Robot vacuums were one of those fast-emerging categories of technology that I’ve always just kind of ignored for a couple of years. It’s like that sometimes. Hype can take a while to suck you into its trending temptations, and for the most part, I’ve been actually quite enjoying shimmying my trusty Dyson back and forth while watching foreign bodies get sucked into the sixth dimension.
Considering that, it took a strong entry into the category to win me over, and I was finally convinced when a friend of mine kept raving about his Deebot N8. That was when the model just came out, and since I’ve spend time with the Deebot N8 Pro from Ecovacs, which has clearly put a lot of time and effort into their definitive TrueDetect 3D and TrueMapping technology to ensure the number one most annoying thing about robot vacuums – they are dumb and aggressively bump into objects too much – is a thing of the past.
And it truly is. I’ve since tested out 4 different robot vacuums, and none can navigate a floor quite like the Deebot N8 Pro, which comes with reasonably powerful suction and Ozmo Mopping system that gets the job done incredibly well. While you’ll be needing to change the bag quite frequently, and the battery isn’t the best on the market, Ecovacs have excelled when it comes to performance.
Design & Performance
The Deebot N8 Pro looks just like most other robot vacuums. Consider it a moving disc. A supersized hockey puck that slinks around your house automatically and constantly cleans up to keep your floors tidy and the dust at bay. Where dust build-up is a concern, having one of these to cut out a significantly time-draining chore is now a must. I realise that now, and it took an excellent example to convince me.
It definitely helps that this is a 2-in-1 robot vacuum – what most brands call a hybrid. This means that it can vacuums and mop at the same time, using advanced technology to decide which is more appropriate and in what context. Sometimes it does both, sometimes it just sucks up the dirt. The obvious example here is when the robot is on some carpet; it will automatically know not to splash down any water and just stick to vacuuming. I’ve found this works reliably well, given the house I tested it in (I’ve since moved out) has a healthy mix of carpet, floorboards, and tiles.
Object avoidance is the biggest issue with robot vacuum cleaners, and seems like the hardest thing to get right. If you don’t have a robot vacuum that can effectively detect and avoid objects like chair legs and coffee tables then you risk coming home to an unclean house, because your little buddy might have gotten stuck and disorientated. What I’ve found is that, while the Deebot N8 Pro isn’t quite like a DJI drone when it comes to precisely staying on course, the TrueDetect 3D technology works reliably well.
The robot uses 3D structured light and a 3D scanning algorithm to analyse a room and the objects within it, detecting both large and smaller objects and working its way through to avoid collisions. This also means you won’t have the robot get stuck on shoes and wires that are left around the space. Ecovacs claim that their new flagship model can scan for depth and distance right down to the millimetre level, getting as close to objects as possible without actually disturbing them. From what I’ve seen, this is mostly accurate, which means those little bits of dust trying to hide by hugging those corners stand no chance. Although it’s not as consistent as it sounds, I’ve seen the robot get very close to objects before, but at other times seem to be a bit hesitant. It was never going to be a precise technology, and I doubt we’ll see the day where it is.
The smart functionality of the robot works really well. I hooked it up to the Alexa ecosystem as that’s the smart assistant I use the most (I do use Google Assistant as well, but not as regularly). Barking commands at the poor little guy while it’s milling about the space during my binge sessions is a seamless way to engage hands-off controls.
Not that you’d need to control the little guy too much. Left to it’s own devices, set on maximum suction (2600 Pa), it’s very trustworthy when it comes to taking care of itself. It knows when it needs to return to it’s station, and appears to know when it’s not done a good enough job. It may run over the same space twice, and this is because even though the suction is powerful, it’s unrealistic to expect to pick up as much debris as your high-end Dyson stick. Robot Vacuums just aren’t quite there yet, but Deebot is certainly a front-runner.
It’s worth forking out a bit extra for the compatible auto-emptying charging station if you really want to stay hands-off with the robot. Seeing as most people are hybrid office-home workers now, that’s less of a concern, but you know how technology works. Once you become accustomed to the convenience offered by a robot vacuums, any slight step backwards will be too much to handle. And having to empty the robot vacuum constantly, the capacity is still quite small, would get annoying.
It’s easy to access the dust bin via the small pop-up lid on the robot’s body. You can also remove the mopping pad and fit it with included disposable clothes that you can just wash and use again. This makes refreshing the robot vacuum when required – which is often – very easy and painless. You’ll be cleaning the internal parts very frequently, and the robot is good at indicating when you need to do so. No doubt most people you see on social media with robot vacuum have come to think of their new gadget as a pet. And this is very much is like a pet. It will definitely let you know when it needs some attention.
Luckily most of the communication is via the app. Ecovacs has a very simple and clean one. The initial set-up shouldn’t take you any longer than 15 minutes, and any subsequent interaction with the robot is via intuitive commands like pressing just one button to activate smart cleaning and leave the robot to its own devices. You’ll get an immediate notification if the robot has become stuck on something or needs cleaning, both prompts that activate an inbuilt speaker that makes locating the robot easy.
The most important thing about the app is that you can easily choose which areas of the house need cleaning, and set virtual boundaries which the robot is very good at respecting. Although I’ve had one instant where the app would actually forget the map that the robot had spent its time creating, in which case the robot would need to sketch its path again. This could get frustrating if it happened regularly but I’ve been using the robot for several months now, and have only had it happen once. Let’s hope it isn’t a problem moving forward. I’ll update this piece if so.
Verdict & Value
The Deebot N8 Pro is my favourite robot vacuum out of the ones I’ve since tested over the past few months. Given it retails for $799, the value is upped significantly. You won’t find many 2-in-1 vacuums at this price, let alone ones that are reliable enough when it comes to object avoidance and suction power. It’s a shame the battery can drain a bit sooner than you’d hope, and that the app can glitch out sometimes. But other than that, consider this one of the best robot vacuums out there right now.
A robot vacuum is not going to replace you Dyson, which you’d need for more substantial jobs. But for most situations, having one of these running around the house now an essential. It’s one of those pieces of tech where you couldn’t ever see yourself going without it again.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Great object avoidance; very reliable suction power; consistent at alerting you of any issues; easy to clean.
Lowlights: Battery life can be short; app can glitch out sometimes; small capacity.
Price: From $799