Last month, we welcomed a new addition to the family. We didn’t have another child or adopt a dog, but we did invite an ECOVACS DEEBOT 901 robotic vacuum cleaner into our home.
Getting to Know the ECOVACS DEEBOT 901
I first encountered ECOVACS a number of years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show. At the time, robo-vacs—more accurately referred to as “floor cleaning robots”—were still fairly new to the broader market, with iRobot’s Roomba being the de facto leader.
At this particular CES, ECOVACS was showcasing both their growing DEEBOT line of intelligent floor cleaners and the gravity-defying WINBOT—a robot that literally does windows. I remembered the name because, of all the amazing gadgets I perused on the show floor, these were two of the few that really seemed to have their finger on the pulse of the buying public. Bluetooth locks and Wi-Fi compatible doodads are great for some, but nobody enjoys the grunt work of housekeeping.
Cut to years later when a sizable parcel arrived on my doorstep. Inside was the DEEBOT 901, ECOVACS’ latest and greatest, complete with all the bells and whistles.
This included things like the requisite manual and quick start guide, the titular robot and docking station, side brushes used for sweeping up debris, a cleaning brush, a more powerful secondary direct suction nozzle, and an extra high-efficiency filter.
Features and Operation
Setup was a snap—literally—basically just involving removing some packaging tape, snapping in the color-coded side brushes, and setting it on the dock to charge. My new DEEBOT took up residence in one corner of the living room, intentionally adjacent to where my kids tend to deposit the bulk of their potato chip and cereal crumbs during their regular YouTube and video gaming sessions.
After connecting it to my home wireless network, the DEEBOT was ready to go, making an initial circuitous journey around my house, learning all the way. Now, a word about my house…
This Old House
I live in a traditional Carolina millhouse. This abode was built in the 1930s for my great-grandfather, a worker at Alice Manufacturing Company’s Arial cotton mill. This means the house is old and sturdy and… boxy. Polite society would say it’s “cozy” or “quaint,” but I acknowledge it as small. I acknowledge it as home.
Essentially a single-floor square divided into four simple quarters, the DEEBOT 901 had little trouble navigating the floor plan—even the nearly inch-tall doorsill separating the kitchen—using its Smart Navi feature and top-mounted Laser Distance Sensor.
Divide and Conquer
With my house fully mapped, it was then broken down into four areas. Now, these aren’t the four natural division of my abode, but instead, the DEEBOT’s designations based on things like flooring type and traffic and its own reasoned operation parameters.
A, the primary zone, includes the aforementioned living room and the kitchen—two high-traffic areas—with B and D being mine and the kids’ room respectively, and C the bathroom and old southern-style mudroom.
A la Modes
Like any smart device worth its salt, the ECOVACS DEEBOT 901 comes with a number of intuitive usage modes. Auto sets the vac out to clean important (and generally the most filthy) zones, Custom lets you draw boxes to target specific areas that can be vacuumed once or twice at a pass, and my favorite, Area mode, lets you tell your DEEBOT which pre-determined spaces need to be cleaned.
Advanced options include Continuous Cleaning (which lets your vacuum pick up where it left off if it needs to recharge mid-cleaning), an expansive Cleaning Schedule complete with cleaning type, timing, and frequency, and a Do Not Disturb option for making sure those previous features don’t interrupt more important activities—this one also toggles off Voice Reporting and the onboard lights to help limit distractions.
Speaking of Voice Reporting, yes, your vacuum can announce its tasks and completions in a number of languages. You can also talk to it via your home’s virtual assistant… assuming that is Alexa or Google Assistant.
By enabling a simple Alexa skill, I was able to ask her to ask my DEEBOT 901 to do a little auto cleaning on the fly. It’s not as robust as the app interface, of course, but it’s a nice addition.
It’s Good to Have Boundaries
My floors are all covered in low-pile carpeting, tile, and vinyl, giving the DEEBOT 901 a target-rich environment. There are, however, obstacles.
While its navigation and depth-perception do a good job of maneuvering around furniture and even under tables and beds, there are some places where a vacuum simply shouldn’t go.
Thankfully, ECOVACS thought of that, and the app easily lets me setup virtual barriers, no-go zones where my DEEBOT realizes it isn’t needed or welcome. I specifically put one in the corner of the living room to keep my guitars and piano safe and un-bumped and in my bedroom to keep it from accidentally chewing up my D20 throw rug.
Playing With Power
A little back-of-the-envelope math reveals that my house is currently made up of, like, 30 percent hair.
Seriously though, I have long hair, as do my daughter and girlfriend. And our cat sheds constantly. This means there’s never a shortage of hairballs to be vacuumed, and the 901 does a spectacular job at this.
But if its normal suction isn’t enough for your toughest messes, this robo-vac packs a little extra power under the hood. By replacing the standard roller brush with the direct suction nozzle and changing the Vacuum Power from Standard to Max in the app, you’ll find this DEEBOT is more than a match for whatever you may throw at it.
Problems and Limitations
No product is perfect. Admittedly, the 901 is pretty close, but there are some shortcomings.
The Black Hole
At the foot of my bed, across from the laundry room (which also houses the cat box), is a black area rug. Between its coloring and the fact that it’s in the direct path of litter-covered feet, it gets dirty quickly and constantly.
My ECOVACS DEEBOT hates this rug.
Because of its placement, unsecured outer corner, and, hell, maybe just my own bad luck the DEEBOT cannot seem to clean it.
It tries, by god, approaching at various angles, sneaking around the perimeter, going under the bed to try and find some as-yet-undiscovered breaching point, but to no avail. That mess remains mine to contend with.
Look But Don’t Touch
Because its functionality is tied directly to its ability to navigate a static map of your home, the 901 does not respond well to touching. Lift or otherwise move it without turning it off and it forgets where it is.
This is fine, normally, until my cat decides to pick a fight with the DEEBOT during a routine cleaning, which sometimes leads to it getting discombobulated and going home to its charging station. Of course, sometimes it just pauses for a moment, making Milo think he’s won, only to resume seconds later and frighten him within an inch of one of his nine lives—which is at least fun to watch.
Despite its low-profile and unparalleled maneuverability, the DEEBOT 901 is a puck-shaped robot. And like most puck-shaped things, it just ain’t made for corners.
It does a good enough job on carpet, but on other flat surfaces, where debris tends to get pushed into the narrowest crook of the corner, it can leave some grime even after a thorough cleaning. My solution, especially when it’s about to clean the bathroom, is to simply sweep out the corners.
It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works.
Lost and Lonely Soul
I’ll never forget the day I came home and found my DEEBOT sitting sullenly in the middle of the kids’ room, battery low and spirits lower. It had planned to return to the dock after another successful cleaning, but somehow got lost along the way. (Smart money is on the cat.)
To fix it, I just needed to power it off and manually carry it back to its home base, and the map was restored when next I turned it on. Still, though, it was hard not to feel kind of bad for the little guy.
Maintenance and Best Practices
I’ve never had a floor-cleaning robot before, so some of these lessons were hard-learned. Others, of course, were just logical conclusions. Some were both.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
The dustbin in the ECOVACS DEEBOT is small to keep the weight and overall device footprint low. This means it fills up practically every cleaning and needs to be emptied.
Get in the habit of doing this at the end of each session rather than the beginning of the next. It’s easy to forget, and a full bin means inadequate cleaning and decreased battery life.
Clean the Cleaner
While you’re down there, be sure to regularly power off and clean the DEEBOT’s related components. Check the side brushes for wear, pull free any tangles from the brush, and use the included cleaning tool to remove any collected dust.
If it helps, just imagine you’re a Jawa repairing a salvaged droid. See? Doesn’t that make it easier?
The Eyes Have It
Before each cleaning (and definitely before the initial mapping commences), make a quick round of the house and look for problem areas. Safely move dangling power cords, make sure shoes and their pesky strings are out of the DEEBOT’s path, and fold under any decorative tassels on area rugs.
It’s also very important to make sure drapes are safely out of the way, and to add additional virtual boundaries to keep your robot away from stairways or other fall hazards. The 901 is tough, but you don’t want to subject it to fall or severe crash damage.
Look, my kids are with me every weekend and my girlfriend lives here part-time, but the rest of the week I am a man alone. I use this as an opportunity to clean. Why? Because it’s my name on the deed, and, more importantly, I want my time with my loved ones to be as free as possible from the daily toil—real quality time.
I use a very simple metric when it comes to assessing gadgets: Does this positively affect my quality of life?
Unquestionably, the DEEBOT 901 has done just that. Yes, there’s still other cleaning to do, and, sure, I do have that no-go area at the foot of my bed that I have to vacuum manually, but it routinely does 30-45 minutes of intense vacuuming and sweeping for me at least twice weekly.
That time adds up, and it lets me see to other tasks like dusting, scouring the tub, and fighting that ever-growing pile of dirty dishes. The ECOVACS DEEBOT 901 allows me to multitask, to make the most of my cleaning time by working with me in tandem. And, if I’m being honest, it tends to do a much better job.
Price and Availability
The DEEBOT 901 (and its sister, the white colored 900) are available now from most major retailers. Your local Best Buy, Target, and Walmart likely have it in stock—or at least offer ship-to-store options. You can also get it, like most things, at Amazon.
At a retail price of $399.99, it’s not the cheapest robo-vac on the market, but its quality and reliability more than make up for the cost. And until someone finally develops a Jetsons-esque Rosey the Robot, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better domestic automaton.
So, welcome home, DEEBOT 901; you’re a fine addition to our household!
An ECOVACS DEEBOT 901 was provided for the purposes of this review, but all opinions, anecdotes, and allusions to pop culture are my own.