Review & Opinion: Smart Vacuum Cleaners – Do We Really Need Them?

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Apr 24, 2018
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PRODUCT INFO

Roborock S5

Type Sweep-Mop Smart Vacuum Cleaner (WiFi)
Price $599 | $480 (Promotional)

When did we ever think that vacuum cleaners would end up on tech sites… For better or worse that time is now and it makes me equally excited and worried. Since most of my time is spent reading and writing about cybersecurity, it is only natural that you start getting freaked out over every new gadget, focusing on the bad before the good. However, despite being a person who tries not to fall for those never-follow-up-on new year resolutions, this year I did think about being open to new technologies and look at them without the lens of cybersecurity. As devastating as this approach can be, the last few months have admittedly been much more fun than I can remember in a long time.

While we may love to send all our data to a select few companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft or Apple, there are tons of others who are offering genuinely innovative products. In the last two years, unfortunately, we have become even more suspicious of the companies coming out of Asia, particularly China. But, if the latest Facebook scandal is any hint, no company is barred from this data mess. Then, why do we keep falling for a select few Silicon Valley firms as if they are the epitome of user privacy and data security?

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Flawed strategy? Maybe. Fun products? Definitely!

Amidst fears that I was potentially getting myself into a labyrinth of poorly secured internet-connected devices, I set out to use Xiaomi’s second-generation vacuum cleaner. “As long as the app doesn’t demand access to my gallery or contacts or camera, I should be okay” was the predominant thought of someone who was helplessly falling for things carrying the “robot” buzzword. I didn’t have many expectations, thinking that anything Chinese is just a gimmick or a temporary fad, but, was I wrong…

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Roborock – the vacuum cleaner that was trying to win my heart with its… parking skills!

Featuring 3D laser mapping technology and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms to intelligently map the cleaning path, Xiaomi’s little robotic cleaner isn’t your average vacuum cleaner. Since this product has been out on the market for nearly a year, you can see a lot of videos on YouTube showing it in action, talking about its suction powers, its myriad scans that may drive you to the ohmygawd-are-you-spying-on-me mode, or its Tesla-like mapping technologies.

In this post, however, we will focus on just its cleaning expertise.

Probably one of the very few tech products that don’t come with a steep learning curve, Xiaomi Smart Robot Vacuum Cleaner (that, by the way, doesn’t carry Xiaomi in its name) starts working with a single button press. Nothing else. No learning or tweaking required, whatsoever.

You can download the Mi Home app to get the most of the product, though. It offers multiple cleaning modes that fit your cleaning requirements – carpet, Turbo, Quiet, Max, etc.

Unlike several other options and Xiaomi’s first generation cleaner itself, Roborock comes with a mopping feature offering a 2-in-1 cleaning system. The package includes two washable mopping pads and washable filter.

When you start the cleaning process, Roborock divides the room into some 3×3 meter sections, starting with the outward borders before cleaning inwards. It successfully avoids furniture legs or any smaller but heavier objects. However, I did have some problem when it was trying to get under the coffee table, since the space was exactly the height of Roborock, this probably being the reason behind this cleaning robot getting confused.

The manual suggests you follow Roborock during its first scan so you can guide it if comes across any such obstacles. For example, when physically moved away from the table, it learned to just gently touch it in the subsequent cleaning sessions.

No cameras mean no light required for cleaning

Since Roborock doesn’t actually rely on cameras (did you really fall for that spying bit above?) and uses a laser-guided navigation system, you can have it clean your home in complete darkness or even in your absence. Apart from the full cleaning mode, Roborock also features spot and zone cleaning options, which are useful when you just want a particular area to be cleaned.

One flaw in this mapping system, however, is that Roborock appears to remove maps if it’s physically moved elsewhere or its charging dock position is changed. Since there is no option to manually save maps – would appreciate getting this feature in any incoming future update – it could cause annoyance if you want to use the remote cleaning option.

Yikes!

You can also use your phone app like a joystick to move Roborock to a certain position and have it clean up regardless of the map. While that may be a fun activity or a useful feature to have Roborock focus on a specific spot, the best that this smart vacuum cleaner performs is on its own when it gets to clean the entire house and has mapped it for future reference.

The Mi Home app also lets you draw sections that the Roborock will then go to and clean up for you. The app features a few tutorials carrying videos and text to take you through different cleaning modes and steps on using the packaged brushes to clean Roborock itself.

Enough with free marketing – how does it actually work?!!

Flawless! If that could be a thing. Apart from a few misses, Roborock picked up almost everything in its way – from tiny thin hair to small wrappers. The side brush helps the vacuum cleaner bring the debris to the main brush that then sucks it up to the dustbin.

As for the mopping function, it could be further optimized. While it works on tiled or wooden floors, if there’s a rug in the way, Roborock would continue to mop as it doesn’t stop mopping when carpet/rug is in its way.  Personally, I found the sweeping function much more polished than the mopping function, which I rarely used.

Thanks to its side brush, Roborock also mostly cleans up corners nicely. However, considering its round shape, it can’t get into the deeper corners that may be created by a console or a dresser.

For one, I found Roborock to be a near-perfect solution and I think of all the IoT products, vacuum cleaners are going to certainly become a part of our lives sooner rather than later. But for my mom who believes good cleaning is a result of how much force you exert and how sweaty your brows turn, Roborock is a completely useless and unnecessary product. That was until she saw how beautifully this tiny robot went and parked itself on the dock to charge for the next cleaning session – absolute beauty!

– Get Xiaomi Vacuum Cleaner for $479.99 with code GBsale005

9

An intelligent vacuum cleaner that is probably the most feature-rich product in its price range. Extended battery life, mopping functionality, perfect mapping algorithms, and ability to use it remotely make it one of the best smart vacuum cleaners available right now.

Performance9
Value9
Design & Aesthetics8
Features10

Pros

  • Battery life
  • Works on both hard and carpeted surfaces with multiple modes
  • Impeccable cleaning
  • Feature-rich app

Cons

  • Mopping function lacks polish
  • No virtual wall
  • Erasure of maps could be an annoyance
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