The home of the future will come with robot butlers and maids and chefs and cleaners, but until that happens, you’ll have to settle for a robot vacuum. Is this the future now, or just some cheap gimmick?
Features and performance
Robotic vacuums aren’t exactly anything new, but they are changing, with the evolution now more about what they can do to suck things up as opposed to merely sweeping them to the side.
Samsung’s latest take on the area is in the PowerBot VR9200, an update to its robotic vacuum model that features a digital inverter motor for the vacuum technology to increase the suction amount, making this robotic vacuum more like a vacuum and less like another sweeper.
Aside for that little motor, you’ll find support for wireless with an app that the vacuum will talk to on both iOS and Android, sensors to pick up on obstacles and drops to avoid any certain disaster, and a digital camera sitting up top to map out floorpans, which will allow the robotic vacuum cleaner to make its way around your home.
A battery can be found in the unit, good for a max of 160 minutes, though that is also dependent on how high the suction is set to, of course.
Setting the PowerBot up, you don’t have much that you need to do, setting up a small slimline base that appears to rely on an infrared sensor to guide the PowerBot to its home later on.
To start, though, simply dock the PowerBot vacuum in the unit and let it charge up.
It shouldn’t take too long, and we found our review unit had a decent amount of battery life to start with, so we just started pressing buttons.
You’ll find the remote is fairly accomodating, and we’d be surprised if someone didn’t get how to use it, as the icons are all pretty self explanatory, as are the words under the buttons. There are three levels of suction indicated through icons, and a directional pad with spot clean targeting, but we’ll get to that shortly.
For now, just hit play — the centre button — and watch the vacuum do its thing. Alternatively, you can press the play button on the vacuum itself, handy for those of us who tend to lose remotes all too easily.
Watching the PowerBot vacuum work, you can’t help but feel you’re watching an old animal try to make his way out into the world. He knows he’s not the same as he used to be, so he works his way across the world in steps, and turns, and steps, and turns.
For five minutes, I wanted to the animal— err, PowerBot to just sweep across the middle of the floor where I had intentionally dropped crumbs and dust.
I watched with anticipation to see if the path being tracked would put the vacuum in line with my intentional dust, and yet wasn’t surprised when the unit tracked left and right, bumping into chairs before eventually wedging itself under a piece of furniture.
“Beep, beep, beep,” it cried, realising it couldn’t go any further, and it did this until I came over and picked it up, telling it that it would be ok, before hitting play and letting it go on its merry way, cleaning again.
That’s the first thing you learn about PowerBot, because while it does its own thing in the background, the mapping doesn’t quite make sense to a human.
We — as humans and operators of the vacuum — want it to clean everything we can see, but it — as a robot with a camera up top and an algorithm designed to put everything together working alongside distance sensors on its body — is doing it in its own way.
Provided you let it do its thing, the Samsung PowerBot will get to it, eventually, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, and operating as a vacuum, PowerBot actually does do a commendable job cleaning the dust and dirt and flecks of rice cracker you’ve intentionally left on the carpet.
Three modes are available, and you’ll find even the lowest power of these — quiet — can pick up quite a few particles, from the errant here to the crumb baked goods that shouldn’t be lying on the ground.
We’re not going to say that the quiet mode is actually quiet, because it makes more of a high pitched whine if you’re in the same room with it, but it’s nowhere near as loud as a high pitched whirring sucking sound like other vacuums, and since the PowerBot will do its own thing, eventually it will make its way to another room and not bother you.
Occasionally you’ll here a thump as it bumps into something, and that will give you a slight giggle, but other times, it’s quite interesting to watch the PowerBot miss things as its obstacle sensor kicks in and does the math ahead of that “thump” noise.
You can also set up a virtual guard to create a sort of boundary line to stop the PowerBot from going into rooms you don’t want it to. This comes in the box, and relies on similar technology to what is in the base station, but it does the opposite, stopping the vacuum.
It’s a useful inclusion, though we’d have preferred a battery being built into the unit rather than needing two D batteries, clunkers that are not only a little harder to find but fairly costly.
Samsung is one of the kings of mobile batteries, so it’s surprising that the company has opted for D batteries instead of something rechargeable with a microUSB charge port.
One thing does appear to be missing and that’s the ability to tell the difference between when high power suction is needed. As such, the level of suction you pick using either the remote or the app will stay that way through its entire operation.
While there’s apparently an algorithm to determine the shape of the room and the path to take, there’s no such algorithm for switching on high power compared to low power.
Ignoring this, however, the cyclonic motor doesn’t do a bad job, and the charting algorithm will still manage to find its way around your home before needing to go back to base when the PowerBot has completed its cycle.
That is probably the most interesting thing about the Samsung PowerBot, as watching it navigate obstacles is very interesting, especially when it nails it.
That said, if you’re sitting there waiting for the PowerBot vacuum to do its thing, you might feel a little silly in the waiting.
In fact, it would be prudent to take your cables off the ground, much like you would with a toddler, because every so often, the vacuum tries to suck them up, causes sparks. That happened to us at least once, and was followed by shouting.
Pick the unit up, put it down somewhere else, hit play, and it will continue about its business, finishing its mapping of the roof and its subsequent cleaning, with the entire process done in a good 15 or 20 minutes depending on how much space there is to cover.
Overall, the sensors of the PowerBot appear to do a decent job working out where the stairs were, and when it realised there was a wall or a chair blocking it, the robotic vacuum found ways around the obstacles, with objects even acting as low-overhead bridges at points, taking routes we didn’t expect the vacuum to opt for.
But when you really need something vacuumed, waiting for the cleaner to do its thing just doesn’t cut it.
No, for that, you need to take control, and fortunately, Samsung makes that a possibility with the “Point and Clean” button on the remote.
For this to work, simply grab the remote, and then press the down arrow on the directional pad while you’re aiming the remote somewhere on the ground.
You’ll see a little red target aim at the ground, and the vacuum will spring to life to clean up that spot.
This is actually the fastest way to the get the PowerBot to do its thing properly, and we found the vacuum was quite responsive when we were doing this, so much so that all we had to do was keep pointing and holding that button down and we could control the vacuum efficiently, as if we were holding a piece of food in front of an animal.
At this moment, the PowerBot would keep responding to the command of eating that dust, of sucking it up and getting rid of it, even if there was nothing to remove.
And like that, we had found the most efficient way to control the Samsung PowerBot.
Efficiency is part of the problem with Samsung’s PowerBot, because for a good two minutes while I watched the machine do its thing and try to clean the ground, I thought I could do this better myself with a vacuum and it would still take less time.
Seriously, it’s not as if vacuuming is such a serious chore that a robot is required when a mess needs to be cleaned up.
Rather, the robotic vacuum serves more an ongoing logic, whereby it can clean your house in the background, doing things while you’re not there, such as every time you leave the house.
You can also control the robotic vacuum cleaner using the directional pad on the remote, and you can even connect up your iPhone or Android device to the vacuum via Samsung’s Smart Home app whereby you’ll be given a directional pad and control for the settings, as well as for scheduling.
We need to note that Samsung should probably spend more time on its app as while operation is easy enough, connection is a little more complicated than it needs to be, with the setup asking you to jump through a few networking steps and enter a password in order to get the vacuum and your network talking to each other.
Once connected, though, you’ll find control is easy, and you no longer have to worry about losing that remote (we know you were concerned). And hey, there are even some custom settings to kickstart the VR9000 vacuum, such as it’s morning so the vacuum should come in, or you’re leaving so the vacuum can come out and play.
The biggest dilemma for us with the Samsung PowerBot robotic vacuum isn’t from trying to work out if or when we should use it in exchange from doing it ourselves, but rather the price associated with it.
With a recommended retail price of $1799, it is very hard to justify whether the Samsung PowerBot VR9200 is worth it. Sure it’s app connected and it can stop for obstacles, and sure you can point to what you want cleaned and it will do it, but so can you.
In essence, you’re paying a thousand dollars more for a small vacuum that does what you want without you needing to get up, and honestly, you’ll probably have to get up and point to the dust if you want it done quickly.
It doesn’t help that the tank for your dust and other assorted particles isn’t terribly large, but really, that time factor plays a bigger part because if you just grabbed a stick or ball vac — any really, forget about the brands — you’ll still get the job done faster.
We’re not sure if the price is totally justified on Samsung’s PowerBot VR9200, but if you really don’t like vacuuming and would prefer to be doing anything else, it’s definitely worth a look, if only because it will constantly be doing it even while you’re not there.