A Review of iRobot’s Roomba Vacuum

iRobot introduced the Roomba line of robotic vacuum cleaners in 2002. Since then over 2 million Roombas have been sold making the little round vacuum cleaner one of the best selling consumer robots in history.

I received the Roomba Red model on Christmas Eve in December of 2004. We have a strict “no appliances for Christmas” rule in our house but the Roomba immediately won my heart. This wasn’t your ordinary vacuum cleaner. No, this was a step into the new millennium, my very own robot that would actually do my chores.

I plugged the Roomba in overnight to charge as instructed. The next morning the whole family abandoned their stash of toys, sweaters, new books and knickknacks in favor of following the Roomba around as he cruised the house in search of dirt. Even though the house was already spotless (we were at my Mom’s afterall) we let the little red robot work his magic for hours.

The Roomba is bagless, similar to cordless handheld vacuum cleaners. I simply pulled out the compartment, dumped the dirt in the trash and reconnected him to his charger so he could recharge.

Notice how quickly my Roomba went from being a simple vacuum cleaner to a “him”? I soon found out this was not uncommon. Once I returned to my own home, I logged onto the iRobot website and quickly found a Roomba user community of devotees. Roomba groupies so to speak. Here people came to chat about their Roombas, many of whom had cute little nicknames for their robots. I sensed then that Roomba had achieved cult status.

My Roomba worked fine for about a month before it fell victim to the dreaded “circle dance” which, according to the Roomba forums, was a common Roomba ailment. I couldn’t imagine vacuuming my house the old fashioned way or getting out the broom for the tile floor. I had to get my Roomba fixed at any cost.

First, I called the iRobot Roomba tech support line where they instructed me to perform a few tests, blow out debris, try a system reset and a few other tricks. Nothing worked. My Roomba continued to do the crazy circle dance. Fortunately, my Roomba was still under warranty so they said they’d send me a new one, all I had to do was pull out a small part and mail it to them first. All and all, I was Roomba-less for about a week.

My second Roomba arrived and worked like the great little gizmo that he is – for about another month. He too circled out on me! By the time my third Roomba began showing circle dance symptoms, I was about ready to give up but like a proud parent, I couldn’t do it. I loved my Roombas and understood that the technology was cutting edge and perhaps a little buggy. As long as iRobot would keep sending me new units, I’d keep the faith. Finally on my third call to Roomba tech support they informed me that they had a “patch” available for Roomba’s software that would solve my circle dance problems. Instead of shipping me a fourth Roomba, they would send a small flash stick to insert into Roomba’s built in serial port. The flash stick would update its software and my problems would be solved.

The stick arrived as promised, I plugged it in and Roomba self updated. He hasn’t done the circle dance since.

Now that the initial problems are resolved, the Roomba really does shine at what he does. He cruises my house, vacuuming up all the crumbs my five year old leaves all over. He handles pet and human hair with ease, though cleaning the rollers is a pain. But that happens with regular vacuums too. The Roomba is smart, he senses stairs, furniture and walls. When he gets stuck, he goes into a routine similar to the Mars Rover here he is able to get himself unstuck. The Roomba is so small and flat, he can reach where other vacuums fall short, the Roomba can go under beds, furniture and reach all those nooks and crannies that rarely get vacuumed.

My Roomba is the base model, more expensive models come with remote controls and automatically go back to the charging base when their battery runs low or when the job is complete. Prices range from about $150-$330 depending on the model. For about $20 more, custom “skins” are available to further customize the little robot. Custom photos can be added or choose from many pre-made designs featuring sports teams, flowers, smiley faces and more. One of these days, if I ever get tired of my cute little red guy, I may splurge on a cool new outfit for him.

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