Okay, so we haven't quite made it to the Jetsons era where Rosie the robot does all the household cleaning, then has dinner ready when we get home. But in 2016, you can invite a robot into your home to help with at least one chore: vacuuming. As technology advances, robot vacuums are getting smarter and more powerful, and there are now endless options when it comes to choosing a device that will zoom around while you're out, dealing with the dirt, dust, and other yuck that never seems to stop accumulating on your floors.
As ubiquitous as they are—I mean, mainstream late night TV is playing Roomba pong —it's likely you've been thinking about getting a robot vacuum, but are skeptical. Both about whether they actually work (spoiler alert: they do) or if there's one that's able to navigate your unique home (likely yes; check out our recommendations below).
One thing they can't do is take over all the vacuuming, all the time. You'll still need to do a deep clean with a regular vacuum or mop every couple of weeks, but the robots can handle the in-between time, freeing you up to focus on more important tasks. Yes, they do sometimes get stuck—under couches, on carpet edges, on computer cords—but they're getting more shrewd about avoiding those kinds of hazards, and newer (more expensive) models even come with smartphone apps that allow you to monitor their progress and control them remotely.
If you're thinking of investing in your first robot vac, check out these three top picks first, chosen with different homes in mind. Each has features that may make it just right for your abode.
For urban apartment dwellers:
The iRobot Roomba 650 ($324) is not the newest, sexiest, or most powerful option—it's a tried-and-true pick. It's the number one best seller in the category on Amazon, with thousands of positive reviews, and is the most affordable for the quality it delivers. It adjusts from carpet to tile to hardwood with ease, so it's great if you have a one-level home with some area rugs or different floor surfaces to tread on. Users report that it also gets stuck on obstacles the least, making it great for small, cluttered spaces, like city apartments. You can schedule it to clean up to 7 times per week, so just set it and forget it (just give your cat some warning before it starts patrolling your living room).
For suburban families:
Like iRobot, Neato Robotics is a trusted name in the category, and the Neato Botvac D80 ($434) uses laser floor mapping to more effectively clean large, open spaces without missing spots (i.e. that open-floor-plan living-dining room with minimalist decor). Users say it's also better than the Roomba on higher pile carpets and is great with pet hair, so yes, send it into your 5-year-old daughter's bedroom where the dogs always seem to end up sleeping.
It's smart enough to know when it needs more power (it returns back to it's dock to charge, and then goes back out to finish the job), and the innovative D-Shape and special CornerClever technology lets it get close to walls and into corners so no dust bunny is left behind. It can even detect stairs and refrain from taking a dive off them, making it perfect for multi-level homes. And if you have anywhere specific you don't want it to go (say, the 1000-piece puzzle your kids are working on in the corner of the family room), you can lay down boundary markers so your Botvac keeps its distance.
The D80 is about to phased out by a new crop of connected vacuums, so it's a great time to snag one if you don't care about running your vacuum from an app. The about-to-be released Botvac D3 Connected model ($399) is Wifi-enabled, so you can keep track of it's comings and goings, schedule it and activate it right from the Neato app. It will have a smaller battery and filter than the D80, and it won't come with the boundary markers, but you won't find a smarter vacuum for the price.
For those who want the top of the line:
The Dyson 360 Eye ($999) is the splashiest new addition to the robot vacuum realm, so it's probably for you if you're the must-have-the-newest-coolest-gadget type (and if you have a thousand bucks to spend on a vacuum... ahem). It claims to have twice the suction of any competitor, boasts a futuristic design, and is linked to an app that allows you to schedule and control your robot from afar. The same revolutionary cyclone technology found in Dyson's other vacuums has been shrunk to fit in the 360 eye, but all that extra suction comes at a cost— a taller, louder vacuum that might have trouble slipping under lower furniture (if you're style is low-to-the-floor, it might not be for you).
Some testers, like CNET, have found it's performance to be "solidly recommendable," yet no better than other higher-end connected vacuums like the Neato Botvac D5 ($599) or the iRobot Roomba 980 ($899), which both cost considerably less. Still, if you love Dyson's aesthetic, or just want the Rolls Royce of vacuums, it's your best pick.
Do you use a robot vacuum, and does it work well for you? Share your experiences in the comments, below!