We recently traded in some of our Discover Card reward points for some gift cards to buy a Roomba from Bed Bath and Beyond. I've wanted one for a while, and figured now was the time to try one out. We have a cat and a dog that sheds constantly. Typically I'm either swiffering or vacuuming every morning just to keep things looking somewhat clean.
The sticker price is a bit high (in the $300's) for the 560 model, but this latest model comes with the ability to schedule the Roomba to run whenever you like...for instance while you sleep at night. It also can clean up to 4 rooms in a single charge, and then return back to its charging station all by itself.
That is exactly what we did with our little cleaning helper. After setting him up (we've named him "Murray, the cleaning robot"), we gave him a test run by pushing the "Clean" button on his top. Off the Roomba went! We have a pretty big first floor (kitchen, family, dining, living rooms and a den). Murray sped off to the far reaches of our home cleaning away. He would wander into corners I probably would never vacuum, he went behind our couch at one point. He even battled it out with our cat for a few minutes before heading into the next room.
His movements were quite sporadic, but he did eventually make his way through all our rooms, bumping into things as he went. Rumor has it he remembers the configuration of your home. I have yet to see actual proof of that, but he does seem to find his way around pretty well. He also has a handy little side arm sweeper that helps him get into corners and sweep along walls. For us, most of the pet hair accumulates by the walls, so he did a great job of picking all that up. From a noise perspective, the Roomba seems a little quieter than a regular vacuum. It is not "quiet", but I did not mind the noise when he was bumping around the den while I worked.
The "dirt bin" is not very big, as expected for such a small robot. We pretty much empty it out every morning after he does his magic while we sleep. Another important note, we have A LOT of pet hair. As such, not only do we need to empty the dirt bin daily, but we also need to clean off his brushes that get clogged with hair as well. It is a fairly easy process that involves flipping him over and easily unlocking the brushes and cleaning them off. Takes me about 2 minutes in the morning to empty the bin and clean the brushes, then I put him back by his charger and he re-docks himself to await his next night of cleaning.
You do need to be conscious of things you leave around the house. We have woken some days to find Murray stuck in one of the rooms due to inhaling a shoe string dog toy that clogged his brushes - similar to what might happen if you vacuuming up a shoe string with a regular vacuum.
Since we have a door to our basement, we have not had any problems with the Roomba falling down stairs, so I cannot comment on its ability to avoid such situations. Our model did come with two "virtual walls" which could be set in "Lighthouse" mode or "Wall" mode. Lighthouse mode allows you to help the Roomba find rooms in your home it might have trouble reaching. It basically acts like a beacon to direct the Roomba to a far-off room. It also helps him return home when he is done.
The Wall mode allows the beacons to stop Roomba from entering an area. They are capable of projecting a 10-foot virtual wall. This beacons are battery-powered. I have not used them yet. We simply let the Roomba have the run of the first floor.
I can tell you right now the Roomba is not something that will completely replace your need to ever vacuum again. From my experience, it is a great supplement if you need some help keeping up with all the pet hair or dirt. It is also a great conversation piece, and even a potential play friend/enemy for your pets... Though a bit pricey, I would recommend it if you can find a deal.
I purchased a Roomba nine months ago. It ran for about ten minutes, then started making a horrible grinding noise. It took them one month to send me a replacement (refurb). The refurb unit did not function: no little beeps and boops, it wouldn't dock with the recharger, it wouldn't respond to the remote control, it would mostly just go in reverse in little short bursts. One of the rare times when it went straight, it went bouncing down the stairs without ever slowing down.
Multiple emails and phone calls resulted in the diagnosis "The battery needs replaced." A week later, the replacement battery arrived. No change. Several phone calls and emails later, the diagnosis became "Well the battery wouldn't cause all that. The unit needs replaced." Despite telling me it was still a warranty exchange, it took me sending them emails and making phone calls to them to finally get an RMA number, which I plastered on the box.
I emailed them the tracking info the second it was on the UPS truck. Two hours later, they replied to the email with a note that said "OK. Your RMA number is : ..." and this was a completely different RMA number. I called and explained that the unit was being returned with the RMA number they gave me the first time. I was told that the RMA number they gave me was incorrect, as a result they have lost the unit I returned to them (despite a delivery confirmation from UPS), and their system does not have any record of a unit having been returned on the 'correct' RMA number, so they cannot send me a new unit.
After 3 weeks of getting a runaround from everyone I spoke within customer service, they turned me over to the sales department who said they were unable to help me at all, and that I needed to speak with the customer service department. After however many months of fighting them, I have finally just given up completely.
I faxed a letter to their corporate offices, politely telling them exactly what I think of the way they treat their customers, and told them that they can keep my money and my merchandise and have a nice dinner courtesy of me, and pat themselves on their backs because I give up, they win. Never heard from them since. Great concept, but shoddy hardware, lack of consistent diagnostic skills, complete contradiction between customer service people and between departments. Avoid this product and this company.