iRobot e5: Let the Roomba do it

Mala Bharghava | Updated on: Oct 17, 2018
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The famous iRobot smart vacuum cleaner now knows Alexa and Google and comes with even more features

Watching a Roomba do its job is such fun. You wait to see if it will get stuck under a chair, bump into something and not know what to do about a flipped-over carpet, figure out how to go to the next room, etc. But it actually manages all that quite remarkably. Most of the time, anyway. It’s meant to clean like no one’s watching, when you’re not even at home.

The iRobot Roomba e5 has recently been launched in India and it’s one of the most high-end and feature-filled of the smart home robot vacuum cleaners. For those who’ve never seen one, it’s about the size of the inner part of a car wheel. It’s made of a tough plastic, which survives daily bumps against furniture easily enough. What the e5 has in common with its fellow robot vacuum cleaners is that it docks into a small home base connected to a wall socket. A little light shows up temporarily to indicate successful docking and the start of a charging cycle. Pressing the ‘Clean’ button wakes it up and sets it off on a journey across the house where it tackles the floor and any carpets in the way. The Roomba does an amazing job of avoiding obstacles. If it’s at the edge of a staircase, it knows to turn back. If there’s a piece of furniture (or even a person) in the way, it will bump into it only lightly and then back off. If the edge of a carpet flips over, you’ll see the Roomba e5 seem to struggle, but in a moment manage to flip the carpet back and get on with the job. Setting up the gadget involves connecting it to power and letting it sit in its home base. Next, one must download the iRobot Home app. Follow instructions from there on to activate the Roomba. Though it will also work without the app, some of the smarter features won’t work. Interestingly, more than one device can connect to the same Roomba, though I’m not sure what happens if there are conflicting instructions. Either from the app, or from the top of the device, one can start the cleaning cycle. The Roomba e5 has a three-stage cleaning system that uses dual multi-surface rubber brushes, power-lifting suction, and a filter to do the job. The device has an edge-sweeping brush too. It also has a dirt detection sensor.

On my nice wooden floors, the e5 did very well, making them gleam and feel totally clean. It made a large rug look much better after a session and didn’t have trouble with an extra furry bedroom rug. If you put out bits of paper or something, it picks it up quick enough. Where it did have problems was with corners and absolute edges. Because of its shape, it can’t really get right into the extreme inside of a corner. It also has trouble with thin wires, which is only understandable and any vacuum cleaner would try to eat those up.

I have wooden ridges separating my rooms and the e5 managed to climb over them quite well, like it had been practising at an obstacle course. As it cleans, the route it’s taken gets logged in the app but it doesn’t have the camera that the 980 does. For that model, the mapping became the subject of quite a bit of controversy recently as people became worried that the layout of the house could become accessible to hackers. However, it’s a trade-off because the mapping is what gradually teaches the device where to go instead of randomly wandering about or cleaning some area repeatedly. Other cleaning parameters also get logged into the app too. Two important things the iRobot Home app takes care of are scheduling and integration with the virtual assistants. There’s a week calendar that you can use to have the Roomba e5 climb off its dock and follow its typical cleaning route and come back. If it runs out of battery, it will come back on its own and restart when charged. You can even make sure your house is regularly cleaned if you’re nowhere around or even out of the country. As long as the device is connected to your Wifi network, all you have to do is schedule or give the command.

The other thing is that the app can be used to connect with Alexa or Google Home. I connected with my Echo speaker and asked Alexa to enable the iRobot Home skill in the Alexa app. Then, I could tell Alexa to ask Roomba to clean, stop, return to base, etc.

For anyone looking to upgrade from an old Roomba, the e5 now also has more powerful cleaning, new brushes, and even a washable bin. For those thinking of buying one for the first time, consider whether it will work in your household. Some tasks still need to be done manually, and if your floors are not wooden and need mopping, that too is a separate task.

One really clever feature is housed in a separate little accessory that comes with the e5. You’d think it was a strangely-shaped remote when you find it only has a single button. This is actually a ‘virtual wall’ and is used in an area where you don’t want the Roomba. Just place it at a doorway and turn it on and the Roomba will turn away when approaching that door. You can buy additional ones if you need them for more than one area.

Price: ₹41,900

Pros: Cleans well, works on its own, now a full IoT product with WiFi and virtual assistant integration, dirt detection and other sensors work well, clever virtual wall accessory

Cons: Rather small bin with fiddly removal method, can’t tackle corners, can try to gobble unwary wires, not suited for every home, especially those that need a lot of mopping

Published on October 17, 2018

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