We Tested Robot Vacuum Cleaners By The Only Way That Matters: Complicated Obstacle Course

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The rest of the world dreams of flying cars, hoverboards, and other things that seemed cool in the 80s but are deeply impractical for safety reasons. All I want is a robot butler that will enable my slobbish lifestyle by keeping my apartment clean.

They haven’t quite yet invented a robot which can competently mop, nor one that can make the self-cleaning oven actually clean, let alone some kind of drone with compressed air that can clean my Lego without destroying it. But there is a whole tonne of robot vacuum cleaners out there, just waiting to help you get rid of the dust bunnies.

Here’s the thing, though: vacuum cleaners are boring. So, to jazz things up, I made an obstacle course between my parents’ dining room and kitchen, filling it with little piles of bran my dad found in his shed.

Other challenges in the course included the usual stuff you’d find on an average floor: a charger for a laptop I don’t remember owning, a 30-pin dock connector cable, an assortment of Lego pieces, a Scribblenauts promotional t-shirt, the Lego Technic Rough Terrain Crane, a broken office chair, and a vintage Honda scooter, amongst other things.

The next step was to assemble five of the best robot vacuum cleaners on the market.

Samsung PowerBot VR7000 – $899

Because its “Edge Clean Master” nose is placed so far on the front of the robot compared to other models, the Samsung PowerBot VR7000 one was able to get much closer to the top of the stairs than its rivals without getting into trouble. It could also sense the difference between the carpet and the 80s cork flooring, loudly adjusting its suction power to get all the dust out of whichever surface.

The Samsung has a self-cleaning brush which breaks up all the hair it catches, so you’re not forced to clean it with a pair of scissors while chanting “ew, ew, ew”. Because of that, I feared for the lives of the cables. However, this little guy passed over them with no interest, same with the Lego bricks. It also moved around inefficiently — going over a couple of spots multiple times while missing other places completely, and took an extremely long time.

In the end, the Samsung PowerBot VR7000 picked up around 2/3rds of the bran I put down.

LG CordZero R9 – $1899

The LG CordZero R9 also has a giant nose and was able to get into the corners and peek over the top of the stairs. It was loud in the way that made one think it was insanely powerful, though sadly that myth that was dispelled the moment it went over the first pile of bran, leaving much of it in its wake.

The best part of the R9 is that it talks. It has the voice of a no-nonsense British woman who isn’t angry, just disappointed. It thought the buckets were people and would announce “cleaning in progress, please step aside”, with an attitude that suggested she might have a gun, but also owns a whip.

The most frightening thing about the R9 is that not only did it cover far more ground than the Samsung in less time, but it also worked out how to close the kitchen door. The velociraptor also attempted to eat the laptop charger but got itself free eventually.

Its primary weakness was the Lego, which gave it severe indigestion, with three 1×2 bricks getting stuck in the bin forever. I could not get them out no matter how hard I tried. Sorry, LG loans people.

In the end, the LG picked up about 75% of the bran, definitely more than Samsung.


Next cab off the rank was the ECOVACS DEEBOT N79T, whose shouty name we can forgive because it’s the most affordable of them all. The N79T was determined to fling itself off the top of the stairs. It had seen the terrible task before it and wanted no part of it. However, balancing on the edge of the top stair, teetering like cars in so many crime drama season finales, it saw reason and beeped plaintively until I came to the rescue. Twice. It also pushed the buckets away forcefully in a bid for freedom and ate the 30-pin dock connector cable.

Not the brightest of the bunch, the N79T got itself stuck in a 500-point-turn because it was next to a chair. There was free space for 330 degrees, but it hurt itself in its confusion.

Although it certainly covered the most ground in the allotted time of the first three, it’s hard to tell how much bran it collected. That’s because emptying the bin requires the user to either put their hand in and touch all the dirt or open it up completely in a way that redistributes all the dust, requiring you to vacuum again. It did well, but that kind of defeated the purpose. However, given the savings, it would be worth just opening it up in a plastic bag for safety.


Going up in price, the ECOVACS DEEBOT 900 should notionally have done a better job than the N79T. While it had no Thelma and Louse cliff aspirations, it still managed to go super close to the edge of the stairs, yet saved itself just in time. What was most impressive about it, though, was how often it would manage to get stuck on nothing, and then spin itself in circles, trying to get stuck on more nothing.

The 900 did try to eat all the cables, but it politely asked that I free it from its bondage, so that was nice. It was also the first to clean the entire area in the allotted time and return to its base, picking up 90 percent of the bran on the way.

iRobot Roomba 980 – $1399

The iRobot Roomba 980 was the final challenger and the most boring to watch. It completely lacked personality, aside from when it tried to eat the t-shirt and its British voice politely, but firmly, told me where the problem was.

What made it boring was how efficient it was. It just cleaned in a pattern that showed it knew what it was doing. While several of the other contestants were clearly young and still found joy and adventure in their task, the Roomba had the air of someone who had been doing this for decades, and just wanted to get the job done so they could go home and work on their model train set.

It did try to eat the cables in the end, after resisting on the first couple of passes, but it managed to come back with more bran than I had put down for its challenge, locating old bran both I, and the other former contestants, missed.

The clear winner on efficiency was the Roomba. However, the LG had the most personality.

The Robot Vacuum Gauntlet

The gauntlet challenge was designed partly as a race, and partly to see how the robot vacuums they interacted, for amusement purposes.

Race One: LG R9 vs Deebot 900

The Deebot made it to the other side the fastest, but it did require pit lane assistance three times after trying to eat the fringing on the rug. The LG wasted time attempting to intimidate the piles of books, allowing the 900 to get home first.

Winner: Deebot 900. Clearly.

Race Two: Deebot N79T vs Samsung

While the Samsung was always happy to stop itself a respectable distance from the N79T, knowing that consent is key, the N79T took more of a dodgem car approach, crashing into the Samsung with enthusiasm at every opportunity. That doesn’t bode well for its interactions with children or that Ming vase everyone has precariously placed next to a door.

Winner: Although the Samsung made it to the other side first, neither made it home because the N79T couldn’t stop visiting the books, and the Samsung really, really wanted to eat the rug.

Race Three: Deebot 900 vs Roomba 980

This race had the champions face off against each other: Deebot 900 and the Roomba 980. The Roomba made it to the other side immediately, with no dilly-dallying. The 980 and 900 refused to crash, instead dancing like two awkward teenagers at a blue light disco, eventually moving with the grace of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. I ship them now.

Winner: Despite the Roomba taking out the first part of the challenge, the Deebot made it home first, having saved time by missing large areas of the course.

Final Verdict: Which Robot Vacuum Wins? 

If you want your home cleaned with brutal efficiency, then the Roomba 980 is your best choice. However, if you’re on a budget and don’t mind opening the dust bin in a bag, the ECOVACS DEEBOT N79T is an excellent choice that has no right to be that good at that price.

Alice Clarke is a freelance journalist, game reviewer, producer, presenter, scriptwriter, TV lover, PAX Aus Diversity Lounge co-curator, & frozen pea fan. She tweets at @alicedkc

Photo by Jens Mahnke from Pexels