Samsung’s Red Robotic Time-Saver Sucks in a Good Way

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Image from Samsung.caImage from Samsung.ca

Image from Samsung.ca

Samsung’s VCRR8830T1R (aka the Tango) is the South Korean manufacturer’s latest entry in the growing robotic vacuum market. Does it do the job? I took the plunge and bought one a few weeks ago and so far, I’d give the Samsung a thumbs up.

As a work from home dad with three kids aged 10 and under, I’m always looking for time savers that help me wring the most out of those two hour productivity chunks squeezed between the getting ready for school rush, the kids coming home for lunch and then the chaos that ensues once they return home at 3:30. One of the ways to maximize the time I have available to write is to cut the time it takes to keep the house clean. Between kids, a pair of large and furry dogs and two cats thrown in the mix, vacuuming is something I have to do at least daily, if not twice a day, especially on the main floor which is covered with laminate that quite effectively showcases all foreign substances. I just can’t focus with tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling around my feet or drifting through the air as they ride the current over a floor register. Automating that process would go a long way toward buying me time. Plus, as GeekDad Editor Emeritus Chris Anderson chronicled a few years back, robotic vacuum cleaners have great entertainment potential.

The stores around here are full of discounted earlier generation Roombas and even the current models are often on sale, but I’d read accounts of Roombas having a short life span and failing to return to their dock reliably (I don’t want to be a robot babysitter), so I started looking for alternatives. I also had concerns about the cleaning algorithm the Roomba employed and how random movement would likely end up spooking the dogs, making for a very noisy, counter-productive experience. Which is how I stumbled across the Samsung Tango.

Besides rocking a sleek look and funky red color scheme (I am a bit of a sucker for aesthetics, even in an appliance), the Samsung uses a different approach to cleaning. An upward facing camera (taking shots at 30 fps), captures ceiling images to help build a map of the house as it moves around, which the robot reportedly then memorizes. It cleans by following a methodical pattern based on the house layout -no random action, it makes its way deliberately from one end of the floor to the other, making minor adjustments if it runs into an object that wasn’t there before. While there was some initial barking during its maiden trip around the house, the dogs quickly learned to ignore the Samsung. Because it’s not zigzagging around randomly, the dogs chill out while it works its way across the floor, then take up position where it started and have a nap while it completes its cleaning cycle. This predictable approach makes it much easier for me to putter around while the vacuum’s doing its thing too; no worries about it sneaking up and ramming me or me stepping on it. The round shape makes cleaning corners a challenge (a revolving whisk helps this shortcoming somewhat), it can’t get under our sofas and it doesn’t attempt to navigate the 28 legged wooden tangle that is the dining room table and chairs, but raised decorative floor register covers, footstools and transitioning between area rugs and hard flooring have proved no problem. It always finds its way back to the docking station without assistance and the only time it ever got stuck was when it wedged between a pair of the aforementioned dining chairs a few days in to its residence. There’s been no repeat of that incident, although I don’t know if that’s because it now avoids the tangle or I’ve just been lucky. The dirt collection bin can be easily removed to empty, but the Samsung has a handy access port on top that allows you to save time by vacuuming out the vacuum. And you will still be manually vacuuming; I didn’t kid myself that this was going to replace manually vacuuming and it doesn’t. But it keeps things tidy enough that instead of having to haul out my Dyson on a daily basis, I can do so a few times a week, primarily to get the stuff under furniture, along baseboards, beneath the dining table and trapped in corners.

The main floor of our house is open concept, consisting of the kitchen, dining area, front entrance foyer and living room area. There are two sets of stairs leading down and one going up; up is obviously not a concern, but I was a little worried about the stairs leading down. I didn’t want to have to set up a virtual wall at the top of the stairway as that’s just something for the kids to move when I’m not looking or the dogs to chew up. For the first three or four tours, I sat at the bottom of the stairs as the vacuum approached, ready to catch it if the worst should happen. It was a little disconcerting because the “cliff sensors” are located underneath the device, so it has to literally stick its nose over the precipice as though it were going to take the plunge. It always backed off, rotated and progressed a few inches parallel to the stairs and tried again, then gave up and moved on. After a few weeks, I’m pretty comfortable that it’s safe, although I take care to make sure those cliff sensors don’t get dirty.

In terms of real life battery performance, I’ve been seeing about 1.5 hours worth of vacuuming on a charge (sufficient to vacuum the main floor twice over), with a full recharge of the Ni-MH batteries taking only two hours. If it runs low on power during a cycle, it returns to the base, charges up, then automatically goes back to where it left off and resumes cleaning.

As a kid friendly safety feature, the Tango automatically shuts down if lifted from the ground. It’s far quieter than my Dyson vacuum and, while not as powerful either, it picks up pet fur, hair, crumbs, sand and dirt like a trooper. Samsung claims the rotating brush is designed to improve pet hair performance and prevent tangling and so far I have no complaints in that regard. The only issue I’ve found so far is that the axle of the steering wheel is prone to having dog fur wrapped around it, which needs to be pulled off or presumably it will eventually impede navigation.

In terms of entertainment value, we only have one, so no LEGO jousting at this point, but you can manually drive the vacuum like an R/C car with the remote control and the synthesized female voice that announces various events like recharging is kind of cool (you can turn the voice announcements off if they wear thin). Only time will tell if the Samsung will be reliable, but the build quality certainly seems solid.

I haven’t seen the VCRR8830T1R for sale in the US; it’s not on Samsung’s US web site either. However, you can pick one up from a Canadian retailer if you’re doing any cross-border shopping and there’s always eBay. I paid $450 for mine at FutureShop (in Canada) and Samsung has actually been giving them away with some refrigerators here as a promotion. Maybe Samsung is testing the waters in the Great White North before launching in the US, but I suspect Roomba is going to face additional competition in the robotic vacuum market sooner rather than later.

Samsung VCRR8830T1R robotic vacuum cleaner
MSRP: ? (Selling for $449.00 in Canada)
Includes: Extra HEPA filter, charging base station, remote control, cleaning brush, 2 iKeepers (virtual gates)

Wired: attractive, relatively quiet, does a good job of picking up everything from pet hair to sand, automatically (and reliably) returns to base for recharging, thoroughly cleans main traffic areas, easy to empty collection bin, recharges quickly, handles carpet/hard floor transitions, collision sensors work well and bumpers prevented any mishaps.
Tired: relatively expensive, steering wheel axle prone to getting tangled in hair, needs help tidying up corners and along baseboards.

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