We first spotted the Samsung PowerBot VR9000 robot vacuum last year in Berlin, at the IFA consumer electronics and home appliances trade show. At the time, it was pitched as a high-end addition to Samsung's Asian and European lineups (it costs £700 at Argos in the UK -- in Australia, it sells for AU$1,499). This year, it's available in Best Buys across the US for $1,000.
As you might expect from such a costly cleaner, the PowerBot has a few unique tricks up its sleeve, including the ability navigate to whatever spot you're pointing the remote at. It also offers satisfying cleaning performance -- but it wasn't quite able to best the top models from Roomba and Neato, each of which cost hundreds less. That makes it tough to recommend, and tougher still when you consider that a new generation of robot vacuums -- including-- might be just around the corner. I say wait for one of those, or go with something less expensive.
Design and features
The Samsung PowerBot isn't shy about showing off its hardware. The shiny "CycloneForce" suction system is the centerpiece: a copper-colored turbine that sits next to the translucent, centrifugal bin. The intention is clear -- Samsung wants you to be fully aware of what's going on under the hood. It's a page straight out of the Dyson playbook, and the practical benefit is that you can see when the bin is full, or when there's a clog.
As far as aesthetics go, the PowerBot certainly looks fancy, though much of the appeal comes from the fact that it bucks the clean minimalism of the newest Roomba and Neato models in favor of something bulkier and busier. If those competitors are sleek-looking sports cars, then the PowerBot is a muscle car with its engine popping right out of the hood.
That bulkier design might work against it in some settings. At 5-plus inches tall, it'll have a tougher time fitting under your sofa than Roomba or Neato, and it's at least a pound and a half heavier than those two, as well. The lack of a handle accentuates the extra heft. You can pick up a Roomba or Neato model with one hand fairly easily, but you'll almost certainly need both hands to pick up the PowerBot.
The exposed motor also means that the PowerBot about as noisy as robot vacuums get, nearly matching the jet-engine-esque Neato XV Signature Pro. To this end, Samsung included a "Silence" mode -- activate it, and the PowerBot won't rev up quite so loudly. To my ear, the difference was minor, but it's still nice to have the option.
PowerBot versus the competition
|Samsung PowerBot||Roomba 880||Neato BotVac 85||Neato XV Signature Pro|
|Height||5.3 in.||3.6 in.||3.9 in.||4 in.|
|Weight||10.5 lbs.||8.4 lbs.||9 lbs.||8.6 lbs.|
|Brush Width||12.2 in.||6.9 in.||10.9 in.||9.8 in.|
|Barriers||Virtual||Virtual||Floor strips||Floor strips|
|Warranty||10 years||1 year||1 year||1 year|
Other notable features include a dust sensing-mode, where the vacuum will kick into high gear whenever it senses dirt and debris, along with "Max" mode -- activate it before a run, and the PowerBot will keep cleaning until the battery's just about run down. That's a great feature if you're setting the thing to vacuum while you're at work, and want it to do more than a single pass before calling it a day.
The most notable feature, though, has to be the PowerBot's "Point Cleaning" mode, which lets you use the remote like a laser pointer. Shine it on the floor, and the PowerBot will give chase, following it from spot to spot like an especially sluggish tomcat. It's a little gimmicky as far as features go, but it works well, and could come in handy if there's a single spot on your carpet in need of a quick clean.
About the only thing that's missing here is a side brush, which would helped the PowerBot clean a little better up against walls. Both the Neato BotVac 85 and the have them, and both had an easier time sweeping up the edges of our test floors.
Also missing: smart functionality., the connected-home platform , has hinted at , with automated cleaning runs and even roving security droid functionality. However, none of that is in the cards for the VR9000, at least not yet.
In fairness, we've yet to see a connected robot vacuum from any manufacturer, though the upcomingpromises to sync with Android and iOS devices. Stay tuned.
Performance and usability
The PowerBot VR9000's navigational capabilities have a lot in common with Neato. Using an array of built-in sensors and an upward-facing, ceiling-tracking camera, it maps out the room, feeling its way around the perimeter and around any obstacles that might be present. Once it's got the lay of your living room figured out, it cleans up and down the carpet in neat, orderly rows and columns. It's an efficient strategy, with the PowerBot consistently clocking in at about five minutes per run across dozens of tests in our (admittedly small) rectangular pens.
The picture above is a long-exposure photo of the PowerBot in action, with a couple of glow sticks stuck to its head to help visualize its movements. You can see right away that the glow sticks shine brightest around the edges, and that's because the PowerBot spends most of its time there feeling its way around the space. The curves and squiggles represent instances where it detects a wall and course-corrects. Once it has its bearings, it cleans up and down through the middle, then returns to the base station to recharge.