Samsung PowerBot VR9000 review: The pricey PowerBot isn't quite a clean sweep
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 a high-end model from Dyson -- 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 iRobot Roomba 880 have them, and both had an easier time sweeping up the edges of our test floors.
Also missing: smart functionality. SmartThings , the connected-home platform Samsung purchased last year, has hinted at the potential to integrate Samsung's robot vacuums into its smart-home ecosystem, 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 upcoming Dyson 360 Eye promises 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.
You might think that the extra time spent along the perimeter means that the PowerBot cleans better along the walls than it does in the center, but you'd be mistaken. The opposite is true, actually. Throughout almost all of my tests, the PowerBot struggled to pick up debris along the walls. That isn't unusual for a robot vacuum, but it's less of an issue for models with a side-spinning brush, like the Roomba 880 and the Neato BotVac 85.
Another pattern I noticed was that the PowerBot had a hard time cleaning the areas to the immediate left and right of the base station. Take another look at that glow stick shot. That green dot on the left side of the pen is the base station, and the corners to each side of it are totally dim. That's because the PowerBot flat-out missed them. In almost all of my tests, the PowerBot would approach those corners, but then stop short and turn around -- almost as if it was afraid of bumping into the base. This held true no matter which side I placed the base station on, and the result was always leftover debris that the PowerBot completely missed.
In general, though, the PowerBot did a nice job in my tests. The battery held out through dozens of runs and recharged quickly, and the performance scores were comparable to top-of-the-line models from Roomba and Neato. Price aside, if I were using the PowerBot in my home, I imagine I'd be pretty happy with what I got out of it.
Our first test is black rice, which we use to represent the typical sort of crumbs and particulates you might find in a carpet that needs cleaning. With multiple runs across three different test floors -- plushy midpile carpet, berber-style low-pile carpet, and hardwood -- the PowerBot picked up a respectable amount.
Still, both the Neato BotVac 85 and the Roomba 880 came out slightly ahead. The only robot vacuum from this class that the PowerBot was able to beat was the lower-end Neato XV Signature Pro, and even then, it wasn't a clean sweep -- the PowerBot only beat it on two out of three test floors.
After the black rice tests, I moved on to pet hair. We've got a garbage bag full of the stuff donated by our friendly neighborhood dog groomer, and I was eager to see if the PowerBot was as good at picking it up as our reigning champ, the Neato BotVac 85.
In the end, the PowerBot came pretty close, finishing just slightly behind the BotVac and tying the Neato XV Signature Pro, another solid performer from the pet hair challenge. Roomba struggles a bit here, with the 880 barely picking up half of the stuff on carpets.
We finish up with the most challenging test for our robot vacuums -- 1.25 ounces of sand. Most of the bots we test have an easy enough time on hardwood, but carpets are a different story altogether. Even the top-scoring Roomba 880 wasn't able to pick up fifty percent once we ingrained the sand into our carpets.
Not surprisingly, the PowerBot saw similar struggles, barely managing thirty percent on midpile carpet and scoring even lower on low-pile. That puts it below both Neato models in the rankings, too.
Is it worth it?
At $1,000, the Samsung PowerBot VR9000 is priced at a premium, but it doesn't offer patently better performance than less expensive models like the iRobot Roomba 880 and the Neato BotVac 85. It didn't even beat out the top cleaner from Neato's previous generation of robot vacuums, the two-year-old XV Signature Pro . That vacuum costs just $450, and two essentially finished in a tie.
Performance isn't the only consideration, though. The PowerBot is a more feature-rich model than the other robot vacuums we've tested, and it dials up the cool factor with its laser-guided point-cleaning capabilities. Still, you won't find fairly basic features like a side-sweeping brush or a handle, and the bulky design might be too tall to fit under your furniture.
In sum, I just don't see enough here to justify the splurge, and even if I did, I'd want to wait to see if we get new robot vacuums from Roomba and Neato this year, and to see how well the app-enabled Dyson 360 Eye cleans. With smarts potentially coming into play in the near future, it might not be the best time to buy. I say wait, or go with something less expensive.