Roomba Review: “Not the Best” is Far from “Bad”

Over the summer, I had the chance to pick up a hand-me-down Roomba. Nothing cutting edge. (Specifically, it’s a 650 model, which you can still pick up refurbished on Amazon, though I don’t see unused ones being sold there.) I’d always toyed with the idea of having a Roomba, but I didn’t know how well they’d actually work. Getting one gratis was a wonderful way to find out.

What’s the verdict?

The bottom line is that Denisa and I are definite fans, and the house is certainly much better swept and vacuumed than it used to be.

To get into the weeds a bit, let’s talk about how our Roomba works. You’d like to think it’s got sensors and remembers where everything in the room is, developing a map and using cunning robotic intelligence to efficiently and effectively vacuum a room. You’d be wrong. Maybe the newer ones do that, but ours just has one directive: vacuum. It vacuums in a straight line until it hits an obstacle. When it hits that obstacle, it turns a random amount, and then tries to go in a straight line again. Sometimes that means it goes right back along the place it already vacuumed.

It is far–very far–from efficient.

However, the wonderful thing about the Roomba is that I am not doing any of the vacuuming. You set it up and walk away. When you come back a half hour later or whatever, the room is magically vacuumed or swept. (Or the Roomba is stuck. That also happens. But if that happens, you just unstick it and tell it to get back to work.) Essentially, the Roomba takes a job that could be done in ten minutes and gets it done in a half hour or more. On the surface, that sounds bad. In practice though, it involves 30 seconds of my time, and 30 minute’s of the Roomba’s.

And let’s be brutally honest. I don’t care about the Roomba’s time and concerns at all. I’m a total robot slave driver. So if it takes the Roomba a long time to do something, who cares? I had nine and a half minutes of my life to do something other than vacuuming.

There are definite areas where the Roomba is better at any vacuuming I could do, however. It goes underneath my bed, randomly zigzagging through dust bunnies I would be way too lazy to try to get through. Because it’s small and compact, it ends up wandering and meandering its way everywhere in the room, not just the middle where I always notice. Is the vacuuming job always perfect? Not necessarily, but it’s more than adequate. (Even Denisa agrees on this point, so you know it’s not just me making excuses.)

The Roomba struggles with some areas of our house. It’s an old house with lots of thresholds between rooms, and that can get it stuck. So we just block those areas off and have it do one room at a time. Yes, this means we sometimes have to carry the Roomba to a room instead of it just rolling itself there randomly over time. Who cares? I had to carry the vacuum there before, and the Roomba is way lighter.

Final verdict: I would totally buy a Roomba if and when this one breaks down. I’ve even though about buying one for the movie room upstairs, just so I could program it to clean there and then I could forget about it. (Not completely, of course. You don’t want to leave shoelaces where a Roomba might chew them. They love shoelaces. And be very careful if you have pets . . . )

I’m now looking into Roomba mops.


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