iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration

Regular readers and viewers know I’ve become pretty attached to my iRobot Roomba vacuum. (Read my review of the newest iRobot 980 here, or the BraavaJet 240 mopping robot here to see why.)

This week iRobot announced it was making some pretty serious upgrades to the cloud connectivity of the iRobot app. You’ll remember from my Roomba 980 review that in the newer generation of robots you could control the vacuum from outside the home via the app and cloud, and that it has better ‘sight’ to find its way around your home and obstacles. Now the 900 series devices have mapping capabilities so you know exactly what’s getting cleaned and what’s not. Continue reading “iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration”

Top tech gift picks

There were so many great gadgets through my tech test center this year. I picked just a few as some of my most favourite for 2016.  Be sure to check out my longer “Top 10 tech gifts” list too. Continue reading “Top tech gift picks”

iRobot Roomba 980 is all new: more power, more smarts

irobot roomba 980iRobot, the makers of the Roomba vacuum have updated their top of the line robot housekeeper with some brand new technology.

The Roomba 980 looks a little different from previous models; (read my review of the iRobot Roomba 880 HERE) mainly sleeker, slimmer and with a more streamlined control panel.

I had the chance to live with the 980 for several weeks, and to compare it to the earlier 880 model too. Watch my video review & test too; scroll down the page to see it.

What’s new with iRobot Roomba? 980 is all new

There are three primary upgrades to the autonomous vacuum robots: navigation, cloud connectivity, and a new motor that does better on carpet.

Roomba Upgrade #1: Improved Navigation

That window in the bottom of the photo is the irobot roomba camera.
That window in the bottom of the photo is the camera.

The Roomba 980 has a host of improvements on the navigation front. There’s a brand new camera in the top of the robot which helps it find its way around obstacles and rooms. Two optical sensors in the undercarriage work similar to your computer mouse; they read the location on a surface to track the device’s position. This allows the device to see and understand its position in your home. Like previous versions, the Roomba also recognizes drop-offs like staircases, and learns to avoid them, backing away from any cliffs.

No more ‘lighthouses’

The new 980 can also do more; while the previous version 880 was really only able to take on three rooms at a time, and required ‘lighthouses’ to draw the Roomba 880 in to more distant areas. with the new technology, Roomba 980 can find his way around the entire floor of the home, and even learns it’s way around so you are less likely to find the robot stranded in a distant room (a quirk of the 880).

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Knows when to recharge

The Roomba 980 also knows when its time to recharge. It will clean as much as it can on a single charge, then return to its charging base to re-juice.

If you’re watching the new Roomba 980 clean you’ll notice it uses a much more linear grid pattern, and that its movements seem more deliberate than previous models. That comes from, in part, the new navigational guts which create kind of a map of your home, which it them learns to follow. Move some furniture? No problem, Roomba 980 will learn to adapt.

Roomba Upgrade #2: Cloud Connection

irobot roomba appThe new Roomba 980 can now be controlled with your smartphone. Using the iRobot Home app, you can start and stop the cleaning cycle from anywhere. You can also set and change schedules and adjust settings easily, and order up extra passes over extra dirty areas. It’s a handy feature I like because if I go out and want the robot to sweep up while I’m gone (but forgot to turn it on or schedule the cleaning), it’s a single click, and I can come home to a tidy dog-hair-free floor.

The app is very easy to use, and also allows you to manage multiple robots (and name them; fun!), including the iRobot BraavaJet mopping robot. (Read a review of that device here)

The app will let you know too when the dustbin is full, and you can also sound a tone to find the robot if it disappears under a bed. One other handy feature of the app is built in help if you need it and a direct portal to the iRobot store to buy things like replacement mopping pads for the BraavaJet.

Roomba Upgrade #3: New motor & “Carpet Boost”

The final major upgrade to the Roomba system is a new motor for the 980 version. The new motor has a built in feature that attacks carpet dirt better than previous robots. “Carpet Boost” as the technology is called can detect rugs, and when it does it cranks up the motor to increase suction to pull dirt from the fibers.

That low/high switch actually allows the robot to have a longer battery life (closer to 2 hours), since the increase in power only cranks on when it’s needed.

Roomba 980 – Can you see a difference?

The differences between the new Roomba 980, and previous versions may not be stark, but they’re there. I quickly noticed the more linear cleaning pattern on the 980, but I also really heard it when the carpet boost kicked in.

Another difference I noticed was the amount of debris and pet hair that collected in the dustbin; there’s more collecting in the 980. I checked with iRobot to make sure it’s not any bigger, and it’s not, but what is happening is that the more powerful motor is picking up more dirt, compacting it and thus it looks like it’s holding more.

The 980 is obviously more expensive than other robots in the iRobot line, but with the new features it seems worth it.

My take – iRobot Roomba 980
I never thought I’d need a robot vacuum, but I have to say, after living with one for so long, I don’t want to give it up. It takes care of pet hair in particular really well, and saves swiffering daily. I love the fact it can be scheduled to clean when I’m out, or that I can turn it on from the office via the app.

The 980 gets under furniture easily, and does a pretty good job at corners, considering it’s round. I found it super handy, too, for spot cleaning dry spills or crumbs.

While there’s no denying this device is an investment, and you’ll probably still need a second vacuum to do the heavy duty deep cleaning (stairs, blinds, etc), but at least the Roomba 980 will ensure you have to drag out the full sized vacuum a lot less.

The iRobot Roomba 980 is $899US / $1099 from the iRobot website. (The previous model 880 is $599US / $849CAD) You can also find them at places like Best Buy.

 

 

 

Can this Robot keep up with spills? Review of iRobot Braava jet 240 Mopping Robot

iRobot Braava jet 240

From the people who brought you the iRobot Roomba vacuum, comes their latest home automation project; a robot that will mop your floor.

The iRobot Braava jet 240 is a small, square automated robot which runs off a small rechargeable battery pack. The mop works easily and autonomously. You just fill its small tank with warm water, attach a cleaning pad, then set the mop down and let it do its work.

There’s no complicated controls, or apps needed to make this device do its work. When you press the ‘start’ button, the mop moves back and forth in a rather long linear pattern, squirting warm water onto the floor, then using the cleaning pads, preloaded with special cleanser, to swipe the dirt off the floor.

img_1880The robot is actually very, very quiet, particularly compared to iRobot’s Roomba vacuum device which I have tested; see the full review here. Using the same technology that makes the vacuum robot function, the Braava jet 240 can navigate around furniture and obstacles with ease. The robot also has what  iRobot calls “cliff detection”, so it will not tumble down the stairs.

Wet mop, damp sweep, dry sweep

The Braava jet has three different and distinct modes. You can use it to do a Wet Mop, img_2395where it will wash down your floors with water, a Damp Sweep, which uses slightly moistened pads to sweep up dust and debris, or a third mode, Dry Sweep, which will clean your floor much in the way a Swiffer pad would.

The Braava jet says it has ‘precision jet spray’, and a ‘vibrating cleaning’ head to loosen dirt and stains, then the cleaning pads soak up dirt and debris for disposal at the end of the cleaning cycle.
The mop is very compact in size; it’s not much bigger than a lunch box or a double stack of paperback books, so it’s able to squeeze into tight spaces, in particular iRobot highlights that it can get under cabinets and around toilets, plus into corners.


Braava jet mopping pads are extra
For some, the downside of this robot will be that you need to use a fresh cleaning pad for every mop. A 10 pack of wet mopping pads costs $8 with an extra five or six dollars for shipping and handling, if you order from the iRobot web store.  BUT… by the time I ordered 20 pads, with US exchange rate and shipping it was $40 Canadian; that’s about $2 per pad.  Expensive?  I guess that depends on your perspective.

img_1875Another option for the mop is reusable pads.  iRobot makes washable mopping pads that can be tossed into the washer. They don’t specify, however, how cleanser would get dispensed, since in the disposable pads it’s infused into them.  The website only says these pads, “tackle dirt and stains on sealed floors using water only. Can be washed up to 50 times before replacing”.

How well does iRobot Braava jet 240 work?

One of the smart features about this device, is that the device automatically knows which sweeping mode you want, based on which cleaning pad you slide into the device. That keeps operation simple, but it also means that if you run out of wet mopping pads, you can’t simply attach a different pad and still get the floor mopped properly.

The robot can clean about 150 ft.² in wet mopping mode. That’s about enough to do a small room, like a kitchen or bathroom. After that, the Braava jet will likely need a battery recharge, the tank refilled, and a new mopping pad attached.

I  was quite surprised at how well the mop cleaned.  I ran it a couple times and watched it work, and thought, “what’s it really doing”? There is a rather random pattern the mopping robot uses on floors, it kind of goes forward and back and side to side all at the same time, then when it gets to the end of a row it turns around and overlaps in the same pattern again. If you want to see exactly how it cleans a room when you’re not looking, check out the time lapse video below.

iRobot Braava jet 240 – Is it really cleaning?

Initially, I wasn’t sure how well it was actually mopping. After all, that small stream of warm water it squirts onto the floor doesn’t look very impressive. But then I turned them off over and looked at the cleaning pad. Gross! Not only had the pad collected hair, and debris, it was also very dirty. And that was on the floor I thought it was relatively clean.  Same deal with the Damp Sweep pads; I ran the robot over our hall and entryway, and the floor, which, again, I thought was clean, came away black and filthy. I was very impressed.

A lazy housekeepers dream

I’m going to admit washing the floors is not a high priority for me.  It gets mopped every two weeks, but in between, only spills and messes get wiped down. But after using the robot to mop the bathroom, the halls, entry and kitchen in between those regular, deep cleanings,  I realize I need to do better, and the iRobot Braava jet 240 can help me.

Overall Impression

I have a dog, and frequently have other dogs visiting the house. I really like the idea of being able to keep the floors from becoming filthy with dirt, debris and paw prints. I wouldn’t say this product can totally replace washing your floors; you would still want to do a thorough cleaning yourself from time to time, but as a stop-gap for keeping  things tidy between cleanings it’s a good option for families with pets and children. The kids may also find it fun to operate.

I also like that the price of this robot is much, much less than the Roomba; the Braava jet 240. It sells for about $199 USD. Considering it sweeps and mops, this robot would be a good way to get into the home automation game for a smaller investment.

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Gadgets you need at home; portable wireless lamps & robot cleaners

From cleaning robots to room-freshening lamps, on CTV Morning Live this month, we looked at some cool new gadgets for the home.

iRobot Mopping Robot

iRobot Braava jet 240I’ve been testing the iRobot Braava jet 240. This little lunchbox-sized device will sweep and mop your floors for you. It uses small pads with cleanser infused inside them and a jet of warm water to mop your floors and sop up spills. You just hit the button on the top of the device, and the robot will clean about 100+ square feet of space on one battery charge.

A full review of this little housekeeper is coming soon, meantime, check out the unboxing video to see what you get.

iRobot Roomba 880

img_0923-1The iRobot Roomba 880 vacuum is a large circular gadget, significantly larger than a dinner plate, and about three or 4 inches tall. You can schedule this vacuum to clean your home while you’re at work or away, and come home to a floor free of dust and pet hair; even under the furniture.

While Roomba’s weighty, he’s not heavy and he comes with a built-in handle so you can pick him up and carry him around. The Roomba can also be used at any moment (off the schedule) simply by pushing the ‘clean’ button in the center of the vacuum. The robot will back away from its base station and begin cleaning in a somewhat hard to follow but linear pattern. The robot learns its way around furniture and is smart enough to back away from stairs. The Roomba will clean an entire floor of your house and then return to his base station when the battery begins to run low. The Roomba 880 also has the ability to sweep up small spills by pressing the “spot” button.

For my full review of the Roomba 880, click here.

MiPow  Playbulb Sphere Lamp

img_1039I love colour changing lights.  They can totally change the look of a room. MiPow Playbulb Sphere is a beautiful, affordable frosted glass globe lamp that rests on a small base when charging but it can be moved anywhere for a portable colorful glow. You can get 6-8 hours of light on a single charge.

The Playbulb Sphere (full review & write-up here) works beautifully on the small side tables, or even as a chic dining table centerpiece since it’s only about 15cm in diameter. PLUS — Click the link just above here to see how this lamp can transform a whole room with colour.

Philips Hue Go Lamp

img_9005The Philips Hue Go lamp connects with a nice long AC cord for power but it also works off the cord, as the rechargeable lamp is also fully portable and lasts up to six hours on a charge. For the newbies, you don’t even need the app to start playing with it; a small button on the bottom of the bowl allows you to cycle through a variety of light colours and effects while a small wedge keeps the lamp steady on its rounded bottom.

Getting the lamp set up on Wi-Fi was very easy. You just download the free app then “add new device”.  Once you do that the app will search for devices on the network and it automatically finds the Go lamp. Once it pairs you’re in business. read more about the Go lamp in my review.

The above products are available at stores like Best Buy, London Drugs and Home Depot.

If you have any suggestions for gadgets I should learn about or check out for possible blogs or TV segments, I’d love to hear from you! Just use the “Contact” form here on the blog, or message me on Twitter or Instagram @ErinLYYC

 

 

First look at the robot that’ll mop up gross stuff for you

iRobot Braava jet 240.jpgJust in to the test centre this week; the iRobot Braava jet 240!  This little lunchbox-sized device will sweep and mop your floors for you.  Watch the unboxing video to see what you get, and watch the blog in the coming days for a full review of the device.

Robot housekeeper does the vacuuming while you’re away

img_0114There’s a new addition to my house! He’s small, only weighs a few pounds, but already feels like a member of the family.

Meet my Roomba! iRobot’s robot vacuum cleaner. While robot vacuums have been around for quite some time, I’ve never had the opportunity to test one until now. Frankly, I’ve had my doubts about how well they can keep the place clean, so I was looking forward to putting Roomba through his paces.

What’s in the box: iRobot Roomba 880


The Roomba vacuum is a large circular gadget, significantly larger than a dinner plate, and about three or 4 inches tall. While he’s weighty, he’s not heavy and he comes with a built-in handle so you can pick him up and carry him around. I received the ‘880’ model for this review, so these comments will all relate to this specific model.img_0118

Also in the box are a couple of devices that look like small towers. One of these is the “home base” station which will charge your Roomba. The other devices are what’s called virtual walls. More on those later. There’s also an extra filter and a remote control.

 

Set up


The Roomba is very easy to set up out of the box. You just pull the tabs off the battery, set the day and time (very easy; not at all like trying to program a VCR) and then set up the base station. The base station needs to be in a wide open area the vacuum can access easily, one that is not near stairs and is free of clutter like shoes or other junk. It should also be near a wall outlet for power.
Once the Roomba has charged himself up he’ll be ready to go.

 

Using the iRobot Roomba


The Roomba can be used at any moment simply by pushing the ‘clean’ button in the center of the vacuum. The robot will back away from its base station and begin cleaning in a somewhat hard to follow but linear pattern. The robot learns its way around furniture and is smart enough to back away from stairs. The Roomba will clean an entire floor of your house and then return to his base station when the battery begins to run low.

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While I was using the device, I had no problem getting the entire main floor of my house (about 1000 sq ft) swept on a single charge. The robot would go from room to room and find his way in through doorways and around beds or furniture easily. While the robot is short enough to go under beds and furniture, my beds sit directly on the floor, so I was unable to tell if the robot would automatically head under the bed to sweep up. However he did certainly sweep underneath all the other furniture in my house, something I’m glad I don’t have to do!

Roomba also has a ‘spot clean’ mode, so if you spilled something on the floor or have a particularly dirty or dusty area, you can bring the Roomba over and select ‘spot clean’, and the device will begin a series of swirl patterns and sweep up everything in that single area. I decided to test this feature by pouring some flour on the floor and then bringing the Roomba over to attack it.

Spilling stuff to test Roomba’s Spot Cleaning

Getting a spot cleaning done is a simple as pressing the ‘spot’ button on the top of the robot. Roomba immediately went to work, and started in a series of small circles that got larger and larger. In no time, all of the flour was cleaned up. As you’ll see in the video I made, I have some grout missing from spots on our tile floor, and while the Roomba did not have the suction power to get the flour out of those deeper crevices, he was able to get every last bit of flour from the tile surface. I was pretty impressed. While more suction would be nice, I also recognize that not everybody has giant grout gouges in their floor. So for most applications I think the spot cleaning would work great.

But could Roomba handle heavier spills like oatmeal, breadcrumbs, or even peanuts?
It was back to the test kitchen to find out. With this test, again the Roomba performed better than I expected. After initially rolling over top of the peanuts on the first circle, Roomba started scooping them up easily. The oatmeal and the breadcrumbs were no problem. In the end, my poorly grouted kitchen being what it is, the only remnants after one single rumba cycle were a lone peanut, and some stray oatmeal flakes deep in the grout holes. I ran a second spot clean cycle, and any additional bits were picked up. I did still need the broom and the dustpan for those deep grout cracks, but if you think about it, if you’re sweeping the floor as your regular method of cleaning, you still have to work to get down in any cracks or crevices. To see how Roomba performed, watch the video version below.

 

Schedule your robot housekeeper!!


One of my favorite features about this Roomba is the scheduling feature. It’s very easy to set the date and time on the Roomba with the buttons on the device. With that information programmed in, it’s another few quick clicks to set a cleaning schedule that works for you. I set the Roomba to clean every other day while we are at work, so we come home to a spotless floor.
Roomba knows how to untangle itself from cords
I will say I have come home a couple of times to find Roomba stopped at the edge of the stairs, or stuck on a rug or a stray sock. That’s because if the robot gets in a spot he can’t get out of, he’ll just shut down and wait for you to rescue him, squeaking out a few ‘help me’ beeps. He also has a built-in ability to untangle himself from any cords he may get caught on. I’ve watched Roomba do this; the robot merely backs away and reverses course over the cables and was always successful at disentangling itself.

 No more pet hair tumbleweeds

I feel like the amount of pet hair in our home was drastically reduced to the point of being invisible. While normally my husband and I would have to use a Swiffer or the vacuum to pick up dog hair tumbleweeds a few times a week, with the Roomba, that was just no longer necessary. I think the Roomba would be ideal for multi pet households where a lot of pet hair is a concern.


Will it upset your pet? Probably not.  Have you seen the video of a car riding the Roomba? Neither my dog nor my neighbor’s dog were bothered whatsoever by the robot. The Roomba even bumped into my dog one day while she was laying on the rug Roomba wanted to clean, and while she was a bit miffed, it was just a gentle push and then the Roomba moved off in a different direction. So it’s good to know that even if you have a lazy dog who won’t get up, the Roomba will just clean around him and not hurt him.

 

Cornering with the iRobot Roomba


img_0923-1Roomba will get around and under things where the pet hair tends to collect, like underneath chairs or in the hallways. And the robot even did a good job of getting into tighter spaces and corners, however his round shape means he can’t get into them perfectly. With that said, the tiny brushes that extend from the vacuum do increase the robot’s reach into corner areas. Overall I was not unhappy with how the robot was able to clean, and the spaces he was able to get into.

 

Clean shag rugs too!?


One of the biggest surprises for me in testing out the Roomba was the fact that it was able to clean my two shag rugs. Though they are rather thick, Roomba was able to roll up onto them and vacuum superficial dust and small objects. Roomba was not able to give these rugs what I’d call a thorough clean, (as you’d expect, it’s a shag rug! A regular vacuum can barely handle it!)  but I was surprised that he wasn’t scared to try it. I’ve also read that some robot vacuums will not clean black or dark colored rugs because they see that color as an empty space or a drop off. However once again, the black shag rug in my living room was no match for Roomba’s smarts.
Keeping Roomba in line: he can go only where you want him

One of the neat features of the iRobot Roomba is the ability to set up virtual walls and light houses. A virtual wall will allow you to block the vacuum from entering certain rooms or areas. In my bungalow, I found this unnecessary, since if I did not want the robot in certain rooms, I would just shut the door. However this would work very well for wide open concept homes where you only perhaps want the robot to focus on the kitchen, and stay out of the children’s play area. You simply set the virtual wall to create a border where the robot shall not pass.

With a lighthouse, the opposite happens; lighthouse placement will allow Roomba to specifically target certain rooms he might not otherwise get into. For example if you’re cleaning your main family room where the Roomba has his docking station, but also want to make sure he gets the playroom, or the bedroom, placing a virtual lighthouse at their doorway will ensure that he visits those two rooms after his initial room clean. Of course this is also subject to battery life.
Cleaning the Canisterimg_0939

Keeping the Roomba’s canister clean and emptying it regularly is important to helping your robot function well. iRobot recommends you empty the dustbin after each use. While I tried to do this, sometimes I forgot. Fortunately the Roomba will let you know if the dustbin is too full to continue. I was able to get about three days worth of sweeps on my entire main floor before it would fill up.
I did feel like cleaning out the canister was rather awkward, since it has a very narrow opening at one end of the canister. It’s hard to get pet hair out of it, unless you reach in with your fingers and try and pinch it out. Heavier dust or objects like the peanuts I used in my tests will fall out easily, but lighter debris needs to be shaken free. If I were to design a new room by canister, it would have a wider mouth for ease of cleaning all the junk out.  As it it, you’re probably going to get your hands dirty.

Overall: Verdict on the iRobot Roomba

I’m pretty happy with the Roomba. Having never tried a robot vacuum before I ws impressed with the cleaning ability and found it extraordinarily helpful with pet hair in our home.
I was surprised at how easy the robot was to program and schedule; even people who aren’t tech savvy could get this set up easily and quickly. In short, I’d definitely buy  a Roomba for my home.
Do you have experiences with Roomba, or other robot vacuums? I’d love to hear about them in comments below.