A robot vacuum can be an affordable and easy way to maintain the cleanliness of your home. A few short years ago, a good robot vacuum would cost you almost $1,000, but now you can purchase a solid robovac for a fraction of that price.
Here at Digital Trends, we test a lot of robot vacuums across all price ranges. Some of them are not so impressive, while others are true feats of engineering. Recently, we tested out Shark’s new ION S87 vacuum system ($499), which comes with both a robot vacuum and a handheld vacuum. Could this be the vacuum droid you’re looking for? Read on to find out.
Two vacuums, both hold their own
The S87 bundle a robot vacuum and a battery-operated handheld vacuum on a single charging station. You also have the option to purchase the robot and the handheld separately. The Shark ION R85 Robot Vacuum (without the handheld) retails for $400, and the Shark ION W1 Handheld costs $130, so you’ll save $30 by buying both together. When you purchase the S87 system you also get a charging station where you can charge both vacuums instead of having to charge them at separate stations.
Given the S87 isn’t the most expensive option out there, and it gives you two vacuums in one system, we wondered if the quality and performance suffered as a result. Was the handheld just an extra prize, like a toy in a Happy Meal or a prize in a Cracker Jack box? Or did the S87 system really offer two solid vacuums that a consumer would be happy to purchase individually?
We were pleased to see that both vacuums stood strong as individual units, and the handheld vacuum was much more than just an extra accessory.
Smart Design and Features
When you open the box, you’ll find a Shark ION Robot Vacuum R85 with Wi-Fi, a Shark ION W1 Cordless Handheld Vacuum, a 2-in-1 charging dock, a multi-surface pet tool, a crevice tool, eight feet of BotBoundary magnetic strips, and a soft dusting brush. You can control the vacuum in several ways: by using the controls on the device itself, or via the app (iOS or Android), Alexa, or Google Assistant. It doesn’t come with a remote control.
We didn’t have to pick up pet food bowls or close doors.
The S87 system requires little setup. When you take the robot out of the box, just attach the slide brushes, switch on the power, and place the unit on the charging dock. You’ll need to charge it fully before the first use.
The magnetic strip can be cut and placed in zones you want to block off. We cut the strip into four sections and blocked off the pet food and hallway areas. The strips effectively created “no-go zones” — we didn’t have to pick up pet food bowls or close doors.
The robovac has an extra-large dust bin that can fit 0.66 quarts of dirt to the max fill line. The device does not have visual mapping, but it does have Smart Sensor Navigation 2.0, which provides advanced sensitivity and helps it navigate around obstacles and stairs. While it doesn’t get every single area of the floor on each cycle, it absolutely keeps the floor clean and free of debris with scheduled daily use.
The handheld requires no setup at all, and it’s ready to use after you charge it. At 1.4 pounds, the vacuum is lightweight. It comes with three helpful attachments: A crevice tool, a soft brush for dusting, and a pet brush for cleaning pet hair (the pet brush also works great at cleaning car upholstery).
With a simple push of a button, you can empty the handheld vacuum over a trash can. The handheld is intelligently designed to have inner brushes glide over the filter as the dust cup opens. This cleans the filter each time you press the empty button.
Clean your house or car
The S87 system lets you clean your entire house from top to bottom. The robot cleans the floors, while the handheld cleans small messes and those little dust bunnies that get on your walls, tables, and curtains.
The handheld is also an excellent car vacuum. When we attached the pet brush, it picked up crumbs, hair, and dust that was trapped in the car upholstery.
Powerful suction, short battery life
Shark claims the suction on the ION R85 robot vacuum is three times more powerful on max mode than it is on its predecessor, the Shark ION R75. We found the suction on the R85 to be impressive, but it is by no means as powerful as an upright Shark vacuum, like the Shark Rotator Lift Away. The suction on the R85 robot stands up to other robot vacuums in this price range, even the Roomba 690. On max mode, it is slightly better.
The battery lasted long enough to vacuum a mini-van and a few minutes of dusting in the house, and that’s about it.
While the suction is good, the battery life leaves something to be desired. The robot vacuum has a 14.4 V Li-ion 2550 mAh battery with an expected runtime of 60 minutes. It takes three hours to charge the battery. Inexpensive competitors like the iLife A7 have a longer run time of three hours. The handheld is similar in that it has powerful suction and a short battery life. The suction on the handheld is truly inspiring for a vacuum that small. The Shark W1 beats other vacuums in terms of its power, esthetic, and design, but, again, its battery life could be better.
Case in point: the battery lasted long enough to vacuum a mini-van, and then do a few minutes of dusting in the house, and that’s about it. The manufacturer suggests turning the handheld vacuum off between cleaning jobs to lengthen the battery life.
Solid app and easy smart home integration
“Alexa, tell Shark to start cleaning.” It’s nice when you can control your robot with your voice. The robot vacuum in the S87 cleaning system is compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant. Setting up voice control takes about three minutes. You just download the Shark ION Robot app, add the device and/or skill to your Google Home or Alexa App, and link your accounts.
The Shark app is user friendly and feature-rich too. Getting the vacuum connected to Wi-Fi is simple. You do have to have the robot vacuum turned on to maintain the Wi-Fi connection, so it won’t go into sleep mode and disconnect. The app has vacuum controls, scheduling, and notifications that let you know if something’s not right. The app also tells you the vacuum’s history, so you know when it ran and for how long.
What’s not to like?
Aside from the battery life, one other complaint we have about the Shark S87 cleaning system is that there’s no place on the charging dock to store the accessories. You don’t have anywhere on the charging station to put the handheld’s crevice tool, pet brush, or soft brush. This is a bit annoying because you end up storing them in a drawer or a closet. Then, when you reach for the handheld, you also must walk to that drawer or closet for the attachment you need.
Another complaint we have is about the robot’s brush system and accessories. The front slide brushes are single-pronged instead of triple-pronged like many other robot vacuums. There are two front slide brushes, but they use one prong to sweep the dirt as opposed to three. We didn’t notice too much of a difference in its cleaning with the single brushes, but the three-pronged brushes that competitors like Roomba have in their vacuums appear sturdier than the single-pronged brushes in the Shark robovac.
The S87 system has a one-year limited warranty. The handheld vacuum has a two-year limited warranty.Our Take
We really like the Shark ION S87 Robot and Handheld Cleaning System. You get two vacuums in one, and they both earn their keep. The price is reasonable, and the vacuums take up a small footprint. Although the battery life isn’t the best on the market, the battery lasts long enough to do the job. Plus, with Alexa keeping tabs on the battery’s power level, you can plan around the robot’s one-hour battery life. Overall, the 87 is solid, and we have few complaints.
Is there a better alternative?
That depends. The Shark is a real contender. But, if you rely solely on a robot vacuum to keep your house free of dust and dirt, you might want something with a longer battery life. In this case, you might want to go with the iLife A7 or a Roomba 960. If you want a budget vacuum that’s in the $100 price range, you may want to go with a PureClean model.
How long will it last?
The S87 system was just released in October 2018. It’s right where it should be in terms of tech integration, given its app features and compatibility with Alexa and Google Home.
You will have to replace parts on the robot, like filters and brushes, but that is an added cost to expect with just about any robot vacuum. You’ll need to replace the filter about every two months ($10), the main brush roll needs replaced every 6-12 months ($20), and the front castor wheel ($6) and brush roll door ($6) need replaced every 12 months. With regular parts replacement and maintenence, the Shark should last a long time.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re looking for a quality robot vacuum and handheld combination that are reasonably priced, yet solid and reliable, this model is a great choice.