Robotic vacuum cleaners are hands-free, battery-powered gadgets that seek out and suck up dirt, debris and dust from carpeting and hard floors. Some even have damp-mopping capabilities. While robotic vacuums can't (yet) replace a dedicated upright vacuum, they are a great choice for light, daily cleanings and are especially popular with pet owners, allergy sufferers, those with very busy households, or just picky people who want the feeling of a clean house every time they walk in the door.
It's no contest when it comes to the best robotic vacuums -- iRobot rules the roost -- and the best of the best of these is the iRobot Roomba 880 (Est. $700). It earns high praise from experts and owners across the board for it superior performance on carpet -- an area where most robotic vacuums fare poorly. This Roomba features AeroForce technology, a brushless system that extracts dirt with a powerful suction system that also keeps it from becoming clogged -- as brushrolls are wont to do -- with carpet strings or long hair from humans or pets. It also needs to be cleaned less frequently than traditional, brushroll-designed robotic vacuums -- a chore that squeamish users are glad to leave behind them. It works equally well on hardwood floors, picking up even chunkier pieces of debris that have always proved challenging for robotic vacuum cleaners.
Best of all, the Roomba 880 is fully automated and programmable. Just set it up and, mostly, forget it. We say mostly because, inevitably, it will run into obstacles that it can't get around and you may need to free it. However, according to users, this is mostly an issue in multi-room homes or homes that tend to have a lot of furnishings or clutter. In general, it's reported as intuitive enough to figure out its way around just about anything. This latest version includes a larger capacity dustbin that before, but many users say it still seems small and needs to be emptied frequently, especially if you use it every day as many say they do.
When it's done cleaning, the Roomba returns to its dock, and an indicator light flashes amber when it's charging, glowing solid green when it's charged. Although user love its programmable features, the Roomba can also be used for in-person cleaning with the included remote. It also has a new feature that many praise, a spot clean feature: just set it down near an area with a lot of debris -- say, you spilled bunch of salt or flour or oats -- and choose the Spot option and it will rotate out in a 3-foot radius to clean up the mess.
While the Roomba is the top choice in iRobot's line, its less-expensive siblings get equally high praise from both expert and owner reviewers, so if the 880 is a bit too rich for your wallet, we would recommend that you strongly consider any Roomba in the 600 or 700 series
Most reviewers -- experts and users -- put the Roomba 880 at the top of their list when it comes to robotic vacuums, but Jonathan Chan at Reviewed.com is a big fan of the Neato Botvac (Est. $700). In testing, he says the Neato overcomes many of the issues that plague other robotic vacuum cleaners. One great feature that the Neato has that no other vacuum of its type does is a fan that blows dirt off baseboards and other surfaces, so that it can then vacuum up that dirt, rather than just vacuuming under it. Chan says this may be one of the reasons that the Neato picked up an above average amount of dirt compared to other robot vacuum cleaners they tested.
Still, the Neato Botvac is not as well reviewed by other experts -- it came in second to last in one professional roundup -- and owners don't like it as well either. Still, Chan says it does better on higher-pile carpets and thicker rugs than other robotic vacuums, so if that's something yours struggles with, you may want to trade it in for a Neato.