Product Review: Roomba 500 Robotic Vacuuming Unit


In writing this review I must first admit that prior to buying and using a robotic vacuuming system I was very leery of the claims made by its’ manufacturer, iRobot Corporation that this small, self propelled, vacuuming system could provide a combination of powerful suction and brushing in one small mobile unit which could rival that of the most powerful manual vacuum.

My suspicion was based my experience with numerous vacuums I had purchased over the years. This ranged from small lightweight machines to huge, powerful monsters which in an effort to provide the most powerful suction resulted in a machine which weighed almost as much as I do (215 lbs.) and quickly exhausted the user. What is the Best In-Car Vacuum Cleaner for cleaning of the appliances. The efforts of the human will be less while cleaning the surface of the car. 

My previous experience with vacuums included purchases from relatively unknown manufacturers to the most established ones and included Hoover, Eureka, Bissel,Kirby, Electrolux, Shark, Dirt Devil and Orek….and included a wide range of models including canisters, bag and bagless and wind tunnel machines.

Based on that experience I concluded that regardless of claims most vacuums do little to distinguish themselves one from the other. Yes, some offer increased suction and others are bagless, but in general all vacuums apply the required suction and brushing action to pickup lint and small objects and deposit them on a filter for later removal.

And so when I read advertised claims by iRobot that the Roomba 500 offered a powerful vacuuming and brushing system which could automatically detect and adjust to any floor surface and match the cleaning performance of much larger systems I shrugged this off as just one more Madison Avenue promotion. There was, in my mind, no way this little circular dish, 14 inches in diameter, could house the power to propel the unit, drive brushes and power the vacuum necessary to do the job. I was not even convinced this little disc even provided enough room to hold the volume of litter it was designed to remove.

I was wrong. I have found this compact, powerful, little machine to be quite capable of living up to its’ billing and in many respects have found in to match or exceed the capability of its’ more powerful and much larger (and heavier) competitors.

At the urging of my wife we purchased a Roomba with the agreement that if it did not perform up to our (her) cleaning standards we would return it. The store in question agreed to this arrangement.

I was assigned the task of reading the instructions and preparing the Roomba for a test run.I was surprised to find that Roomba included a recorded voice demonstration which made the Roomba set-up quite easy. There was also a voice guided demonstration of Roomba features.

Our initial test in our home subjected the Roomba to a variety of floor surfaces. Our home has wall to wall carpeting in some rooms, bare hardwood floors in others and vinyl in the kitchen and bathrooms. The Roomba was used on all of these surfaces and did in fact travel from other surface to the next without manual intervention or adjustments of any kind with no loss in cleaning efficiency.

Starting the Roomba in our largest carpeted room I watched as the small disc-shaped robot came to life, rotated 360 degrees, as if looking over the task at hand, and then began making successively wider concentric circles as it began vacuuming the room. It was soon obvious from the cleaning tracks left in the carpet that the little machine was applying a powerful brushing and suction action, but as a test I would periodically introduce a foreign object (small piece of thread, lint ball, small piece of newspaper, some bread crumbs, etc.) in its’ path and watched as Roomba passed over and removed them all.

After its’ initial circular path the Roomba was programmed to change over to a completely random path, crossing the room on a diagonal, then on meeting a wall hugging it until on meeting resistance (furniture, another wall, etc.) the machine would rotate and start out on a completely new path. While this sounds a little chaotic the randomness of Roomba’s route proves to very beneficial as in the course of covering an entire room it traverses and recrosses the same area of a room multiple times before it considers the job done.

I was impressed when the Roomba on approaching my planted deposits of pencil shavings (my test) stopped over the center of the shavings and rotated 360 degrees for some 30 seconds until it was sure the spot was clean and then continued on its’ original course.

When using the Roomba in our upstairs bedrooms I considered using one of the included “invisable walls” to prevent the Roomba from running up to and falling down the stairwell. Invisable walls are small portable devices (included with Roomba) which emit a transparent beam which the Roomba is programmed not to cross. These “walls” are used to keep the Roomba out of rooms or other areas which are considered off limits for the Roomba. However, recalling the orientation instructions I decided to test the feature of the Roomba designed to protect itself from falling down stairwells. I watched as the little machine hustled its’ way up the head of the stairwell. It never slowed until the instant the first 1/8 inch of the Roomba crossed the edge of the top step. At this point the Roomba stopped suddenly and completely and rotated 180 degrees and resumed cleaning.

As an aside, the Roomba offers a significant advantage over any conventional vacuum when it comes to vacuuming beneath beds. Here, in the land of “dust bunnies” the little robot excels as it traverses back and forth,stopping frequently to do a 360 rotation as it detects and removes heavier dust accumulations.

After two hours of continuous cleaning I stopped the Roomba and opened its’ dust collection bin. There was a striking assortment of lint, cat hair, small carpet fibers and all of the test objects I had introduced. I was totally impressed with quantity of debris the machine had found and vacuumed in rooms that had never gone more than a week between routine vacuuming. I would estimate that the uncompressed wad of lint and cat hair and other debris measured roughly 36-40 cubic inches. Roomba claims its’ collection filter also screens out invisable dander and allergens.

Emptying the dust bin is easy. One removable section of the Roomba gives access to the dust bin and allows this to be dumped into a trash collector or can. The filter is easily cleaned witha small brush or by blowing away collected lint.

While I have not used this feature the Roomba provides a capability to Prue-schedule cleaning up to seven different cleaning times at which time the Roomba will self start and clean for a programmed cleaning period, after which time it will return to its’ home base for recharging of its’ batteries.

I found only two features of Roomba which I feel could be improved…..I have difficulty effectively deploying the “invisable walls”. I use these to block Roomba from area which I do not want Roomba to enter. These may be rooms which are temporarily limits (such as a room in which I have spread out work papers on the floor) or permanently off limits. I have found that the invisable walls do not cast a definite straight line beam, but rather cast a broad beam which grows in width with distance from its’ origin point. This makes deploying the wall to block a very specific location difficult as the beam width is unknown. As a result one of two situations may occur, either the Roomba penetrates the beam or more likely the Roomba stops far short of the area intentionally blocked and leaves that area un-vacuumed.

The second, although minor problem, involves the Roomba getting stuck underneath a low piece of furniture or bed. This happens rarely, but even when it does the Roomba is programmed to shut down when this occurs rather than run down its’ battery or strain its’ motor.

In summary, the Roomba is a surprisingly effective and powerful tool for vacuuming virtually any floor service. I have compared dust and lint accumulations in the same room over the same period for the Roomba and my traditional stand up vacuum and found the Roomba removes a higher level of debris.

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