We gravitated pretty naturally towards robot vacuums for one of our first home appliance round-ups. To get our footing in the space, we tackled the flagship model from four different vendors. That gave us a broad price range, from Infinuvo's new, $349 CleanMate QQ5, all the way up to LG's $799 Hom-Bot Square. Surprise: price doesn't always correlate with performance. Of course we looked at a Roomba, too. iRobot sent over its top-of-the-line Roomba 790, which comes in at a heady $699.
One of the most interesting things about our tests was watching each robot make pathing decisions. Most of them take a regimented, linear approach, finding the boundaries of the room, and then moving along in neat rows within that space. iRobot's approach is starkly different. An array of sensors on the Roomba constantly reads its surroundings and sends back information about where to go. The resulting navigation can look data-drunk, and the Roomba can take longer to finish a run than its competitors, but in some circumstances it resulted in the cleanest room.
None of these vacuums will replace a human-driven upright yet. Breaking Bad fans might also remember a Roomba representing a severe form of frivolous consumption on that show. It's hard to disagree entirely with that idea. A robot vacuum does carry the whiff of silly self-indulgence. On the other hand, these devices do pick up dirt, and without much human intervention. Some of them even do the job rather well.
Regardless of its round up-low $349 price tag, the Infinuvo's $349 CleanMate QQ5 failed to deliver acceptable performance. We can forgive a certain capability gap between products $300 to $400 apart, but between its hard-to-clean rollers, thoughtless dust bin design, and, in certain circumstances, its inability to clean, we wouldn't recommend this vacuum at any price. Read the full review of the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5.
iRobot has a large product line, with prices ranging from $349 to $699 for the flagship Roomba 790. That's a lot for a vacuum, to be sure, but more than any other bot we reviewed, the Roomba 790 has personality. We found ourselves engaging with it, talking to it. "You can do it, Roomba. You'll figure it out."
Rather than mechanically gliding along the carpet, the Roomba's spins and swerves give it charm. We don't have a review criteria for "agreeability," but that character made a difference in our perception the Roomba. Why shouldn't we demand our smart devices have some personality?
For cleaning, the Roomba did well when we let it run over a typically-sized living room, less so with more carpet, pet hair, or in a small, confined space. In all cases it took longer to finish than its competitors. Its small area performance was competitive, but in the wider space, the Roomba shined. Not everyone will consider spending $700 on a robot vacuum. If you will, give the Roomba room (and time) to succeed and it won't let you down.Read the full review of the iRobot Roomba 790.
Rather than coming in low like Infinuvo, LG has opted to out-luxe iRobot, pushing its Hom-Bot Square to $799, and laying the polish on thick. Where the Roomba 790 has a chunky remote that plugs into the docking station, the Hom-Bot's is sleek, and snaps into the vacuum itself. The Roomba communicates via beeps and blinking lights. LG's Hom-Bot has slick voiced notifications.
What we can't say is that the Hom-Bot is a better vacuum. It cleans a large room well enough, but we'd trade that robot voice for an extra sensor or a little more juice behind the vacuum intake. Read the full review of the LG Hom-Bot Square.
If the Roomba is all charm, and the Hom-Bot all polish, the Neato XV Signature Pro is all business. At $499 is lands comfortably in the middle of our round-up, yet when it revs up (loudly), and rolls mechanically, linearly up and down your carpet, it's hard to complain about the results.
Like the others, the Neato will work best as a supplemental vacuuming assistant for regular upkeep. It stood out most on carpet, and with pet hair. It's also offers the best performance for the dollar of the four vacuums we've tested so for. Just don't expect this one to make you smile. Read the full review of the Neato Robotics XV Signature Pro