The Bissell SmartClean 1605 (MSRP $299) doesn't just have a well-known name. It also has a bargain-basement price, and did quite well in our test labs. It has decent pickup, a well-designed dock, and a virtual wall to keep it from going where it shouldn't. That last feature is rare on a sub-$300 robot vacuum, and it's missing from the $199 Anker RoboVac.
A $220 retail price is exceptionally low, which does means that Bissell had to cut some corners: We found the controls hard to deal with, and its cleaning pattern was more haphazard than methodical. However, the SmartClean still picked up a decent amount of dirt. Nitpicks aside, it's a good value—especially if you have rooms that you don't want a robot to clean.
If you open the Bissell's cardboard box and expect to see a sweeping beauty, you'll be disappointed. For instance, removing protective coverings and advertising stickers left residue behind on the surface of the vacuum, and the lid to the dust bin never really clicked open or shut on the first try.
However, our biggest gripe is with the SmartClean's user interface. Setting anything but the default 99-minute cleaning cycle is a huge pain. For instance, if you want the SmartClean to clean for an hour and return to the dock, you have to press the power button seven times. If you're too fast, it won't register your taps. If you're too slow, the SmartClean will take off, leaving you in the dust.
On the accessories front, the SmartClean is a little more successful. For one thing, it has a virtual barrier—a rarity in the sub-$350 category—which runs off four AA batteries. Set it up, and it'll keep the robot from passing by its invisible threshold.
The charging dock features a crisp LCD display which shows off the current time, and it also lets you schedule automatic cleanings. We recommend setting a schedule just so you don't have to deal with the on-board interface.
In our labs, we believe that a robot vacuum can't clean where it's brushes haven't been. In that regard, the Bissell SmartClean got in a lot of places, but not quickly. On a 30-minute cycle—the average amount of time it takes a robot vacuum to clean our obstacle course—the SmartClean picked up 5.5 grams of dirt. When we switched over to the 99-minute cycle, however, the dirt pickup doubled.
Interestingly, the SmartClean's Auto pattern was very haphazard, swapping from a spiral to a Z-formation and then back again. Normally, we don't give much credence to a robot vacuum's dance moves, but this one missed more than a few swaths of the floor and carpets. In fact, this Bissell was unable to get atop our high-pile carpet at all.
The 3.4 inch tall robot was, however, able to go under plenty of obstacles. When cleaning in the kitchen or bathroom, toe kicks and countertops shouldn't pose a problem. Unlike a few other cheap robot vacuums, this one never fell down the stairs.
The Bissell SmartClean 1605 comes with a standard one-year warranty. For the first year of ownership, Bissell will repair or replace the SmartClean if it's found to have a defective part. You can read the fine print here.
Robot vacuums used to be a novel luxury, but the introduction of affordable models like the Bissell SmartClean 1605 might just bring them into the mainstream.
While you can get better cleaning from more high-end models, the SmartClean is more than adequate to help maintain the floors of a well-lived-in room. The inclusion of a virtual wall prevents the SmartClean from getting lost or wandering where it shouldn't be, and its $220 sale price shouldn't be a blow to your budget.
Meet the testers
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.See all of Jonathan Chan's reviews
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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email