iRobot has started a new marketing campaign, which coincides with the re-design of their website. It features a contest on YouTube where you can submit a video of yourself dancing like a robot to a song you download from their site (song is available here). The company will be giving away 20 Roomba vacuum cleaning robots to winners, and will also be giving three of the finalists a limited edition trophy. We’re hoping that they’ll be giving away the Roomba 780. You can enter here. Entries must be less than a minute long and be submitted before May 13.
We’ve tested the Neato Robotics XV-11, iRobot Roomba 780, and the Evolution Mint and Mint Plus robots, and decided to put together something like a consumer reports style buying guide which compares and contrasts these products. All of these robotic floor cleaners are great labor-saving devices, but which device is going to be better for you depends on your preferences and situation.
In our testing, all the robots did a good job of cleaning floors, so cleaning in and of itself isn’t a reason to choose one brand over another. One of the things to keep in mind is that these devices have cumulative effect. So the more you use them, the more clean your floors will be overall. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these robots:
Pros: Powerful vacuuming, maps the room, avoids bumping furniture, can vacuum whole house in one go, can be scheduled, has auto charging dock. Mostly easy to maintain and in our limited testing requires less maintenance than the Roomba. Cons: No dirt-detect, no side brush, misses corners and areas right against furniture. Noisy. Will occasionally get lost or stuck. Can and will eat cords.
Pros: Thorough vacuuming from a product which has been around a long time and thus has been improved and upgraded over the years. Many models can be scheduled, will detect dirty areas, and have auto charging docks. Newer models like Roomba 780 detect when they’ve sucked up cords and will spit them out. Cons: Noisy, brushes and beaters require regular maintenance, robot runs into furniture,
Mint and Mint Plus
Pros: Silent, thorough, easy to use, maps the room as it goes, extremely easy to maintain. Can do double-duty, mopping as well as sweeping. Doesn’t require much room prep. Doesn’t eat cords. Takes up less storage space than the competition. Cons: Can’t be scheduled, doesn’t do carpets, won’t automatically dock to charger.
There really are some differences. Check out these two movies which compare how these three robots handle the same tasks, cleaning around a table leg and cleaning a corner.
Head to head
Neato XV-11 vs iRobot Roomba Executive Summary: We think that if the XV-11 had a side brush, and could stop eating cords, it would beat the Roomba, but for now, iRobot has the lead with the 700 Series robots.
By virtue of the fact that it runs into everything in the room, the Roomba is generally more noisy than the XV-11, which has a louder vacuum and beater. The Roomba strikes me as being more thorough, since it has a side brush, gets into corners better, and can fit under more furniture. The iRobot vacuum cleans sort of randomly, whereas the Neato maps out the room and cleans methodically, but our opinion is that, in the end, this doesn’t make that much of a difference to how clean the robot makes the room.
The XV-11 generally takes 30 minutes to clean our living room, and the Roomba takes about 50 minutes. The place where the XV-11 really outshines the Roomba is when it cleans multiple rooms. If you have thoroughly prepped all the rooms on one floor of your house, you can set the XV-11 running (or schedule it), and it will vacuum the entire floor with no human intervention and no need for arranging lighthouses. In our case, that’s a kitchen, bathroom, living room, office, and bedroom. Also, the XV-11 doesn’t bang into furniture and walls. Although it will gently bump things here and there, it is much more gentle with your furniture.
Neato XV-11 vs Evolution Mint Cleaner Executive Summary: If your house is mostly hardwood floors/linoleum or you’re only interested in cleaning your kitchen and bathroom, the Mint is the clear winner. If purchasing a robot to clean lots of carpeted areas, then the Neato wins.
As with all comparisons to vacuum cleaners, the first thing that must be mentioned is that the Mint doesn’t do carpets. So if your house is mostly carpeted, your choice to get an XV-11 instead is a no brainer. Our seriously unscientific timing indicated that the Mint is usually faster to clean a room for some reason. The Mint is almost silent. The Mint doesn’t suck up things like cords and cables, and so the Mint is less obnoxious and requires less room prep before running.
The Mint is shorter than the XV-11 and thus can fit under more furniture than an XV-11. So once again, in an uncarpeted room, the Mint is going to be a little more thorough because it can get in more spots and also because it does corners way better. Sadly, the Mint cannot be scheduled. Again, as with the comparison to the Roomba, the XV-11 outshines the Mint in multi-room cleaning, and is also (just a little tiny bit) more gentle on furniture and walls than the Mint.
Evolution Mint Cleaner vs iRobot Roomba Executive Summary: As with the above comparison, if your house isn’t mostly carpeted or you’re only interested in cleaning your kitchen and bathroom, the Mint is the clear winner. If you are interested in cleaning a carpeted house then the Roomba wins.
Yep, the Mint can’t do carpets. So that should be your number one factor in deciding between the two robots. The Mint cleans rooms much faster and is methodical where the Roomba is thorough with repetition. The Mint is quiet enough that you can have a phone conversation in the same room, whereas the Roomba you will want to run it when you’re not at home. The Mint doesn’t require as much room prep and almost no maintenance
Besides being the carpeting champ, the Roomba can be scheduled and also handles multi-room situations better than the Mint. The Roomba requires much more maintenance.
Mint vs iRobot Scooba Executive Summary: Problems with the Scooba line make it a robot we can’t recommend. For instance, see this Amazon page for user reviews of the iRobot Scooba 380. This is true of the older Scoobas, as well as the new Scooba 230, which we reviewed here. Please see our comparison article, here.
If you’re looking for a mopping robot, you should really spring the extra money for the Mint Plus (a.k.a. the Mint model 5200), which has a special mopping head. See our review of the 5200 Mint here.
And so there you have it. If you’ve got a house with a lot of carpeting, we recommend the Roomba 700 series robots over the Neato XV-11. There are cases where a person might want to go with the XV-11, which can clean a whole house floor in one go and is more gentle on the furniture. It’s also a little less expensive than most of the Roombas. For someone who is just buying a robot for kitchen and bathroom floors, the Mint is the obvious choice. With the Mint you get good performance and reliability at a much lower price. For a house that is mostly hardwood floors, the Mint might be the best choice there, too, depending on how many area rugs and how important some of the Roomba features (like scheduling) are to you.
Continuing our in-depth coverage of the iRobot Roomba 780 robot vacuum cleaner, I would be remiss in not comparing a Roomba 700 series to a 500 series. In particular, we took both robots and had them vacuum the same room, one after the other, the same way we did in our Mint Cleaner vs Roomba 700 Series comparison. I should also note that there is already some information comparing the 500 Series and 700 Series Roombas, here in our 780 review.
So let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about the differences between the two robots. On the left is a Roomba 535. One of the biggest differences is that all the 700 Series robots have on-board scheduling. As mentioned elsewhere, the 760, 770, and 780 have a new cleaning head designed to pick up finer particles, AreoVac Series 2 dust bins which have better suction, and a 50% longer battery life. In the 770 and 780 only, there is a new improved Dirt Detect feature and a bin full indicator light on the top of the robot. The 780 has a touchpad control instead of buttons on the top.
As you can see in the photo above, the 780 has two more cliff sensors behind the drive wheels, for a total of six. This enables the robot to back up, which is something that the 780 does and the 535 doesn’t do. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is entirely new to the 700 Series robot vacuums. When the Dirt Detect kicks in, they do a spot clean, and unlike earlier Roombas, which circled around a dirty spot, the 700 series actually runs back and forth over the spot.
Another new feature that is easy to overlook is that the battery has a door. On the 535, you have to take the whole bottom off of the vacuum to get to the battery. On the 780, there is an easy to open port. You’ll also notice that the side brushes are different. The 535 has six arms while the 780 has three. I did not notice any real difference in performance between these two brushes.
Here they are with the bottoms taken off. Again the 535 is on the left. As mentioned in the 780 review, the cleaning head has been redesigned. It has been my experience so far that it collects less hair around the beater bearings. The cleaning head in past Roombas has been something of a magnet for controversy because it has a gear box on one side which is designed in such a way that it’s not completely sealed. So some of them may slowly collect fine debris inside, and as such eventually it may have problems or need to be replaced. The jury is still out on whether or not this will continue to be a problem with the 700 Series, but a careful look at it reveals that some changes have been made to the design. Only time will tell whether or not this will make a difference.
The battery, side brush component, wheels, and even the cleaning head all appear to be interchangeable between the two robots. The caster wheels appear to be identical. I was able to pop all the modules all out of one robot, and then insert them into the other. I wasn’t brave enough to turn them on with the parts exchanged, but I did note that the side brush unit has identical part numbers on the circuit board. The wheel units appear to be identical with the exception that the newer wheels lack a hole that is in the older ones, and are labeled L and R.
The batteries for these two Roombas appear to be the same but have different part numbers. On the 500 Series, the battery is part number UNH071113 0740. On the 780, the battery is labeled “Model 3000”. Both are APS (Advanced Power System). Both are Ni-MH. Both appear to be made of the same number of cells. The Model 3000 is listed on iRobot’s site as having 3000 milliampere-hour (mAh). I’ve done a little research on the other battery and can only assume that it is the same.
As mentioned above, the 700 Series Roombas have a new suction and bin component, called “AeroVac Series 2.” This new one is the top bin pictured here. The new bins are one single chamber with two HEPA filters on the top. When you really look at them with an eye towards comparison, it’s a little bit hard to tell which bin can hold more, because the older bins have an extra compartment on the bottom. Of course, this is the area that the smaller particles end up in, so it doesn’t really fill up as much, at least in my experience. If you consider them side by side, though, it does look like the newer one will hold more debris. The newer bin is easier to clean. You just knock it out, and then pull out the two filters and knock them out. With the older bins, you have to knock out the top, then open the bottom and knock it out, and then pull the filter out of the bottom and knock that out. The filter in the older ones is kind of fiddly with getting it put back in. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable.
When running the robots, they both seem equally loud. The Roomba 780 sounds a little different on carpet, like the beaters are working harder or something. It also appeared to me, just from watching the two robot vacuum cleaners in action, that the 780 did a better job of seeing objects in its path and slowing down before bumping into them. In other words, the 535 plowed into more furniture at full speed than the 780 did. Something interesting did happen when we first ran the 780 on one of our carpeted rooms, though. It looked to us like the carpet was cleaner than we could remember having seen it in a long time. We decided that further testing was required.
So we set up our living room as a test area. This included scattering some extra dirt and lint around to give the robots a good test. We ran the 500 series Roomba first, and then followed it up with the 700 series robot. The we did the same thing but backwards in another room in the house. In the living room test, we also set up a small area with some cords to see if either robot would get stuck, or if they would run off with any of the cords. The living room area is about 150 square feet and has a large area rug in the center. It also has an entertainment center, a dining table, a cabinet, a couch, and an easy chair. It needs to be noted that both robots were run with new batteries, but the 535 has an old filter, even though I spent some time cleaning it out before this test. So the 500 Series has a little handicap.
And here are the results from the 535 cleaning the living room. It took an hour to complete the room, and did a decent job of cleaning. There were a few visible fuzzies left in the carpet that the cleaning head didn’t seem to be able to pull out of the pile. The Dirt Detect light came on when it went over some of the dirty areas we had set up for the test. The 535 got kind of tangled in the cable trap, but made it out OK, and didn’t pull anything out after it. (I do have to say that this robot does have a reputation for getting tangled up in cords and once somehow managed to topple a floor lamp.) So as you can see, after cleaning the room, the dust bin was maybe a third full in the top, and there was some fine dust in the bottom chamber of the bin.
Then we ran the Roomba 780 in the same room, right after we ran the 535. The 780 finished the room in 45 minutes, which was 15 minutes faster than the other robot vaccum. Also, I noticed that the 780, when doing the rug, kept finding dirty spots. So the Dirt Detect light would go on, and the Roomba would go over the same spot a couple of times. I counted this four different times, and thought that it was pretty interesting, considering that the 535 hadn’t found any Dirt Detect areas on the rug. Also, as noted above, the 780 Roomba sounded like it was really doing more with the beaters on the rug. So how did it do?
Wow! I was really shocked to find that the 780’s dust bin was completely full! Check this out. We ran this robot after the 535 had cleaned the floor, and there was actually more debris in the dust bin than was in the 535.
We discussed the results and thought that maybe our carpet is an endless supply of lint and dirt. So of course the 780 would come up with some more dirt. But that doesn’t explain why the 780 would come up with more dirt. So we ran the 535 again.
And it basically came up with lint. Not satisfied, we ran the same test in a another carpeted room, except that in that room we ran the 780 first and then followed it up with the 535. I’m not going to post the photos from that one, but again, we found that the 780 picked up more debris, although the 535 found plenty too, it wasn’t as dramatic a difference.
So there you have it. It looks like the iRobot Roomba 780 is a real upgrade from a 500 Series robot vacuum cleaner. So if you’re trying to decide if you should spend the extra money on a newer Roomba, the answer is: Yes.