In the smart home, 2018 will be remembered as the year that budget robot vacuum cleaners finally delivered on a triple promise of good features, good performance and great value for money. Sure, we all love a top-class robovac like the Roomba i7 ($699, rising to $949), but up until this year, budget competitors sucked. Or rather, didn’t suck enough.
Our opinion has been swayed by plucky performers like the $299 Ecovacs Deebot 901 and $220 Eufy Robovac 11S, which clean reasonably well with a few surprise features you may not expect. Today’s subject, the Ecovacs Deebot 601, is cut from similar cloth. Listed around the $250 mark, we’ve seen retailers like Amazon promote the device below $200 – a watershed in robovac pricing. It certainly ticks the box on price, but can the deliver the same quality we now expect from budget cleaners?
We found the Deebot 610 could be an enthusiastic, if erratic, performer, but one that requires some manual effort to deliver best results.
Clean-looking cleaner lacks mapping support, but offers a couple of treats
Not to be confused with the Deebot Ozmo 601 (which adds mopping, mapping, and more), this model is very much an entry-level floor cleaner. It performs on a variety of soft and hard floor finishes, but includes a specific hard-floor mode designed to clean those surfaces more thoroughly. While the robot lacks the ability to map your home, (a feature we loved on the 901), there’s still room for anti-drop sensors, Wi-Fi and app control, plus Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice control.
Out of the box, the puck-shaped Deebot 601 looks similar to other models in the range (and indeed, most other robovacs around), but we actually prefer the simple, solid-black design over the two-toned 901. As there’s no mapping feature, there’s also no need for a sensor perched awkwardly on top of this device. Aesthetically, this cleaner’s pretty clean.
In hand, you can see and feel some of the cost engineering that allows Ecovacs to hit the 601’s low price point. It’s lighter and less robust than other robovacs we’ve recently tested, which means it may well get scuffed up following heavy usage. The front bumper in particular is cause for concern, clad mostly in shiny black plastic with only minimal rubber protection around the lower edge and sides.
We prefer the simple, solid-black design to other robovacs we’ve tested.
A power button on top of the robot allows the selection of Auto and Programmed cleaning modes (the former designed for carpets, the latter for hard floors), or you can take advantage of a bundled remote control, which adds Pause and manual Spot Cleaning buttons. However, after a couple of uses, we didn’t pick up the remote again, preferring the more modern route of app control.
Flip the robot over and you’ll find twin spinning brushes to assist with corner and edge cleaning, while the main brush is equipped with both soft bristles and rubber flanges suitable for various floor types. All are replaceable, as you’d expect, with Ecovacs recommending replacement once or twice a year as a minimum.
The rear dust bin, which slots neatly into the rear of the device, offers more than enough capacity for debris. An upper compartment holds a sponge filter and high efficiency dust filter, which aren’t too fiddly to replace but don’t feel as robust as some integrated filter cassettes we’ve encountered on competing products. As the dust bin is translucent, you’ll probably want to wash it out once in a while.
A compact charging station ships with the robot – dinky enough to slot neatly under cabinets or in closets. As with all robovacs, the Deebot 601 will happily find its way back to the charger when it needs a top-up.
The internal Lithium (2600 mAh) battery required four hours charging before use, after which we were able to connect the robot to our Wi-Fi network in just a few steps, courtesy of the Ecovacs Home app (Android/iOS). This is a simpler version of the app used to manage more advanced cleaners in the Deebot range, offering basic power controls, various cleaning modes, and a scheduler. Despite its simplicity, the app was responsive and efficient through our tests. It includes a couple of handy bonuses like a Find My Deebot feature, which triggers a series of beeps from your robot when it’s buried under a pile of the children’s socks, and accessory monitors that remind you when it’s time to change the brushes and filters.
Quiet, nimble operation
It’s always fun to launch a first robovac run, and the Deebot 601 coped well in our carpeted home office. The cleaner’s default Auto mode sets the robot to work in a random diagonal pattern (unlike the hard floor mode, which uses an S-shaped route for efficiency). Compared to some cleaners we’ve tested recently, we were pleased that this model was quiet in operation – you’ll certainly hear the vacuum, but it’s more of a swish than a roar.
Obstacle detection was somewhat inconsistent.
The robot navigated easily over rugs, but you’ll certainly need to tidy trailing cables and curtains away before launching a clean. Those side brushes perform well but can become tangled on cluttered floors. On the one or two occasions the 601 did become stuck, the robot let out a series of beeps, which weren’t particularly audible, particularly elsewhere in the home. More usefully, a push notification was fired to our phone, ensuring we were aware that the cleaner needed assistance.
While the robot navigated nimbly around corners with an impressively tight turning circle and cozied up close to walls, cleaning was not bump-free. Obstacle detection was somewhat inconsistent, with walls and most furniture being avoided but other objects being repeatedly bumped as the robot tried to navigate its way around the room. It’s certainly not a deal-breaking issue, but something to be aware of when letting the 601 loose.
Impressive battery life, but random navigation leads to imprecise cleaning
That first cleaning run, with battery at full capacity, lasted an impressive 116 minutes before the robot needed a recharge. However, with random navigation we found floor coverage to be underwhelming. For example, on our open-plan ground floor, the cleaner spent over an hour vacuuming the kitchen, dining room and living area, but completely missed the hallway. Without mapping capabilities, the robot simply doesn’t know where it has cleaned, so it can’t automatically resume the operation following a power nap. We had to pick up the robot, place it roughly where we think it may have stopped cleaning and hope for the best.
Where the robot did travel, pick up was very good indeed, with a simultaneously disgusting/pleasing amount of pet hair, dust, and debris collected in the bin. The 601 proved itself to be a decent, if once again erratic, performer near edges and corners. Thankfully, the included Edge cleaning mode sends the robot off around the perimeter of your walls, ensuring a more consistent clean. For more stubborn grime, the Spot cleaning mode provides plenty of focus. As with most robovacs, you’ll still need to run a traditional vacuum around for best results. But, a little extra work experimenting with the 601’s various cleaning modes pays dividends.
Elsewhere, Ecovacs’ simple and friendly app keeps you up to date with cleaning progress, and you’ll discover basic scheduling features that make it easy to set up a regular cleaning cycle. We found the app to be responsive, with notifications and alerts from the robot arriving almost instantly. It was a surprise to see voice control (via Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa) available on an entry-level robovac. We found setup was easy and the ability to stop and start the cleaner via voice was preferable to the bundled remote.
Ecovacs supports the Deebot 601 with a one-year limited warranty.Our Take
Mapping features are sorely missed, but with a little work, Ecovacs’ entry-level robot cleaner can be a real asset in the home and one that certainly won’t break the bank.
Is there a better alternative?
While the Deebot 601 offers great value, the $300 Deebot 901, which adds a single-floor mapping mode to the mix, is also a great buy. It’s more expensive, but we think the premium is well worth the investment.
How long will it last?
It’s easy to see where Ecovacs has saved on materials to hit a seriously low price point, particularly around the front bumper, which is likely to take some knocks over time. Like any robot vacuum, you’ll need to maintain and subsequently replace consumable parts on a semi-regular basis, including filters, brushes and the battery. With care, you should expect the Deebot 601 to last.
Should you buy it?
If you’re on a strict budget and are happy to employ a little effort for best results, the Deebot 601 is a sure bet. But you can also save a little longer and pick up the Deebot 901 instead. Its mapping mode delivers a big step up in consistency and you’ll appreciate its extra value and convenience over the long term.