Can run unsupervised
Does not tangle on carpet fringe, tassels, or electrical cords
Good, intelligent design
Can be scheduled to run automatically even when no-one is home
Can be reprogrammed because the code is open-source
Requires regular and extensive cleaning of parts after each use (when you first run it, you will probably have to clean it several times in its cycle)
Must keep plugged in when not in use
Cats will use it as a toy and can easily learn how to turn it on!
Not suitable for a cleaning when you haven't run it in a while and your mother-in-law is coming over, but once you have established a regular cleaning schedule, you will not need to worry; your house will be cleaner than you could imagine!
The iRobot Roomba 560 is an autonomous vacuum cleaner, a few inches high (so it can get under beds, tables, sofas, etc.) and about 13 inches in diameter. Although I originally thought it was at best a luxury, and probably just a toy, I tried it on my living room and dining room, which have hard floors with one area rug each, and are regularly swept, vacuumed and mopped weekly. When I ran the Roomba, it had been five days since my last cleaning.
I ran it through half of its cleaning cycle, and had to stop because its dust bin was full and there was a lot of hair wound around its brushes and axles. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of dirt and hair it was able to pick up! By the time it had finished two cleaning cycles (on the same day) I was completely embarrassed by how dirty my floors and carpets had been, and relieved at how much cleaner they were already.
The Roomba got confused a few times when trying to negotiate carpet fringe. Frankly, I was surprised at how well it managed most of the time. If it gets hopelessly tangled, a few beeps will alert you to the problem.
The engineering on this product is quite good. The screws on the bottom cover plate stay attached so there's no worry about losing them, and most parts are user-replaceable. So in all probability, to keep your iRobot in good working condition, you will never have to take it in for service--you can simply keep replacing the parts.
There are two downsides (and only two) to this product. The first is that when you first use it, you must stop it regularly and clean it. Fortunately, it comes apart easily for cleaning, and the areas to clean are all yellow, so you know immediately where to press or pull to have the parts come apart. They also go back together very easily with a positive click so you know they are in place.
The second downside is that in order to preserve the battery, it must be stored plugged in. If you're not using your Roomba on a regular basis, that is a waste of electricity. However, since I plan on using mine daily, this seems like a small price to pay to reduce the hours I spend vacuuming and sweeping! I originally tried to store the dock for it under my sofa, to keep the Roomba out of the way. However, it was unable to see the infrared beam underneath my sofa skirt, and so for the present I have had to abandon this idea, although when I reupholster my sofa, I may try again.
One tip: if your hair is longer than 4 inches, or if you have pets, the hair will get wrapped around every bit of the vacuum. Using a box cutter or X-acto knife to gently cut the hair will aid in getting it off the axles, especially on those parts of the brushes that are not meant to come apart.
The Roomba takes a bit of getting used to, and you will find that pulling wastebaskets, cords, and other small items off the floor will enable the device to clean your floors more thoroughly. If you have chairs with a space narrower than fifteen inches between the chair legs, you may find the robot cleans more efficiently if you stack the chairs on the table, as they do in restaurants. If you have shelves where the bottom shelf is movable, make sure the Roomba can get underneath the bottom shelf.
The first few passes the Roomba refused to go into my kitchen (not that I blame it). However, once it got there it was easily able to navigate under the oven, the refrigerator, and all the base cabinets. I did not have a chance to check out the "lighthouse" and "virtual wall" features, being unable to get out to get "D"-cell batteries on Christmas Day. The addition of those lighthouse and virtual wall features will greatly improve its effectiveness.
A feature I would dearly love to see in the next generation of Roombas is a brush on the side, parallel to the floor brush that is already there, to dust off the baseboards. I hate having dusty baseboards, and although I sweep them regularly, after watching the Roomba at work, I think that the addition of this single brush would add greatly to its usefulness and effectiveness.
Amazon Price: $449.99 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 26, 2014)
It's too bad I can't show you the picture I took of how much the Roomba managed to get up from just two rooms after one and one-half cleaning cycles. It turned out to be about four cups of dirt and hair, after my last vacuuming, sweeping and mopping only five days earlier. Needless to say, I will be running my Roomba daily!
Based on my experience with the Roomba, I recommend it highly if you want regular vacuuming. Especially for people with long hair, pets, asthma, or whose allergies require a very clean environment, it is really a blessing to be able to vacuum without having to supervise and be exposed to the amount of dust and dirt that this vacuum cleaner is able to get, even after having cleaned with a traditional vacuum. I find it well worth the price for convenience and cleaning ability.
Update: it's now nearly three years later, and my Roomba runs just as well as the day I got it, and I am still madly in love with it!