by Michael Crider on
Trying to find a way to introduce someone to the internet and the digital world when it’s foreign to them (and they don’t like computers) is tough. But you can make that task easier by picking the right hardware.
It isn’t enough for a robot vacuum in 2018 to just clean your floor, it’s got to wow with some smart home integration—and that’s where the surprisingly affordable Roomba 690, with voice and smartphone controls, really wows.
It sounds crazy, but the Roomba robotic vacuum has been around since 2002—six years before even the first iPhone. For something that feels like a modern, futuristic luxury, the Roomba is something of an old-timer in the tech world. In fact, the first Roomba that could be controlled by your smartphone only arrived in 2015, and that one cost $900. That’s all history, though. Today, you can get the Roomba 690 for around $320, putting the future well within reach.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to try out a robot vacuum, so when I started looking I was a little surprised to discover that most of the low-end models aren’t controlled with a smartphone. While this makes sense for the Roombas of the past, it seems like an oversight in 2018. Fortunately, the 690 doesn’t skimp on the modern features.
For starters, the entire setup process takes place on the phone. While this means there’s an extra step to connect your Roomba to Wi-Fi, it’s considerably easier to set or change a schedule which makes the whole process worth it. You can set the vacuum to run up to once per day. If you need to alter the schedule, you can do it from your phone and you’ll hear the Roomba beep to confirm the changes.
You can also connect your Roomba to other smart gadgets and services. Want to ask Alexa to start or stop your vacuum? You can do that by adding a free skill to your Echo. You can also connect it to third-party services like IFTTT to do some really awesome things like start cleaning when you leave the house or pause a vacuum job when you’re on the phone. That’s the kind of intelligence we’d expect from a smart gadget in 2018.
In case you haven’t used a robot vacuum before, there are a couple things you should know about how they work. Most importantly, you’ll want to keep your floors clean of crap. While the Roomba is decent at avoiding obstacles, a tiny object can get stuck in its wheels and stop the cleaning job in its tracks. You should also use a proper, full-size vacuum on your floors once before you run the Roomba for the first time.
“Wait, I have to vacuum before I can use my vacuum? Why?” I hear you ask. Well, the Roomba is designed for daily (or semi-daily) cleaning. It has a small dirt bin and it fills up fast. If you haven’t vacuumed in a week or more, the Roomba will do its best, but it won’t be able to get up everything and your floors may still look dirty.
When I set up my Roomba 690, I took out the Dyson and vacuumed the entire floor. Then I put the Dyson in the closet and left it there. The Roomba runs every morning, before I wake up (because I don’t want to hear it while I’m working). We have multiple cats, so in addition to normal dust and dirt, we’ve got a wealth of cat fur and dander piling up in our carpet.
The Roomba excels in keeping this excessive mess off your floors. Instead of waiting until a thick layer of dust and fur builds up, the Roomba runs every day and sucks everything up before you can notice it. If you time your cleaning jobs right—say in the middle of the night if you can sleep through it, or while you’re away at work—you can keep your floors looking immaculate and never even notice the upkeep your robot buddy is doing.
In my experience, the Roomba did an excellent job of navigating the space I had it cleaning. We have one low clearance coffee table that it was able to slide under easily, as well as a set of stairs leading down to the front door. Very rarely, the Roomba would catch on the stairs and need to be re-positioned, but more often than not it avoided the cliff entirely.
A Roomba means you don’t have to spend time rolling an archaic stand up vacuum over your floor like a cave man. That doesn’t mean it lacks any maintenance at all. First and most important, you need to empty the bin every single time it runs. Whether you choose to run the robot every day or every other day depends on how messy your home is (or how many pets you have), but as a rule, empty the bin after every cleaning.
Beyond that, there’s a filter inside the bin that has to be cleaned at least once a week (or twice a week, if you have pets). Cleaning isn’t hard. Simply take the filter out and knock the dirt build up off into the trash can. The company recommends replacing this filter entirely every two months. You can buy a pack of ten filters for about $16, which breaks down to about $1.60 every couple of months. On top of this, the company recommends cleaning the bristle brush after every cleaning, and replacing it every six to twelve months.
Let’s be real, though. You’re not going to do that. If this all sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. The Roomba will still operate just fine if you don’t dismantle it every single day. Make sure you empty the bin every day (because that gets full fast) and knock off the filter every once in a while and you should be fine. Like any vacuum, the bristle wheel can clog up so take a look at it every once in a while.
You can buy replacement bristles for about $12 (in a kit that includes three more filters, so that’s nice), so in the event your bristle wheel gets gunked up to the point of being impossible to clean, it’s relatively cheap to replace. Sure it would be better if we all took the time to perform proper maintenance, but if we had that kind of time we wouldn’t be buying robot vacuums, now would we?
I have two very furry cats and I also work from home. That means there’s a lot of dust, dirt, and fur in my house. The Roomba 690 still manages to keep my floors clean. I rarely have to think about it, aside from remembering to empty the bin every day, which takes ten seconds. I can control it from my phone and even ask Alexa to start a cleaning job. For a relatively meager $320—which is on the low of end of what you’d pay for a premium vacuum cleaner—it’s hard to argue with the results.
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