Life is short and cleaning eats up precious time that could be spent having fun playing with the latest gadgets. You could get a cleaner, but they’re not cheap and they won't put a smile on your face like an iRobot Roomba.
These robo-vacs promise to diligently trundle around your home cleaning your floors while you're doing something more interesting. Some, like the new 580 model tested here, can be programmed to clean once a day, seven days a week. That's a lot of vacuuming.
Easy to use
The Roomba 560 got four stars when we tested it in late 2007, and the 580 is almost identical, which bodes well. The main difference is that you get some extra accessories: a wireless remote, a third ‘Virtual Wall Lighthouse’, and some spare brushes and filters.
Operation is simple: hit ‘Clean’ and the 580 disengages from its charging dock and starts ambling around the room, vacuuming as it goes.
Its movements may seem fairly random – it spirals, zig-zags, hugs the walls for a bit and then suddenly heads off across the room – but they allow it to build up a map of the floor area, so it knows where it’s cleaned and when a room is finished.
Finding the right path
When the Roomba senses an obstacle, it slows down, gently bumps into it, then turns by a few degrees and tries again until it finds a clear path. Should it get tangled up with a cable or the tassels of a rug, it’ll back up and try and unwind itself.
And if it gets really stuck, is full, or needs attention for some other reason it’ll bleep a few times and often tell you what the problem is – our 580 asked us to clean its cliff sensors, for example, which are what stop it from diving down the stairs.
The 580 will clean four average-sized rooms on a single charge, and navigates between rooms using the Virtual Wall Lighthouses – set these up at each doorway and they initially confine the vac to that room using an infrared beam to block the exit, but once the Roomba has finished in room one the beam switches off and it navigates to room two and so on.
Once all the rooms are clean, or if the vac is running low on charge, it uses the Lighthouses to find its way back to the charging dock.
Upgrades over the 560
The Wireless Command Centre remote replicates the buttons on the top of the main unit and adds directional controls so you can steer the Roomba yourself.
It lets you programme and control your vac from afar and drive it straight to a spot that needs cleaning instead of carrying it. The remote is large and plasticky, and probably of most use to people who have trouble bending down or lifting things.
The extra Lighthouse is more useful because it allows the Roomba to clean a fourth room in one session. It’s not strictly necessary to use the Lighthouses to separate rooms – the 580 will simply treat two or more as one oddly shaped space, but the cleaning is faster if you do.
If your home has more than four rooms you want to be regularly cleaned, you can buy extra Lighthouses for £25. However, unless they’re quite small the vac will have to recharge itself before carrying on.
The extra brushes and filters, meanwhile, would no doubt prove useful as parts wear out, but they seem a bit of a odd inclusion to a new purchase. Time will tell whether they’re included because the parts don’t last very long. It’s worth noting that a maintenance kit of the same parts is available for £20.
The 580 performed very well, keeping our floors cleaner than normal, not least because of the frequency they were vacuumed. Of course, the more the Roomba cleans, the more you have to empty it out, but that’s a fast and simple operation.
Cleaning the brushes is less so, and iRobot suggests you do this after every three cleaning sessions. That could become a bit of a chore, but a quick scan of the internet suggests that it’s needed to prevent your vac breaking down pretty quickly. Still, five minutes of brush cleaning every week is better than an hour or more of vacuuming.
Granted, it’s not got the power of a Dyson, can’t climb stairs, and won’t get into the nooks and crannies a human would target – but it does most of the cleaning for you, and that’s got to be a good thing.
The 580’s biggest drawback is its price – £400 is a lot of money for a vacuum cleaner, and the 560 can now be picked up for less than £200 with the extra accessories available for another £75. Still, we’re fans of the Roomba and are now hankering after a hovering nanobot that’ll do the dusting as well. iRobot, over to you.