While floor-cleaning robots have been around for some time, the high-priced of models from Dyson, iRobot and Neato have so far limited their presence to more affluent homes. But the winds of change are blowing the robovac market wide open. Capable (if compromised) devices like the $220 Eufy Robovac 11S or the $349 Shark Ion 750 Robot prove that you no longer have to check in with the bank manager before picking up a robot vacuum.
Of course, these budget cleaners lack some of the more intelligent features commonly found at the top-end of the market – most notably, smart mapping. The $399 Ecovacs Deebot 901 seeks to change that, with a dust-busting, mouth-watering blend of features and performance at a great price.
Functionality over form
Alongside the usual array of sensors, the Deebot 901 supports laser-guided smart navigation, scanning and mapping your home to optimize cleaning performance. It’ll clean a variety of floor types, including hard wood, tile and “light” carpets with the promise of 100 minutes of operation between charges. Google Home and Amazon Alexa integration enables voice control, while the Deebot app allows simple configuration of virtual boundaries, custom cleaning plans, operating schedules, and more.
Open the box and you’ll find the disc-shaped 901 is packed with a charger, spare side brushes and a filter, so there’s no need to rush for spares. Clad in rather drab black and gray (a white and silver model is also available), there’s nothing particularly groovy that allows the robot to stand out visually from competitors. A distance sensor perches rather awkwardly atop the rear of the robot, adding to the overall height of the 901, but dimensions of 13.9 by 13.9 by 3.3 inches (35.3 cm x 35.3 cm x 8.4 cm) shouldn’t be a concern.
A dust-busting, mouth-watering blend of features and performance at a great price.
While checking over the robot hardware, we noticed one novel feature. Alongside a regular spinning brush, the Deebot 901 can be equipped with a “direct suction” attachment, designed for homes with pets. It offers a lighter clean than using the brush but ensures that hair and dust can be picked up daily without clogging. Simply pop out the brush and drop in the plastic attachment into the socket – it’s a flexible option for pet owners.
Installation is very easy. Flip the bot over, snap on the side brushes, and then place on the charger for around four hours to charge fully. Connecting the Deebot to your home network and installing firmware via the Ecovacs iOS/Android app is assisted by voice prompts from the robot, politely informing you of progress. Indeed, the 901 is a chatty kind of robot that loves to keep you up to date with what it’s doing. If you prefer the silent type, you can quickly disable voice reports in the app.
Smart mapping and hushed, considered cleaning
If you’ve yet to try out a robovac with mapping capabilities, launching your first clean with the Deebot 901 will be a ton of fun. Set it to work via the app and you’ll immediately see a rough layout of your room appear on screen. You can track the robot’s linear movements in real time and see how the floor plan’s fidelity increases as it explores. For those concerned about noise, rest easy. You’ll certainly hear the Deebot 901 clean even on its lower (standard) vacuum setting, but it isn’t too distracting. For enhanced suction, a noisier max vacuum setting raises more of a racket.
We were impressed to see how carefully the 901 detected and navigated around obstructions. In our recent Shark Ion Robot review, we talked about how that robovac would merrily slam into furniture like an over-enthusiastic puppy as it cleaned on a random path. No so with the Deebot 901. Table legs, furniture, baseboards, and other obstacles were quickly spotted with little delay as the robot plotted its course to avoid a bump.
The robot did an admirable job of climbing over rugs, but we found its long side brushes regularly became tangled in any trailing cables, so be sure to clear them out of the way before cleaning. We were surprised (and entertained) to see the 901 repeatedly try various methods to untangle itself during cleaning, including starting and stopping either brush, performing a 360-degree pirouette and, best of all, angling its body up, wheelie-style. Unable to break free, the robot politely announced it was stuck and fired off a notification in the app.
With your room mapped, you can check out Deebot’s map customization options. From the app, creating custom cleaning areas or virtual boundaries is a cinch. Forget clunky hardware pillars or magnetic tape under your carpets, simply draw a line with your finger on your floor plan to block a “no-go” zone and the 901 will steer clear. In our tests, the Deebot 901 respected virtual boundaries every time.
Creating a daily cleaning schedule is similarly easy. For clean freaks, a continuous cleaning cycle keeps Deebot on the go, with the robot automatically returning to the docking station when it needs a charge and getting back to work when refreshed. Convenient Do Not Disturb settings ensure the 901 won’t wake you up in the middle of the night and disables the robot’s voice reports and status lights.
Home owners with smart speakers scattered around can also benefit from tightly-integrated Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support, which allow you to start and stop cleaning via voice command and send Deebot back to its charging station. The integration is quick to set up and works well. If you have a Google Home, just say “Google, start cleaning” and the 901 is off in a flash. For Amazon Echo users, it’s slightly more clunky, asking Alexa to “tell Deebot to clean.”
Multi-floor homes? Uh oh.
If this heady mix of features, intelligence and performance has you salivating, hold on before you rush to your favorite electronics retailer. Like most mapping robovacs, be aware that the Deebot 901 can only work with one map at a time – so, in a multi-floor home, if you pick up the robot and place it on another floor, it loses localization and must recreate the map from scratch. Single-floor apartment? Not a problem. Everyone else will have limit the 901 to a single floor or forego some of the robot’s more intelligent mapping features.
Reasonable cleaning performance with room for improvement
We found the Deebot 901’s cleaning performance to be decent, but we were expecting more. Strong suction from the vacuum ensures dust, hair and other detritus are captured well. A quick glance at the 901’s dust compartment following a clean was pleasingly gross. Given that the robot was able to travel very close to baseboards, we were expecting great performance at close proximity. But we were a little disappointed with the results during tests, as the robot left quite a lot of debris (ground coffee in this case) near baseboards.
We found the Deebot 901’s cleaning performance to be decent, but we were expecting more.
The 901’s long side brushes did a decent job of swiping dust and debris into the vacuum’s path. However, we noticed that some dust was pushed well outside of the robot’s path and was missed on its first pass. Curiously, while we saw the Deebot 901 return to clean a couple of areas multiple times during a run, most areas received just a single pass. After a charge, we ran a second pass in the room, this time with the vacuum set to maximum, and our troublesome baseboards were much improved (but still needed a final clean with a handheld).
Unlike the Shark ION 750 Robot, we were also disappointed that it lacked any spot cleaning features, which provides a manual option for cleaning areas where the robot could do a better job. Overall, the 901 is effective, but you may need to spend some time tweaking the cleaning schedule and settings to get the best clean.
Ecovacs back the Deebot 901 with a one-year limited warranty, covering defects in materials and workmanship.Our Take
In the past, buying a robot floor cleaner with mapping features would make a significant dent in your bank balance, but the Ecovacs Deebot 901 changes the game. A $399 robovac with smart mapping, good performance and smart assistant integration is a heck of a proposition, and the Deebot 901 mostly delivers – particularly for single-floor dwellings. We’d love to see Ecovacs push competitors further with multi-room mapping and spot cleaning support, but for now, the 901 is a great value pick.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re seeking a true budget option, the $220 Eufy Robovac 11S lacks sophistication (and smarts) but offers simple and effective automated cleaning to a programmed schedule.
How long will it last?
Like all robovacs, the Deebot 901 requires regular cleaning, maintenance and replacement of consumables (like brushes and filters) to remain in top condition. Spares are readily available online and won’t break the bank.
Should you buy it?
Definitely. The Ecovacs Deebot 901 offers a brilliant blend of advanced features, flexible control and solid performance. You’ll wonder how you ever vacuumed without it.