(Pocket-lint) - There are all manner of robot vacuum cleaners on the market, catering to all kinds of budgets. From the high-end, uber-expensive 'bots with all the bells and whistles – even ones that can empty themselves – to the more affordable, entry-level models.
Our experience with the best vacuum cleaners around has shown us that, generally speaking, you get what you pay for – scrimp and you'll end up regretting it. You don't want to spend your hard-earned cash on something that's designed to make your life better but that ends up being more hassle than it's worth.
That said, we've also discovered that you don't always have to pay the earth to get a good cleaning experience. iLife proved that with the last bot we tested – the affordable yet capable iLife V8s. Its follow-up, the iLife A9, is a so-called "carpet cleaning expert" that costs less than $300. But are upgraded smarts and a new cleaning system enough to make it appealing?
Design and features
- Dual side/edge brushes, swappable main brush
- Cellular dustbin design with cyclone suction system
- Large tracked wheels, can mount up to 2cm thresholds
- 7.6cm tall design
At a glance, the iLife A9 bears some resemblance to other robot vacuum cleaners we've seen. A simple round body, a single operation button, detachable side brushes to help with edge cleaning, and a simple charging dock.
It's relatively low-slung at just 7.6 centimetres tall, and as there's no scanning housing on top of this bot, it can theoretically get underneath low household furniture like sofas and beds without much fuss. The A9 also sports large tracked wheels that make it capable of getting over small obstacles and thresholds as it cleans.
This robot vacuum cleaner also has two different main brush options: one that's essentially a ridged rubber roller; another that sports more traditional bristles. This gives you the option to change brushes depending on whether you're cleaning carpet, wood, tile or other surfaces. It also means you can avoid tangling a standard bristled brush with hair if you have pets or family members who endlessly shed all over the place (but there's a cleaning tool included to help you de-tangle the brush when that sort of problem does occur).
The A9 has a large 600ml dustbin, which has been built with a clever cellular and cylindrical structure. This design creates a mini-cyclone system that helps not only with powerful suction, but also channels the dirt and dust in a way that ensures all the debris is trapped inside and only clean air gets through its high-performance filter.
Where the iLife V8s had its motor built into the dustbin, the A9 is all bin. It's possible, therefore, to wash the bin out and keep it clean more easily, which is an added bonus.
Some other design features from other iLife robot vacuum cleaners continue in the A9. It has a hardware power button which means you can turn it off completely rather than just popping it into standby mode, a power port to allow you to plug it directly into the mains rather than just docking it, and an included remote control too.
Setup and cleaning cycles
- Gen 2 Panoview navigation system
- CV-SLAM algorithm
- 22 built-in sensors, including cliff sensors, accelerometer
- Scheduled cleaning setup
- Up to 120-minute cleaning time
Setup of the iLife A9 robot vacuum cleaner is a relatively simple process. Plug the dock in, dock the bot, turn it on, pair with the app and you're away.
There are several ways to control this robot vacuum once it's setup. You can simply press the power button to send it out for an automated clean or you can use the app or the accompanying remote control.
For the most part, cleaning is generally done in auto mode as it's the easiest to access and the most efficient cleaning mode. You can set a timer within the app or via the remote control to send the bot out for this sort of clean, every day at a specific time.
You can, if needed, use other cleaning modes as well. For example, setting the A9 to clean the edges of a room or carry out a spot clean in an especially dirty area.
Remote control and out-of-home control
- Android/iPhone app
- Remote control functionality
- Real-time voice announcements system
As well as hardware upgrades over the V8s, the A9 also has a software upgrade that supports control via a smart home app. This app is available for both Android and iOS devices and gives you access to various basic settings and controls. This means you not only have the ability to remotely control the robot using the hardware remote when you're at home, but also when you're out.
The app is fairly basic compared with others that we've seen. It gives you access to simple controls for setting it off to clean, sending it back to charge or monitoring how much cleaning it has done. You can also see a fairly basic map of where the robot has been during its cleaning cycle – but not much more.
When it comes to remote control, the AA-battery powered remote gives you access to more controls than the app, which seems a bit antiquated in the modern age. You can manually direct and force the bot about the house, change suction levels, adjust cleaning modes, or setup timers.
Like with the V8s and other robot vacuums we've tried with hardware remote controls, we question whether you'll actually find much need for the remote on this once you've initially setup the 'bot. It's nice to use occasionally, but when you can just press the button in the app the remote is basically obsolete.
Obstacle detection and room cleaning capabilities
- Multiple cleaning modes include auto, edge cleaning and spot mode
- Electrowall boundary gadget
- 600ml dustbin
When it comes to cleaning, the iLife A9 is roughly what you'd expect at this price point. It does an average job of sucking up dirt and dust from around the home. The cyclone suction system, combined with the large swappable brushes makes it able to pick up a fair amount of debris as it moves about.
It's able to get from place to place with relative ease and over thresholds, into other rooms too. It does a pretty good job of avoiding obstacles as long as you keep the floors clear.
We did, unfortunately, find that this robot vacuum cleaner got stuck or lost on numerous occasions though. The navigation system doesn't seem to be entirely up to the task and the A9 would more often than not fail to find its way back to the charging dock – no matter where it was placed around the home.
It would also give up trying to do so and simply stop somewhere in the house and would have to be sought out and manually returned to its home. This happened even when there weren't any obstacles in the way and no logical reason for the problem.
The upside to this is if you have similar issues you can always attempt to combat them in certain ways. If the bot gets stuck in certain rooms, you can block those rooms off with a closed door, or use the 'Electrowall' feature – a device that's designed to send out a signal that acts as a no-go line for the bot and tells it to avoid certain spaces.
For the most part, the iLife A9 behaves just as we'd expect from a cheaper 'bot. It cleans relatively well, but with less intelligence and more necessary human interference to ensure it runs smoothly. We found we had to empty its bin regularly and that's usually a sign of good cleaning capabilities, but it also doesn't pick up as well as other, more expensive bots.
After using the iLife A9 for a few weeks, we can't help but think that it's a bit of a mixed bag. On the face of it, it's a feature-rich, intelligent robot vacuum cleaner. It handles moving between rooms well, doesn't get stuck on plush carpet, works reasonably well on various flooring surfaces and has multiple control options too.
But we find it gets stuck far too often, doesn't pick up everything in its path, and therefore saw us regularly coming to the rescue. The accompanying app is also a little underwhelming in terms of controls and features, but that's something that could easily be fixed or updated in future patches. The remote is a little archaic but functional and general control of the bot is easy enough.
That said, it is highly affordable – and we've seen worse bots for more money. At the end of the day, the iLife A9 is an average cleaner for an average price. We can't help but think you'd be better off spending a bit more for a more capable bot.
The Roborock S4 is a real bargain but it's also more capable than the iLife A9 for a little extra money. It's a fantastic and intelligent cleaning bot with real-time mapping and more.
Ecovacs Deebot 710
Another excellent cleaner for the money. It has a large dustbin, smart navigation systems and efficient cleaning capabilities too. Like the iLife A9 it doesn't have an interactive mapping system and battery life is a bit middling – but it's still a bit of a cleaning bargain.