Let's face it, ever since you watched Breaking Bad and saw one cleaning up Jesse's house, you've wanted to buy a robot vacuum cleaner. But you've haven't stumped up the cash yet because of that nagging voice in your head, the one that doubts that a robot vacuum cleaner would actually work or be able to navigate around your house without damaging your furniture.
Well, that nagging voice would have been right – a few years ago. The first-generation of robot vacuum cleaners were, indeed, a bit crap. Actually, they were more than a bit crap; they were clumsy, noisy, ineffective waste of times, and the concept is still finding it hard to shake off all of that negative stigma.
However, we're here to tell you that robot vacuum cleaners are now awesome. We promise.
Sure, they are still as expensive as heck and sure, they still get themselves stuck or lost quite a bit – and they are in no way a replacement for an upright vacuum cleaner – but they are capable of keeping your gaff clean with minimal effort.
Robot vacuum cleaners: Considerations before buying
Robot vacuum cleaners now come in an array of shapes and sizes across a multitude of different brands – some well known vacuum cleaner specialists, and some tech companies jumping on the bandwagon.
In our selection of the best robot vacuum cleaners, detailed below, you'll find circular vacuum cleaners, ones with squared off edges, tall ones, skinny ones, ones with cameras and ones ladden with sensors – different manufacturers have different approaches to getting tricky-to-clean areas like corners and under furniture spick-and-span. Don't be too bogged down with the technicalities though, as we'll explain exactly what methods and approaches each robot we tested use, and how effective these prove to be.
You'll also notice that different robot vacuum cleaners have different strategies when it comes to room navigation – some use those cameras and sensors we mentioned, some come with accessories you place around your home to tell it where to go. Some even let you map out a cleaning area within a connected smart home app (it's 2018; of course robot vacuum cleaners pack in Wi-Fi). Those apps also have a plethora of different features, from tracking, to schedules, to integrations with other smart home products.
We've whittled down our selection to five of the top robot vacuum cleaners and you can rest assured that they all do their basic job – of cleaning up general dust and dirt – with no issues.
However, don't go thinking you can simply chuck a robot vacuum cleaner into a dirty house and then have it spotless once it's done a cycle. It doesn't work like this. Robot vacuum cleaners are excellent for maintaining a clean house, but they need a good starting-off point.
Finally, and this is probably an obvious one: robot vacuum cleaners can't climb stairs (at least, not yet). They are capable of detecting stairs – and thus not falling down them – and they are getting better at climbing up different levels (think rugs, room dividers and the like), but if you have a two-story abode, you'll either need to carry your robot to the floor you want cleaned… or buy more than one.
Anyway – enough of that, let's get on with the main event. Here are The Ambient's picks of the best robot vacuum cleaners that you can buy right now.
Dyson 360 Eye
The fact that Dyson now has a robot vacuum cleaner should be enough to convince you to get involved in the game. You won't be surprised to hear that the Dyson 360 Eye is one of the heaviest hitters of the bunch, and it actually has the highest suction rating of any of the robots we tested – 1800-2000Pa, if that means anything to you. Dyson claims it has twice the suction power of any robot cleaner and while we don't agree that's entirely true we will agree that it does suck big time – and, with vacuum cleaners, that's a good thing.
You'll be amazed, yes amazed, if you let the 360 Eye loose on carpet you thought was clean. Its dust container will be full of grey filth by the time its 45 minute cycle is done. Yep, 45 minutes - that's not a lot, we agree. However, we use our Dyson in our open plan living room / dining room / kitchen setup - and 45 minutes is just about enough. There is a 'quiet' mode too, which tones down the suction - and the noise - and that lasts for 70 minutes. However, even if it doesn't quite get the job finished the Dyson is clever enough to go and charge itself (2 hours 45 minutes for a full charge) and then resume the job from exactly where it left off.
It does that, and locates itself in general, using the 360 panoramic camera on the top, which is constantly scanning the room to look at where it's going and where it still needs to visit. There are no additional extras – virtual walls, barriers etc – that need setting up with the Dyson, it's good to go right out of the box. That also means it's easy to move around the house to different levels. It obviously won't be able to find its way back to the charging station if it's not on the floor where that's plugged in, but it will work itself back to the exact spot where it started cleaning and wait for you to come and collect it.
Looks wise, you'll notice that the 360 Eye is quite different to its rivals in this roundup. It's a taller, but narrower offering. We're told that the company was more concerned with navigating obstacles like chair legs than it was with getting under furniture. On that, it's succeeded, the Dyson is one of the top performers when it comes to not getting stuck – the tank track wheels make it a decent climber too.
You'll also notice no brushes sticking out from the edges of the Dyson – cleaning is handled by a motorised brush bar with the same carbon filaments and nylon bristles you'll find on an upright cleaner from the company. We did worry this might mean dirty corner spots but we needn't have – it's a consistently good clean.
The Dyson Link app gives you access to live status of your cleaner, schedules plus maps of previous cleans, and you can also remotely start a clean from your smartphone. Also, on the smart home front, there's an Alexa skill, so you can ask your 360 Eye to start or stop cleaning from your Echo speaker.
- Fantastic cleaning
- Superb room navigation
- Slick app and Alexa on board
- Short battery life
- Too tall to go under some furniture
- High-end price
iRobot Roomba 980
iRobot is possibly the biggest name in the robot cleaning world; the Roomba range has been on sale for over 15 years and, with the latest generation – the 900 Series – the company has introduced its iAdapt 2.0 Responsive Navigation system, along with Alexa integration.
What does that mean exactly? It's essentially simultaneous localisation and mapping, combined with an algorithm that helps the 980 simultaneously map and track. That means that not only does it know where it's been, but it also has in mind where it's going next. In the real world it means you don't see it just aimlessly bumping around your furniture and missing areas – whole rooms get covered. With a super slim 3.6-inch high profile – one of the sveltest robots we've used – it doesn't have too much bother getting under furniture either and is one of the better performers at not getting stuck.
Now, all the cleaners in our roundup are sufficient at cleaning and picking up dirt – that much is a given if we've included them in a 'best-of' buyers' guide. However, while the 980 does a pretty good job, compared to the others on this list, its cleaning performance was the weakest. Especially with stray hairs, which it didn't seem to be able to gobble up with any great aplomb.
The 980 is also pretty loud, with a bit of an annoying high pitched wheeze; it's much noisier than its rivals. The slot to remove dust from the bin is also too slim – you'll find that you have to pull it out with your hands a bit, rather than just tipping it out, which is a bit disgusting.
Back to the good stuff though and there's a nice edge clean mode where, at the end of a clean, it double checks it's picked up the dust around skirting boards and furniture legs. Battery life is also good at 2 hours - although that will take a hit if you turn on the super-sucky Carpet Boost mode.
The 980 comes boxed with some wall barriers, which have the dual modes ‘virtual wall’ for blocking off rooms and ‘halo’, which is like a forcefield – handy if you want to create no-go areas around pet food bowls, or delicate furniture.
All-in-all then, a bit of a mixed bag for the Roomba 980 and we've not even mentioned that it's the priciest model on test. Ouch.
- Easy to use app
- Dual mode virtual wall
- Edge mode is unique
- So expensive
- Struggled with hair
- Noisy operator
This robot vac has had its price slashed considerably, making it cheaper even than the Xiaomi Mi Robot. Still we can't recommend that you buy the circular Robo.com³ unless you're willing to be very patient with it.
On the face of it, this is an affordable, beginner friendly option: you can control it via the buttons on top, the bundled remote or via the app on your phone over Wi-Fi with nine cleaning programmes to choose from; the Robo.com³ can clean for up to 120 minutes; and at 68mm, this is a very slim robot vac – by comparison, the (superior) Dyson 360 Eye is almost double the height at 120mm.
The battery life is, we've found, good, so that's one plus point we can get behind. And the concentrated spot cleaning mode on the Robo.com³ gave us really good results, perhaps thanks to its bristle brush designed to dislodge stubborn bits of dirt on floors and carpets.
Most of us, though, don't want to chaperone our robot vac intensely as it gets to work – we'd rather get it going before we head out shopping or leave it to tackle the living room while we're in the kitchen. Here, the Robo.com³ struggles. It has infrared on board with five integrated sensors in order to 'scan' the room for the boundaries and any obstacles (plus stair detection) but there are no virtual barriers to help the little guy get this right and in our testing, the Robo.com³ failed to map the room in its entirety in some cases.
In a hall that's an easy rectangle shape with laminate flooring, it performed well, cleaning right up to the skirting boards with its dual rotating side brushes and floor polisher pad. But in a more complicated, furniture heavy living room, with a tassled rug in the middle, the Robo.com³ fell down. Not literally but it missed whole areas of the room and got caught up in the tassles on more than one occasion.
As a result, after around six uses its side brush heads started to look misshapen, no doubt due to its encounters with the rug fringes. A few more niggles – it's quite noisy when it's cleaning and Hoover advertises that it will find its way back to its charging station at 15%, too, and this didn't work in practice. That said, this robot vac – thanks to its slim build – cleaned underneath tables and units well, managing to make it back to the centre of the room without a tussle. One for sparsely furnished rooms and people who don't mind guiding their robot vac for the cost savings.
- Good spot cleaning
- Slim build
- Below par room scanning
- Needs chaperoning
- Doesn't return to charge
Neato Botvac Connected
A D-shaped entry, the latest Neato is a busy box of tricks that offers up more modes than its rivals… although it's down to personal opinion as to whether that's a good thing. Do you want to be more in control of your robot vacuum cleaner, or do you want it to just get on with its job?
If it's the latter (it is for us) then you'll still be able to let the Botvac take control of your cleaning, but you won't really be making the most of its functions and you'll still be required to make a few decisions. Firstly, spot or house clean? On robot vacuums, spot is usually reserved for small area cleaning but with these Neato, it actually means a 6.5 x 6.5ft clean (or a 13 x 13ft one if you change the settings in the app) where it works from the boundary inwards – perfect for a small, square room.
House clean mode is the more advanced setting. It divides the room up into 15x15-inch segments, determined by its brilliantly named Botvision laser scanner, and tackles the room based on what it determines to be its most efficient path.
In either mode the Neato doesn't have too many quibbles navigating furniture although, at 4 inches high at its highest point, its maybe a little bit too chubby to get under some chairs and cabinets.
The final mode is manual, where you use the app to control directions of the robot cleaner – like a less-fun RC car. Whatever mode you choose, you'll get a great clean, with corners handled by a spinning brush; and the brush and blade roller is also great at dealing with long hairs.
In all modes, there's a choice between the (pretty-loud) turbo mode and the (less-loud) eco-mode; the former affords you 50 minutes of cleaning action, the latter up to two hours. In the box you'll find some magnetic black strips to block off areas you don't want vacuumed.
The app is one of the most user friendly we've tested, with the usual array of scheduling, clean history and live status updates and smart home integration is good with both Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility.
- Great digital assistant integration
- Multitude of cleaning modes
- D-shaped design for cleaner corners
- Still quite pricey
- Turbo mode is pretty loud
- Manual mode is a tad clunky
Xiaomi Mi Robot
This one is a bit of a left-field inclusion. Xiaomi is a Chinese company that's more famous for its budget smartphones, fitness trackers, laptops and tablets. However, the Mi Robot (made by Xiaomi startup subsidiary Rockrobo) is awesome – although you will need to be fluent in Chinese to make the most of it.
When it comes to cleaning, it's only really the Dyson in this list than can compare with the performance of the Mi Robot, and Xiaomi's effort comes in at around a third of the price. Yep, a third – it's ridiculously good value.
The tech smarts on the Mi Robot are second to none. There are a total of 12 sensors packed into this robot vac, including an ultrasonic radar sensor, a cliff sensor, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a speedometer and an electronic compass. However, it's the trio of dedicated processors for the simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) movement algorithm, combined with the laser distance sensor (a small disc you can see spinning up top) that wins the top-tech-smarts prize for Xiaomi. We'd actually say it's better than the Dyson 360 Eye at navigating and we're told that it's constantly planning the optimal cleaning route minutes ahead. There's obviously no way to verify this, but it's easily the least clumsy robot vacuum cleaner we've tested.
Boasting an air pressure of 1,800Pa, the Mi Robot has three power modes and, on the lowest (which still does a great cleaning job) is capable of 2.5 hours of cleaning – Xiaomi tells us that equates to a floor space of 250m sq. We keep ours on the top, turbo mode, however, although we have to admit it's pretty loud.
The dust bin is smaller than some of its rivals, but a nice touch is that the app will warn you when it needs emptying. Ah, the app – you knew there would be a catch, right? While you could buy the Mi Robot and just use the buttons on the top to clean your house, and never have an issue, you want more, right?
Well, strap yourself in for a bumpy ride. The app is complex as heck… unless you're fluent in Chinese, that is. To be fair, Xiaomi are constantly improving the English app experience but you'll still run into plenty of obstacles (even though the Robot itself doesn't). The app is actually the complete Mi Home one and the Robot is just a small part of it. You should have no problems pairing your vacuum, changing its voice to English, scheduling cleans and seeing maps of previous cleans – but you'll also get random notifications in Chinese popping up on your phone, and you'll definitely get lost within the settings menu. Also, while it's technically compatible with Alexa, getting the skill set up isn't the easiest (we gave up after a while).
Still, that's a small price to pay. The value for money is just too good to ignore the Xiaomi. However, be aware that there is now a second-generation model (the Roborock S50), that throws in a mopping function too. It's around $100 more but that still makes it much cheaper than its more well-known rivals. But if you're just looking for superb vacuum cleaning, you won't be let down by the original model.
- Amazing value for money
- Superb cleaning performance
- Excellent battery life
- English is limited on the app
- May be difficult to shop for parts
- Dust compartment is quite small