New Name, New Features, Still the King
Two years ago we saw the release of the Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum, a product that blew our minds, and the collective minds of the industry when it released for less than half the price of its biggest competitor. What many didn't realize, however, is that Xiaomi didn't actually manufacture this vacuum; it was the brainchild of a company named Roborock, who is looking to replicate the success of that first generation product with its follow-up. This time around Roborock isn't using the Xiaomi name, but it still connects with Xiaomi's Mi Home app, keeping the feature base while throwing tons of new ideas on the table.
What's In the Box
Roborock packs a lot of value into the box, and of course includes everything needed to fully use the vacuum without needing to buy additional accessories. Aside from the vacuum you'll find the charging dock, which now uses pins at the bottom of the vacuum to charge instead of the bars at the back of the original Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum. A clear plastic mat fits underneath this charging station and is used to keep water off the floor while the vacuum is charging; something that's ultra important for folks who have wood floors. The new mopping attachment comes with two washable mopping pads, and even the new air filter for the vacuum is washable as well, cutting down on waste significantly. The vacuum ships with a 500mL dustbin, as well as a hair/particle removal tool placed securely underneath the vacuum's lid.
Hardware and Design
When comparing the first and second generation vacuums, some things have received obvious changes, while other things take a closer look to find. Roborock has taken the original design and sort of flipped it 180-degrees in most respects, and what was once the back is now the front of the vacuum for many components. Along the top you'll find the buttons have been moved a bit and are now in a horizontal configuration, while the laser navigation dome has been moved from the back of the vacuum to a much more central point. This movement has shrunk the size of the lid, which now opens towards the back instead of the front, and subsequently changed the size and shape of the dustbin too. Three buttons grace the top: A large power button for starting the cleaning, a plug button for sending it home to recharge, and a spot cleaning button for cleaning a square area of about 1.5 x 1.5 meters around the vacuum.
Cosmetic changes have been made to the trim, which now features a recessed silver lining that is visually more high brow. The bottom looks identical from first glance, and in fact the only real difference lies in the large wheels which power the movement of the unit. Aside from changing color, these wheels too have been flipped 180-degrees, and now push up and toward the back. The first generation vacuum's wheels pushed up and toward the front, and could cause issues with carpet, as it would erroneously trip the sensors, making the vacuum think it was stuck and unable to continue. This time around the wheel placement seems to significantly help with traversing over carpet, as exhibited in our comparison video, which you can view below.
The dustbin inside visually looks smaller, thanks to its more compact design, but actually holds 0.1 liters more inside, giving it a total capacity of around 0.5 liters. Pair this with the new filter, which is fully washable, and you're looking at a maintenance schedule that's less intensive than the previous generation as well. Also under the lid is a new cleaning tool, which helps remove particles like hair and strings with a small blade, and also features a small brush on one end for removing dust and other fine particles from the vacuum itself. Underneath is a 3-forked side brush, which helps sweep particles from the side of the vacuum toward the center. The center roller is made with alternating silicone wipers and brush bristles to help better collect varying debris throughout the home. This brush is easily removed and cleaned when needed. On either side of the brush are the large rubberized grippy wheels.
Staying on the underside but moving more towards the front of the vacuum, you'll find the swiveling wheel that helps with turning and stability, and rotates 360-degrees. On either side of this wheel are the new charging pins, which make charging a little more finicky than the first generation Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum was. Just in front of these charging pins are a set of cliff detection sensors, and another pair of these is found further down the side of the vacuum for full coverage cliff detection. The new mop accessory slides into the back of the vacuum and clicks in on both sides. This new mop accessory can be filled with a few ounces of water, which then slowly drip onto the pads via a pair of slow nozzles on its underside. Along the front is the bumper for lightly tapping objects and setting physical boundaries for the vacuum, and along the back you'll find the exhaust for the motor.
Comparison with First Generation
What exactly is different between the first and second generation Roborock robot vacuums? Aside from dropping the Xiaomi name for the second generation product, Roborock has made a number of tweaks and design changes, as well as additional features we talk about throughout this review. Check out the video comparison above for cleaning comparisons, and see the gallery below for more detailed pictures of the two side-by-side.
Roborock's incredible navigation from the original Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum is back and just as good as ever, working in the same identical pattern as that vacuum. The Roborock S50 breaks the room down into approximately 3 x 3 meter squares, starting with cleaning the outline of each square and then moving inward in a grid pattern. This process helps the vacuum define the borders of each section of the room, and seems to better reach the little spaces inside of each square. Care is taken to move around things like chair legs and other obstacles, and the vacuum does an amazing job of gently touching furniture and walls instead of recklessly bumping into them.
The vacuum primarily relies on its laser guided navigation array up top to map the room out, but it also uses a bit of the bumper in the front for verification. Laser guided navigation is most certainly the best type of navigation available for robot vacuums for many reasons. It's the most accurate without a doubt, as it can accurately measure distance down to the millimeter, as well as see in complete dark conditions. Other vacuums that rely on cameras for navigation suffer in dark rooms, and this laser navigation combined with the actual logical navigation put the Roborock S50 in the top of the charts for best overall navigation. As it goes along, the Roborock S50 maps the home and saves that map for later use, opening up a slew of options in the app.
This isn't the first vacuum to feature this type of functionality, but thus far in our testing, it's the one that utilizes it best. While the main full clean is likely the button that's going to get pressed the most initially, spot clean or zone cleaning might quickly take the lead once you find out how well it works. To preface this, it's important to note that map data cannot actually be saved manually; the vacuum does this all automatically via a full cleaning cycle. Once the map has been established, you can utilize the remote spot cleaning or zone cleaning features. The problem is that the map data cannot be marked as a permanent layout, so if the vacuum gets reset, or gets physically moved somewhere and doesn't start from the charging base, it'll erase any saved map data and start all over with the mapping process again.
This was a point of annoyance we had with the Ecovacs Deebot R95, for instance, and functions no differently here. The problem with not being able to save the map permanently lies in the restrictions placed on extended functionality. Without a full map, you cannot adequately utilize remote spot cleaning or zone cleaning. When a map of any kind is present, particularly a full one of your home, these added functions put the Roborock S50 into a class of its own when it comes to targeted cleaning functionality.
Remote Spot Clean takes the simple spot cleaning functionality that's present on the vacuum's physical buttons and allows you to send the vacuum to a targeted place in the house to clean a 2 x 2 meter square. From within the app you'll be able to pinpoint a specific spot for the vacuum to move to, and then once you're satisfied with the location, initiate a spot cleaning. After spot cleaning is through, the vacuum can return to the home base and charge; a stark contrast to the typical spot cleaning methods that require you to manually drag the vacuum over to a spot, wait for it to clean and then bring it back to the charger.
Zone cleanup is even more fantastic, as the app lets users draw any size box and then have the vacuum clean within that shape. The vacuum will only clean what it can within this shape too, meaning it's not going to drive around forever because it can't find the location you selected that might be behind the counter or within the wall on the map. More than one box can be drawn on the map too, so if you want it to give your kitchen and dining room an extra special cleaning and ignore the rest of the house, it's as simple as drawing two squares and hitting go. Up to three passes can be made for each shape, and just as remote spot cleaning does, the vacuum will automatically return to home base to charge once it's done cleaning.
Cleaning Process and Performance
Since the Roborock S50 breaks down rooms in an incredibly efficient way, it gets corners and crevices that other robot vacuums might miss. The single side brush isn't quite as effective as dual side brushes from some other robot vacuums, but it's a good enough setup that helps grab little crumbs and smaller debris and push them towards the suction motor in the center. In our tests the Roborock S50 was able to clean up over 95% of everything we threw at it, including dirt on tile/wood and carpet, pet hair on tile/wood and carpet, and even larger debris like cereal. Roborock has also introduced a new carpet detection method that uses the tension in the wheels to detect the presence of carpet, thereby increasing suction to better clean these types of surfaces. This works best in carpeted rooms or on large area rugs, rather than smaller area rugs or bath mats.
Because of the new design of the wheels underneath, the Roborock S50 has no problem getting over even thick shag carpet in our tests. In fact, the vacuum handled an extremely thick 1-inch pile shag rug without issue, and almost never stuttered or paused for anything. This is in stark contrast to the original Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum, which at times would get stuck on even low pile carpets. While we're not 100% certain of the exact reason this happens on some of the original models, it seems to be clear that the new hinge design on the main wheels helps the vacuum better climb over obstacles and keep from getting stuck on surfaces that have more friction or tension, as carpet would be.
As with any robot vacuum, you should always clean up your living space before running it. Cords, cables, small toys or other things that can be easily run over have the distinct potential to get the vacuum stuck and unable to continue on its quest to clean your whole home. It does an excellent job of avoiding large obstacles and getting around such things, and even small, loose strings or other similarly shaped particles generally don't get the vacuum stuck, but they do get wrapped around the roller and need to be taken out eventually. Another choke point could be under furniture, and while the new location of the laser navigation dome helps keep the vacuum from getting stuck as much as the first generation vacuum could, there were still times where I needed to dislodge it from under the edge of a couch or other furniture in my home. It's not perfect, but it's better than most we've tested in these regards, and it's normally incredibly gentle with furniture too, even furniture that have difficult curves or edges to them, like Victorian style furniture legs for instance.
One of the big new additions to the Roborock S50 over the first generation model is a mopping accessory. This small, clear plastic reservoir fits on the underside of the vacuum at the back, and snaps in via a sliding tray underneath. The container is filled with water and dispenses the water through small nozzles onto a cloth pad. This cloth pad attaches via velcro on one side, and a sliding tray on the opposite, ensuring it's not going to come off, even if the vacuum accidentally runs over something with more friction, like carpet. The flaw in the design is that the vacuum doesn't have the ability to stop once it hits carpet, meaning if you have the mop accessory attached, it will go along its merry way and try to mop carpet. This inability to stop when it hits carpet ultimately limits the usability of the mopping accessory though, and ultimately means that it's only truly useful for spot cleaning rather than leaving it on for regular cleanings. The exception here would be for folks that only have hard flooring throughout their home and no carpets at all. As it stand it's really only made for picking up fine particles that didn't make it into the suction chamber, rather than cleaning up a big mess or sanitizing the floor.
While the Roborock S50 utilizes the same Mi Home app that the first generation vacuum uses, the interface and feature set are considerably expanded to support new and better functionality. The home screen is visually different in some respects, but still features the same core ideas: a large map of the last cleaning is presented above a set of function buttons. This map can be zoomed in on and inspected, letting you know exactly where the vacuum cleaned and where it might have missed. Historical data is presented for each cleaning, including how many square meters were cleaned and how long it took, as well as an individual map for each cleaning session. Our vacuum came from GearBest and was already configured with the English voice, but Chinese is also an option and will be the default depending on where you purchase the vacuum.
The biggest caveat with the app is the fact that you need to use the Mainland China server to be able to pair it with your Mi account. While this isn't a problem per say, it means that your data will live on servers in China, and whether or not that's OK with you is going to be a personal decision. All the historical map and cleaning data is stored on your Mi account, and can be accessed at any time. There are a lot of positive qualities to this design though, and the storage of map data is ultimately what gives the Roborock S50 its single best feature; remote targeted cleaning. While we already covered the details of how this works, the ease of finding it in the app means that customers will almost assuredly find and use it. Instructions are easy to follow, and it's as simple as picking a point to spot clean or drawing a box zone to clean within.
The Mi Home app looks a little different in each region, but the Mainland China server that needs to be used for the Roborock S50 displays all your paired gadgets in a lovely set of tiles. Clicking on any device will give you quick actions, and going into each device's home screen will open up the full list of options and functions. From here you'll be able to change the volume of the voice that comes from the vacuum, as well as set Do Not Disturb times that the vacuum should not run or make any kinds of noise. A timer can be set to run the vacuum at set intervals throughout the day or week, and four cleanup modes are available: Quiet, Balanced (Default), Turbo, or Max. When carpet boost is enabled, it is recommended to leave the vacuum on quiet or balanced, as it will clean hard floors more quietly and efficiently, increasing suction automatically when it reaches carpets. Decibel ratings for these modes vary from around 55dB in Quiet mode, up to just below 80dB in MAX/carpet boost mode.
Notifications will be given for status updates, but can be turned off if you wish. A vacuum can be used with multiple Mi accounts too, so your housemates can also run the vacuum when needed without having to use your account or bug you to run it. If you're at home and on the same WiFi network as the vacuum, you'll be able to use the app to manually control the vacuum. This can be done either via a set of three buttons that move the vacuum forward or turn it left or right, as well as a joystick that performs the same functionality. The most obvious things that's been left out is the ability to simple move the vacuum backward, which makes it impossible to get out of certain spots if it gets stuck. Still it's a fun little way to precision clean a spot if that's all you need, or more importantly, move it around the house without messing up the map the vacuum made.
Maintenance and Battery Life
Roborock worked significantly on cutting down the level of maintenance that needs to be done to the vacuum by providing both washable air filters and mopping pads. There's also a cleaning tool that's included under the hood of each vacuum, which includes a picker, a blade and a brush for general purpose cleaning. It doesn't work for everything, but it helps get strings and hairs out of the roller, as well as a quick way to brush out dust in the crevices of the vacuum. These types of cleanings will only need to be done often if you have a lot of pet hair or high pile carpets, as both tend to get wrapped around the roller underneath. Occasionally these same things will also get wrapped around the side brush, which only requires removing the brush with a screwdriver and taking the string or hair off.
At 500mL the dustbin is quite large, and sits slightly above average dustbin size for a robot vacuum. It's only designed to suck up dry objects though, so don't go sicking the vacuum on wet spills, despite what having a mopping attachment might make it seem. The vacuum will automatically keep track of how full the bin is and stop cleaning if it gets completely full. In my use this never happened, but without owning many large dogs or a number of other furry animals, there's not much of a chance that I would ever have that much stuff to fill the vacuum's coffers with. Pet owners might find they have to break the house up a bit into cleaning sections, emptying the dustbin between each section.
The air filter will last quite some time, and although Roborock recommends cleaning out the dustbin and air filter after each cleaning cycle, it's safe to say the air filter can go quite a few cleaning cycles before seeing any significant reduction in efficiency or suction. This air filter can now be washed between cleanings, but needs to be thoroughly dried before placing back into the vacuum to keep water from accumulating inside of the vacuum. Likewise the mop attachment is large enough to lightly mop any hard surface area of your home without needing a fill up again, as it's not designed to traverse carpet to get to other hard surfaces. All of the sensors and filters have an expected lifespan of a couple hundred hours of run time, which differs depending on the component, but the app will keep track of this schedule and send out a notification when things need to be cleaned or replaced. Likewise the app handles all firmware updates, which are done completely over the air wirelessly.
The Roborock S50 packs in the same sized 5,200mAh battery as the original Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum, however this time around it seems that Roborock's navigation systems work a little more efficiently than the first generation product did. In our testing the Roborock S50 cleaned the house quicker than the first generation vacuum by as much as 15 minutes, meaning even though it's got the same size battery, it's going to be able to clean more house in the same amount of time. A full charge takes a little over 2 hours or so, which certainly adds to the full cleaning time if it needs to charge in the middle. On the bright side, however, the ability for the vacuum to return home, charge and then finish cleaning afterward means you won't have to intervene in any way to get the house cleaned.
Top tier navigation
Excellent battery life
Easily able to traverse even shag rugs
Adjustable suction with carpet boost
Multiple spoken languages
Unbelievably good app design and functionality
Targeted and Zone cleaning
Easy to clean
No virtual wall functionality
No carpet detection for mopping
Mop is a bit of a letdown overall
Have to use Mainland China server in Mi Home app
Extra features require fully built map
For $500 there's simply not a better, more well-rounded robot vacuum on the market. It doesn't do everything perfectly, like its inability to detect whether or not it's mopping a carpet or a hard floor, but almost everything else is better than we've ever seen from any robot vacuum on the market, regardless of the price. Some of the more expensive options will offer more features, like the Roomba series interconnection with Google Assistant and Alexa, or LG's guard dog functionality in its HomBot+. Even without these features, however, the overall performance and unique features alone merit a purchase, and anyone looking for a well-rounded, feature-rich braniac of a robot vacuum need look no further. Roborock retains the crown in its second generation, no doubt.
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