The new generation of app-enabled robot vacuums continues to emerge, each one aiming to outmaneuver the others with a mix of smarts, features and cleaning power. We checked them out here at the International CES in Las Vegas.
The latest? An app-enabled version of Samsung's Powerbot that will retail for $1,200 when it arrives just in time for spring cleaning later this year (no word on international pricing or availability yet, but that figure comes out to about £815, or AU$1,665).
Let's start with the smarts. The new Powerbot Turbo VR9350 is equipped with a Wi-Fi radio -- pair it with your smartphone, and you'll enjoy remote operation and scheduling capabilities. That's handy if you want to tell the thing to start cleaning before you get home from work, but similar smart models from iRobot and Neato do the same thing and cost less.
The Powerbot largely looks to set itself apart with features. Most robot vacuums will learn the layout of your home as they clean to help them navigate as effectively as possible, but the Powerbot takes things a step further and syncs what it learns about your home with the app. The result? A little map of your floorplan on your phone, generated by the vacuum itself.
This map puts you and the Powerbot on the same page. Tap the living room, and the robot vacuum will know you want it to clean the living room -- and it'll know how to get there. Tap the living room, the guest bedroom and the family room, and the Powerbot will clean all three -- in that order. It's an unprecedented level of control, and one of the coolest justifications for packing Wi-Fi into a vacuum cleaner that we've seen yet.
The Powerbot can even track multiple floorplans -- an upstairs and a downstairs, for instance. Move it between the two, and Samsung claims it'll still be able to find its way from room to room. Can't wait to test that out in the CNET Smart Home.
The Powerbot Turbo will also come with the same physical remote that we've seen with previous models (it's a standard feature across the line). And yes, that remote still includes the nifty "Point Cleaning" trick, where you'll press a button to shoot a laser from the remote onto your carpet. The Powerbot can track this laser dot, and will chase it around the room like an especially sluggish cat. It's a cool, showy way of steering the thing over to a particularly messy spot on your carpet.
As for cleaning power, Samsung is promising up to 40 watts of suction from the Powerbot Turbo, which they claim is four times more than in previous Powerbots. You'll have a choice of three different power modes, each with a different run time. Samsung approximates them at 30, 60 and 90 minutes.
Of course, there's a lot more to cleaning power than just suction. Things like brushroll design, navigational strategy and the build of the bin all play a significant role in how effectively a robot vacuum picks stuff up off of your floors. The bar is high here, as the similarly app-enabled Neato Botvac Connected earned top scores in our most recent cleaning tests, rolling away with an Editors' Choice Award in the process. I'll be impressed if the new Powerbot can keep up.
If $1,200 is more than you're willing to pay, you'll perhaps be happy to hear that Samsung is also releasing a second Wi-Fi robo-vac: an app-enabled version of the Powerbot Essential that we saw back at September's IFA trade show in Berlin, Germany. That smart model will sell for just $800 (£545/AU$1,110) -- more or less in line with what we've seen from Neato and iRobot. The rub is that it can only claim 9.5 watts of suction, and it doesn't feature that killer map-making feature.
I'll be curious to see how deeply Samsung integrates the new Powerbots with its SmartThings connected home platform. Scheduling cleaning runs from the SmartThings control setup would be nice -- automating those cleaning runs when the system detects you've left for work would be even better.
We'll know more when we get our hands on a Powerbot Turbo to test out later this year. Expect a full review at that time. In the meanwhile, see all CNET's coverage of CES 2016 here.