iRobot is an industry leader when it comes to robot vacuum cleaners.
The new Roomba 671 tries to integrate robot vacuuming with voice assistant features.
The cleaning experience is on point but Alexa connectivity doesn't work well.
Since I watched the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ for the first time, I dreamed of an environment where my alarm would be a bot and filter coffee would be smart. The ongoing revolution of the connected lifestyle with smart gadgets can be owed to the cultural success of that scene where “Captain Dave asks the intelligent HAL 9000 computer to open the pod bay door and it refuses to do so.” Five decades after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we are seeing an onslaught of self-aware and intelligent bots arriving in our lives.
We all have smartphones built with a digital assistant and then there are smart speakers which can do more than play back music. The scope seems endless and tech companies see a growing need to connect anything and everything. If there is one gadget seeking to connect naturally then it is your robot vacuum cleaner. With the Roomba 671, iRobot is making it possible.
The company has announced the Roomba 671 in India, an enhanced version of Roomba 606 that integrates with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. In India, it works with Alexa for now and the end goal is to clean your room by simply saying, “Alexa, ask Roomba to start cleaning.” So, is that added convenience of having a voice assistant worth the retail price of Rs 37,900? Let’s find out.
Design and Navigation
Cleaning the house, according to me, is one of the most difficult household tasks. Whether the house is small or big, the cleaning process can be daunting. The invention of powered vacuum cleaners by Hubert Cecil Booth has been a savior in that sense. However, the technology has advanced significantly and we are now looking at an era of cordless vacuum cleaners. When it comes to cordless vacuum cleaners and ones that are also a bit intelligent, iRobot holds its own place.
The Roomba 671, the new cordless vacuum cleaner from iRobot, is virtually indistinguishable from any other Roomba in the 600 series. Since iRobot uses a standard motor and filter design for its vacuuming robot, the design stays identical across the segment. For instance, the Roomba 671 has a circular enclosure and dimensions that are almost similar to that of the entry-level Roomba 600 series vacuuming robot. It has two brushes that serve the purpose of multi-surface cleaning and use the power of suction motor to remove dirt from the floor. It also includes an edge-sweeping brush capable of removing debris from the corner of your room.
It has a tiny bin that collects all of the dirt and the filter (which iRobot calls as high-efficiency filter) is built right into the bin. The design may be a bit old fashioned but it is effective at cleaning and is easy to maintain. The iRobot Roomba 671 comes with easy to remove parts for cleaning. It isn’t hard to remove the multi-purpose surface brush from its enclosure and the dirt that may have stuck to it over a long period of use. Users can also remove the filter for cleaning and replacing one is as easy as removing the filter and putting in a new one.
The iRobot Roomba 671 can be activated by pressing the ‘Clean’ button on top of the device or by activating the job command from the app. The vacuuming robot uses a number of on-board sensors and an on-device algorithm to understand the space and navigate through dirt. This, in my opinion, is the biggest compromise with the Roomba 671. During my time using it, I found that the device spent a really long time cleaning a space that looked clean to me. Once you initiate a cleaning job, the Roomba 671 works on its own system, and there is no option to offer it a path or navigate the device yourself. While it did manage to move from the living room to bedroom, the overall process seemed to lack polish.
Since the robot is a Wi-Fi connected device, iRobot can always improve their algorithm to clean the room more effectively by updating the firmware. I would have liked to see the row-by-row cleaning mechanism seen on the premium Roomba 900 series to trickle down to these cheaper models.
The heart of any vacuuming device is the motor that makes cleaning possible. In the case of iRobot Roomba 671, the company hasn’t shed light on the specifications of the motor but it is safe to assume that the performance is identical to that of other Roomba 600 series products. It has a motor that is powerful enough to remove pet hair and the performance can be classified into these three categories:
Bare Floor Cleaning
This is where the Roomba 671 clearly shines. It does its best job on this surface and the vacuuming robot can easily navigate through this surface and pick up dirt effectively. The Roomba 671 is most effective against loose dirt lying on the floor and can reach deep under furniture, where it would be hard to manually clean. I am most impressed by the way it cleans the corners of the walls using the edge brush. For long, I believed there were just no dirt in those corners of my room. Yes, this vacuuming robot debunked that myth for me.
It is important to know that you cannot rely on the Roomba 671 for deep cleaning your home. Most robot vacuum cleaners are not capable of cleaning your home entirely but they get the basic job done.
My house hasn’t got much carpeted area so I could not stress test the vacuum. But in the limited space I had, the Roomba 671 did a decent job. Since the vacuuming robots are not designed for deep cleaning your household, the performance of Roomba 671 with carpet cleaning was rather limited. This is one such area where you would need a conventional vacuum cleaner.
Pet Hair Removal
This was the trickiest part for me. Since I don’t have a pet, there was no obvious way for me to test the Roomba 671. However, I think the Roomba 671 would be fairly successful in removing pet hair from your couch or bed but the effectiveness of such cleaning would be subjective. I feel that I am not authorized to comment but iRobot claims that this new vacuum robot is meant for such applications.
Watch: iRobot Roomba 980 Video Review
Alexa why didn’t you connect to Roomba
Every morning, I wake up to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham on my Echo Spot and go to bed, listening to white noise. Having an Alexa-enabled vacuum robot made all the sense to me. While this is the biggest new feature of the Roomba 671, it is also the biggest disappointment.
At this moment, I have an Amazon Echo Spot and Philips Hue light as part of my smart home ecosystem. I am planning to add more devices including the smart plug and I was seriously hoping that the iRobot Roomba 671 would be a great tool. However, it never really worked for me. The process of connecting Alexa to Roomba is rather simple. You go to iRobot Home app and then select Alexa from the smart home option. The selection takes you to Alexa app where you need to choose ‘iRobot Home’ from the skills section.
Once the skill is enabled, users need to link their iRobot account with that of Alexa. This is where the whole process seemed to be broken. I tried linking my Android smartphone first and it did not work. Then I tried to link an iPhone with Alexa and iRobot skill and even that did not work. The tech team at iRobot tell me that this is the first time they have encountered such an issue and the Alexa integration generally works without any concern.
I am presuming that this is caused by a glitch which is common for a new device and your experience may vary. I plan to try linking Alexa and Roomba over the coming days and see if Alexa likes the vacuum robot after all. I will update this review accordingly but for now, not having the option to say “Alexa, ask Roomba to clean my room” is indeed a disappointment, considering it’s a signature feature of the new product.
Things to keep in mind
The iRobot Roomba 671 comes with a charging base, which looks like a cradle for the disc-shaped vacuum cleaner. The design is so intelligent that the vacuum robot will automatically return to its base when the battery is low. If you have a house filled with walls and nonlinear design then the Roomba struggles with returning to the base.
While the desired outcome is one where Roomba automatically docks to its charging station, the real-world experience is that you might some times have to pick up the device and manually carry it to the base station. The Roomba 671 takes three hours to fully charge and iRobot tells me that it consumes between 37-44W of power during charging. The company says the power drops if the connection is stopped after full charging.
Verdict: Should you buy this?
When the Roomba 671 did not connect to my Echo Spot, I was determined to call it a disappointment. Over the last few days, however, I have started to like it more and more, especially when it removes the dirt thrown around the house by kids and micro-dirt leftover from the process of mopping and brooming. Simply put, even if you don’t consider the fact that it has Alexa connectivity, it’s still a fairly useful device on its own.
The Roomba 761 is expensive, but it’s a taste of the future, and it’s does a great job of corner-to-corner dirt removal without any significant actions on your part. If you have the budget for this, it’s worth the investment.