bots need a little maintenance. In most homes, we think a bot will stay in good shape with an hour of work per month, maybe a little more if the bot has a heavy workload.
Filters and side brushes should be replaced a few times per year, the brush roll about once a year, and the battery as needed. And if your bot suffers a mechanical malfunction, chances are good that it can be repaired, so don’t chalk up the bot as a total loss until you check to see if the broken part is available as a replacement.
(Photos by Liam McCabe.)
Originally published: March 7, 2017