LG Hom-Bot Square Robotic Vacuum review: LG's robot vacuum can't keep up with the competition
Right here at the top, I'm going to refer you to my review of the LG Hom-Bot Square from three years ago. I like that review, and not just because I was able to sneak a "Breaking Bad" analogy into the intro -- it was one of the very first products I ever tested for CNET.
But that's not why I'm pointing you back to 2013. The real reason is because this new 2016 version of the Hom-Bot Square is essentially the exact same product as the overpriced and rather unremarkable cleaner I wrote about back then. It looks the same, its features are the same, it navigates the same and it cleans the same, which is to say not as well as the competition. The only real changes are a new coat of paint and a new Swiffer-like mopping attachment you can stick onto the bottom.
At $900 (or AU$1,000 in Australia, where it's called the "Roboking"; similar models sell in the UK, as well), this new Hom-Bot model is one of the most expensive yet -- and more expensive than competitors from Roomba and Neato that are flat-out better. I say don't get sucked in (or, at least wait until the app-enabled Hom-Bot we saw at CES arrives, hopefully later this year).
The Hom-Bot's chief strong suit is that it offers several different cleaning modes. The default is "Zig-Zag Mode," which sets it sweeping back and forth across your floors. But there's also a "Spiral Spot" mode and a "Cell-by-Cell mode," which has vacuum break your floorspace into sections before focusing on them one at a time. At all three settings, you can turn on an additional "Turbo Mode" that'll have it work a little harder at the expense of battery life. You can also set it out in "Repeat Mode" in which it will continuously clean your floors until the battery needs charging, or schedule cleaning runs that start at a specific time.
You can also drive the cleaner around like a toy car using the handy remote. This comes into play with "Myspace Mode," where you steer the Hom-Bot around a perimeter, then tell it to clean within those bounds -- though I suspect that most people will use the manual controls to chase their pets, instead.
That's a lot of options, but keep in mind that not one of them is new. It's the exact same set of features we saw back in 2013, right down to the vacuum's robotic voice and the cheerful little tune that it chirps out whenever it's done with a run (and yep, there's still a mute button, too).
In "Cell-by-Cell" mode, the LG Hom-Bot breaks your room into sections, then cleans those sections one at a time. pic.twitter.com/OfbfKDFxWp— Ry Crist (@rycrist) June 8, 2016
There is a new Swiffer-like dry-mopping attachment that you can clip onto the Hom-Bot's undercarriage. It wasn't bad at pushing dust and pet hair around on hardwood floors, but its use is pretty limited with no internal reservoir for water or cleaner fluid. In fact, the vacuum doesn't do anything different than before to put the mopping attachment to work. There isn't even a mopping-specific cleaning mode. Given that this is the Hom-Bot's only new cleaning feature to speak of, it's a bit like putting new seat covers in a car from 2013 and then calling it a 2016 model.
Of course, you might forgive such a vehicle if the manufacturer had at least given the engine an upgrade. That was my hope as I began my performance tests in which we measure the cleaning power and navigational smarts of each robot vacuum we review.
We test three different kinds of debris (rice, pet hair and sand) on three different surfaces (a plushy midpile carpet, a rough-textured low-pile carpet and hardwood floors). After each run, we weigh what the vacuum picked up, then reset everything and test again. We do at least three runs for each kind of debris on each kind of surface, plus additional anecdotal runs to test things like the position of the base station, the additional cleaning modes and how well it navigates through a full-size, furnished living space (in this case, the CNET Smart Home).
We started with rice, typically the easiest test for our robot vacuums. The Hom-Bot did a decent job of picking the stuff up, but it did a less than stellar job at navigating across the entirety of our test surfaces. In one test, it essentially missed the entire left side of the pen. In another, it never worked its way into the back corners.
Mediocre cleaning power compounded the problem, especially on carpets. In addition to missing spots, the Hom-Bot wasn't able to pick up all of the rice in spots that it didn't miss. Competitors like the Neato Botvac Connected and the iRobot Roomba 880 did far, far better in the same tests.
It wasn't until I was finished with all of my tests that I went back to check how the 2016 Hom-Bot stacked up against the 2013 model. I was astonished by how close the numbers were -- just a 2 percent increase in the amount of rice it collected on carpets and a 1 percent increase on hardwood. So much for that fancy new engine.
Pet hair was a problem for the Hom-Bot Square, too -- enough to put the vacuum down at the bottom of the leader board with the 2013 Hom-Bot for the second performance test in a row. It struggled the most in our midpile test, where it picked up less than half of the hair by weight, and it left much of the rest of the stuff ground into the carpet fibers.
Now, in full disclosure, we've recently upgraded to a more sensitive set of scales for vacuum testing (we're talking about weighing hair, after all). This means that there's a greater margin of error for some of the other vacuums on the leaderboard than there is for the 2016 Hom-Bot Square.
That said, even if you give the Hom-Bot the full benefit of the doubt and round those other vacuums' results down to the lowest values within their margins of error, they still come out on top.
Our last standardized test is arguably the toughest: sand. And, for the third time in a row, the new Hom-Bot finished second to last, just ahead of the old Hom-Bot.
Like most other robot vacuums, the Hom-Bot found the most success on hardwood floors, where it picked up 71 percent of the sand. Still, compare that with the next best result, which came from the equally expensive, app-enabled iRobot Roomba 980: It picked up 93 percent of the sand. And at the top of the leaderboard, the $700 Roomba 880 picked up all of it. Given results like that, it's hard to imagine anyone buying the Hom-Bot Square for its cleaning power alone.
Still, there are other performance considerations to keep in mind. The Hom-Bot is still one of the quietest robot vacuums we've tested. Personally, I'd prefer a noisier, more powerful robot vacuum -- especially since most of the time, I'd schedule it to run while I was at work.
Also, while we didn't run exhaustive battery tests, we did keep track of how well the Hom-Bot held up to our barrage of test runs. And over three days of fairly constant testing, it held up quite nicely. I never once needed to take a midday break just to let the battery recharge.
I put the LG Hom-Bot robot vacuum around the corner from its base station and told it to go home. Then I waited. pic.twitter.com/KpXilnhXX2— Ry Crist (@rycrist) June 9, 2016
You also want a robot vacuum that's good at finding its way around your house, and in this regard, the Hom-Bot struggled. In single-room runs at the CNET Smart House, it was able to make its way around various pieces of furniture without too much difficulty, and also able to find its way back to the base station fairly easily (although docking with it sometimes required more than one attempt).
Multi-room runs were another story, though. Even at a short distance, putting the base station around the corner from the cleaner would confuse it. And when I clicked the button to send it home, it would often set off in the wrong direction.
The Hom-Bot is a good-looking robot vacuum and a marginally better cleaner than its previous version, but it continues to lag behind competitors that cost less. The variety of cleaning modes gives it the feel of a feature-rich vacuum at first glance, but none of those modes made much of a difference when it came to actual cleaning power or are any different than what you'll get with older Hom-Bot models.
The robot vacuum category is changing rapidly. Healthy competition between names like Neato and iRobot has led to a steady stream of robot vacuum advancements, including app-enabled smarts and fun new features like the laser-pointer guided cleaning that you get with Samsung's Powerbot VR9000. That's an awful lot to keep up with, and, frankly, LG's going to need to do an awful lot better than this.