(Pocket-lint) - Smart robot vacuum cleaners are a saving grace for the lazy modern home-owner, helping to keep the house clean and reducing your battles with the upright vacuum.
Some of these robot cleaners offer a lot more functionality than others, so choosing the right one for you is a matter of personal preference and how much money you have to spend.
At the Ecovacs Deebot M81 Pro's price point, you might not get all the bells and whistles that its Pro name suggests, but is it good enough to cover the cleaning basics? We got one in to find out.
The design of the Deebot M81 Pro is similar to the other bots in the Ecovacs range. It's a low-profile circular cleaning bot with brushes on the front for catching stray bits of debris and a reasonably powerful suction area and brush system underneath.
The front of the unit includes a sensor that allows it to detect obstacles in its way so it can avoid problems as it cleans. Under the lid is the dust tray which is easy to pop out, empty and replace once it starts filling up (which we found happened quickly).
Included is a separate charging dock that the bot can easily dock with once it's finished its cleaning routine. On the underside of the M81 Pro are two electric connectors to allow for easy docking and charging when required.
This robot's design appears to be robust and well-built, even at this lower price point.
Setup, cleaning cycles and settings
- Android/iOS companion app
- Separate remote control also included
- Automated cleaning schedules
- Auto, intensive, edge and spot cleaning modes
- Manual control also available
- Standard and max suction settings
Out of the box, the setup of the Deebot M81 Pro is a breeze. Downloading an accompanying app available for Android or iOS devices allows you to setup the robot vacuum on your home Wi-Fi network and register an account to control it. Once that's done, as long as the robot has enough charge, you're ready to go. Click "auto" and the Deebot M81 Pro is off on its way to clean your home.
In the box is a remote control which gives you an alternative way to control the bot. This works as another option if you don't have easy access to a smartphone, ensuring flexibility for all levels of users.
For simple use, the M81 Pro's "auto" mode is more than sufficient to get the job done. In this mode, the Deebot vacuums in a straight line and only changes direction when it hits an obstacle. This cleaning pattern isn't as regimented or controlled as the sort we've seen on the other robot vacuums we've tested. There is no mapping system here, so the Deebot M81 Pro just bumps its way around the room until it runs out of charge or you tell it to return to its charging dock.
Both the remote and the app give you access to remotely control the bot should you need to. This means you can steer it out of the room and into another to carry on cleaning in there. It's not as intelligent as other robots vacuums we've seen because it doesn't necessarily know where it is in the room, but it does know how to make its way back to the charger (most of the time). There is a lot more human interaction needed though, which isn't ideal.
We put the Deebot M81 Pro to test in a room where some children had spilt some sand. With a lip on the doorway that the Deebot M81 Pro couldn't mount or climb over the little robot then spent around 90 minutes moving around the room going back and forth over the same patches until it eventually drained its battery. Other bots would finish the room and realise they've done enough then call it a day, but the Deebot M81 Pro just keeps on going. Not necessarily a bad thing if your house is especially dirty, but not as good an experience as we've seen elsewhere.
There are other cleaning modes available too. These include the "intensive" cleaning mode which follows the same logic as auto mode, but in a more aggressive manner. The suction power is stronger in this mode and the brush speed is faster too, so you get a better clean when you need it.
"Spot" mode allows you to focus cleaning on a specific dirty spot or area that needs special attention. This spot cleaning is done in a spiral pattern, with the bot moving outwards from its original position until the clean is complete. This mode lasts five minutes and allows you to deal with specific areas without setting the vacuum loose to clean the entire house.
"Edge cleaning" mode does pretty much what it says on the tin. Activating this pushes the robot to the edge of the room where it will attempt to clean along the borders and skirting board, avoiding objects whenever it can along the way.
A combination of these cleaning modes will get the rooms clean, although probably with more intervention and less efficiency than other more expensive robot vacuums.
From the app and the remote, you can set a schedule of cleaning tasks to send the robot off cleaning at a specific time during the day. You can set this to repeat every day if you wish - which is worth doing if you're out of the house and want a good clean.
- Infrared anti-collision sensor and bumper rail
- Anti-drop system
The Deebot M81 Pro has an anti-collision sensor that allows it to detect objects in its path. With the addition of the bumper rail, the robot handles edges, corners and furniture well, though it does sometimes seem to be bump back and forth into objects on a regular basis.
This little robot vacuum cleaner might seem less intelligent than some, but during cleaning cycles it still managed to make its way between several different rooms in our house, cleaning each reasonably as it went.
We were impressed with the way this robot vacuum dealt with the danger presented by stairs. The sensor on the front allows it to detect if it's coming near to the edge of a step and it backs away and neatly avoids taking a topple. Of course, the Deebot M81 Pro cannot mount stairs to clean them, but at least it can avoid falling down them.
The instructions included with the Deebot M81 Pro recommend blocking off areas where the vacuum might go under and get stuck. This includes gaps under drawers, wardrobes and other bits of furniture where to robot can slip underneath but not easily find its way back out again. We didn't take heed to this warning to see how it got on. Indeed, the Deebot M81 Pro got stuck and screamed out for help almost immediately, so we quickly learnt our lesson. However, we feel a better detection system might help with this issue.
The Deebot M81 Pro is handy for cleaning bedrooms though. Let's be honest, how often do you move your bed to give the room a good vacuum? With this little robot vacuum, you don't need to worry about it because the low profile means it can happily slip underneath and get the job done, depending on the type of bed you have, of course.
Cleaning performance and sucking power
- 500ml dust bin capacity
- 57dB noise level
- 4 hour charging time/100 minutes cleaning time
The Deebot M81 Pro offers approximately 100 minutes cleaning time before it needs to dock in order to recharge. With the patterns it carries out in auto cleaning, this amount of time means it will do several passes of any room in this time-frame and capably manage multiple rooms if it can find its way out and into the next one.
We were impressed with the suction power too. In both standard and max intensity cleaning modes this little vacuum cleaner managed to pick up a decent amount of dust, dirt and grime. Like other vacuum cleaners, it struggles with cat hair and cannot manage long pile. There are also issues with rugs - and we found during testing that the Deebot M81 Pro managed to get itself stuck on a rug and stopped cleaning until we rescued it.
Anything left on the floor is in danger of being sucked up into the machine. Small items of children's clothing left in its path ended up blocking up the brush rotors and getting stuck in the vent. Tissues, socks and bits of paper weren't safe either. We thought of this as a positive, but it shows how much time you'll spend ensuring the floors are clean of obstacles and mess before you set the robot off on a cleaning cycle.
During testing, we found we were emptying the dustbin on a regular basis - which is a testament to the quality of the suction power. Despite some issues with how it picked up cat hair, we were still impressed by suction and the Deebot M81 Pro's cleaning abilities.
Mopping and drying
- Advanced wet/dry mopping system
- Detachable mopping reservoir
One of the appealing features of the Deebot M81 Pro is the advanced wet/dry mopping system which can be used to mop your floors at the same time as vacuuming. Obviously, this isn't compatible with carpets and you need to block off any areas where the cleaner might find its way onto a rug or carpeted area.
The mopping system is simple enough to use. Included in the box is an advanced mopping reservoir that you simply attach to the underside of the vacuum. This reservoir needs to be filled with clean water and a cleaning cloth attached. This then allows the robot to mop while it cleans. The "advanced" mopping system works by wetting one side of the cleaning cloth while the other remains dry in order to wets one side of the floor on one pass and dry it on the return.
In practice, the advanced mopping system on the Deebot M81 Pro is a tad underwhelming. You can only put water in the reservoir, no detergent, so the mopping is essentially the same as rubbing a slightly damp cloth across the floor. Of course, like vacuuming, it's nice to not have to do the mopping yourself, but we found this system generally didn't get enough dirt off the floor. Food spillages weren't easily dealt with and other mess remained where it was.
If you treat the mopping system like the standard cleaning and set a regular schedule, this cursory cleaning is sufficient to keep floor both nicely swept and relatively clean. Robot vacuums need to be used daily to get the best results and take away the need for regular vacuum cleaning by hand. This same logic needs to be applied to the mopping too.
Connectivity with voice assistants
- Amazon Alexa compatible
For those of us with other smart home gadgets scattered around the house, there's good news as the Deebot M81 Pro is also compatible with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. All you need is the Ecovacs Deebot skill from the Alexa skills store. You then need to link the skill to your Ecovacs account to complete the setup. We initially had some issues with this setup as we couldn't get linking to work properly, but customer support soon remedied this.
You are then able to control the Deebot robot vacuum with the use of simple voice commands to Alexa:
"Alexa, ask Deebot to start cleaning."
"Alexa, ask Deebot to stop."
"Alexa, ask Deebot to start charging."
This functionality worked perfectly and there's certainly something to be said for commanding a robot to do your bidding via another robot.
Although a smart robot vacuum cleaner by nature, the Ecovacs Deebot M81 Pro is not as clever as others we've seen. Its cleaning modes seem clumsy which make it appear a bit dumb at times. That said, it does get the job done sufficiently.
There is the added bonus of voice commanding with Amazon's Alexa and some handy controls inside the app. The controls and sensing functionality do lack when compared with other fancier models on the market though.
We also miss the automatic room mapping system present on many other robot cleaners. Despite this, the Deebot M81 Pro is surprisingly capable. For the price, it's a perfectly capable little bot - just not the best we've seen.
Alternatives to consider
Dyson 360 Eye
Although significantly more expensive, the Dyson 360 Eye is packed full of features and bursting with cleaning power. During our review period, we thought this Dyson robot vacuum cleaner to be one of the best we've tested. If you can stretch to it, it's worth paying the extra to get the very best in automated home cleaning.
Neato Botvac Connected
As robot vacuums go this Neato is an excellent cleaner that manages to seamlessly cross between varying floor surfaces with ease. Its controllability also goes hugely in its favour with a fantastic app that's bursting with features. This one is accurate and highly capable and should be on your shortlist.