As cool as robotic vacuum cleaners can be, they're not usually particularly good at actually vacuuming. Weedy vacuum motors and ineffective sensors often make for autonomous cleaners that don't really do a very good job. We're finally reaching the stage, though, where manufacturers are building in large enough batteries, powerful enough motors and smart enough software to make robots a viable alternative to the old fashioned upright and canister models pushed around by fleshy meatbag humans. Enter the POWERbot VR9000 — Samsung has finally made a robot vacuum that doesn't suck.
What Is It?
- Battery Life: 60 minutes (approx.)
- Charge Time: 160 minutes (approx.)
- Camera: Yes, front-mounted
- Sensors: 10
- Dust Capacity: 0.7 litres
- Brush Width: 311mm
The POWERbot is Samsung's newest, and by far its most powerful, robotic vacuum cleaner. It's not exactly small, but it's far more compact than any full-size canister or upright Dyson or Miele or similar. Although the company has one upright listed on its size, robots are Samsung's specialty, and the $1499 POWERbot VR900 (SR20H9050U) is its best autonomous vacuum cleaner yet. Its defining feature is a revamped digital motor — 60 times the suction of "conventional" 'bots — and a cyclonic design that promises no loss of suction as the dust collector fills up.
The majority of the POWERbot's chassis is taken up by that central, cylindrical vacuum motor and dust bin. Behind that in the VR9000's circular body is the 60-minute battery pack, and ahead of it is its front-mounted array of sensors and circuitry, including a novel upward-and-forward-facing digital camera sensor for room and roof mapping and forward-firing ultrasonic sensors for obstacle tracking and avoidance.
As regular vacuums go, the POWERbot VR9000 is positively underpowered; that's because it runs off a battery rather than a constant 240V power supply from a wall socket. It uses that power efficiently, though — it only has a single powered brush and a single point of suction, so its outright vacuuming power is actually quite high. That brush is a full 311mm wide, and extends almost the entire length of the POWERbot's body, so it doesn't need to make multiple cleaning runs on a single spot.
Although there's an integrated LCD screen and three touch-sensitive controls on the rear top of the Samsung POWERbot, for modes, auto vacuuming start/stop and return to base, you'll be using the bundled remote control for almost all of the controls of this robot vacuum. You can set a cleaning schedule to your requirements, and by setting the onboard clock you can adjust that schedule for when you're at home or out of the house. You can also choose from silent, regular or max power cleaning modes, and can select spot cleaning or direct the VR9000 manually or to a specific point if it doesn't pick up the dust or debris that you're expecting it to. I'm sure the next step is for Samsung to add in Wi-Fi and an accompanying Android and iOS app to set and track your robot housemaid's cleaning peformance.
What's It Good At?
Let's be honest. Robot vacuums are rarely good at vacuuming. I don't consider myself a vacuuming expert, but I can tell when a vacuum — robotic or otherwise — leaves dust and hair and fibres and junk still on my carpet and floor after a run back and forth. The Samsung POWERbot VR9000, for its size and rated power, does a very good job of vacuuming. Its single rotating brush does a very good job of picking up dust and fibres both from carpet and from hard surfaces, and in some instances did a better job than I could with my own canister vacuum. I'll go into a little more detail of the VR9000's dust capacity later on, but suffice to say that within a single 15-minute vacuuming run, it filled up the 700mL container, and that's on a carpet-and-tile floor that generally gets pretty decent vacuuming relatively regularly anyway. The VR9000 is no weedy little sucker.
Battery life from the VR9000 is right up on Samsung's rated 60-minute figure, provided you charge it fully once you take it out of the box. The POWERbot's Max power mode — great for carpet and for difficult spills. I have a cat that likes to shred the corner of my fabric lounge and wicker coffee table, so there are a couple of carpeted areas that are usually pretty dirty. The Samsung robotic cleaner knows when there's a particularly dust- or fibre-heavy area and runs in concentric circles around it, and it's an approach that genuinely works very well for cleaning difficult locations.
It's smart, too. The camera on the front of the VR9000, facing almost straight upwards, knows when it's going from room to room and when it's entering a corner, so for the most part it can handle navigation around complex objects and through your entire living space. Drop sensors stop it falling from drop-offs like stairs, bump sensors help it locate walls for almost perfect edge cleaning, and when it's running low on power it takes the most direct route possible back to its charging station. Unless it gets stuck, just about the only attention you need to pay to the VR9000 is when you need or want to empty its dust container.
Samsung seems to have hit onto something right with the VR9000; its design is not especially large or inconvenient or imposing, but it's powerful enough to do a very good job of cleaning (for a robot vac) and small enough to fit into most corners. It's also well constructed; big wheels mean it'll handle bumps in your carpet or inclines within your house — just about the only thing it can't do is climb stairs or dust the top of bookcases for you. It's defined by a combination of complex sensor suite and simple vacuuming tech — the two together make for a robotic vacuum that genuinely is surprisingly powerful and useful. Being a robot it charges itself on the docking station and knows when that charging needs to happen, too, so that headache is removed from the equation.
Samsung's accessories pack bundled with the VR9000 is top notch. You get an extra dust filter, a cleaning brush, the charging/docking station and its power cable, a clearly-labeled remote control, and a single Virtual Guard that you can position to stop the robot vacuum from venturing too far into a difficult-to-clean corner or into a space where it'll get stuck on cables or other clutter. I didn't use the Virtual Guard save for once in my testing of the POWERbot VR9000 — the cleaner was smart enough not to fall down a set of stairs, and it only ran into difficulty a couple of times with a raised door jamb and a just-slightly-too-low couch.
What's It Not Good At?
Moreso than any other robot vacuum that I've used, the POWERbot is loud. Samsung rates it at 76dBa — that's about the noise of moderate volume music from your computer or radio; not ear-splittingly loud but you'd have to raise your voice slightly to have a conversation. (It's still a fair bit quieter than any upright or canister vacuum at full power, though.) There is a silent mode, but this still isn't a robot you'd like to have whirring around your house while you're asleep. Maybe as a wake-up call it'd work well.
The 0.7-litre dust holding capacity of the Samsung POWERbot VR9000 is not huge, and pales in comparison to any upright or canister vacuum you can buy — as you'd expect, since it's both compact and battery powered. In any case, after not vacuuming a 50-odd square meter living space for a week, I unleashed the VR9000 on it — and had to empty out the canister after a single 15-minute robotic vacuuming run. That's a testament to the POWERbot's vacuuming power, but also to the small size of its dust holding receptacle. This is a worst case scenario — a large carpeted and tiled floor left unvacuumed for a week — but if you have a large house or a dirty one, the POWERbot will have its work cut out for it.
And, of course, being a circular robotic vacuum it isn't able to reach into 90-degree corners, navigate between chair legs, or move laundry baskets out of the way for a more thorough clean. If you're living a frugal and minimal lifestyle — not too many chairs in your house, large open floor spaces, no dirty clothes piled up in your bedroom — then the Samsung POWERbot is well suited to your living environment. If not, it becomes a little harder to live with. It did get stuck once or twice — on the raised lip of a door jamb, and under a low-slung lounge — but was generally pretty smart otherwise. In any case, you'll need a secondary vacuum — maybe a Dyson Digital Slim or similar — to clean the tops of skirting boards, window sills and all the above-floor-level spaces that the Samsung can't handle.
The thing about the POWERbot is that you have to use it in a different way to a regular vacuum. My house actually has a central vacuum system, with a massively powerful (and just massive) vacuum in the basement and ports in each room to connect a vacuum hose to. We usually vacuum once a week (or so) on weekends. But you can't use the POWERbot like that — it isn't great with big loads or long cleaning periods, since its canister fills quickly. I think it's much better suited to a daily cleaning schedule, when you're out of the house, keeping your floors clean rather than playing catch-up. If you use it with this mindset — and if you commit to it by setting schedules and remembering to keep it maintained — then it's great.
Should You Buy It?
The $1499 POWERbot VR9000 genuinely surprised me with the quality of its cleaning, on both carpet and hard surfaces. The previous robotic vacuums that I've used have been OK but not great, and have struggled with carpet especially. Samsung's latest vacuum — at least when it's brand new out of the box — does a sterling job of picking up trapped fibres and dust. It handles the job of a vacuum cleaner pretty damn well considering its size and its battery powered nature.
The issue with the POWERbot, as with any other robotic vacuum cleaner, is its relatively short battery life and its relatively small dust holding capacity. The first issue requires that you use the VR9000 in a different way to a regular upright or canister vacuum — you can't just give it one good run around your house or apartment, since it won't have the power to keep going for an extended period of time. The second means that you'll need to check back in with it regularly, to give it a clean-out and make sure it's running at peak efficiency.
With those two caveats, as they also exist with any of its competitors, the POWERbot VR9000 is the best robotic vacuum I've used, by a huge margin. It is significantly better at cleaning — exactly what you want a vacuum to be good at — than any battery-powered vacuum that I've used in the past. It's pretty smart, too, and does an excellent job of avoiding obstacles and making its way around complicated living spaces. It's entirely easy to operate, too, and that makes it easy to live with — you just need to let it do its thing, basically, and clean up after it. With those three boxes ticked, the VR9000 is just about the only robot vacuum that I'd buy right now.