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Previously the domain of the super rich, you can now pick up a robot vacuum cleaner for under $200, and as far as household gadgets go, this is surprisingly one of the more useful ones.
To be precise, the ILIFE A4 is currently on sale for $160 $140 from GearBest.com.
The ILIFE A4 autonomously vacuums your floor; the only effort required from you is that of emptying the dust box every few days.
He’s a delightful little robot, really, and we’ve grown to love having him around, passing off one aspect of the household chores. I’m not sure why we decided to anthropomorphize it as a “he”, but when I suggested it might in fact be a she, my wife adamantly disagreed. And “it” just sounded rude.
- Range of sensors on the front for large obstacle avoidance and wall detection.
- Bumper for any obstacles that weren’t scanned by the sensors.
- Drop sensor for avoiding stairs.
- Home charging dock.
- Wide range of replaceable parts.
- Rotating side brushes.
- 2600mAh battery.
- Simple infrared remote control.
- Spot, edge, and planned cleaning modes.
- Two power modes.
We Haven’t Vacuumed in Weeks
Although I’d call the ILIFE A4 a “smart” robot vacuum, there’s no Bluetooth connectivity or mobile apps for controlling it – just a single button on the top of the device, and a remote control.
The remote enables you to choose from a number of cleaning modes, force him to go home, enable higher powered suction, and set up the timed cleaning. It’s quite simple to use, but the only caveat we found was that setting the timer required you to first wake-up the device with a single tap on the button on top of the robot itself, then point the remote directly at it. If you don’t hear acknowledgement beeps, the timer settings haven’t been taken by the robot, even though they remain on the display of the remote itself, which might lead you to think it’s not working.
The timed mode is arguably the most useful feature – designed so you can set and forget while you’re at work. Having set him up to run around at 10:30AM, our kitchen and upstairs hallway is cleaner than it’s ever been before. We still carry him around to do other areas, but the upstairs is handled autonomously.
Robots. How Do They Work?
It’s not entirely clear how the ILIFE A4 decides where to go next. Sometimes it appears to be quite intelligent, heading straight for the doorway to do another room, or carefully skirting the outside of the room. Other times, it’s quite persistent in one area, while completely ignoring others. I suspect it’s actually just random, yet occasionally displays emergent behaviour that is indistinguishable from intelligence. He doesn’t however appear to build a map of his environment, so he can neither remember where an obstacle was, nor the way home again.
That’s not to say he got stranded anywhere – he always managed to find its way home to the charging dock, but more through sheer dumb luck than an intelligent algorithm at work. Within about 6 feet of the charging dock, he’s able to home in on a signal of some kind, at which point it slows and carefully navigates onto the charging pins, before dropping into sleep mode. In short: most of the time, it “just works”.
We’re not yet at the level of sophistication of being able to actually detect dirt though, so he’ll spend a good time wasting energy on vacuuming parts of the room that simply aren’t dirty. This isn’t a device you should sit by and watch, as you’ll invariably be frustrated by the inability to direct him to problematic areas. There is a spot cleaning mode, but that sort of ruins the point of having an autonomous robot. He works best when simply left alone, given the time to meticulously go over every part of the room.
Obstacles and Levels
The ILIFE A4 obviously won’t do stairs; a round disc can’t climb after all, and trying to descend would be a bit of a disaster. He does however have a sensor at the front which stops him from falling in normal use, but you’ll need to carry him to another floor to get complete coverage of an average home.
He did elegantly handle the steep slope down into our bedroom, and the transition from lino to thick rug in my office, though got a little confused underneath the swivel chair. It took him a good few minutes to figure out how to escape that. He also had a little trouble on very thick carpets – the kind with 3 or 4cm pile – but otherwise handled a variety of surfaces well.
If you’re worried about pets, you shouldn’t be. He got on just fine with our dog. Anything smaller could probably sit on him and enjoy the ride.
As far as actual vacuuming abilities go, I was pleasantly surprised. The ILIFE A4 handled some impressive large bits of trash – to the point that I wouldn’t let it go near a kids room for fear of picking up stray Lego bits – though you obviously won’t get the same deep clean that you’d get from an upright, mains powered vacuum.
The ILIFE A4 handles day-to-day vacuuming well then, but you do need to ensure it’s working area is somewhat tidy. Like a naughty toddler, he managed to pull our 5-port USB charger off the dresser and drag it all the way across the bedroom, pulling a couple of devices and a wireless Qi pad along with it. However, he also managed to vacuum under the bed, which hasn’t been done since we moved in, so I won’t complain too much.
I had less luck with deliberate “heavy soiling” tests: flour on the carpet, and throwing soil on the tiled kitchen floor. Both resulted in the mess just being spread around, as you can see in the review video. The photo below is after 15 minutes of letting it run wild on standard setting.
Switching to max power helped, but it had to spread everything thinly and then run over a few times before everything was clean again. This extreme test also showed the small capacity, and required emptying halfway through in order to complete the job. It also showed the weakness of having a vacuum that doesn’t actually know where the mess is; it just blindly vacuums everywhere. A human of course would concentrate on the dirty areas, and get the job done in a fraction of the time. Lesson learnt: if you’ve made a big mess, tidy it up yourself.
The ILIFE A4 works best on lightly soiled, everyday vacuuming tasks. It’ll pick up a good bit of hair, and larger items too, but not a large amount of something. Scheduling it to work while you’re out is the ideal use case, so it can take as long as it likes, autonomously keeping the floor clean.
Should You Buy an ILIFE A4 Robot Vacuum?
I can honestly say that having the ILIFE A4 gives us just a little more time to do the fun things in life, and keeps our house cleaner, for longer. We no longer need to dash around frantically if guests are coming round; just a quick once over the stairs will suffice, which is the one area the device can’t reach. If they ever make a robot vacuum cleaner that can do stairs too, it’ll be nothing short of a revolution. Pick yours up now from GearBest.com.
I wouldn’t pay $500 for a robot vacuum, but at less than half the price of the leading brand, the ILIFE A4 does an admirable job of daily vacuuming tasks. Anything that saves me time on the household chores is a winner.