Ah, September of 2013. I remember it like it was only five months ago. There was a pleasant autumnal crispness to the air, the leaves were just starting to turn... and the nascent CNET Appliances team was hard at work testing robot vacuums by repeatedly dirtying and cleaning the floors at the boss' house (our testing facility was still under construction back then).
But the best of times can also be the worst of times -- and I'm not talking about the fact that our boss still can't sweep his floors without kicking up five-month-old, sawdust-coated black rice. No, I'm talking about the
2014 is a new year, though, and Infinuvo is back with the Hovo 510, a new robot vacuum that promises better results than anything they've done before. I can't say that we weren't skeptical, but we were happy to give it a fair shot.
I'm pleasantly surprised to say that Hovo 510 earned the Infinuvo brand some robo-redemption. Although the QQ5 wasn't a terribly difficult act to follow, the Hovo is a significantly better robot vacuum in every single way, and at a budget-friendly price point around $200, it's good enough to merit consideration alongside the likes of recent, pricier favorites like the
Design and features
As appearances go, the Hovo isn't terribly interesting to look at. With a boring, all-black, hockey-puck-like design, it lacks the aesthetic touch of other robot vacuums -- even the QQ5 is a nicer looking machine. The sparse build might suggest that Infinuvo diverted all design energy toward function and spared none of it for form -- and perhaps that was necessary in order to fix what wasn't working. Still, given the obvious existing comparisons to Roomba, whose latest model, the 880, is black, it would have been nice to have seen Infinuvo do more to try and set itself apart.
Aside from the Roomba comparisons, it's difficult to talk about the Hovo's design and features without comparing them to those of the QQ5, as most of the things that the Hovo gets right are really just former flaws that Infinuvo has corrected. Brushrolls that were a pain to remove from the QQ5 now come out of the Hovo fairly easily. The QQ5's shaky cliff detection kept us nervous whenever we tested it, but the Hovo's works perfectly. There's a common refrain here: unlike the QQ5, the Hovo gets all of the basics right.
One of the QQ5's biggest dealbreakers for us was its almost absurdly impractical bin, which featured a bizarre design that spilled more than it held. With the Hovo, Infinuvo ditched that bin in favor of a more traditional design, one that you can actually use without creating more of a mess than you were trying to clean up in the first place. The old bin was essentially enough to disqualify the QQ5 altogether, so getting rid of it is a big step in the right direction for Infinuvo.
Turn the Hovo over, and you'll find a new brushroll design, as well -- one that looks a heck of a lot like the Roomba's. While it doesn't help Infinuvo fight the idea that it's merely a Roomba knock-off, the Roomba-esque brushroll does help the Hovo clean better than the Infinuvos that came before it, which is all that some consumers will care about.
The copycat approach carries some caveats, though. Take a look at the spinning brush on the Roomba up there. As it spins, the brush heads slap against the back wheel, which can cause them to wear down faster than they would otherwise. The Hovo shares this exact same design flaw, and might have benefited from a slightly more original spin on what the underside of a robot vacuum should look like.
The Hovo gets high marks for its features, which include a virtual wall generator and a remote control. The virtual walls work fine in their basic function, although they aren't quite as smart as the Roomba's virtual walls, which can double as range extenders and can also be set to turn off and allow passage only once the Roomba has finished a certain room or area. They also aren't quite as simple as the Neato's blocking solution: magnetic strips you unroll on the floor and which the vacuum won't pass over. Those don't have a tricky pairing process to worry about, and they never need their batteries changed.
As for the remote, it's a bit on the bulky side and doesn't nest conveniently on top of the machine the way that the QQ5's remote did. Still, it's fairly easy to use, whether you need to start, stop, steer, or schedule your Hovo. You'll also be able to switch between two speeds. One minor gripe: there's no battery indicator to tell you how much juice the Hovo has left.
With a push of the Auto button, the Hovo will set out to clean, then return when it needs a charge -- if you want to send it home early, just hit the Charge button. There's also a spot-cleaning mode, as well as a "Full Charge & Go" function, where the Hovo will automatically begin to clean when its battery is full, return to the base when it needs to recharge, then repeat. All of these are departures from the QQ5's timer-based design, where you'd specify exactly how long you wanted it to clean for, and as you'll see, it's a departure that impacts how well the Hovo cleans.
Performance and usability
Without timed cleaning, a robot vacuum typically needs to be able to decide for itself when things are clean enough to justify returning to the base. Neato vacuums do this by mapping out each room, then returning to the base once they've gone over all of it, row by row. Roombas do it using a complex algorithm that bounces them around until the computer is satisfied that it's been everywhere. The clever LG Hom-Bot maps out the room by taking pictures of the ceiling.
The Hovo, on the other hand, isn't quite as smart. It bounces and spirals about randomly, often going over one side of the room several times and the other side just once or twice. It can't tell where it's already been or where it needs to go, so it'll never have enough information to quit cleaning at the appropriate time. Fortunately, I think Infinuvo has the right answer to this shortcoming: the Hovo doesn't quit. It isn't smart enough to decide that things are clean enough, so Infinuvo chose not to program it to make that decision. Instead, it'll simply keep cleaning until you tell it to stop, or until the battery runs down. At that point, it'll head back to the base for a well-earned rest.
At first, this sounds less than ideal. If you're tidying things up in the 20 minutes before guests arrive, it would certainly be more convenient to clean a room with a Roomba or a Neato, either of which could do a satisfactory job in 10 minutes or less, then automatically return to their bases. With the Hovo, you'd have to set it to clean, then remember to tell it to stop, too.
However, let's say you've set the Hovo to clean your apartment while you're out at work. Do you really care if it spends way too long cleaning your living room? I probably wouldn't -- especially if it means that I'll be getting the cleaning performance of a housecleaner with OCD.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
To an extent, the numbers back up the notion that this approach to cleaning can yield great results. Look at those marks for our black rice test -- the Hovo scored better on hardwood floors and on short-pile carpet than any other robot vacuum that we've reviewed, and on mid-pile carpet it was edged out by only one machine, the Roomba 880. That's a fairly astonishing result given the QQ5's abysmal performance, and it reinforces the idea that Infinuvo got the basics right with this machine.
In fairness, the Hovo ran for longer than the Neato or Roomba vacuums that we tested -- but only because those vacuums decided they were done. The Hovo won't, and in my opinion, that's a good thing, because, given that it isn't as orderly or efficient a cleaner as some of the competition, I don't think I'd trust it to make that decision correctly. The Hovo is a dumb machine -- but it's smart enough to know that it's dumb. And, like I said, running longer than needed isn't a terrible thing, and it's certainly better than not running long enough.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Our sand and sawdust mixture was up next; again, we saw an extremely impressive result on hardwood floors: a near-perfect score that bested every other machine we've looked at. On the carpets, however, things were less impressive, and that fits the pattern that we've seen with other machines (getting sand and sawdust out of carpet fibers is a lot more challenging than getting it off of a smooth surface, where it doesn't have anywhere to hide).
Both of the Hovo's carpet scores were just barely a step up from those of the QQ5, and that isn't saying a whole lot. Since the sand and sawdust is our closest analog to dust, the results suggest that carpet-owners concerned with allergens may want to splurge instead on one of the slightly more expensive Neato robot vacuums, which performed much better on carpets, and which can also come equipped with HEPA filters.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
This brings us to what ultimately proved to be the Hovo's kryptonite: pet hair. Like the QQ5 that came before it, the Hovo just couldn't handle the stuff. Even the shortest, wispiest clumps would inevitably wind around the Hovo's brushroll, ultimately causing it to stop in its tracks and beep out a cry for help. It never made it more than a few minutes into a run before getting tangled, and never successfully moved a weigh-able amount of hair into its bin. If you have pets and you're looking for a robot vacuum that'll help you pick up after them, you'll need to look elsewhere.
This propensity for tangles is a bit distressing, as it suggests that the Hovo might not feature quite as rugged or well-designed a build as some of its competitors, but that isn't terribly surprising for a budget-priced appliance. The Hovo comes with a one-year limited warranty -- the same as Roomba or Neato.
The Infinuvo Hovo 510 is not an exceptional robot vacuum, but that's not what you should be expecting at this price. In the $200 to $300 price range, you should be expecting a machine that will clean reliably in most situations, with enough basic features to make keeping your home tidy into noticeably less of a hassle. I think that the Hovo fits that bill, which is absolutely more than its predecessor, the
That said, if I were buying a robot vacuum right now, I'd probably spend the extra money on the midpriced