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If you’d told me a year ago that I’d come to love a robot vacuum cleaner, I would’ve laughed at you. And yet that’s exactly what’s happened with the $650 Roborock S7, a combined vacuum cleaner and mop. It is one of the few gadgets I’ve tested lately that I can actually say made my life better.

I was a robovac skeptic

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to work when the house is a mess.

I’ve been a remote worker since well before the pandemic, which means my office is my home. Living in the typical tiny NYC apartment, that also means I don’t have a dedicated room just for work stuff — so mess in the home means a mess in my workspace. It doesn’t help that my girlfriend and I have a dog and a cat, with any number of foster pets running around depending on the season (currently, that’s two extra kittens). I normally start my days by cleaning, so anything that could help would be a godsend, but I didn’t think a robot vacuum would be useful.

See, I understood why some people might want a robot in their home, but it just didn’t make sense for me. The way I saw it, robot vacuums were for people with big homes, who lived outside the city or had the money to afford a mega apartment. In a small apartment, I had a whole laundry list of objections:

  • Robot vacuums can’t get into all the little nooks and crannies of a small apartment, or navigate through all the tight spaces. If I’m going to have to clean those spots manually, what’s the point?
  • They won’t clean above the floor. Again, what’s the point?
  • Since they can’t clean everywhere, I’m going to end up needing another vacuum anyway.
  • The room calibration would probably screw up when I move stuff around the home, making it more hassle than it’s worth.
  • Surely my clumsy self would trip over the vacuum at some point.
  • I’d have too much pet hair for the vacuum to handle.
  • There are often shoes, cables, or other items that would get tangled or make it harder for the vacuum to navigate around the home.
  • Robovacs are probably too loud to run while I’m working.
  • Few robot vacuums can mop, so I might as just vacuum and mop myself in one go.
  • The ones that can mop tend to require you to move your rugs when you want to mop, which is just annoying.
  • The ultimate robovac horror story: what if one of the animals has an ‘accident’ and the vacuum spreads poop all over the house?

Luckily, my job means I get to test this stuff out. Roborock sent me the S7 to try — along with its automatic dust-emptying dock (a $300 upgrade), and it completely changed my perspective on robot vacuums.

I was wrong

Almost all of the concerns above were either misinformed or just not that big of a deal — and the pros outweighed the cons. Specifically, there was one simple fact I didn’t quite realize until I started to use the Roborock:

Even if it can’t vacuum every single surface of my home, it’ll significantly reduce the total amount of dust that can spread around the home. The less fur and dirt there is on most of the floor, the less dust there will be to end up on various surfaces.

(I should note that I’m not really here to talk about specs and objective performance. There are much better sources for this data — check out Vacuum Wars’ review, for instance. Instead, I’m just noting the obvious changes I’ve noticed in switching from using only a regular vacuum cleaner to getting some help from a robot.)

Before testing the S7, trying to get rid of dust felt like an almost impossible battle in a small apartment with so many occupants, despite vacuuming several times a week. I feel hope now; I’ve noticed less dust collects on my speakers, piano, coffee table, shelves, and other surfaces. Instead of needing to wipe stuff down several times a week, now it’s just a few times a month. That’s time I can spend doing other things.

As for the mopping functionality, I actually tried Roborock’s S5 prior to the S7, which also has a mopping function, but found it impractical because I had to remove my rugs whenever I wanted to use it.

The S7 has a simple trick up its sleeve: it will actually raise its mop surface to avoid low-pile carpets. Over several months of use, I can’t recall it ever making a ‘mistake’ about the two rugs in my apartment, so I was confident about letting the automatic detection do its own thing. If need be you can also set “no-mop” zones in the app, but I never found the need.

It also does a solid job of mopping thanks to a scrubbing motor that helps loosen dirt from the ground, as opposed to a simple wiping function as on most other options.

Almost all the other concerns were non-issues. The room mapping worked reliably, and the robot get “lost” navigating the apartment only a couple of times. The robot did occasionally get tangled with wires or smaller items. But those are easy to fix as the silicone brush head can be removed and reinstalled in a couple of seconds, and unlike a full-size vacuum, there aren’t any long tubes where items can get stuck. The vacuum is generally great at avoiding larger objects (or sometimes gently pushing them out of the way), and it does well at avoiding tangles too.

Another unexpected but welcome result: it actually trained me to pick up the small stuff before cleaning time. Since the vacuum cleaned up at the same time every day, I’d put away any objects on the ground before the S7 did its thing.

As for the whole poop nightmare, I simply set the vacuum to clean up at a time when I’m always home and can make sure no such disasters happen. The vacuum is quiet enough under default settings (there are four power levels) that I don’t mind it making the rounds while I’m working.