iRobot Corporation Roomba

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Impressive little cleaning robot
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Roomba 560 ReviewWe 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 conscience 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.
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MRM on 07/27/2008:
Cool! Imma get one! Thank you, Sparticus, for persuading me and your readers to buy one!
DebtorBasher on 07/27/2008:
I gave you a VH for this review because I'm sure it will help others to decide if this is for them or not...but for me, it's like a dishwasher...It's just something I can't imagine myself using. I can't see how something round can clean into square corners...I'm sure it is helpful if you ran it at night, as you stated you do...but first thing that would happen if I did that would be me getting up at night and stepping on it or something...So far, the only positive reviews I've read on this are by those with cats or dogs and they have stated it's good for the shedded, who am I to say it's not worth just isn't for the Basher...thanks for the review Sparty!
madconsumer on 07/27/2008:
one of these would sure help with the daily cat hair pickup. it is way better than not vaccuming at all.

DebtorBasher on 07/27/2008:
Cats are Evil!
Slimjim on 07/27/2008:
We have two of these we used to let run in a retail store we have. One of them wasn't all that good It was supposed to return to the charging base when low, and never did once. Plus it stopped picking up anything after about a month. The other lesser model still works outside of the charger burning out, which we just used the spare. Overall based on our experience with the working one, it's not a bad gadget assume the bad one was a fluke.
DigitalCommando on 07/27/2008:
If these things came with a joystick remote control that allowed you to control where it goes, that would be a cool product. I'll bet that if you sprinkled ultraviolet powder on the carpet in a room and let the rhoomba do its thing and then turn on a blacklight after its done, it would be obvious that this thing does not clean every square inch of a room and would probably look like a maze of zig-zags. I see it's value as a general preventative cleaning type thing that reduces the need to vacuum manually, but does not eliminate it entirely. Well written sparticus (VH)
Nohandle on 07/27/2008:
Nice humorous review Sparticus. Could I borrow Murray for a day or so just for a test run? On your first floor are you dealing with just wood or a combination of wood and carpeting? I ask because I can close off the area between kitchen and dining room but when I remodeled had the door from den to foyer removed and there's that little hump where carpeting and wood meet. Would Murray stop there, turn around and clean some more on the wood? My cat and dog might go nuts but I've not observed either of them clean recently.
Anonymous on 07/27/2008:
Outstanding review as always Spart. I have watched these things advertised for years but really don't know anyone that has one. I have thought about picking one up as our entire downstairs is either wood or tile. I would guess they don't do real well on carpet? How do they do when they reach a single step down? We do have carpet in the living room but you have to step down a level to it.
Anonymous on 07/27/2008:
Don't ask me why.. maybe its just a phobia of mine but anything that can run around my house without a heartbeat will freak me out. LOL Thanks for the review Spart!
Sparticus on 07/27/2008:
Thanks everyone.

DC you are correct. It does pretty much zig zag around. Though when it finds a wall it tends to follow it unless it has done it before. I also heard you can hack these things and upload your home floor plan, etc. Pretty cool if that is true.

NoHandle/Superbowl - we have a mix of carpet and wood flooring. It seems to have no problem going from one to the other. Our carpet is pretty thick (almost shag) and it moves along just fine over it. It has some decent sized wheels and suspension for getting over minor humps. It wouldn't be able to traverse a step down I don't think... In fact, I think it is programmed to avoid stairs once it senses the floor disappearing beneath it... But I have not tested this yet.

Oh, and DC... They do make a 580 model that is pretty much the 560, but it comes with a remote control and extra beacons.
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Customer Disservice
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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.
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DigitalCommando on 06/10/2008:
Maybe you should give up trying to live the "Jetsons" lifestyle, and start pushing around a vacuum cleaner like everybody else. This task is really quite simple and only takes a few minutes to do what a rhoomba couldn't do in a week. And do you rhoomba owners honestly believe that the 1 milliwatt "motor" in that thing is even 1/10th as good as the cheapest vacuum available?
Anonymous on 06/10/2008:
Who am I to judge how somebody lives their life or the consumer choices they make. Heck, my grandmother lived in fear of microwaves until her dying day. Didn't understand why people didn't do it the old fashion way. Eh, to each their own.

Excellent review Snurfle.
DebtorBasher on 06/10/2008:
I'd get more done with a broom...and when my sweeping is done, I hop onto my broom and go for a ride...can't do that with a Roomba...though, I'm sure it hums and vibrates better than my broom when you sit on it.

Good review!
Anonymous on 06/10/2008:
Actually DC, I do. Our Roomba works like a charm, and I was way more skeptical than most.
old fart on 06/10/2008:
How long does it take to have a roomba do what a conventional vacuum does in 5 minutes...I doubt if it could pick up anything more than lint to begin with...
You probably could have bought 2 vacuums for the price of the Roomba..
DebtorBasher on 06/10/2008:
I like the name, "Snurfle"...LOL...reminds me of that skit they did on the Carol Burnett show...when Tim Conway was talking about he siamese Elephants who were joined at the trunk..."Snurfle"...LOL.
DigitalCommando on 06/10/2008:
Hi Ken, When the rhoomba can deliver me a beer, then we'll have a product that I can understand! I am a gadget freak but I just don't see the need for this product unless your physically disabled or something. It's kind of like somebody inventing an automatic toilet paper dispenser, you push a button and it rolls out 5 sheets at a time. Yeah, it would be a neat gag gift but it's simply not really needed, and certainly not an activity that is so labor intensive that it needs to be automated. That's how I view vacuuming. And yes, you are allowed to have a different viewpoint!
Sparticus on 06/10/2008:
I'm totally wanting one of these. Are they worth it? We have a dog and a cat that shed constantly... I'm hoping this might help cut down my vacuuming from daily to every other day... =)
DebtorBasher on 06/10/2008:
fanback on 06/20/2008:
I sent the following letter to the CEO and Board of Directors at iRobot, as well as to every snailmail and email address I could find for iRobot. I just read that iRobot now outsources its customer service. It was once excellent, but my recent treatment has completely alienated me.
I have been a customer of iRobot since the introduction of the first Roomba, have owned many of the models subsequently introduced, and have been mostly delighted with iRobot’s products (with the notable exception of Scooba, which I bought, but gave up on after much expensive and much-regretted buying mistake.) Although the vacuuming robots often needed either service or exchange after limited use, I always found your customer service department easy to contact, responsive, and polite, so I was willing to deal with the hassle of my various Roombas’ frequent failures, relying on the hope that reliability of future models would be improved. To compensate, I routinely kept an extra unit to use when one or more of the early models was nonfunctional.
In December of 2007, I bought two 500-series Roombas, largely because they were advertised as more durable than earlier models. Recently, within the same week, both units quit working properly, and close observation of their separate malfunctions allowed me to diagnose the problems, it was later proven, quite accurately.
I used your website’s contact information and telephoned. I discovered that your telephone customer support system has changed and now involves multiple time-consuming steps while it concomitantly and repeatedly urges customers to instead use email rather than continuing with the telephone contact effort. If one persists, I later learned, however, a customer support person can eventually, after an extended on-hold time, be reached by telephone…but that person, located in the Caribbean, is capable of offering only rudimentary advice. Any consumer of iRobot products with basic common sense or who has even superficially read Roomba’s instruction manual is more knowledgeable than the “support” person at this first tier. At this stage of the process, the customer has spent a minimum of an hour on the phone and has accomplished nothing.
The customer is then, if lucky, put on-hold for the true customer support person, and another long wait ensues.
When I called the first time about my two nonworking Roombas, I gave up within the first hour and, as advised by the automated system voice, emailed Roomba with the serial numbers, my contact information, dates of purchase, detailed description of the problems, and the other detailed extensive requisite information. The online multi-page form malfunctioned after I had fully completed it and I was forced to rewrite the entire email, filling out, again, the several pages on the website. The process took quite some time…which was, of course, doubled by the failure of the first effort.
I immediately received an email acknowledgment of iRobot’s receipt of my email. The next day, I received from iRobot a survey form asking about my level of satisfaction with Roomba products, but I never did, although I waited a full week, receive any response to my request for customer service. It would appear that email requests for service never reach technical support personnel, but instead generate only automated advertising.
After a week, with no email service forthcoming, I again telephoned customer support and completed the entire telephonic obstacle course, which took me, first, to the Caribbean, then finally allowed me to talk to a US-based representative who could address my problems. After that call, I found that the representative’s initial advice did not work for one of my units, and I was forced to again navigate the entire horrible system that day.
I was advised that I would be given an RMA number and an e-tag for the return and exchange of one unit, and that I would be sent parts to fix the other. I have received the RMA number, I have received the repair parts, but after 10 days, I’ve not received the e-tag.
Several email inquiries later, (which have resulted in multiple colorful and cheery HTML responses urging me to recommend Roomba to my friends) I’ve received no email answer to my questions about the e-tag. Again, it would appear that my emails reached only the advertising section of iRobot’s system…and that no actual living human is involved in answering any of the emails received from consumers.
Yesterday, for the third time, I spent over an hour navigating the horror that is your corporation’s telephone “support system”. I hope that the e-tag problem will now be solved so that I can return my nonfunctioning, in-warranty, unit…but I have serious doubts that I will ever see any resolution.
Although it was eventually proven that I had, myself, accurately diagnosed the malfunctions with my two units before I ever initiated contact with tech support, the several attempts to obtain in-warranty service for my two newest Roombas has taken in excess of six hours of telephone time and an additional futile several online hours.
It appears that the true goal of your customer support system is to limit the availability of customer contact with your service personnel, and thus prevent the in-warranty service promised by your own advertised policies. I consider this a breach of good faith on iRobot’s part, and I no longer trust your advertised warranty.
Is this the level of customer service that iRobot Corporation truly intends? I have willingly spent many hundreds of dollars on iRobot products over the course of many years, (including the money I wasted on my nonfunctional Scooba) but I am no longer a satisfied customer. Further, based upon this series of incidents, I cannot continue to recommend your products to my friends. This saddens me, because I’ve been an enthusiastic advocate of Roombas for many years.
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