How to buy the best robot vacuum cleaner
By Matthew Knight
How to buy the best robot vacuum cleaner
Your home cleaned by a robot. Sounds great doesn't it? Read on to find out how to make the dream a reality.
Are robot vacuum cleaners any good?
With some robot vacuums costing up to £800, you'll want to be sure they will leave your home free of dust without you lifting a finger. Unfortunately, our experience with robot vacuum cleaners suggests that, unless you choose carefully, you're likely to be underwhelmed. In fact, we've found just one robot that did a good enough job to earn the title of best robot vacuum cleaner.
Even the best robot vacuum cleaners can't match a standard vacuum cleaner for cleaning power though. And they can't tackle the annoying little bits of your home such as stairs, crevices and upholstery. So, while they can keep floors looking spick and span during the week, you'll still need to do a full-house vacuum every so often, unless you live in the most minimalist of glossy city apartments.
Our tough tests show that some robot vacuums do a much better job than others when it comes to navigating around obstacles and sucking up dust. In fact, some were just painful to watch. If you have a small, cluttered or otherwise tricky-to-negotiate home, you may find yourself spending more time freeing your robot vacuum from under sofas or chair legs than it will actually spend cleaning. Make sure you select one worthy of being let loose on your carpets by reading our robot vacuum cleaner reviews.
Buying the best robot vacuum cleaner
Find out how much you should expect to pay and the key features to look for, plus get the lowdown on the Dyson robot – the 360 Eye.
What to spend
Robot vacuum cleaners range from the very simple ones that will adopt a trial-and-error approach to finding their way around your floors, to high-end robots with Nasa-inspired navigation and remote control.
The cheapest models will set you back around £200-£350 (although Maplin sells a mini robot for £60), but fancier ones will cost a small fortune – up to £800 – which is more than seven times the cost of our cheapest Best Buy vacuum cleaner.
Robot vacuum cleaner features
Sensor technology: Most robot vacuums use some sort of smart sensor technology to help them negotiate their way around your home. For example, the has three sensors and a digital camera to stop itself from falling down stairs or colliding with furniture.
The most basic robots use infrared sensors to avoid falling off edges, and simply change direction when they bump against an obstacle, rather than actively mapping their environment, while more sophisticated systems will use laser-guided scanners, or a combination of cameras, sensors and 'virtual walls' to map out their cleaning environment, as well as dirt sensors to make sure they've done a thorough clean.
Remote control: Some robots include remote controls so that you can direct the vacuum from the comfort of your sofa, while others – such as the Neato BotVac – can be controlled via an app on your phone. You can manually schedule most robot vacuums to clean at a set time, but if you want the flexibility of remote control, look for a model with smart functionality for the ultimate in automated home cleaning.
Battery life: Most robot vacs come with a docking station that they will automatically return to when they need recharging, but some cheaper models need to be plugged in – which could mean you come home to a half-cleaned living room. Make sure you also check how long the robot takes to recharge before you can send it off on another mission, as we've found that this can vary between models.
Brush type: The brushes on your robot vac will determine how well it cleans and whether it can reach any tight spots. The has a brush bar with beaters to lift dirt to the surface and suck it up, while recent models from Samsung and iRobot have included full-width turbo brush bars, which can mean better floor coverage. Sweeper brushes – spindly little brushes that rotate on the edge of the vac – may look futile, but can be handy for directing dirt into the path of the vacuum.
Cleaning modes: Generally speaking, the more you spend, the more choice of cleaning modes you'll get. For example, the has everything from auto mode, where you can programme it to automatically move around a space once or until it runs out of battery, to spot clean, where it will focus on a particular area of your choice.
Dust capacity: Don’t be blinded by all the fancy features, as you still need a vacuum cleaner that has a decent dust capacity. Robot vacuums hold much less grime than a standard vacuum, so look for a bigger capacity if you don't want to be emptying the canister too frequently.
If you want to leave most of the floor cleaning to your robot vacuum, it might be worth picking up a cheap handheld vacuum cleaner for the smaller jobs that a robot can't reach. See our top-rated handheld vacuum cleaners to find the best.
What about the Dyson 360 Eye?
Dyson has been teasing the launch of its 360 Eye robot vacuum since late 2014, when it launched in Japan. It finally launched in the UK in July 2016, just in time for our first ever test of robot vacuum cleaners. Jump straight to the full Dyson 360 Eye review, or read on for more information on what to expect.
At just under £800, Dyson says its 360-degree vision mapping system ensures that the 360 Eye cleans floors logically and thoroughly. It takes up to 30 pictures each second to help map its surroundings and plot a cleaning path.
The 360 Eye also has tank-style tracked wheels, which should help it to easily negotiate obstacles such as doorsteps between rooms. Its full-width turbo brush can reach all the way to edges, and it sports the kind of top-end Dyson tech that you'll find in other Dyson products, such as its digital motor and radial root cyclone technology.
Dyson says that this hidden tech means that its robot can clean better than rivals, without compromising on battery life. Like other new robot vacuum cleaners from iRobot, Neato and Samsung, the Dyson 360 Eye can also be controlled remotely via an app on your smartphone.
Which? robot vacuum cleaner reviews
We've tested eight popular robot vacuum cleaners to find out which models really will clean your house. We found one brilliant Best Buy robot vacuum cleaner, but we also uncovered two terrible models to avoid. Find out which robot came out on top by visiting Best Buy robot vacuum cleaners, and clue up on the models to avoid by checking our robot vacuums to avoid.