That's why it's important to choose a robot vacuum that's not just a good performer, but one that will be a good fit for your needs. As a generalist, the iRobot Roomba 770 (MSRP $499.99) is one of the best robot vacuums out there. In our tests, it did what a robot vacuum should: got itself where it needed to go in order to tidy up your floors between cleanings.
While many other robot vacuums have strengths and weaknesses, the 770 does well with navigation, pickup, and ease of use—the three most important measurements of a robot vacuum. It does so not with fancy features, but by getting under and around furniture and beds. Included infrared Virtual Walls help contain it within a room, too.
Even though the 770 lacks some of the high-end features and design elements of pricier vacuums—like the $999 Samsung VR9000 Powerbot's Point Cleaning remote control—this Roomba has everything the average buyer would need.
The 770 is simply a great value, and anyone looking for a robot to help with housework should check it out.
It's got what you need
The vacuum's accessories include a charging dock with cables, virtual walls, and some spare parts for routine maintenance. There's also a remote control and an instructional DVD. Aside from the Roomba 880 and the Samsung Powerbot VR7000, it's one of the most feature-laden vacuums out there.
The charging dock emits an infrared signal to guide the 770 home, but we found the 770 had trouble finding its way when it didn't have a direct line of sight to the dock. You'll have to keep the area clear, or else the 770 may run out of power on its way to a recharge. Once completely depleted, the battery can take up to 3 hours to fully charge.
In fact, unlike the Miele Scout RX-1 and Samsung Powerbot—which both use cameras to visually map a room—or vacuums from Neato—which create an infrared-mapped plan of a room before starting to clean—iRobot's vacuums use infrared and acoustic sensors to adapt to the room's floor plan while it cleans. If the vacuum is running while nobody's home, our tests show that there's not a huge difference among the different navigation styles.
If your home has multiple small rooms, you may want to use the two included virtual walls to keep the Roomba from getting lost where it can't find the dock. These devices send out signals that tell the 770 it shall not pass. Irritatingly, each one require two C batteries that aren't included, but we still found these virtual walls more versatile than the magnetic strips other brands use. With a range of seven feet, you can cordon off anything from doorways to dog bowls.
After setting up the dock and virtual walls, you can also program a cleaning schedule. Much of the convenience of owning a robot vacuum is that it'll clean while you're out. The 770 has enough memory to run as often as seven times per week at any time you like. And considering its 0.17-liter capacity, you may only need to empty it once a week.
Quick and Efficient
Muhammad Ali once said that Sonny Liston's hands couldn't hit what his eyes couldn't see. Well, a robot vacuum's brushes can't clean where it's never been.
Unlike lower-end models from iRobot, the 770 navigates with the Dirt Detect Series 2 system, which uses infrared and acoustic sensors to find dirt. When it detects a particularly nasty mess, it begins a pattern of cleaning back and forth in a star shape.
For general navigation, the 770 has iAdapt technology, which can scan a room up to 60 times a second in order to detect obstacles and open pathways.
And detect it did. Our testing floor for robot vacuums has four different types of obstacles: high and low carpets, furniture, low-clearance areas that mimic couches, and risers and thresholds. Each of these obstacles are seeded with cork that simulates dirt and crumbs. Pet hair is also placed on carpeted surfaces, under the second tallest clearance area, and out on the bare floor.
The 770 at least attempted to cross each of the obstacles, and covered nearly the entire room. The first time around it cleaned a small, obstacle-laden room in 30 minutes, while subsequent runs took around 20—a sign of good programming. But when it came to dealing with tight spaces, the 770's results were mixed.
On carpets, the 770 could not handle switching from hardwood floors to high-pile carpet. It just bounced right off. However, doormats and normal carpet were cleaned with ease.
Furniture cleaning is all about getting in between obstacles. The 14-in.-wide 770 had no problem getting between table legs spaced at least 18 inches apart. Don't worry about this vacuum hitting said furniture too hard: A shock-absorbing bumper and good obstacle detection means any collision is just a light tap.
The next task the 770 tackled was furniture clearance, and it did so with aplomb. Unlike pricier robot vacuums, like the Samsung Powerbot and Miele RX-1, it could fit underneath anything at least four inches tall. For anything smaller, this Roomba falls back to its secondary strategy: It has forward brushes that are low enough to at least kick up dirt from tight spots. A few times, we also observed the 770's exhaust blow dirt out of unreachable areas.
Uneven floors were the final challenge. The 770 could summit a 2/3-in. obstacle, but nothing taller. In real world terms, that does mean the 770 can surmount thresholds between rooms. Our testing course also included a normal threshold nailed to the floor. The 770 got over it and cleaned along it.
When all was said and done, the 770 picked up about 9.5 grams of the 2mm cork grains and 75 percent of the pet hair we put down. It might not sound like a lot, but remember, this Roomba can automatically clean seven times a week, which could bump up the weekly pickup to 66.5 grams—about the same as a full-sized vacuum.
A $499.99 price tag places the iRobot Roomba 770 on the more affordable side of the robot vacuum cleaner spectrum, which ranges from around $250 to about $1,000. We wouldn't call it cheap, but among robot vacuums, this one is a good value.
The virtual walls and the ability to schedule seven cleanings a week boost the flexibility of this unit beyond what other brands offer. That flexibility is further extended by intelligent navigation software: Although this model did get stuck, it only got stuck during one test, while other vacuums tend to repeat their mistakes. Factor in the high overall speed and its dirt-disturbing brush head, and you've got an attractive buy for just about anyone.
Meet the testers
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Senior Lab Technician 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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