Taking the iRobot Roomba 560 Robot Vacuum for a Spin


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Most people, by now, are familiar with the iRobot Roomba. It’s a small robot that vacuums your floor on its own. It’s a concept that brings us a step closer to the robot maids of the movies. Finally, we can have an army of robots whirring around the house cleaning up after us without a care in the world.

Well, almost.

iRobot Roomba 560

The best way to really get to know and love (or not love) a Roomba is to have one running around your house for a week, but for those without that option, I’ll try to bring you into the experience with me. My wife and I borrowed one from iRobot for a couple weeks and here’s what we learned.

What it does for you
In short, it’s a robot vacuum that makes its way around your floors, cleaning up any dirt it finds along the way. While it can just randomly run around picking up dirt, it can be set to move in a spiral pattern, which could be optimal in terms of efficiency, depending on your scenario. It also comes with two lighthouses to keep it from wandering into rooms you’d rather it avoided. These aren’t needed to keep it from going off the stairs, though. Although I don’t have stairs in my own home, I asked some friends about their 560 and they assured me that it indeed won’t go bouncing down the stairs.

iRobot Roomba 560 - beconGetting a Roomba to clean is easier than getting me to clean, because it only had to be told once after giving it a full charge. I just touched the Clean button on the top and it started cleaning. This little guy can clean up carpet or hard floors, adjusting its brushes accordingly and has a bumper to let it gently realize physical boundaries. However, a bumper just means it will retry in another direction and keep retrying if it keeps hitting a wall or object. It did seem smart enough to get going in the right direction pretty quickly. It also returns itself to it’s home base when it’s done or you tell it to dock for charging. Not all models include the scheduling feature, but the 560 does. This feature is ideal for a household with hours of downtime while everyone is at work, like mine. Initially, I was worried that a Roomba would be a big threat to a house full of cats, but they did OK with it. One of them tried to eat the poor little Roomba and the other two just cautiously got used to it.

I’ve discovered another model series called the Pet Series, which this 560 is not a part of. The Pet Series promises a deeper cleaning to grab all that pet hair my cats leave all over the place. Unfortunately, not being a part of that series, the 560 had to make many passes to get things really clean. I don’t vacuum once a day or even once a week, and the Roomba works best when it’s allowed to run frequently. This seems like a downside at first, but it’s really the ideal way to keep your floors clean all the time. After I let him run for a couple days, he seemed to do much better.

What you still have to do
The Roomba is a cleaning robot, but it can’t clean itself. The folks at iRobot have made cleaning pretty easy, but you still have to do it pretty often to keep him running smoothly. When I talk about cleaning, I mean not only the obvious dumping of the removable tray, but also the more arduous cleaning of the brushes and under a couple parts.

iRobot Roomba 560 cleaning

Before using the Roomba, it’s probably a good idea to pick up a little, too. With an upright vacuum, you can sometimes be lazy and just work around an ottoman or other objects on the floor, but the the idea is to be even lazier with the Roomba. Pick up some things before he starts his shift and you can relax until he’s done.

Using the Roomba
Using the Roomba was really simple. Even without a manual, it would have been pretty easy to figure out that you press the clean button and it cleans. When button throbs orange, it means he’s running low on energy and red means he’s in desperate need of a charge. Just hit the Dock button and he aligns himself with his charging base and heads home. At first, it looked like he was going the wrong way, but he needs to get a couple feet away first to line up properly.

Don’t force him. With a little patience, he’ll get the job done and get home just fine.

Some pros and cons
Let’s start with the obvious advantage to having a robot vacuum… less work for you. If the Roomba does all the vacuuming, you can come home to nice clean floors every day. One of the things I almost overlooked when writing this is the fact that it’s cordless. There’s something to be said for not having to constantly move around an electrical cord to the vacuum to avoid running over it.

Conclusions
At a reasonable price, this is a great alternative to pushing around an upright vacuum. If you don’t clean often, the Roomba might create more work for you, having to clean the tray pretty often, but you’ll have a cleaner floor. If you vacuum a lot, the Roomba will save you a lot of energy. Just schedule it to do its work while you’re at work and empty the tray when you get home or before bed. The 90 seconds it takes to empty the tray is a worthwhile daily routine for a constantly clean home. If I hadn’t already just spent a lot of money on another unnamed upright, I’d have bought this for half the price.