"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

Review: Roomba 690

Toby Roworth

Oct 1, 2018

A couple of weeks after I moved into my apartment, fitted with a deep pile carpet, I realised I needed a vacuum cleaner. On my boat I'd always gotten away with a Makita DCL180Z, a handheld vacuum, but this was never amazing, and would be a nightmare to clean a whole apartment with.
So I started looking for vacuums, and saw that a Roomba was a similar price to a decent upright. This week I review my new friend.

There are a range of robot vacuum cleaners available, with iRobot's Roomba products being the market leader. The range goes from simple bump-and-turn affairs to devices with cameras that map your home for more efficient cleaning. I choose the 690 which is the cheapest model with Wi-Fi, because everything is better with Wi-Fi.

Cleaning


I guess the most important job of any vacuum is to clean. The Roomba does a really good job with this, sucking and brushing up pretty much anything it drives over. The little spinning brush does a good job along the skirting boards, although lighter objects, like deceased 'roaches, can get flung across the floor rather that into the brushed. These usually get picked up when it drives over them though.
The carpet looks nicely fluffed up when finished, giving the flat a freshly hoovered look, although the random angles the machine drives at leaves ruts in the carpet. If these were straight, like striped on a lawn, I wouldn't mind, but they are all over the place.
The bucket is quite small, and filled up quickly on the first couple of cleans. However, now that the loose bits of carper have all come up, it's will go a few days without being emptied, on a daily clean.

Driving


The motors are plenty powerful, and generally deal with everything my flat can throw at them. This includes the long curtains, bathroom mat and, sometimes, the base of my chairs.
However, it can often get stuck on these chair legs. They're 15 mm high and, whilst sometimes, it drives over them with aplomb, there are other times where it simply gets stuck. Thanks to the connectedness of the robot, I get a notification every day telling me if it got home safely or get stuck under the chair again. I'd say so far it's 50/50, with me coming home some days and going on a Roomba-hunt.

When driving into things, it's powerful enough to move some of them - it sent a cardboard box halfway across the floor, but doesn't tend to move furniture very much at all.
The cliff sensor works very well, as it hasn't fallen down the stairs yet. This is good, as I don't think it would survive the drop, and I'm not sure whether the warranty covers such things.

Wayfinding


Given that we're now in the future, I expected the Roomba to be using machine learning to find the optimal cleaning path. However, in practice, it seems to be pretty random, often going over smaller areas with small entrances several times.
Using ML to drive a robot with only 1 input (hit a wall) and 2 outputs (move & turn) might be ambitious given the number of iterations needed to train a model compared to the number of times the machine does a cleaning job, but it's tempting to hack it in as a feature (something iRobot claim to encourage).
Anecdotally, it seems less stupid now it's a few days in, but I'm not convinced it's got any better in practice. This might be because it's detecting dirt less often, so isn't doing the manoeuvrers that send it around in circles.

Connectivity


The ability to start a cleaning job from anywhere in the world is nice, as are the notifications that tell me whether it's got lost or not.
It also connects to your favourite smart assistant, although Google hasn't yet been able to tell I'm saying "start the Roomba" instead of "stop the Roomba", which is quite frustrating.
In practice, however, I just run it on a schedule. Once I have reason to set up routines in the Google Assistant, I might get it to clean when I leave to house for work, rather than at 9 AM every day, but for now, the schedule works just fine.

Summary


On the whole, I'm glad I bought this device. It's not as smart as I hoped, but still does a good job of cleaning my floor every day. If you can't be bothered to hoover, but want a clean floor, I think the price is worthwhile, and is cheaper than most high-end vacuum cleaners. I doubt the higher end Roombas are really worth the extra money - they have some really nice features, but the best part of $1000 seems excessive.