Most robot vacuum improvements are iterative—how can we pack a few more software features into the app? Can we make it a little smaller, or make it run for a little longer? A self-emptying bin, on the other hand, is life-changing.
We all can fill a standard 0.6-liter robot vacuum dustbin in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t matter how powerful or smart the little machine is if it runs out of bin space to pick up dirt. Until now, to get a self-emptying bin in a robot vacuum, you had to shell out almost four figures for one of iRobot’s top-of-the-line models.
But not anymore! Shark recently debuted its first smart vacuum, the Shark IQ, which has a self-emptying base. At its price, it’s less than half of the Roomba i6+’s price.
Shark has a reputation for making decent, affordable robot vacuums. However, this is its first “smart” vacuum, and it shows. While the robot itself is a decent piece of hardware, the mapping software it uses to traverse your house is bonkers slow.
But what are you going to do? I’d rather have a self-emptying bin than a smart map, hands down. If you’re okay with longer run times, we still think the Shark IQ is a great pick.
Yes, it empties itself, and it’s pretty sweet
We can hear the dirt being sucked out of the robot each time the robot interacts with the docking station. The emptying station is bagless too, so we don’t have to worry about replacement bags or damage to the environment with plastic.
The self-emptying bagless technology makes it so we can leave the vacuum alone for about a month, and when it’s finally time to empty the dirt, we just lift up the bin and press a button to release the dust and debris into a trash can.
Much better mapping than previous Shark robots
Past Shark robot vacuums, like the ION R85, didn’t exactly excel in mapping technology. The R85 has smart sensor navigation, which helps it avoid objects and get around the house, but it doesn’t have visual mapping.
The new Shark IQ Robot is way ahead of the ION R85 in this regard. It doesn’t repeatedly travel over areas where it’s already cleaned, and it creates a map of your home in the app, which allows you to select specific areas where you want the robot to clean.
You can tell the robot to clean only the master bedroom or the living room for instance, and it knows exactly where to go.
Once you send the Shark IQ on a cleaning mission, it goes about its work with gusto. It cleans in a methodical back-and-forth snake pattern, ensuring that no floor area goes unvacuumed. While the IQ was good at negotiating chair legs and tight spaces, it had a tendency to push a little too hard, nudging dog food bowls and a wooden IKEA step stool out of the way.
We used the included bot boundary strip to block off a thick shag rug that has felled many a robot vacuum. The IQ pushed hard against the boundary strip, ultimately moving enough of the strip under the rug so that it could travel onto the shag rug, where the vacuum quickly got stuck and sent an alert to our phone.
The Shark IQ has three levels of power (Eco, Normal and Max) but only two cleaning pattern options: manual and mapping. Many other vacuums, including the iLife V3s, include spot and edge cleaning modes that give you more control over the robot’s movements.
Here’s What We Like
- The auto-empty base works well
- Good performance on hard surfaces
- Cleaning pattern algorithm is efficient and wastes little time
- Map-based coverage history provides evidence of cleaning
- The app interface is intuitive and useful for robot management
And What We Don’t
- Performance on carpeted surfaces is not great
- The unit occasionally becomes confused and is unable to find the base
- Schedule configuration does not include the ability to customize room cleaning on different days
iRobot Roomba i6+ Robot Vacuum
The iRobot Roomba i6+ is an update to iRobot’s high-end Roomba 980 from three years ago. The 980 was capable of mapping a space and efficiently cleaning it, but it would discard the maps after each cleaning session and rebuild them from scratch every time.
The Roomba i6+ upgrades this feature in a major way: it can now save the maps it creates and use them to improve its cleaning patterns. It also lets me name various rooms in my home so we can tell the vacuum to specifically clean a particular space and ignore others.
We can manage up to 10 different floor plans in Roomba’s app for iOS and Android, and we can control the vacuum via voice commands to Alexa, Google Assistant, or from the app itself. My home has three floors, and we can use the app to see each floor and what rooms are in it.
If we place the robot on a different floor than its home base, it uses the various sensors and cameras on it to identify which floor it’s on automatically and load the appropriate maps. Sadly, it can’t yet climb the stairs to get to different floors; we still have to pick it up and carry it like a philistine.
Watching the Roomba i6+ clean a floor is a mesmerizing experience, and it’s wildly different from how a non-mapping vacuum gets the job done. The Roomba i6+ follows a logistical pattern, almost like how a lawn care professional trims a football field before an event.
It will clean an entire room before moving on to the next one, and if the battery dwells at low charge before it’s finished, it will remember where it stopped and return to that spot when it’s recharged. When you’re running a cleaning cycle, the predictability of it means you can safely move around the vacuum without really having to worry about getting in its way.
iRobot says it takes two to three cleaning runs for the iRobot Roomba i6+ to “learn” the room and produce a map, which is about what we saw in my testing. The main floor was mapped in two runs, while upstairs with multiple rooms took more runs to fully map.
Once a floor is mapped, the app will attempt to identify specific rooms, but you can adjust the virtual boundaries and then name them after it’s tried to sort them out. From there, you can tell Alexa or Google Assistant to clean a specific room with voice commands.
Should you move furniture or otherwise reconfigure a space, the i6+ will adjust its map the next time it runs a cleaning job and update its database.
We were excited to review the Shark IQ Robot and Roomba i6+ because the worst part of using robot vacuums is having to empty the dirt bins every few days (yes, my life is tough), and with these two robot vacuums we wouldn’t have to do that nearly as often.
The Shark vacuum doesn’t clean well, is slow to clean small areas, and is annoyingly loud has kept me from wanting to use this robot vacuum any longer than we have to. At this point, We can’t recommend the Shark IQ Robot vac, but we do recommend the Roomba i6+.