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iRobot Roomba 520 review



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Robot vacuum cleaners have been around for quite a while now and a number of companies have given them a go. However, just as Hoover has come to be an everyday word for a regular vacuum cleaner, there's one company that has managed to become synonymous with robot vacuum cleaners and that company is iRobot. Or more specifically that product is the Roomba.

Now in its third generation, the Roomba is available in four models, the 581, 563, 555 and 520, which are differentiated by former's ability to be scheduled and that the latter comes with no Virtual Walls. The Virtual Wall lighthouses emit an infra red beam and are used to electromagnetically cordon off the area you'd like the Roomba to work within. All three Roombas can apparently clean up to four rooms on a single charge and will return to their docking stations when finished or low on battery. We're looking at the 520 model today.

Compared to the Samsung Navibot SR8855 the Roomba 520 seems much more petite. At 340 x 340 x 90mm it's actually only 15mm shorter and 10mm narrower, but it certainly looks considerably smaller. It's also more sensibly decorated with just a matt creamy white finish to most of the body and a matt silver top. This means it should hide most scratches and grime better than the shiny plastic of the Navibot. It also has a rather neat extra, that being a handle that's incorporated into the top.

Overall build quality also seems decent with two strong, deeply sprung rubber wheels propelling the Roomba along, a sturdy looking cleaning mechanism and generally tough plastics used throughout. That said, aside from its shiny plastic, the Samsung Navibot did seem to be a step up with a hefty rubber section running round the bot's edge, more substantial rotor brushes (not to mention the Samsung also has two of these), and a more sophisticated main brush. Also the Roomba's docking station feels distinctly flimsy – not ideal for something that's going to spend its time sat on a floor.

The fact the Roomba only has one brush is a clue to the major difference between it and the Samsung Navibot, and indeed many of these other robot vacuum cleaners. You see, the Roomba doesn't map out its course round a room but merely obeys a few simple rules that by hook or by crook means it should cover the whole area of a floor. Where the rotor comes in is that one of the Roomba's rules is wall following. Using its front and side mounted sensors the Roomba will track along any walls or obstacles that it encounters to ensure its rotor can get right into the corner and prize out all the dirt.

The other rules are spiralling, room crossing and dirt detection. The first of these, as it suggests, makes the Roomba move in an ever expanding spiral until it hits something. This is its main technique for covering large areas. Room crossing then makes the Roomba criss cross the room to ensure it covers the whole room. Finally, dirt detection will cause the Roomba to stop whatever else it was doing and spiral round an area it thinks is dirty (e.g. Paris Hilton - ed).

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June 17, 2010, 1:34 pm

Good review... Another very important point, last time I checked the Roomba couldn't work on dark floors. I had a black carpet and it would not be able to move above it. It was detected as a big hole and it would freeze... I don't know if they've solved it (I sent mine back for a refund), but it's worth checking before you buy.

Energizer Bunny

June 17, 2010, 1:38 pm

Shame, but as an existing Roomba owner (though a predecessor to this model) I broadly agree with most of your points.

I live in a rather unconventionally shaped flat with wooden floors and the roomba generally does a pretty good job of looking after things. However, when I watch it clean it does at times seem to be missing large areas of the room, and yet somehow they seem to get cleaned eventually. I think the Roomba often succeeds out of sheer tenacity - it takes around 1.5 hours to clear a floorspace I could do myself in about 10 minutes.

The only item I would disagree with is the difficulty in finding its way back to the dock - I have never every known mind fail once and that was when it managed to get one of its wheels snared on my Blackberry charger. That said I do have a differwent model so perhaps the new one is worse in that regard.

Simon 19

June 17, 2010, 2:02 pm

The Paris Hilton comment has set me up for the day. I've got visions of a fleet of Roomba's circling her wherever she goes!

Digital Fury

June 17, 2010, 3:33 pm

What a major disappointment, and I was about to get a 581. It's even worst than the Samsung, which wasn't great to begging with.


June 17, 2010, 3:33 pm

@Edward: Sounds like you have been very unlucky with your Roomba. Most the problems you outline don't appear to happen with ours. Like @Energizer pointed out, never had any issues with it finding the dock. I actually think the cleaning ability is also pretty good, considering how small this thing is. I believe also the idea of these is that you clean more frequently, and if used like this should keep your floors spotless. One thing that would be really handy for this to do, is empty itself into some sort of collection bucket, because it doesn't have a very large collection area you really need to empty after every clean. And because of this I believe stops it been something you can set and forget. If Roomba came out with another model that could empty itself, I'd certainly buy another. :)

Energizer Bunny

June 18, 2010, 3:42 pm

I really ought to proof read my posts.

Janet Jones

December 13, 2010, 8:30 pm

I am glad I didn't read your review when I bought my Roomba 520 in June 2010. I love my Roomba and it cleans my house - carpets and hard floors better than me. When I got it I first vacuumed with the Dyson and then let Roomba loose a room at a time - well he found a whole lot more dust. He does need to be managed. I put him into a room with the door shut having first picked up clothes etc off the floor so that he just has to work his way around. When he has finished I just put him in the next room that I want him to clean. I have an open dining room and sitting room so as I did not buy the lighthouse I put some obstacles to divide the room into 2 ie chair with a book under it to stop him going under the chair. He does get a little confused with the legs of the chairs so I either put one or two of the chairs in the kitchen and shut the door or put one on the table as I feel he has an easier job. One of the best household labour saving devices I have ever bought.

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