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The best robot vacuums of 2019: iRobot Roomba vs. Neato vs. the rest

Robot vacuums are smarter and faster than ever before. Here are the best models you can buy right now.

A home that cleans itself has been a dream for ages. Thanks to today's robot vacuums though, that fantasy sounds less and less far-fetched. Current robotic vacuums are packed with loads of sensors, electronic eyes -- even lasers -- and they pack enhanced computing power to match. 

Their prices have ballooned, too. A few robotic vacuum models will even set you back a staggering four figures. Spending that much is extravagant, but it does net you next-level vacuum cleaning features. Those include dustbins that empty themselves, multiple room and floor plan mapping, plus elegantly designed hardware.

To zero in on the best robot vacuum cleaners, I spent over 120 hours torture-testing a group of 10 robot vacuums. Among them are brand-new models that have recently launched, flagship products, as well as compelling options offered across numerous online retailers. I excluded older models that likely won't be sold for long.

Read more: Your Roomba takes a weird path to clean the floors in your home

Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If someone were to give you a blank check and told you to buy a robotic vacuum, this is the machine to get. The iRobot Roomba S9 Plus costs a whopping $1,399. For that staggeringly steep sticker price though, this robot delivers superb dirt removal cleaning power. 

On hardwood flooring it picked up an average of 93% of our test sand, the highest amount in our test group. The Roomba struggled a bit cleaning sand from low-pile carpeting, earning a low average sand and dust pickup of 28%. 

That said, the vacuum removed an average 71% of sand from our midpile carpet. Again, this is the best result that we saw on this specific test. It also cleaned up more pet hair than any vacuum in this test group, and the bot navigates and maps multiple rooms and floors. 

The robot zipped through our test room in a short average time of 25 minutes, too. You can link the S9 Plus to the Roomba app and your home WiFi as well. Best of all is the Roomba S9 Plus' CleanBase charging dock. It both charges the robot's battery and empties its dustbin automatically. Now that's convenient.

Read more: iRobot Roomba 980: $550 for a high-end robot vacuum

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

For half the price of the Roomba S9 Plus, the $647 Neato's Botvac D7 Connected vacuums up dirt, dust and messes almost as well. On average this robotic cleaner picked up a greater amount of sand (36%) across low-pile carpet than the Roomba did. 

It narrowly beat the S9 Plus on hardwood floors, too, collecting an average of 95% of the sand we put down. The vacuum cleaned sand from midpile less effectively though, notching a pickup average of 47 percent. 

While it can't match the Roomba's prowess at removing pet hair or empty its own dustbin, it navigates more efficiently, yet covers more ground, thanks to built-in lidar laser navigation mapping. You can also control the cleaning robot through the Neato app, as well as link it to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The app allows you to designate areas of your home as off-limits, too.

Read more: How to prep your house so your robot vacuum won't get stuck

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Here's a machine that proves you don't need to blow your budget to purchase a solid robot vacuum cleaner. Even though the Robovac 11S Max costs just $219, it cleans floors effectively. That's especially the case when cleaning hardwood bare floors. 

It managed to remove an average of 71% of our test sand from this type of surface. The bot didn't work as well handling carpets, earning sand pickup averages of 21 and 27% on low pile and midpile, respectively. 

And due to this vacuum's basic navigation system, it took well over an hour to negotiate our test room. Still, the Eufy used its runtime wisely. The vacuum covered the space well, leaving almost no spots untouched.     

How we test robot vacuums

Our method for evaluating robot vacuums is straightforward, yet grueling. There are two types of tests we run. The first trial is to figure out how well a robot covers the floor. We built an industry-standard testing room, as specified by the International Electrotechnical Commission, just for this purpose. The IEC is an international standards body responsible for managing robot vacuum testing procedures, among other things, for vacuum manufacturers. 

Read more: The 10 best vacuums to use for kitchen cleanup

Obstacles in out test room mimic what robot vacuums run into in the real world.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Inside this room are objects designed to simulate typical obstacles a robot encounters as it cleans. These include table and chair legs, couches and so on, plus floorings of tile, hardwood and carpet. 

Here's a coverage photo of the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus as it moved through our test room. You can see it covered the floor well, except for one slight section in the center (left, bottom).

Gianmarco Chumbe/CNET

We mount LED lights to the top of each vacuum cleaner. The dimensions of the lights correspond to the measured nozzle width of each particular robot vacuum we test. 

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As robots move through the room, a camera overhead captures a long-exposure image of the entire room in low light. That photo will then have a light trail, created by the LEDs, that shows the exact areas where the robot traveled (and its nozzle position) during its runtime. We can also see areas of the floor the vacuum may have missed.

Read more: iRobot Roomba S9 Plus vs. Neato Botvac D7 Connected

d7-c-use

This is the coverage pattern created by the Neato Botvac D7 Connected. Its movement through our test room was very orderly, logical and effective.

Gianmarco Chumbe/CNET

You can see the navigation results of all the robot vacuums in our test group in the gallery below.

The second type of test reveals exactly how much physical debris a vacuum is able to pick up off of the floor. To mimic dirt of small particle size, we use a mixture of play-sand and landscaping sand. For bigger particle soil, we use grains of uncooked black rice. Robots then run in a straight line across three types of flooring (low-pile carpet, medium-pile carpet and hardwood).

We test robot vacuums on three types of floor surfaces.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

We control for the specific nozzle width of each vacuum, too. We constructed an ajustable tool to soil our test floors. It lets us lay down a strip of precise area of soil to match the nozzle dimensions for every robot. The mass of soil isn't chosen at random either. We measure a proportional amount that's related to the flooring material, type of debris, plus each vacuum's nozzle width.

Our custom-built tool lets us match soil area to a robot vacuum's nozzle width.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

We conduct three runs (at minimum) on each floor type. We also test with sand and rice separately. That comes to at least 18 tests per vacuum. We weigh the robot's dust bin both before and after each run. From there we can calculate the percentage of debris pickup for every run and the average amount of soil a machine manages to remove. Additionally we run anecdotal (visual) pet hair tests for each robot, on all three floor types. 

We run robot vacuums in a straight line during the debris pickup tests.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The chart below shows the fine particle cleaning performance data for all of the robot vacuums we tested. It should give you a pretty good idea about their performance on different kinds of flooring surfaces. Our rice-based, medium-size particle test didn't show enough differentiation between units, which says they can all handle larger particles without trouble. For pet hair removal we judged anecdotally.

Percent soil removed

iRobot Roomba S9 Plus
28
93
71
iRobot Roomba i7 Plus
20
87
31
Neato Botvac D7 Connected
36
95
47
Neato Botvac D6 Connected
38
80
37
Neato Botvac D4 Connected
39
92
45
Electrolux Pure i9
39
83
54
Eufy RoboVac 11s Max
21
71
27
Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo 950
26
88
38
Ecovacs Deebot 600
18
71
25
Ecovacs Deebot 500
19
64
22

Legend:

Sand from low-pile
Sand from hardwood
Sand from medium-pile

Note:

Results listed are the average percent of total material removed from test surface

Want more robot vacuum options? Here's a list of the other robot vacuums we tested besides the models listed above.

Originally published last month.