Ecovacs Deebot 900

We might be living in the midst of the digital age, where you can switch on your lights with a voice command and keep tabs on your home from basically anywhere in the world, but when it comes to household cleaning, getting the best results often still require you to get your hands dirty and go elbow deep.

Robot vacuums have offered to make that job easier for over a decade – with varying success – but by-and-large they have improved (or at least gotten a bit cheaper) over the last few years. The technology powering these newer robot vacuum cleaners is smarter and more efficient, and the best models can genuinely make easy work of keeping your floors clean, even if you’re not actually at home.

While they still can’t compete with the likes of a good upright or canister vacuum cleaner – corded or otherwise – robovac manufacturers are trying to figure out ways to make the little droids powerful enough to pick up even heavier dust and dirt.

To date, robot vacuums were best used on hard floors as most of them don’t have the power to produce sufficient suction to clean homes with wall-to-wall carpets. That’s where Ecovacs Robotics latest robot vacuum cleaner comes in. 

Officially launched in July this year, the Deebot 900 comes with a setting specifically for households with small children, pets or carpet floors – in other words, something to tackle the tough jobs with. But can a robot vacuum truly get hair off a carpet floor? 

Price and availability

The Ecovacs Deebot 900 isn’t available in the UK yet, but it’s already on shelves in the US and Australia for $400 and AU$799 respectively. In Singapore, this helpful droid is priced at SG$599.

While it’s by no means cheap, the Deebot 900 is, perhaps, one of the cheaper Ecovacs robot vacuums available today. The Deebot Ozmo 930 (which isn’t available in the US) costs £549 / AU$1,299 but comes with a mopping functionality built in. 

Compared to the competition, the Deebot 900 sits at a more affordable price point. iRobot’s flagship Roomba 980, which is currently the best single-function droid for homes with wall-to-wall carpets, will set you back $900 / £800 / AU$1,499, while the premium Electrolux PUREi9 costs a whopping AU$1,699 (about $1,325 / £954) for something that’s a tad erratic on carpet floors and doesn’t mop either.

Design and build

Ecovacs Robotics’ latest autonomous floor cleaner looks pretty much like most other Deebots in the Chinese company’s cleaning arsenal. It’s a generic-looking, yet smart, round robot with a distinct circular protrusion on the top that houses the Deebot 900’s laser mapping sensors.

Like most round robot vacuums, including the Deebot Ozmo 930 and the Deebot N79S, the Deebot 900 has a front bumper that protects the droid when it’s bumping into walls and furniture. The bumper, like the other Deebot models, has a little give, providing ample shock absorption. Although we have to say that the sensors on the Deebot 900 are excellent – more often than not, the robot slows down as it approaches an obstacle while doing its rounds and the bump barely has any force to cause any damage.

On the top face of the droid is a single Auto button which, when pressed, begins a standard clean (more about the types of cleaning later). This button sits beside the Wi-Fi indicator LED, and both pulse gently with a soft blue light when charging, exactly the way it is on the more expensive Deebot Ozmo 930.

Like the older model, the Deebot 900 has a top lid which protects the rather small 350ml dustbin, which is easy to slip in and out using a plastic handle. The removable HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter attached to one wall of the bin is washable, but you’ll need to make sure it’s completely dry before using it again. An additional filter and bin are provided in the box.

The undercarriage of the Deebot 900 is nearly identical to the Deebot Ozmo 930 as well, with the exception of the latter’s mopping plate of course. There are two detachable circular, three-pronged side brushes which push dirt from the edges of the room towards the central long bar brush under the droid. 

The bar brush is meant to be used when vacuuming carpets – it sweeps up dirt but is also good for brushing hair and pet fluff off the fibres of a carpet. This, however, leads to plenty of tangles on the brush, but thankfully the brush can be removed for a clean. In fact, Ecovacs recommends the droid to be used without it (called direct suction) when used for dry spills on hard floors.

Speaking of tangles, the Ozmo 930 came with its own cleaning tool, which had a sharp edge to cut through hair caught around the wheels and the bar brush. Unfortunately the Deebot 900 doesn’t come with this tool, so you’ll need to regularly cut away the mess around the brush with a pen knife or scissors.

In terms of its, well, vital statistics, the Deebot 900 measures 33.7cm (13.27 inches) in diameter and 9.5cm (3.74 inches) in height, and weighs 3.5kg.

The Deebot 900 is, on paper, able to get across thresholds or barriers up to 18mm (0.17 inches) in height. So if you’ve got thresholds around the house that are about an inch (25mm) high – like we did in our test space (described below) – the Deebot won’t enter and the room won’t get mapped. Picking up the droid and placing it back on the ground is an absolute no-no; it will result in the droid getting confused and the map resetting or producing errors. The Electrolux PUREi9, on the other hand, is able to climb up to 22mm in height, clearing most thresholds and easily making a beeline for the garden if your backdoor is open.

Like most robot vacuums available today, the Deebot 900 also comes with a charging base in the box, which you’ll need place near a power socket with 0.5m free space on either side of it. It’s a simple dock with two charging plates, a front wall that keeps the Deebot’s bumper in place, with cable management hidden behind the wall.

Initial setup

It took all of 10 minutes to get the Deebot 900 out of its box, get it set up in place on its charging station, download the app, connect it via Wi-Fi and link it to our Google Home. It was a seamless process, with not a single hiccup.

Before the Deebot can have its first run of the place, you’ll need to give it a charge. While this is happening, you can download the Ecovacs app available for both Android and iOS and complete the setup. 

The app is the droid’s control center, so you won’t ever need to use the Auto button to start it. In fact, the only time you need to go anywhere near the robot vacuum would be to empty the bin or give the main brush a clean.

The app will lead you through the step-by-step process of connecting the Deebot 900 to your home’s Wi-Fi network and, then, to the app itself. Once connected, you’ll see that the Deebot 900 shows up as ‘online’ on the app. Tapping the name of the droid will take you into the main page from where you can pretty much do everything.

If your Deebot has finished charging, you can either press the physical button on top of the droid or tap the Auto option on the app’s home page to begin the bot’s first mapping run. As the Deebot moves along, a live map will appear on the main page with the real-time position of the droid clearly marked. Ecovacs says that each clean will update the map, so if you’ve got something (like a bag or box) lying on the floor the first time round, the bot may move around it then, adding an obstacle to the map, which will disappear if the item has been moved the next time it does a clean.

Ecovacs has never disappointed us with its navigation technology. Where the Electrolux PUREi9 moved around like a lost puppy, the Deebot Ozmo 930 and the Deebot 900 both impress in the precise way they move through a space.

Before the Deebot 900 begins its first (or any subsequent clean), you will hear a “I’m started to clean” voice notification from the droid. Similar notifications can also be heard when the vacuum has finished a clean and heading back to its dock, or when it needs a recharge.

Our test space consisted of a two bedroom, two bathroom plus study apartment and open-plan living, dining and kitchen, and the first clean was enough for the Deebot 900 to precisely map the area. However, the threshold to each bathroom is about an inch high, and the robot vacuum was unable to enter, although it did recognise there was another room beyond the door, adding those spaces to the live map.

Cleaning performance

Our test space had wall-to-wall carpets in each room, with the exception of the kitchen’s tiled floor, and in both areas the Deebot 900 did an admirable job, even on a standard clean.

To handle tough jobs like carpets and pet hair, Ecovacs has added a Max setting in the app which increases the suction power of the droid. This, however, eats into the Deebot’s battery life.

There’s a 3,000mAh battery in the Deebot 900, giving it a maximum run time of just 90 minutes as compared to the Deebot Ozmo 930’s 110 minutes. On the Max setting, the Deebot 900 runs out of juice in about 45 minutes. That was just about enough to finish a clean on the Max setting in our test space, with barely another square meter left to go. If you have a large home, however, you’ll need to keep Continuous Clean switched on in the app to make sure the droid recharges and picks up where it left off, which it does with nary a mistake.

And although it will finish what it started, the Deebot 900 takes about four hours to refuel so, depending on what time it finished its first clean, you could potentially be looking at a second run in the evening or at night.

If you’d like to avoid being disturbed at those hours, just enable the Do Not Disturb feature on the app. This ensures no cleans – including scheduled ones – take place during that time period, and will also turn off the blue lights and voice notifications.

In case you’ve forgotten to enable Do Not Disturb and the Deebot 900 does start its next round of cleaning when you’re least expecting it to, it’s quiet. We thought the Deebot Ozmo 930 was quiet enough to continue watching telly while it did its thing. We hadn’t heard nothing yet. The Deebot 900 is quieter still, with a hum that’s got a 67dB noise level. That hum, however, does get significantly louder on the Max setting.

We were a bit sceptical about the robot’s ability to clean a carpet, even on its Max setting, as most other droids we’ve tested haven’t performed well when running over fibre. While its rubber wheels move smoothly over a medium-pile carpet, we’d highly recommend the Deebot 900 for low-pile carpets. Deep-seated dirt, hair and fibres that are sticking to fibres of a medium-pile carpet don’t always get sucked up in a single pass, but you’ll still get a decent enough clean. That means it’s not going to be much help on high-pile rugs. 

If you aren’t happy with the clean it’s done on a carpet or rug, all you need to do is set up an area clean and let the Deebot do the job again. This is, perhaps, a bit of a cheat, but it’s not as though you need to do anything more than just lift a finger to set it up on the app. 

But before you decide the bot isn’t cleaning well, take a look at the bin. The amount of gunk in it will convince you that this little droid is doing everything it says on the tin.

Given its round shape, keep in mind the Deebot 900 is going to miss some corners around the house. These are typically tight spaces between pieces of furniture where it’s able to enter, do a small 360-degree clean and roll out. However, the two side brushes do a decent enough job along all edges.

Like any other robot vacuum, you’ll need to give your home a preliminary clean, though, making sure there aren’t any cables or socks lying around on the floor. The droid can get entangled in these and stop. If this happens, you’ll hear a voice notification asking for help. You’ll then need to physically disentangle the robot vac, after which it will let you know it’s “relocating” and continue with its chores.

Unlike the Deebot Ozmo 930, the Deebot 900 is able to map new spaces. Given the map updates with each clean, additional rooms it may have missed the first time round (due to a closed door perhaps) will get added and vacuumed.

And, with a height of 9.5cm, the Deebot 900 is able to slide under most tables and cabinets, but the top sensor housing may cause it to get stuck under some shelves with low clearing. A small nudge with the foot rescues it easily enough and the droid carries on like nothing ever happened.

The Deebot 900 has a ‘drop detector’ on the front, so if you’ve got stairs in your home and the Deebot finds its way to the edge, it will detect there’s a fall coming up and stop. Unfortunately our test space was all on a single floor, so we couldn’t test the feature but if Ecovacs can ace practically every aspect of the robot vacuum, we don’t see why this feature won’t jump in to rescue the droid from a nasty tumble.

App control

We have to give credit where credit is deserved. Ecovacs has a very well-designed app that’s easy to use and is the best way to control the Deebot 900. The different cleaning types are neatly laid down on the app’s main page, which also shows you the live map, and whether the droid is cleaning or sleeping (there are animated zees for that). It also depicts the battery life, displays an icon for scheduled and continuous cleans, and for the Do Not Disturb mode. All the information you need is right there.

Once the map of your home has been created, tapping on Map Management will let you select specific areas to be cleaned (if you don’t want a full clean) or you can set up virtual boundaries if there’s a spot you don’t want the Deebot to get to.

Unlike the map created by the Deebot Ozmo 930, there are no textured differences to depict carpets from hard floors, but that’s explained by the fact that the Ozmo 930 has a mopping function which automatically begins if water is in the vacuum’s reservoir and needs to know where the hard floors and/or carpets are.

Tapping on the menu option (the ellipses symbol) gives you more settings. This is where you choose the power level of the vacuum – standard or max. This is also where you choose to switch on continuous cleaning and the Do Not Disturb feature. 

On this same settings pane you’ll be able to set up a cleaning schedule – choose a day, time and frequency and all you need do is come home to a clean home. To keep with the ‘returning to a clean home’ theme, the app also lets you start a clean remotely as well. So if you haven’t got a cleaning scheduled and you’re expecting unexpected guests who called in the last minute, just use the app to start the vacuuming.

If you doubt whether the Deebot has done a clean while you were away, you can check the cleaning logs. You can even keep tabs on the life of the accessories – there is an extra set of side brushes and an additional filter in the box in case the first set begins to wear out. The app doesn’t require you to monitor the accessory life at all – when it’s time for a change, you’ll get a notification on the homepage, which will show up every time you open the app till the change has been made and the life of the brushes reset.

Smart home integration

Smart home integration has become common amongst the newer robot vacuums, and the Deebot 900 is no exception. It works seamlessly with both Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. 

To set up smart home integration, you’ll need to make sure your robot is online on the app and that you’re signed into your Ecovacs account, which you would need to set up if you’re a first-time Ecovacs user.

To link the Deebot 900 to Alexa, you just need to enable the Ecovacs Skill on the Alexa app, then sign into your Ecovacs account. After that you can control the droid by saying, “Alexa, ask Deebot to start cleaning,” or “Alexa, ask Deebot to stop cleaning.” If you want the droid to head off for time between the mains, the command is “Alexa, ask Deebot to start charging”.

With Google Assistant, it’s much the same process; make sure the droid is connected and online, then open the Google Home app and add ‘Deebot’ by heading to Home Control. You’ll need to sign into your Ecovacs account and then you’re ready to say, “Hey Google, start the Deebot,” or “OK Google, stop the clean”. 

For us, the setup process was easy-breezy and the robot vacuum responds to voice commands instantaneously. However, HomeKit support is not yet available, so iOS users won’t be able to use Siri to control the droid.

Maintenance

As we mentioned earlier, the Deebot 900 doesn’t have the little cleaning tool that came nestled within the Deebot Ozmo 930, which is an oversight, given Ecovacs is marketing this new droid for folk with pets and carpets. This kind of use case will always see plenty of tangles that need to be cut away from the main bar brush and from around the small wheels for optimal performance, for which the cleaning tool would have been perfect. However, it’s easy enough to do so with a small pair of scissors or a pen knife.

Moreover, the bin has a capacity of only 350ml. That’s not very much, so you’ll find yourself emptying it after every clean if you have a large home with wall-to-wall carpets, or after every two cleans if you have a medium-sized home (evidence to how well the Deebot actually performs). Emptying the bin is as easy as lifting the handle to release the lock, then lifting out and unclipping one side to drop the dirt out.

When you’ve pulled out the bin, you’ll find a bit of dirt or small clumps of fibre in the bin cavity within the droid. That’s because the mouth of the bin, which sits behind the main bar brush, is large enough for a smattering of dust fallout when moving the bin. The cavity is easy to clean with a dry cloth, and it really doesn’t need constant attention.

If you’re the finicky type, you can, on occasion, give the entire Deebot a bit of a wipedown just to keep it looking shiny and new.

Verdict

There was a niche that needed filling and Ecovacs decided to take a stab at it. Unless you’re willing to pay top money for the iRobot Roomba 980 – the only robot vacuum we’ve tested that comes with a carpet agitator – there aren’t very many autonomous vacuums that can deal with carpets.

While the Deebot 900 does a good job on a low- to medium-pile carpet, it struggles on high-pile rugs. The fibres impede movement and dirt is often so deep-seated that there’s not enough suction, even on the Max setting, for a good clean. Moreover, with a limited battery life of 45 minutes on Max, a large home will always require a double run. On hard floors, however, there’s absolutely nothing you can fault the Deebot 900 for – it’s works like a charm.

Ecovacs has, once again, aced both the hardware and the software. Our only complaint would be the droid’s inability to clamber over obstacles and thresholds more than 18mm high, but that’s us nitpicking, really.

The droid moves exactly as you’d expect with practically perfect mapping, and the evidence of its cleaning performance will be there for you to see every time you empty the bin. And it’s all done quietly and at a relatively affordable price. Need we say more?



from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/ecovacs-deebot-900