Tue. May 21st, 2024


Robot vacuums make a lot of sense for renters and homeowners who don’t have the cleaning time and man-power that a traditional vacuum demands. But guess what? I don’t actually own a robot vacuum, and the main reason why is how expensive they can be.



That being said, if I were to buy a bot vac, I wouldn’t spend less than $500. Here are five reasons why.


Robot Vacuums and Me: A Brief History

I’ve been testing and reviewing consumer tech products for the better part of three years. Smart home devices are a major focus area of mine, which is why I’ve had my hands on my fair share of robot vacuums. I’ve tested models from brands like iRobot, Roborock, Xiaomi, and many others.

My hands-on bot vac reviews include important should-you-buy criteria like design, price, battery life, and whether or not the free control app is any good. This is why some people find it surprising that I don’t own one of these gadgets myself.


Cheaper Robot Vacs Take a Long Time to Clean

iRobot Roomba Combo J5+ vacuum on hardwood floor.
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

Most mid-range and premium robot vacuums use advanced mapping technologies to perform a 3D scan of your home. Once these digital blueprints are stored in your bot’s brain, you’ll usually be able to pull up these maps through a companion app (more on these later). When it’s time to clean, your vac will use those maps, in addition to navigation tech like cameras and sensors, to perform the most thorough cleanup possible.

Entry-level bot vacs typically opt for another, less efficient approach. The unofficial terminology is called “bump and run,” which is a great phrase for describing how cheaper bot vacs operate.

To save you money, the manufacturer shuns more advanced mapping and navigation tools in favor of collision-based movement. Once the cheap bot starts cleaning, it sets off in a random direction, until it bumps into a wall or piece of furniture. After a few seconds of pivoting, the bot will continue on its cleaning path until it bumps into something else.


On paper, the idea is that eventually the bot vac will have cleaned your whole home. The reality is, without sensors and cameras, there’s really no telling how long it will take the bump-and-run tactic to achieve a spotless home. It’s also a way bigger draw on your vacuum’s battery, and a big nuisance when the vac gets stuck under furniture for the umpteenth time. Not to mention all the colliding!

Fortunately, even cheap robot vacuums have padded bumpers and wall or furniture bumping doesn’t occur at particularly fast speeds. But you probably don’t want a vacuum regularly slamming into your heirlooms.

Cheaper Robot Vacs Have Shorter Battery Life


One of the most important parts of a robot vacuum is its battery. A majority of bots are equipped with rechargeable lithium-ion cells, and come with charging docks in the box. When the battery starts running low, the bot is usually smart enough to return to the dock for a re-juice.

The problem with cheap robot vacuums is that they’ll usually make more trips to the charging dock, and they’ll spend longer waiting for the battery to recharge. This is because manufacturers save you money by outfitting the bot with a battery that can hold less juice than more expensive models. Less power means less time cleaning, and more time recharging.

Budget-friendly models may only have enough charge to tackle an hour or so of cleaning before having to return to the charging dock. In my experience, the worst part is having to wait for a full charge cycle to complete, which can take up to two hours (or more).

Now, battery capacity isn’t the only thing that affects your bot’s battery power. Cleaning features like high-powered suction modes can also impact performance, but these are often features you’ll be able to limit and control.


Cheaper Robot Vacs Have Fewer Cleaning Features

Let’s be real: You’re using a robot vacuum because you want to your home to be clean. While one shouldn’t necessarily expect the kind of results that an upright vac and elbow grease achieve, some of the best robot vacs can do a terrific job at digging down into carpet fibers, getting into nooks and crannies, and depositing all the dirt when the job is done.

Entry-level robot vacuums tend to skimp on the most advanced cleaning features. One of the first things to go is an automatic dirt disposal tank. This, by far, is one of my favorite parts of using a robot vacuum. Once the bot finishes a cleaning cycle, it returns to the dirt disposal tank to deposit everything it just sucked up, storing all the crud in a removable bag. These disposal tanks often double as charging docks too.


Unfortunately, a dirt disposal tank isn’t a necessity, as you can just manually empty your vac’s dirt contents into a trash bag yourself. But I’ve dealt with many a plume of vacuum ash getting in my eyes, hair, and lungs, and this kind of thing seldom happens when there’s a disposal tank on standby.

Lesser-priced bot vacs also tend to have less suction power, cheaper brushes, less onboard filtration (which is important for those of us who use air purifiers to remove airborne pollutants), and fewer automated features, such as the bot’s ability to automatically adjust suction based on carpet thickness.

Oh, and if you’re spending less than $250, you can pretty much kiss any mopping abilities goodbye.

Cheaper Robot Vacs May Require More Maintenance

Underneath the Roborock Q Revo.
Michael Bizzaco / Review Geek


Brushes, filters, and dirt disposal bags may not be the most expensive bot vac accessories, but if you’re constantly needing to replace these items, costs can add up quickly.

Higher-priced models are often equipped with higher-end components, like tough rubber brush-heads and silicone-bristled side-sweeping brushes. I once tested a Roborock Q Revo that even had the ability to wash and dry mop heads through the dirt disposal tank!

If you use your robot vacuum a lot, you’re going to wear down cheaper brushes far quicker than you would a slightly better-made version of the same accessory. And if you happen to find a budget-friendly bot vac with a dirt disposal tank, chances are it’s going to have limited storage capacity. This means you’ll be changing out dirt disposal bags more frequently too.

Cheaper Robot Vacs Have Lackluster Apps (or No Apps)

A person using a phone to access live footage from a robot vacuum.
Ecovacs


This is a real make-or-break point for me. Considering most robot vacs can connect to Wi-Fi to offer users web-connected features, having an intuitive dashboard for all of the settings and cleaning controls is very important.

In my experience, cheaper robot vacs can have some truly puzzling apps. I’ve seen a few UI layouts with crucial settings (like suction power) hidden away or completely missing. I’ve also seen interfaces riddled with typos, and apps with horrendous setup wizards that can never seem to get your bot vac connected to Wi-Fi. One time, I even reset all of my internet equipment, and the entry-level bot I was testing still wouldn’t connect.

These inferior apps might lack features like scheduling, cleaning logs, and no-go zones (virtual boundaries you can draw to keep your bot away from certain parts of your home). There’s also less chance that your bot will be compatible with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.


Some of the cheapest bot vacs may not have an app at all, which is something you’ll want to confirm before buying. Not everyone wants to be tethered to their phone or tablet, but if you’re expecting mobile-friendly controls, you should make a competent app a priority when purchasing.

There’s Still Hope for Cheap Robot Vacs

Not everyone has $500 or more burning a hole in their pocket (myself included), so I understand the appeal of throwing down less money for a cost-friendly robot vacuum. But do keep in mind that when it comes to bot vacs, this is very much a corner of the consumer tech world where you get what you pay for.

I don’t think entry-level robot vacs are entirely bad. If you’re okay with not having certain features, or needing to recharge the battery more often, a cheaper model probably makes a lot of sense. But as for me, if ever I wanted a bot vac all my own, I’d save, save, and save some more until I had enough to cover the cost of a mid-range or premium iRobot or Roborock cleaning champ.


Looking for some bot vac inspiration? Check out our favorite robot vaccuums (including a few budget options).



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By John P.

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