The robo-race is on for the housecleaning crown
We've had several robot vacuums battle it out on our test floor. Here's what you can expect from each of them.
For some, robot vacuums might carry the whiff of silly self-indulgence. On the other hand, these devices are getting better and better at picking up after us, offering to keep things clean with a level of near total set-and-forget convenience.
Since our initial round of robot vacuum reviews in 2013, we've tested new models and come away impressed with the results. Industry leader iRobot debuted the new Roomba 880, which lives up to the company's reputation for top-of-the-line performance. We tested additional varieties of Neato cleaners, including the budget-friendly XV Essential and the Super Nintendo-esque XV-21. As for budget-brand Infinuvo, which bombed with last year's CleanMate QQ5, the company sent over the new Hovo 510 for a second shot, and lo and behold, the thing actually cleans.
One of the most interesting things about our tests is watching each robot make routing decisions. Some of them, like the Neato models, take a regimented, linear approach, finding the boundaries of the room and then moving along in neat rows within that space. The LG Hom-Bot uses a clever camera to turn your ceiling into a reference map for the room. Infinuvo relies on outward spirals to provide room-wide coverage.
iRobot's approach is starkly different. An array of sensors on the Roomba constantly reads its surroundings and sends back information about where to go. The resulting navigation can look data-drunk, and the Roomba can take longer to finish a run than its competitors, but in some circumstances it resulted in the cleanest room.
None of these vacuums will replace a human-driven upright yet, but if you're looking to use that upright a little less, regular robot vacuum runs can help you stretch out the days between deep cleanings. With a growing number of options to choose from, you're going to want to be sure to shop around before settling on a purchase -- and that's where we come in.
Regardless of its low price tag, the Infinuvo's $349 CleanMate QQ5 failed to deliver acceptable performance. We can forgive a certain capability gap between products $300 to $400 apart, but considering its hard-to-clean rollers, thoughtless dust bin design, and, in certain circumstances, its complete inability to clean, we wouldn't recommend this vacuum at any price.
After the CleanMate QQ5 performed so poorly, we can't claim to have had very high expectations for Infinuvo's follow-up model, the Hovo 510. That said, we were happy to give it a shot, and when we did, the results were a little bit stunning.
Like the QQ5, the Hovo 510 is a budget-priced robot vacuum, costing well under $300. But unlike the QQ5, it actually cleans. In some cases, such as on hardwood floors, it cleans really, really well. The pet hair performance remains pretty awful, so you're definitely getting what you pay for, but still, for automated cleaning on a budget, this is a robot vacuum we can actually recommend.
iRobot replaced the Roomba 790 that we reviewed last year with the Roomba 880. What's different? For starters, the clunky paperweight of a touch-screen remote is gone, replaced with a miniature remote that makes a lot more sense. There's also a new "AeroForce Cleaning System" that replaces the old model's bristly brushes with rubbery "extractors," and in our tests, they did a terrific job. One thing that didn't change is the price point. At $699, the Roomba 880 remains a luxury purchase, but as the best Roomba yet, we think it's a splurge you can justify.
Rather than coming in low like Infinuvo, LG opted to out-luxe iRobot by pushing its Hom-Bot Square to $799 and laying the polish on thick. We were taken with the Hom-Bot's slick design and its focus on features, including a nestling remote, Siri-like voice notifications, and a variety of cleaning modes, one of which will let you manually steer the bot around the specific area you want it to clean.
What we can't say is that the Hom-Bot is a better vacuum. It cleans a large room well enough, but we'd trade that robot voice for an extra sensor, or perhaps a little more juice behind the vacuum intake.
After the Neato XV Signature Pro performed so well for us last year, we decided to see what the rest of the Neato family was capable of. Enter player two, the Neato XV-21, a robot vacuum that bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain gaming system of yore.
Like the Signature Pro, this Neato comes to play when it's time to pick up pet hair, and it posted some of the highest scores we've seen from a robot vacuum in that test. This is thanks in part to an upgraded combo brush -- the same one as you'll find in the Signature Pro. The two models are nearly identical, though we did see a few navigational difficulties in the $429 XV-21 that we didn't see in the $449 Signature Pro.
For a slightly less-expensive option, you could also take a look at the $379 Neato XV Essential. Like its siblings, the albino-looking XV Essential was a steady performer, but it didn't clean quite as effectively as they did, due to the fact that it comes with a downgraded brush. That, along with the fact that it uses a less-robust filter, led us to say that the XV Essential is anything but.
This Neato breakdown brings us back to where it all began, the XV Signature Pro. If the Roomba is all charm, and the Hom-Bot all polish, the Neato XV Signature Pro is all business. At $449, it lands comfortably in the middle of our roundup, yet when it revs up (loudly) and rolls mechanically, linearly up and down your carpet, it's hard to complain about the results.
How does the Signature Pro stack up against the other Neatos? For just $20 more than the XV-21, you're getting an additional high-performance filter, along with what might be a slight uptick in navigational smarts. And if the XV Essential is a storm trooper, the XV Signature Pro is Darth Vader -- we all know who wins that fight.
Just be sure and stay tuned: with a new generation of Neato BotVacs making its way to store shelves, the robot vacuum race is far from over.
If you're not convinced that a robot vac is right for your home, check out our list of the best vacuum cleaners overall to see the best in all formats.