iRobot Roomba 520 - iRobot Roomba 520

By Edward Chester



Our Score:


Looking then at how the Roomba performs, its lower height and slimmer width meant it could get in and under things that the Samsung Navibot couldn't. Thanks to its edge tracking feature it also has a more persistent attitude towards obstacles; whereas the Samsung would simple turn round as soon as it bumped into an obstacle, the Roomba has a good old go at getting itself in and around the object. This was particularly effective for chair and table legs, though at one point it did manage to get itself under the legs of a wheeled office chair and failed miserably to get itself back out again.

The edge cleaning also means the Roomba does a much more thorough job than the Samsung, which consistently left a strip of dirt several inches wide around the edge of room. However, this was only true for if you left the Roomba to its own devices in a fairly clutter free single room. More complicated layouts completely flummoxed the simple navigation rules leaving the Roomba completely lost.

To test it we let the Roomba loose in a flat, which consists of an open plan living room (well stocked with dining table, sofa, arm chair, tv, etc) and kitchen, a dogleg hall way, a couple of bedrooms, and a couple of bathrooms. Starting in the living room, it covered about half the living room before heading off down the hallway where it preceded to trundle up and down the same area at least half a dozen times before letting out a rather cute whimpering beep to indicate it had run out of battery (it obviously hadn't been full).

Returning it to its dock to charge then setting it off in a different direction, it did the other half of the living room but then got stuck in a loop going from arm chair to sofa to clothes drying rack (where it would go round in circles for a few minutes as it tried to get out from under the legs) then back again. Quite simply, if you have a remotely complicated house setup then the Roomba will simply not be able to clean the whole lot.

What makes this worse is the docking station requires the Roomba to have line of site – it just uses infra red – to guide it home. So if you set the Roomba going and it gets a bit stuck you're almost guaranteed to still have a dirty house and a dead Roomba cluttering your hallway. In contrast, the Samsung Navibot flawlessly cleaned the entire flat (edges not withstanding) and found its way back to its dock to charge completely unsupervised.

The final death knell for the Roomba 520 is that like the Samsung it doesn't actually do all that great a job of picking up dirt. Sure, it picks up loose stuff from hard floors and short carpets but if you want a proper clean you're still going to need a decent vacuum cleaner. So, despite being only £250, we can think of very few people we'd recommend the Roomba to bar those with the most sparse and simply laid out flats.

One small plus point is iRobot actively encourages people to play around with and program their Roomba's and there's a thriving community of people doing just that. So if you fancy turning your Roomba into something more useful then the option's there.


Despite being the poster child of the robot vacuum cleaning scene, the iRobot Roomba, or at least the i520 version we've looked at here, simply isn't up to the job of cleaning most people's homes. It may be cheaper than the competition, but it also pales in comparison. If you've only got £250 to spend on a vacuum cleaner, just get a manual one!

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Value 5
  • Features 6
  • Design 7


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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