A hawk-like focus on intelligence and efficiency
Roborock quickly rose to notoriety when it partnered with Xiaomi to create the original Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum. That vacuum went on to become an instant success, partly spurred on by Xiaomi’s excellent name in value, but mostly because the product was cheaper yet still better than competing robot vacuums. With its third generation robot vacuum, the Roborock S6 is being pitched as a more elegant solution than other robot vacuums, and one that’s also smarter and more efficient than the competition as well.
The 5,200mAh battery begins our journey down the impressive spec list, a battery that’s roughly twice the size of other high-end robot vacuums and is rated to keep the vacuum running for 3 hours straight when placed in quiet mode.
It’s not just the size of the battery that makes a difference though, it’s how the battery is used. Aside from the battery, two additional things help significantly in Roborock’s quest to clean your entire home in a single charge: more intelligent algorithms, and a motor that’s quieter and more efficient than the previous generation.
Previous generations of robot vacuums broke rooms down into squares, typically something like 3×3 meters. The vacuum would then clean inside of this square and move onto the next square, which ensured that every nook and cranny was cleaned, but took a long time to clean.
The new adaptive routing algorithm doesn’t just map the home, it learns the shape of each room and how obstacles need to be navigated around. This, in turn, allows the vacuum to be more efficient by changing its cleaning patterns based on historical cleaning data.
This means that something like a long hallway, for instance, will now be cleaned in long passes instead of being broken up into smaller horizontal sections. This cuts down on the number of times the vacuum has to stop, turn around, and proceed forward again.
For me, this translated into a 10% improvement in cleaning time, meaning the vacuum was able to clean 10% more of my house in the same amount of time. In my case, that roughly equated to about 60sqft more cleaned in the same time as other robot vacuums tested. I also felt that the Roborock S6 was more meticulous about cleaning every square inch of the house too.
Not just squares and straight lines
The vacuum still operates by breaking the room up into sections, making an outline of that section and then “filling” it in by moving back and forth in rows. Roborock’s advanced navigation is more organic than ever and doesn’t just rely on straight lines to get the job done. If a section isn’t a perfect square, it has no trouble adapting the lines to best fit this custom shape, furthering the point that the navigation here is the best in the business.
It’s these sorts of nuances that make Roborock’s vacuums the smartest in the business and makes it so impressive to watch clean your home.
The app delivers a real-time view of the vacuum’s location in your home, even including the direction it’s facing. This is something most other robot vacuum makers simply don’t offer, and it even shows the detailed cleaning path the vacuum takes too, letting you know what could have possibly been skipped, although this is highly unlikely given the vacuum’s intelligent nature.
Looking at the design, a surface-level glance doesn’t reveal much different about the Roborock S6 when comparing it with last year’s S5. It’s got the same color options too: white with silver accents (our review unit), white with rose gold accents, and an all-black model.
At €549, the Roborock S6 even sells for essentially the same price as the S5 in Europe.
Update 8/12/19: The Roborock S6 is now available for $649 on Amazon in the US. That's about $50 more expensive than the Roborock S5 when sold at MSRP.
Despite similar looks, a number of enhancements have taken place both over and under the hood, including a new side brush design, new floating roller brush, and a motor that’s 50% quieter than the one found on the Roborock S5.
Starting with the brushes, you’ll find that the new variable speed side brush looks wildly different from other robot vacuums. These new brushes are no longer traditional bristles, rather, they’re all silicone. As such, they’re not only designed to last longer but they also clean better and more gently than the previous design.
The main brush underneath features custom bristles from DuPont, situated on a “floating” roller that is able to alternate its height depending on the surface it’s vacuuming. The brush will pull up a bit when vacuuming carpet, and move down to closely hug hard floor surfaces.
Quieter motor, louder value
All this is run by a quieter motor that’s able to operate at 50% volume of the Roborock S5 when in balanced mode. This setting is a simple toggle within the app, a single choice among 4 total speeds. Average decibel output was around 35dB, which is astoundingly quiet for conversation, much less a vacuum.
The carpet boost mode will raise this volume to between 40 and 45dB, but that’s still quieter than the average robot vacuum by a full 10dB, making it far less intrusive when running at night or even while you’re home.
The vacuum is still capable of the same 2000pa maximum suction power as the Roborock S5, enabled during the carpet boost mode or in max suction mode.
For hardwood or tile floors, there’s also the mopping functionality to consider. While this isn’t new base functionality to the S6, the vacuum does more than its predecessor while mopping. Roborock still recommends only using water in the tank, as cleaning chemicals could eventually clog the liquid dispensers in the tank.
One new benefit is the inclusion of both reusable and disposable mopping pads in the box. The retail package includes 20 disposable pads, which fit onto a special attachment that slides into the mopping tray, just as the two reusable cloth ones do.
The amount of liquid that is dispensed onto the pad can now be customized between two settings. I found the lesser setting simply didn’t put enough liquid onto the pad for the reusable cloths, while it was just right for the thinner disposable ones.
Mopping probably isn't what you're hoping
The biggest downside to the mopping functionality continues to be the vacuum’s inability to distinguish between carpet and hard floors. Simply put, this means you’ll need to block off areas that have carpet so that they don’t get mopped as well. This can be done with physical magnetic barriers (not something most people will likely do, especially since it’s not included in the box), or via the in-app virtual barriers.
In this particular home, rolling up the corners of the area rugs to block off areas was the easiest way to mop without causing issues or becoming too much of a nuisance, but it also means that mopping can’t be done while you’re away from home.
Depending on your home’s layout, it could be very likely that the mopping functionality just isn’t useful, especially if all your hard floors are separated by carpet, such as a tiled bathroom. It’s going to be amazing once someone figures out how to operate a robot vacuum like this but, until then, mopping continues to be an extremely limited function as it is an all other robot vacuums with the same functionality.
Roborock doesn’t feature a top-up function as Neato does on the latest Botvac robot vacuums, meaning that if the Roborock S6 can’t clean your house in one charge, it’ll have to return to the dock and charge to 80% before cleaning again. This could add an hour or so to the total cleaning time of your home.
In the home we tested it in, the Roborock S6 was able to clean around 110 square meters, or about 1200 square feet, on a single charge. Roborock estimates 3 hours of runtime, but that’s only if you’re running the vacuum on quiet mode without carpet boost enabled.
Folks without carpets will have better battery life, especially if max suction is not regularly used.
Maintenance for the Roborock S6 is no different from any other robot vacuum and will not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever owned one. The bin should be emptied after each use, and the main roller brush underneath will need to be cleaned more often if you have pets, as pet hair will get tangled inside.
The allergen-rated filter inside of the dustbin is fully washable, which extends the life of the filter significantly. Some other robot vacuums don’t have a washable filter, which leads to extra expense when the filter gets too dirty to properly clean.
A scant few shortcomings
While maintenance is easy, a few changes could make it a little more carefree. The dustbin design has a large hole for the motor to push debris through, but there’s no flap to cover this hole when pulling the dustbin out of the vacuum. This will inevitably lead to debris, typically fine dust particles, falling out of the bin when it’s removed, causing a mess.
The side brush is also held in by a screw, which obviously requires a screwdriver to remove. This is annoying when hair gets stuck under the brush, as it requires more work than other robot vacuums, which often use magnets to keep the sidebrush in place. The upside is that there’s no way this will ever fall off in regular use, which is something we’ve had happen with other robot vacuums.
Then there’s also the requirement to empty the bin after regular use. This wasn’t even a consideration before the iRobot Roomba i7+ launched a few months back, but now that self-cleaning is an option (albeit an expensive one), it’s worth noting that self-cleaning is not something the Roborock S6 can do.
The mopping attachment snaps on and off with ease, a design that’s intentional since it should never be left on perpetually. Water consistently feeds its way to the pad when attached, which is why the vacuum ships with a clear plastic pad that fits under the charging base.
One app to rule them all
Roborock utilizes the Mi Home app for all of its products, including the S6, and it makes it simple to find and set up the vacuum. It also means that any other product that uses Mi Home as an interface is a single click away. The S6 shares most functions with the rest of the Roborock and Xiaomi vacuums on the market, including real-time mapping and tracking as the vacuum cleans your home.
The Roborock S6 features the same mapping and cleaning functionality as the S5, with automatic mapping of your home as it cleans. A map is generated and automatically broken up into sections, all of which can be adjusted or changed to better reflect actual rooms and portions of your home.
Editing and naming these zones will make it easier to perform regular zone cleaning. Zones and rooms in the house can be cleaned in any combination and make cleaning easy and efficient, especially when you just need one or two rooms to be cleaned.
What may be the best feature in the app is the ability to schedule specific zones to clean, as well as specify the cleaning intensity for each timer.
For instance, you may want to vacuum the dining room using quiet mode every morning after breakfast for a quick sweep of crumbs, or the kitchen after cooking each evening for the same reason. The foyer and mud rooms can use the additional suction modes in a routine cleaning to grab all the leaves and other junk that gets in from outside.
The truly smart choice
The term “value” often carries the misconception of the product being “cheap,” but Roborock has regularly challenged that misconception with its products. The Roborock S6 improves upon the S5 in subtle, but meaningful ways, all without raising the price.
The Roborock S6 marks the debut of another Roborock vacuum that’s smarter and more efficient than the competition, all while coming in at a less expensive price. It’s very telling when the worst parts of the experience are almost all matters of convenience rather than some sort of failure in the operation itself.
Roborock’s intelligent navigation continues to be the most impressive in the industry, including ultra-accurate real-time tracking and mapping. The AI-based algorithm that improves itself over time makes this the most efficient robot vacuum on the market and continues Roborock’s pedigree of creating the smartest, best-value robots around.