Of all the household appliances that we have reviewed on this site the Robomaid automatic vacuum cleaner has to be one of the most useful and fun products we have tested. Robomaid Australia kindly provided the RM-770 for this review and despite some initial hassles with battery charging, this unit is a very effective vacuum cleaner, gives you value-for-money and is a time-saving device.
So let's indulge in a favourite pastime: watching someone else do the work, or in this case, something else!
Robotic vacuum cleaners have been on the scene for several years now, the Roomba probably being the best known product in this range. I have always viewed them as being rather ineffective, not being able to get into the corners, having too small a capacity regards suction and battery endurance. The Robomaid changed my mind. For starters it's fairly large and has a dustbin of about 1 L. The battery endurance, once properly conditioned--and I'll come back to the subject shortly--is one hour, quite a reasonable time. The build quality is excellent and in deep red (yes, you can get a different colour as well) it is highly visible when it does the rounds. Not that you would accidentally trip over it as the noise it makes is reasonably loud. Let me put this in perspective though: it's much quieter than your regular vacuum cleaner in most cases and even quieter than my Electrolux ErgoRapido, arguably one of the best dustbuster type cordless vacuum cleaners available.
It's satisfying to see how complete the Robomaid comes with a remote-control, "invisible wall", a mopping attachment and various other bits and pieces. Not included however are the batteries for the remote and the invisible wall which throws up a barrier that the robot will not cross. Because you need a couple of AAA batteries and a couple of D size batteries, you might need to go on a small shopping trip rather than straight away putting this vacuum robot to work. A bit of patience is indeed a good thing in this case as the batteries need to be conditioned for a full 12 hours for at least the first three times. I did not do this when the Robo vacuum got delivered to our office as I noticed that it had already sufficient charge for a short demonstration but just to be on the safe side I put it on a two hour charge first. I'm not sure it was the cause of the battery problems that we experienced as lithium ion batteries in most other products do not seem to need the same type of conditioning to this extent. Anyways, our battery did not seem to want to charge fully ever since and had a very short endurance.
A quick e-mail to the support department and the new battery was on its way. Sometimes when things don't go to plan we don't mind seeing how good the support really is and dealing with this Australian company’s support staff has been excellent!
(Update: it may not have been just the battery as the new one also exhibited the same charging problems: forever charging and never getting a full charge... Anyways, Robomaid Australia suggested changing over the whole unit so they can get to properly analyse the issue and the rest of this review is based on our experiences with the replacement unit).
Men at Work (watching)...
It is something of a strange sight to see men in the office getting excited about a vacuum cleaner….
It is fascinating to watch how the Robomaid goes about the office in a rather roundabout way without seemingly any particular pattern but it is clear that over time the whole carpet will be covered during its cleaning frenzy. It is really amazing to see how much carpet fluff and dust this robotic vacuum collects in just 10 min of work! Probably the most exciting thing to watch is the automatic docking: when the power is down to about 15% the Robomaid shuts down the vacuuming part of things and starts looking for home. It is not that it remembers were the docking station was so it will go hunting for it and when it intercepts the infra-red beam it slows down and gently docks onto the charging connector. It's a bit like the space shuttle docking onto the International Space Station!
Most of the controls on the remote are duplicated on the device itself. This can be handy if you misplace the remote. More controls can be found on the docking station for setting the clock, selecting the time and the day (or days) you want this device to operate autonomously. Yes, this is where the Robomaid shines: automatic operation when you are not at home. Now initially you would want to watch its every move, not only because it is fun but to see how it handles obstacles and difficulties. There are sensors all over this unit (28 they say!) to prevent bumping into things or falling off the steps. Small thresholds of a couple of centimetres can be negotiated but any step down of more than a few centimetres it will detect and back off from. This does not happen all the time though and I have caught the Robomaid hanging off a ledge once when it could not back out again ... So now you know where to put the invisible wall. Similarly, it will detect furniture and other objects before it hits them and if not, there is a bumper bar that will be pressed in to take the bump and activate the "back out" switch.
It is interesting to see that when it comes across items like shoes or toys it will just simply nudge them aside. Very clever. So once you're pretty sure that it can safely negotiate your various rooms you can then schedule it to work without supervision, in other words you can program in the times and days on the docking station. Normally you would let it run until the battery is nearly exhausted after which it will automatically nuzzle up to the docking station for another feed of electrons. A typical recharge is about three hours. There are other modes as well for running the Robomaid: you can set it for, say, 15 min after which it will just stop where it is. Helpful is also that there are various patterns you can choose rather than just the random one. For instance, you can let it do a zigzag or tell it to go along the walls or do a spot clean where it spirals around in a certain area.
How Well Does It Clean?
Ultimately this is the big question: how effective is this robot and does it cover every square centimetre of your floors? With its seemingly random movements around the place it is hard to believe that it will get every visible bit of dust into its bin. For starters, it can't get into the very corners, having a round shape and the dust that collects along the wall of your room will be problematic as well, despite having a special brush that flicks the dust into the path of the brush. The good thing about the Robomaid is that it will get most dust on any one cleaning run and because you will want to use this device more than your regular vacuum cleaner, dust that is left behind will be picked up on the next run.
Yet we were intrigued to find out the algorithm that has been built into this vacuum cleaner and there is no better way than to put some highly visible small bits in a section of the room that we barricaded on one side with furniture and on the other side with the invisible wall. To check out on the effectiveness we put grains of white rice at regular intervals on the dark carpet. We even put some very close to the wall for an extra challenge! Well, it took more than a few runs actually because the rotating side brush that flicks objects away from corners and walls also flicked these rice grains all over the place on the carpet... But, eventually all grains were swept up bar some near the wall. Good job. However, we also noticed that the invisible wall wasn’t always effective. We fiddled around a bit with its settings on subsequent tests and it seemed to work OK then.
There’s also a small UV lamp that is very useful in “sterilising” your carpet as it gets vacuumed. Great for allergy sufferers. Another general remark: this robotic vacuum cleaner works best when it doesn’t have to negotiate any rugs or small thresholds. We got plenty of rugs on hardwood floors and thresholds of different heights between various rooms in our old house. Plenty of opportunities for the Robomaid to get stuck. If it does, it just stops and chirps away its plight and location a few times a minute.
We also tried the mopping attachment. I’m not convinced that this is a good substitute for a bucket and mop. It is not designed for that purpose either, of course, but can help to keep any hardwood floor a bit cleaner in between the big mop jobs. We experimented with a wrung-out cloth onto the mopping holder, impregnated with a generous dab of tea tree oil and were pleased with the results.
The hall where our black Labrador resides, needs a daily clean because of all the hair she sheds... This robotic vacuum cleaner is awesome when it comes to picking up dog hair! And, what’s more: our dog was intrigued by but not afraid of the Robomaid. But she had seen me use it in the lounge first though, so I would recommend introducing any robot vacuum to a pet from a distance.
Cleaning up after the Cleaner
It’s almost like an oxymoron but, yes, you have to clean up after the Maid has done her cleaning. This aspect is just like using any other vacuum cleaner: you have to empty the dustbin, blow or shake the dust off the filters and get any long hairs off the rotating brush. That is all very easy to do and it is clear that the Robomaid is very well designed in this area. It will even tell you that the device is dirty when you conveniently forgot to do this. In the beginning this is unlikely to happen as I imagine that everyone wants to check up on how much dirt has been collected!
By now we know our new Aussie Maid so well that I feel we need to give her a name. In fact, that's exactly what the folks at Robomaid suggest: choose a name! I think we might go with Dusty…
Apart from having fun in demonstrating the Robomaid to office workers, family members and visitors, how good a vacuum cleaner is it? A surprisingly good one as evidenced by the daily collection in the dustbin. Will it replace your regular vacuum cleaner? Probably not. How else can you reach the cobwebs in the corners of your ceiling or reach the dark recesses of your couch? But you can probably replace the heavy duty, heavy to lug around vacuum cleaner that you hate to get out of the cupboard and get a lightweight Dustbuster-type to enable you to reach the corners.
We here at DigitalReviews always like to look at the value for money factor. The Robomaid scores very well here too as Robomaid Australia sells them for just $399. Compared to other similar robotic vacuum cleaners this is good value--even compared to standard vacuum cleaners. And while you’re checking out their website, have a look at some very instructional videos there of the inner workings of the Robomaid.