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Cheap Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

Price Range

$30 Cheapism $300
Mid-Range $600
High End ...+

Vacuuming is not most people's favorite pastime, but it must be done on a regular basis to ensure a clean home. While a cheap robotic vacuum isn't meant to take over for a traditional vacuum, it can help keep your home clean until you get around to dragging that upright out of the closet again. Robotic vacuum cleaners appeal not only to consumers who don't like to vacuum often but also to those who like to keep even the floors under their furniture super-spotless. They range in price from as little as $30 to more than $1,000. Most fall between $300 and $600, and few are less than $300.

Cheap Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

The main difference between cheap robotic vacuums and pricey ones is special features. According to About.com, cheap robotic vacuums are sufficient for simple cleaning and dusting of hard floors, while higher-priced models transition better between hardwood and carpet and have features such as schedulers and dirt sensors. Some models can seemingly think for themselves and even have the ability to return to their home bases to charge themselves when their batteries run low. Other desirable features include extra-long battery life, short charging time, stair and ledge detection, and programming abilities. Cheap robotic vacuums often lack many of these features.

Robotic vacuum cleaners made by iRobot are by far the most popular. In fact, iRobot so dominates the market that few other brands exist. The Roomba 510 (starting at $250) is the least expensive iRobot model and the most basic, with other models ranging from pet options to professional options and ranging in price from $400 to $600. Also in the low-price range is the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 (starting at $160), which gets decent user reviews and is probably the only other cheap robotic vacuum worth mentioning as a good budget option. The iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner (starting at $127) falls short on durability and seems to have trouble transitioning between floor types.

Overall, user and expert reviews are few and far between, and the ones we found were somewhat negative for almost all robotic vacuum cleaners. Even our picks have their limitations. Expectations are high for these machines, and the consensus seems to be that even pricey models could use improvement. The feeling is that, while a robotic vacuum cleaner is a great idea, the technology just isn't there yet.

Robotic Vacuum Reviews

Cleaning and Transitioning Ability.

Most high-end robotic vacuums and even the cheap robotic vacuums on our list have the ability to differentiate between floor types, say the robotic vacuum reviews that we read. The iRobot Roomba 510 (starting at $250), the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 (starting at $160), and the iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner (starting at $127) can all go from hardwood to tile to linoleum to carpet.

The super-cheap P3 International P4920 Robotic Vacuum (starting at $33) can clean all the different floor types, but the user must manually add an attachment to transition the machine from carpet to hardwood or tile flooring. In any case, robotic vacuum reviews on Newegg suggest that this model is effective only on hardwood or tile. In a robotic vacuum review at Buzzillions, a user says this model works on low carpet but not as well as it does on tile or hardwood floors. This seems to be a theme among budget robotic vacuums.

However, a couple of the robotic vacuums on our list earn praise from users for their ability to clean many types of surfaces. Users posting robotic vacuum reviews at Buy.com seem pleased with the iRobot Roomba 510, saying it works great on hardwood floors and low carpet, especially carpet without tassels or fringe. One user says the Roomba 510 tackles several area rugs with ease. The Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2, our good choice, has users posting robotic vacuums review at Newegg split on whether it transitions well between surface types. One user says it goes from tile to carpet to throw rugs without any hang-ups, while another user reports it has a hard time climbing from hardwood floors to carpet and often gets stuck in the process.

According to a consumer posting a robotic vacuum review at Home Depot, the packaging says the iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner transitions well, but in reality it does not. It pretty much stalls out transitioning from hardwood to carpet and then moves very slowly on the carpet, the review says. A frustrated user posting in robotic vacuums review on Amazon reports that this model doesn't work on carpet at all, saying that it can't manage to clean her very low area rugs, or even get onto them in the first place.

Battery Life.

Battery life dictates how many rooms (or, more likely, how big a room) a robotic vacuum can clean on a full charge. Consumers should also consider how long a robotic vacuum takes to fully charge. Even higher-priced models charge for hours at a time and then run for only a little over an hour.

Assessing battery life is somewhat hard to do, as most manufacturers don't list battery life or charge time in the product information. The Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 is the only model we researched with a listed battery life and charging time. The manufacturer states that this cheap robotic vacuum charges for 3.5 hours and runs for 70 minutes on a full charge. We didn't find many complaints about the battery life on this model. It is even supposed to be able to find its home base when the battery is low in order to charge itself, but users posting robotic vacuum reviews on Newegg say the vacuum can't find the charging dock unless it's nearby. One user reports having to move the vacuum within one foot of the home base before it found it on its own.

The iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner runs for 70 minutes on a full charge, but the manufacturer doesn't indicate how long it takes to charge. IRobot does not report how long the Roomba 510 takes to charge or how long the battery lasts. The battery information we were able to gather on this model comes from user reviews, including one from a satisfied customer on Amazon who reports that the Roomba cleans one large room and sometimes two on a full charge.

Best Robotic Vacuums

Special Features.

Special features separate the more expensive, best robotic vacuums from cheaper ones. Yet the iRobot Roomba 510, our pick for best cheap robotic vacuum, has many features often reserved for more expensive models. It has the ability to detect dirt and spends more time cleaning dirtier areas. Wall-following technology allows it to hug the perimeter of a room and clean against the walls. A cliff detection sensor prevents it from falling down stairs and bumper technology keeps it from getting hung up on soft barriers, such as curtains, and instead allows the machine to vacuum under them. A spot-clean mode allows the Roomba 510 to quickly clean concentrated dirt spots and an anti-tangle mode prevents the vacuum from getting caught up in cords, carpet fringe, and more. By comparison, the only special feature on the P3 International P4920 Robotic Vacuum (starting at $33) -- the cheapest robotic vacuum we found by far -- is a wall mode to clean around the perimeter of a room.

Between those extremes are the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 and the iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner. The Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 has several special features, including an ultraviolet light, which deodorizes and kills bacteria, and a ledge feature to prevent the vacuum from falling down stairs. In theory this model can even find its way to the charger and recharge itself, although users have found that it's not always able to do so (more on that in our discussion of battery life on the previous page). The Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 also comes with a remote control. The iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner comes with a remote control too, as well as stair and ledge detection and wall- and corner-cleaning technology. It also turns off when it gets stuck and moves into a well-lit area when it's done cleaning so the user doesn't have to go searching for it.

These special features don't always work as advertised, however. Even the one good review of best robotic vacuums for the iTouchless AV002A Automatic Intelligent Robotic Vacuum Cleaner on Amazon says it gets stuck around furniture and walls. Other complaints on Amazon indicate that this model does worse than most on carpet. In contrast, the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 gets mostly positive reviews at Newegg, where users say the vacuum moves easily around walls, corners, and furniture and doesn't get stuck that often.

Most users seem impressed by the special features on the iRobot Roomba 510. One user who posted a best robotic vacuum review at Amazon says the machine knows when to stop before falling down a ledge, when to turn a corner, and when to spend extra time on a dirty area. In fact, the only drawback to this model is that there is no home base to charge it, which means the user must manually plug it into the wall to charge. More expensive iRobot models return to a home base on their own to charge.

Warranty and Durability.

Despite what you might expect from relatively expensive electronics, few cheap robotic vacuums come with warranties. In fact, the only warranties we saw were for iRobot brand products; the iRobot Roomba 510 has a one-year limited warranty. Even then, a Roomba 510 user posting a best robotic vacuum review at Buy.com bemoans the short lifespans of two beloved Roombas, saying they really need a two- or three-year warranty -- unheard of for a robotic vacuum -- and iRobot was reluctant to honor the existing warranties.

Durability seems to be a problem for the category as a whole, and the iTouchless AV002A in particular. Several users posting robotic vacuum reviews at Amazon report that their machines were defective or just didn't last long. One user says this robotic vacuum stopped working after just a few months and another reports that it stopped holding a charge after only five or six uses. We found only one user who complains that the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ-2 isn't durable, saying on Newegg that the vacuum lasted only a year before needing to be replaced.

Raechel Conover

Raechel Conover is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Yahoo, blogs, and other websites. She's a self-confessed shopaholic and frugal mom, always scouring the sale and clearance racks for deals and taking full advantage of free community activities and events with her husband and young sons.

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