The Best Smart Robot Vacuums of 2017
There's never been a larger selection of robot vacuums on the market, with an enormous range of prices and features. We know just how difficult it can be to find the perfect robot and are here to help. We spent hundreds of hours researching 20 different models of robot vacuums, then bought the top 9 available today and pushed them to their limits to find out. We compared how well these products can navigate, how well they clean a variety of common household floors, ranging from fluffy, medium-pile carpet to hardwood laminate flooring. We put them all through a series of navigation and cleaning challenges, from picking up pet hair, sucking up flour, cleaning Mini-Wheats, evading power cords, and everything in between, all to help you find the perfect robotic companion that will match your needs and your price range. Take a look at our comprehensive review to find out which of these, truly are, the 'bots you're looking for.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
We continue to monitor the ever-changing array of robot vacuums that you can buy today and added some new models from Neato to our review, as well as a discount model to see how it stacked up. While there are some new manufacturers entering the robot vacuum arena, it seems that users are disappointed with these very expensive models and that they overhyped and under-delivered. We'd recommend that you stick with our award winners for now and we will further update this review if a new contender appears.
Best Overall Robot Vacuum
Neato Botvac Connected
In our opinion, the Neato Botvac Connected is the standout performer of all the models we tested. The Neato does the best at cleaning tight corners and edges, as well as pet hair, and performs above average at cleaning both carpets and hard surfaces. The app made it easy to set up a schedule and run the robot remotely. We feel the Botvac Connected is the leader of the robotic vacuums currently available to consumers, and the bottom line is: This is the one that we would keep to clean the office.
Great on hard floors
Closest clean on corners and edges
Great for pet hair
App can be difficult to set up
Read full review: Neato Botvac Connected
Best Bang for the Buck
Neato Botvac D80
The Neato Botvac D80 is an exception robot vacuum and has one of the more reasonable retail prices of the group. This model tied for the overall score, navigating multiple rooms flawlessly and only getting trapped in the tightest of space. In addition to being an excellent navigator, this model had a solid cleaning performance, particularly excelling at cleaning hard floors, collecting pet hair, and getting in close to corners and edges. This model is easy to use, with a small screen and navigation keys right on the device, which you can use to start it cleaning or set up a schedule to run on its own. This model will also return to its base and recharge if the battery runs too low while its cleaning and resume where it left off when the battery is topped off. While there are less expensive models out there, the Neato D80 swept them under the rug in our tests and is truly the best value you can get.
Great in tight corners
Great for pet hair
Struggles a little with larger debris
Read full review: Neato Botvac D80
Analysis and Test Results
We spent close to 3 months testing the cleaning performance of the top 9 robot vacuums that you can buy today available on a variety of surfaces with different types of debris. as well as the ability of the robot to avoid getting stuck and successfully navigate household obstacles. We also looked at how easy it is to use these products, from unboxing and maintenance to scheduling automatic cleaning of your home. We conducted over 25 individual tests across 6 weighted metrics to get a score from 0-100 for each mode, which you can see in the table below.
The scores are determined by comparing the performance of each model to its peers in each of the tests. Below we go into further detail in each metric, as well as go over our best and worst performers in each category. A key point to keep in mind is that the performance of any robot vacuum can vary wildly, depending on the exact layout of the area to be cleaned. These products can't handle stairs or steps, and even the best navigators will become quickly bogged down in a cluttered home. It's necessary to "robot-proof" almost every home before any of these products really excel at cleaning them.
This metric is summed up by one thing: If you turn on your robotic vacuum and leave for the day, how confident can you be that you will return to clean floors? Intuitively, you might put the most importance on the cleaning abilities of these products, and cleaning performance and indeed important (earning the 2nd highest weighting in our scores), but after spending two months testing these products we concluded that navigation abilities are an even more important differentiator. Why? The main point of getting one of these is to clean for you, and it can be infuriating to come home every day to find it stuck under a chair, beeping helplessly. The performance of these can vary wildly depending on the setup of your home, and it may be necessary to spend some time "robot-proofing" your home before it gets cleaned at all, but we did find some distinct differences in how each model navigated around a room.
Most homes have countless obstacles that can trip up a robotics vacuum. Items like chairs, tables cords, shoes, and area rugs are all things that can present challenges to these products and prevent your home from being cleaned, and the ability to navigate around these obstacles is what separates these products. We tested the ability to drive over a small obstacle by traversing a laptop power cord, an area rug with tassels, an extremely long blind cord, and a shoelace without causing an error. We then tested the ability to navigate by having them clean a large empty room, multiple empty rooms, and an average room filled with furniture. You can see how all of the robots scored in the chart below.
Our primary focus was seeing which scenarios required us to intervene, and then on which areas were missed and why. Based on the results of our tests, the top performer was the iRobot Roomba 980, earning a 7 out of 10 on this crucial metric. This model cleans in a systematic way but is also particularly adept at escaping from confined areas quickly and efficiently. Following the top performance of the Roomba 980, all Neato brand models (Botvac Connected, Neato D80 Botvac D75, D5 Connected, and the D3 Connected) scored a 6 out of 10. These five vacuums all navigated our test rooms in essentially identical ways, and utilize a systematic cleaning method as well. This proved much more effective than the semi-random navigation style of the Roomba 650 and the iLife A4.
However, the Neato models much more prone to becoming trapped for long periods of time in tight spaces. The Roomba models were the fastest at navigating out of the most confined spaces, quickly finding an exit and weaving their way through the various chair and table legs in our course setup. All Neato models lagged behind the Roombas, taking longer to free themselves, and exhibiting significantly more difficulty navigating through the furniture legs, bumping into the legs and potentially scuffing them, but still managing to free themselves.
Rounding out the bottom of the pack was the Samsung POWERbot VR9000, the iRobot Roomba 650, and the iLife A4, all earning a 5 out of 10. The Samsung model, in particular, fared poorly in our furniture test, as you can see in the above video. Its larger size made it less agile and more likely to wedge itself under an object. It also appears its vision sensor may be lower than the top of its body, making it much more prone to getting stuck. The Roomba 650, with its random method of navigation, is not designed for cleaning multiple rooms, and, as expected, performed poorly in the large room and multiple room test. The iLife has a similar navigation style to the Roomba 650, but proved a little less adept at escaping confined situations, almost feeling like it was freeing itself by chance, compared to the Roomba 650's deliberate movements. Below you can see how well the Roomba 650 can free itself from a confined space, much quicker than the Samsung in the earlier video.
When it came to traversing obstacles, we found the Roomba models were much less likely to be tripped up by a shoelace or rug, but could potentially damage themselves in the process. In our tests, we found the Roombas wreaked havoc when they sucked up a thick cord, usually only stopping when the wheels would no longer turn. The Neato models and the Samsung model quickly errored out if they detected any sort of tangle, requiring rescue.
This is probably one of the most common uses for a robot vacuum, and the first one that we looked at: Can these get the junk out of your carpet, so you don't have to? First, we looked at what types of carpet are commonly found in homes and apartments and the types of carpets that these products are designed to clean. We put each robot through its paces on low and medium pile carpet (leaving the high-pile, shag carpet for the 70's) with different types of debris to represent what would commonly be found in a typical household. For some background, the pile of a carpet is the part of the carpet that you walk on, and is usually grouped into low, medium, or high, and is basically how fluffy the carpet is. The fluffier the carpet is, the harder it is to clean. None of the models we tested are really meant for anything fluffier than a medium-pile carpet.
We tested with flour, rice, oatmeal, and mini-wheats and then evaluated the amount left behind after the carpet was cleaned. For our surface clean test, we measured out the debris and spread it over the same area for each robot. We then gave each one a shot at doing its best to clean on a single pass and then cleaned with a traditional, upright model before the next contender. Our final carpet cleaning test was a true torture test: 2 tablespoons of flour spread out and pressed into the carpet. You can see how the other 'bots stacked up in the chart below.
This was where our top performer, the Samsung POWERbot VR9000, cleaned up the competition, earning an 8 out of 10 for this rating metric, delivering an exceptional performance, even at the torture test.
The Neato Botvac Connected, Neato Botvac D80, and the iRobot Roomba 980 were the next closest contenders, tied for 2nd place with a 6 out of 10 on ratings. Both of these Neato Botvacs had a tendency for mini-wheats to get wedged in the intake zone, lacking the power to effectively crush them. These Neato models both have the combination spiral brush, which we found to be much more effective than the rubber blade brush at cleaning carpets.
These models include both types so you can customize the vacuum to suit your needs. However, we generally found the combination brush beat the blade brush in every test and aren't totally sure what we would use it for, but feel free to experiment in your home. The bottom line is that all of these will pick up most of the mess left out for them, and anything they miss will get picked up by a second pass. This reinforces the point that these are for designed to be run daily, to pick up most of the day to day mess and lengthen the time between deep cleans with traditional methods.
Next were the bulk of the models, with the D3 Connected, D5 Connected, Botvac D75, and the Roomba 650 all earned a 5 out of 10. These robots all did acceptably well with the medium-sized particles but faltered at collecting flour and Mini-Wheats.
The D3 and the D5 did a particularly poor job at collecting flour from deeper in the carpet, with the D75 only doing slightly better, and the Roomba 650 topping the three of them. The iLife A4 finished at the back of the pack, earning a 3 out of 10. This model overall fared poorly in our carpet cleaning tests, leaving a decent amount of debris behind in every test.
Hard Surface Cleaning
Most homes have some area that is covered by a hard floor and will need to periodically clean that as well. Ideally, an automatic cleaner will be able to handle these types of floors, and we wanted to find out how just how well each of these models stacked up. The results are a little more spread out here, as different design elements come into play, such as side brush, main brush type, and ground clearance. On the whole, most of these will perform better on hardwood, than on carpet, great for reducing the number of times the floor must be swept. The performance of each model on hard surfaces is shown in the chart below.
Our test used flour, Cheerios, Mini-Wheats, and oatmeal for test messes. Our goal was to test how these products dealt with a concentrated mess of fine and medium particles (flour and oatmeal), whether or not they cleaned or crushed up the larger particles (Cheerios and Mini-Wheats). The concentrated mess test allowed a single pass over the debris spread in a 5-6" circle, while we counted out a set number of the larger particles and compared the quantity missed. There was a stark difference between some the different models, largely influenced by the type of main extractor each one had.
The Botvac Connected, Neato D80 and the D5 Connected lead the pack on flour, oatmeal, and cheerios, earning the top score of 7 out of 10. This trio of models have a single rotating side brush and did a great job at collecting flour and oatmeal, picking up roughly 95% of the debris. These model also did slightly better than average at collecting the Mini-Wheats, though they were prone to becoming lodged in the extractor, rather than making it to the collection bin.
The POWERbot VR9000, D75, and the D3 Connected all tied for the runner-up position with a 6 out of 10. These models did well, just not quite as effective at the frontrunners, and would neglect to pick up a larger percentage of the mess. These just edged out the Roomba 980, which scored a 5 out of 10. This model left slightly more, and also lacked the clearance to pick up some of the larger particles, merely pushing them around.
The iRobot Roomba 650 did have a standout performance with the Mini-Wheats, being the only one that had the ground clearance and the extractor power to crush up and capture the pieces in its collection bin, but it wasn't enough to offset its poor performance in other tests. This model, along with the iLife earned a 4 out of 10. The 650 left a ton of debris behind, particularly in our flour test, and both of these brushes tended to create almost as large of a mess by flinging medium and large particles away with their larger side brushes.
Corners and Edges
We wanted to evaluate how close to a wall, and how tight of a corner these machines could clean. This category highlights some of the differences in the design of these machines, with differences in the overall exterior shape, feeding wedges, and additional brushes or suction influencing the results.Below you can see, from left to right, the undercarriages of a Roomba, a Samsung, and a Neato model.
All models except the Samsung and the D3 have a rotating side brush intended to sweep dirt and grime away from the walls into the path of the extractor to be sucked up. None of these are perfect, and really getting the edges of your home is best reserved for the periodic deep clean, but, in our opinion, the less work we have to do in the deep clean, the better. The scores for each robot are in the chart below, with the higher scores corresponding to how close the robots got into the tight corners and how little they left along the edge.
We tested on carpet and hardwood floors, running each test in a blocked off, 4'x4' pen. Each product was started in the middle of the pen, and allowed to run long enough that it either stopped on its own or had run along the entire edge. We found rice was picked up with a 100% success rate in previous tests and was selected for this test to isolate corner and edge cleaning ability. 30 g of rice was spread out evenly around the pen, up to 4" away from the wall for each model, and rankings were based on weighing the final amount picked up. The flour on hardwood floor test is the best visual summary of how each design fared with corners and edges.
The Neato Connected, Neato D80, D75, and D5 all performed the best, meriting an 8 out of 10 for this metric. All of these robots picked up about 80% of the rice on hardwood, and 75% on carpet. All of the Neato vacuums struggled a tiny but with the corners due to their design, but still got in closer than the other models.
The Samsung POWERbot's underbody feeding wedges seemed to do more harm than good, in our opinion, but this model still earned a respectable 7 out of 10. This model leaves a consistent 1.5"-2" perimeter uncleaned.
Both the iLife and the D3 earned a 6 out of 10. The D3 lacks a side brush but has a wide main extractor, and a D-shaped design to get in reasonably tight to the borders. The iLife is the only model that had dual-rotating brushes, and while these did sweep in more debris in some cases, but also flung a non-trivial amount around the room, especially on the hard floor.
The 980 and the 650 did about average, earning a 5 out of 10. The intake on both Roomba's is approximately 4" from its sides, and relies heavily on the side brush to fling debris into the path of the extractor. This seemed to be extremely hit or miss in our opinion, as it collected some of the debris, but also flung it all over the place. This was particularly pronounced on the hard floor and lessened on the carpet with the added resistance to the side brush.
In the US, the ASPCA estimates that 70-80 million households have a dog, and 74-96 million have a cat. That adds up to a lot of fur that needs to get cleaned up on a regular basis. For many pet owners, this may be the sole reason you are considering getting some automated assistance in the cleanup. Then again, some of you may be here simply to find out which model is most likely for your cat to ride, and unfortunately, our tests did not provide conclusive results as to which product will perform best on that metric but leave that up to your best judgment. We tested the cleaning performance of each model on low and medium pile carpet, as well as on hard surface with donated hair from a friend's dog. For the carpet tests, we blocked off 50 sq. ft of space, spread out 5g of hair for each test, breaking up the tufts of hair and evenly pressing them into the surface of the carpet. None of the hair was placed within 7" of the end, ensuring that we were solely testing the ability to pick up pet hair, not edge-cleaning ability.The final scores for the pet hair test are shown below.
The Botvac Connected and the Neato D80 performed exceptionally well, both earning a 7 out of 10 for collecting the highest percentage of pet hair in our test. The POWERbot VR9000, D3, and the D5 followed closely behind earning a 6 out of 10, far outpacing both the Botvac D75 and the Roomba 650, both earning a 4. The Roomba 980 was about average earning a 5 out of 10, and the iLife did poorly, earning a 2 out of 10. The Botvac Connected has a combination extractor brush, with plastic blades and bristles, picked up the most hair in the carpet tests, and we would estimate 99% of the hair picked up ended up in the collection bin, rather than caught in the extractor.
The Samsung POWERbot also has a combination extractor brush, but we feel the shorter bristles weren't quite as effective at getting the pet hair out of the carpet at the Connected and it left more behind. However, the Samsung POWERbot also trapped the majority of the hair in its collection bin, rather than in the extractor, and we feel that it would have picked up the remaining hair left on the carpet on a second pass. The D3 and the D5 have the identical brush as the Connected and the D80, but left a tiny bit more hair, dropping their score a point — evidence that these models have slightly less suction power. Both Roombas and the Botvac D75 fared poorly with this test, leaving behind plenty of hair, with most of the hair picked up tangled in the extractor and bin opening, rather than the collection bin. Based on our tests, the lack of bristles that penetrate deep into the carpet was the downfall of both these models. The iLife simply isn't suited for collecting pet hair, with the majority becoming tangled up on the brush and large amounts being left behind on the floor.
All models picked up roughly double the amount of hair from the medium pile carpet when we repeated the test on low-pile carpet, but relative performance remained constant, with the Botvac Connected and POWERbot VR9000 in the lead. Our results show that one of the most important considerations if removing pet hair is a major concern, and we would highly recommend looking at the longest bristle, combination extractor head that is available if you are primarily looking to clean up pet hair.
Our hard surfaces test was more of a torture test: 3 grams of hair spread out in a 6" X 18" rectangle, with a mix of large clumps and loose hairs. We really wanted to push the extractors to the limits, and see if they could handle this without tangling, and get all the hair into the extractor bin
All models did very well in this category, cleaning up all of the pet hair we laid out. The Roomba 980 and the POWERbot VR9000 were flawless, with the other models slightly lagging due to some hair caught up in the brush. We do recommend if pet hair removal is your primary goal, that the robot is run on a daily basis, and that you regularly check and clean the extractor for trapped hair, no matter which model you use.
Ease of Use
This category evaluates how easy it would be for someone to unbox and setup any of these 'bots for the first time, how much regular maintenance is required and the scheduling abilities of the robot. The entire point of buying one of these is to reduce the time and effort you spend on housework, not increase it. Ideally, we were looking for a product that was easy to set up for the first time, create a schedule to have it automatically clean when we weren't around and did not require a bunch of maintenance to keep going. The chart below show the scores for the ease of use metric.
The 650 was the easiest to use of the bunch, earning an 8 out of 10. Scheduling was a little easier than on the Neato models, with the D75 and the D80 being the next easiest to use, both deserving a 7 out of 10. The Botvac Connected and the iLife were next with a 6 out of 10, followed closely by the D3, D5, and the 980, all earning 5 out of 10. The Samsung rounded out the bottom of the pack, earning a below average 4 out of 10.
The first thing we looked at was initial setup. All of the models we tested took less than 10 minutes to unwrap and start charging on their home docks. The Roomba 980 was the only one ready to start cleaning right out of the box, with the other ones needing to charge fully before use. After being fully-charged, the remaining models were ready to start cleaning, with no additional setup. All of the app-enabled robots (Roomba 980, D3,D5 and Botvac Connected) required additional time to pair with a smartphone and download the manufacturer's app.
The next task was to create a cleaning schedule for each one, as manually pushing a button is exactly the type of labor you were looking to avoid by getting an automated house cleaner. The Roomba 650 was by far the easiest to schedule, with a dedicated schedule, day, hour, and minute buttons on the device itself. Both the Connected, D80, and the D75 have a scheduling section in their on-screen displays, easy enough to navigate through with up, down and back keys, with the Connected having an intuitive scheduling feature in the app. It was only possible to set the schedule of the D3 and D5 through the app, as these models lack screens on the device. The Roomba 980 could only be scheduled through the app, which could be problematic. We found it to be somewhat difficult to install and pair both of the smartphone versions initially, requiring multiple tries to be successful. The POWERbot comes with a remote to use for scheduling, and has limited scheduling options, making it the most difficult in our opinion. The iLife also comes with a remote to set the schedule, but it was much, much simpler to use than the Samsung.We did notice that the touch buttons on the Samsung seemed temperamental and hard to use, as well as both us — and the Samsung itself — struggled to align it on the base and start charging.
We found the day to day maintenance of these robots to be the comparable across all models, emptying the collection bin after each use, and cleaning the filters per the manufacturer's instructions. In all cases, these tasks took very little time and effort, certainly less time than we would have spent otherwise cleaning.
Selecting the right robot vacuum can be difficult. Every home has a different layout and different floors, and there is no universally perfect robot for everyone. Trying to balance your budget while finding the perfect robot for your home may seem a monumental task, but we hope that this review has helped you narrow down the selection and make it a little bit easier to choose.
Very few people would pick housework as their activity of choice for their free time. As in no one. Ever. Cleaning your home is, unfortunately, one of those things that simply just has to be done, and cuts into time that could be spent doing more important things, like spending time with family and friends. A robotic vacuum is by no means a necessity for the home, and none of the models we looked at will entirely replace the traditional, upright type, or vacuum as well for that matter, but what they will do is reduce the time you spend cleaning.
Originally thought of as novelty items, the increased effectiveness and decrease in price make these a purchase worth considering. These are designed to do a surface clean of your house, and ideally be something that requires little assistance from you after the initial setup. These won't eliminate the need for periodic, manual, deep cleaning of your home, but they will increase the time between them, and most likely improve the overall cleanliness of your home. All in all, these aren't Rosie from the Jetsons, but they do a decent job of cleaning your house if you don't expect too much. If the idea of having an automated assistant clean your home is new to you, you might find it helpful to read through our Buying Advice article. It gives a good introduction to the topic and covers what exactly you should look for in a quality robotic vacuum.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
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