The second I hear “Roomba,” I just immediately think about salsa dancing as opposed to a robotic vacuum cleaner, but as we all know, it certainly applies to the latter as well. iRobot, the company behind the brand, has been revamping their line of of robotic vacuums lately, and one of the things they have focused on has been pet owners. As a staff member of TechnoBuffalo with five dogs, it made sense that I would be the one to receive a review unit from the company to test it out, and that is what I have been doing over the past few weeks.
Does a robotic vacuum do as it promises? Does it make it so I never have to take out my upright vacuum again? Or does it just make it less frequent? Lets take a look at the Roomba 770 and what it can do for you.
Roomba 770 Pros
- Cleans deeper than you suspect it would
- Definitely cuts down on how often you feel the need to do a full vacuuming
- Quickly learns its environment
Roomba 770 Cons
- Tad on the heavy side (8.4 lbs) for physically weaker owners
- Price tag
- Can bang into furniture a bit harder than you might like
Best For: Busy people with pets and those who may be handicapped or disabled.
Website: Roomba 770
Suggested Retail Price: $499.99
Roomba 770 Hardware
The Roomba 770 follows the familiar shape of the product line, being a roundish device without very much visible to the naked eye as it tools around vacuuming up pet hair, dust and so on. The physical button controls on the top are also not new, but the number you have to deal with have dropped from five to four, and in general they seem to be easier to read and communicate with thanks to better lights than previous versions had. Through a series of different lights you know when the Roomba needs you to empty its dustbin or when it thinks its found a particularly dirty spot so you don’t think it’s gone crazy just running over the same place over and over again.
After receiving the Roomba, I had a moment to talk with Maurice Leacock, senior technical product manager for iRobot, about the device, and the repeated cleaning was one of the things that puzzled me. He explained that the newest models feature a concentrated dirt sensor as well as both optical acoustic detectors to tell where dirt is, and when the bin is full. Yes, your new robot vacuum is both listening to and seeing the dirt as it picks it up. Hear that? It’s the phone, and it’s The Jetsons calling from the future.
Maintaining the Roomba 770 is a breeze with the easy to remove dustbin and beaters. Flip it over, hit the bright yellow tabs, and you know you’re taking out something you’re supposed to. Removing a brush on a traditional vacuum can be a pain, and quite often involves a screwdriver, but with the Roomba it’s all snaps and shaped parts that make it nearly impossible to mess up.
The 700 series is the first Roombas to feature HEPA filters, and while I have never been crystal clear on what these do, I do know that you need to pop them out every so often, bang them on the inside of the trash can and dust and dirt comes falling out of them. iRobot does include a spare set in the box for replacement down the road.
Included with the device is a remote control which, at first, I thought was pretty ridiculous as the Roomba is supposed to just take care of itself. However, say you’re sitting on the couch and you spot some dirt … okay, it’s just plain lazy, but it’s kinda fun calling the 770 out of its dock remotely to come over and vacuum it up. That being said, when I thought about it more, what a great idea for an elderly, handicapped or physically disabled person. Sure, I could just walk over and pick the dust up, but what about the person who can’t bend over easily for any number of reasons? It’s easy to dismiss the remote at first, but the more you think about it, the more sense it makes.
If there is any failing on the hardware side of things, it’s the invisible walls. The Roomba 770 comes with two little plastic towers that run on two C batteries each and tell the robot where you don’t want it to go. More often than not they worked, but every so often I’d see him scooting past one of them, leaving his domain in the living room for the kitchen. Why they sometimes let him by is a mystery to me, but it’s a minor nuisance.
Second failing? Depending on the height of your carpet, the Roomba can sometimes push the dock around when it’s trying to return home for charging. The dock has to be against something that isn’t especially slick, and the shorter the carpet the better for it to dock successfully. I did finally get it work out on plush carpeting, but it take several placement attempts to find a place that would work every time.
Roomba 770 Software
As you really don’t interact with the software, this is a bit more arbitrary to assess. There are times where the device seems insanely smart, and other times where you go, “Why did you do that?” For instance, banging into the corner of a table and then repeatedly banging into it as it tries to assess the dimensions of said piece of furniture. Considering the number of sensors the Roomba 770 has you would think it might figure this out a bit sooner, but there it sits, bouncing against the furniture repeatedly. It also seemed to have an odd fascination with going under my couch … like, a lot. True it’s supposed to do the whole room, but every time I turned around, there it would go again.
During my conversation with Mr. Leacock I did bring up the “homebrew” community that has sprung up around Roombas. For those unfamiliar with the term, homebrew is when someone takes a device, gets into its software and makes it do something it wasn’t designed to do so. While some companies (we’re looking at you Sony) don’t like consumers doing this, iRobot embraces them. He even reminded me of a video I had seen some time back of a game of Pac-Man made with five Roombas.
iRobot encourages you to find new uses for your vacuum, although I doubt this is what they had in mind.
The Roomba 770 isn’t going to eliminate your need for a more powerful, traditional vacuum, but it is certainly going to cut down on how often you have to run it. There is something oddly satisfying to coming coming home and seeing the tracks in your carpeting that tell you the Roomba was out on patrol for dirt and you didn’t have to lift a finger to do it. The price is prohibitive for those that have never tried one before, but once you have, you really don’t want to go back to life without it.
Four out of five stars for the Roomba 770. (One star lost for price, dock movement and randomness of invisible walls)