My Roomba 550 Review

September 16, 2010 · 7 comments

in 2010,Reviews

I have had my eye on the Roomba for a while, and have read many reviews. I was not fully convinced to try one, until I saw my first cleaning experience in person when my business partner purchased his refurbished Roomba from woot.com.

I waited around for a good deal to appear on woot or another shopping site. When I gave up hope one finally popped up as the Amazon gold box deal of the day. It was more than $200 off its original price and ended up coming out to be $179.99, with free shipping. Not too bad, and at that price I figured it was well worth a gamble and it would allow me to write a detailed review.

Background:
For those of you that do know, Roomba is a robotic vacuum from the company irobot. Yes it sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but the technology seems far less advanced then that. iRobot has been making these cleaning bots for years. They are not limited to just the Roomba Vacuums, they also make the Scoomba floor cleaner/robo mop (lol), a robot gutter cleaning device, and a few different pool cleaners, and that is just at the consumer level. For industry I think they make some far more advanced robots that do some very specific tasks. Anyhow, for this review we will only be talking about one product, the iRobot, Roomba 550 with 2 lighthouse towers and docking/charging station.

First Impression:
Since I got my Roomba from Amazon, and it was the goldbox special, there was a short 2 or 3 week wait for the unit. As every day went by I got more and more excited and wondered how robotically clean my little 1000 square foot condo would be. I would think of the good time my robot and I would share and how spotless my floors would become. I figured the Roomba would replace my need to get a dog as an assistant to clean up spills and drops in the kitchen.

When the Roomba finally arrived, it was well packaged from amazon. The box was somewhat awkward when it opened and I ended up with an upside down robot and a few C batteries scattered on my floor. Whoops. I flipped through the instructions, find a nice little home for the Roomba and plugged the Roomba 550 in to charge.

A few hours later the color of the light on the top indicated the roomba was ready to go, and hit the CLEAN button and the magic happened.

The little robot took off down the hallway where I hope he would not enter. He then made a turn and came right on back. He zagged and zigged, zigged and zagged all around my kitchen and living room/office area. I was pretty impressed. He seemed to go over everything a few times, and seemed to do a pretty good job. Around my desk he attempted to grab a cord or two, but got out of any sticky situation.

I stood around with my arms crossed, like a proud father watching his son win the big game. I was blown away. The Roomba really worked. It even made its way back to the charging cradle. I emptied the little guy out and was amazed by how much dust and other crap he picked up. The future was now, and the robot revolution has begun.

My Second Impression:
I started to use the scheduling options on the Roomba 550 and would set my robot to clean the house every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3pm, so that when I got home from the office I could eat off my floor (a popular habit of mine). This would require me to empty and clean the little bugger quite often.

It would seem like it was almost necessary to clean the Roomba’s brushes, dustbin, and anything else you could after he ran. This would take maybe 5 minutes, still better than going around cleaning everything manually.

Well one day I came home from work, I was hoping to see my kitchen spotless, as it has been, but today it did not look like anyone cleaned it. Thought it was a little bit odd. I looked at the Roombas charging / docking station and he was no where to be found. I called his name. No reply.

I looked high, and low for the guy but he was no where to be found. I started to get a little worried. I then looked in my family room and saw some tire tracks in my carpeting. ODD, where could he be? I followed the tracks and eventually found Roomba under my couch. He was hiding out like a scared child, hiding from the thunder. Somehow he bypassed the virtual walls and got to where he does not belong.

That was the first issue I noticed. He sometime just goes wherever he wants. The other problem I have been having is if I use the roomba on carpeting it takes a lot more maintenance and cleaning than you would think a high tech “robotic maid” would require.

After months of normal use:
I played around with various uses of the roomba for months, and even stopped using it for a bit. Now I set up my apartment so that the roomba only cleans one of the rooms, the great room. It is a pretty open area, with very few cords, or distractions, and now carpeting to clog up the brushes. It also contains my kitchen and an eating island with stools. So it gets messy pretty often and the roomba is scheduled to clean it 3 times a week.

Ever since I went to this single room option I have been very happy with my purchase. I can go well over a week now without having to empty the roomba out or take apart the brushes. It seems like it was carpeting and rugs that were causing the majority of my issues. That said I still have some hilarious moments when I see what sort of trouble my roomba creates.

About a week ago I entered my living room to a xbox 360 controller by the door, a rug bunched up in the middle, and the roomba nowhere in site. Somehow it got caught up in a rug, pulled my xbox controller from the xbox and carried it across the room, and then got itself into a big mess of cords in the corner, where he gave up hope and called it quits.

So from my months of owning one of these robotic vacuums, is that 1, you need to keep your cords tidy. 2, the roomba hates lightweight rugs (like the cheapo ones from ikea), 3, the roomba can clean carpeting, but you will need to clean the brushes all the time if you use it for cleaning carpeting, and it leaves tons of weird “tread marks/patterns” in the carpet.

Customer Service:
The only real issues I have had are due to the cords. The one day it seemed like the side brush quit spinning, I could not figure out how to get it to work. I called support and within minutes they had the problem solved. I needed to unscrew 1 screw then clean hair off the side brush. Since that day I have made taking apart the side brush as regular maintenance.

I was impressed with the customer service, and after looking at some of the help online, it seems like the roomba is pretty well made. It is quite modular, so it is unlikely that you whole unit will ever just go bad. You may loose function in one are, but it should be painless to fix if one of the motors quits working or something like that. It seems well thought out in regards to replacement parts.

While the roomba may not really be as smart as I had hoped I find it helpful. I am convinced it just runs for 25 minutes doing whatever it wants rather than somehow mapping the room. The one thing I wish it had was a sensor that could tell when there is an object above it, so it never stops in the middle of a cycle under a bed or couch. I think it would pretty easy to add that feature.

The Actual Performance:
I always am surprised with how much dust and such the roomba manages to pick up. It seems to gather really fine dust that brooms and other vaccums may miss. On hardwood floors the roomba is great, whenever I empty the bin on my roomba there is probably a half cup of really fine dust that gets thrown out.

Summary:
All in all, I am happy with my purchase. It may not be perfect for everyone, and in some instances it may be more of a hassle than a helper if you have to constantly clean the brushes due to long hair or carpet fibers. If you have hardwood floors, are fairly tidy, and keep things like cords off your floors the roomba may be a helpful time saver that can help you cut down on your chores. If you fit those three criteria I think it can be a great purchase. If you have lots of cords or mostly have carpeting, I do not recommend the roomba for your use, but rather a non robotic dyson vacuum.

PS: I started to write this like a year ago only a month or so after owning the roomba, and now it has been about a year and I finished it up.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike T 12.09.10 at 12:43 am

Dumbed down version!!!

I purchased a Roomba 560 and it came with electronics that made real sense. Lighthouses that allowed the unit to clean one room, move to the next and then clean the next room. I needed another to make life simpler, so I purchase another unit …but the manufacturer "Dumbed Down" the model 560 and did not include the "lighthouses" that made life simpler! They made a lame decision …AFTER releasing the model 560, to leave out an important function. After contacting "Roomba" I was informed that they did this so they could market the higher end models that weren't selling. STUPID DECISION …You should improve the product, not make it less functional. Now I am left with having to return the dumbed down version and pay for shipping, re-packaging the unit and purchasing an older model that hasn't been "dumbed down".

Obviously, a bad situation for any consumer! Hands down on poor product model decisions. They should have simply renamed the model and market it as a different dumbed down model. Yet they confuse the consumer by leaving the same model that is functionally different than the previous …and not in a good way, it should have improved.

2 Tiger 03.08.11 at 8:21 am

Funny story, I enjoyed it. I just bought my 550 from Costco yesterday and will fire it up for the first time when I get home from work today. My two cats are going to freak out. Can't wait.

3 Steve M 04.21.11 at 1:02 pm

Roomba Battery Life – absolutely brutal. I have the Roomba 551 that I purchased from Costco in December 2010. As recommended in the manual, I setup the automatic schedule function for cleaning Monday's, Wednesday's and Friday's. The Roomba works great and does an exceptional job, however, beginning around the end of March 2011, I would find the Roomba had not returned to the charging stand and discovered that it was running out of power before it could get back to the stand. I did a reset on the Roomba as instructed by iRobot (actually did it twice) and still the Roomba was barely able to clean one room. I contacted iRobot and they informed me the battery was no good and would need to be replaced….after 15 months of operation !!! Upon further discussions with iRobot they informed me that I would need to buy a new battery at $70 and they would also send me a software upgrade. When I complained they said they could take 15% of the price. Are you kidding !!! You pay on average $300 for one of these and you would expect the battery to last at least 3-5 years. If these things were $99 and lasted 15 month's you would say okay, just throw it away and get another one. Anyways, I have found another source for the batteries (http://www.batteriesareus.com) for $35 and I advised iRobot I would never buy another one of their products and I would never recommend them to anyone else !!!!

4 Vivian 06.26.11 at 11:04 am

Steve M – thank you for posting the link for Batteries Are Us, was definitely thinking of just shoving the whole thing into a closet instead of paying $70 for a battery.

5 Darrell C 02.19.12 at 3:40 pm

Steve M., thanks for your comment. I will need to follow up with Roomba as well. It so happens our 551 is not running for more than about 2 minutes before it just shuts down saying it needs the batteries recharged. Ours was used maybe 3-4 times per months, over the last 20 months or so!!! $70 battery, plus I need to upgrade the software? Wow, and to think we were considering the floor mopping version, but I will have to see how they help me out with our Model 551.

6 Phil 08.15.12 at 9:36 pm

I have the 550 version and it does a great job but it as problem when he comes accross chair legs or whatever kind of legs. The sensor doesn't see those things so the roomba as to hit the chair legs to know there's something there. So I bought some door foam, 1/4 inch wide and tape it to the base of the roomba ( where the front moving part is, Just under the invisible plastic where the sensor are ) After I've installed the foam about 12 inch long, I took some electric tape and place that on top of the foam so the roomba can slide easily on a wall. It works like a charm, no more banging hard on my furniture. They should install those thing on every roomba.

7 VB 09.08.12 at 11:59 pm

Can anyone help with my problem? All of a sudden, this morning, my Roomba551 says Charging Error 3. I've tried holding down the two buttons above and below CLEAN for 10 seconds and longer (as suggested in the manual), but it doesn't work. Can't reset the clock either (I've never set it in the first place), becsuse this 'charging error' sign stays on. Help!

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