Ecovacs Deebot 901: Great Robot Vacuum, Ruined by a Broken App (Review and Giveaway)
This is one of the smartest mid-range vacuums around. The navigation, virtual boundaries and zoned cleaning are fantastic features. Unfortunately it's marred by a buggy app.
On paper, the Ecovacs Deebot 901 is a very intelligent robot vacuum. It has Alexa and Google Home integration, and a smart navigation system which maps your space intelligently. Priced at $399 there are definitely cheaper options, so is it worth the hype?
We’ve looked at other robot vacuums with similar capabilities , so let’s see if Deebot 901 brings the same performance to the table. We also have one Ecovacs Deebot 901 to give away to one of our readers at the end of this review.
Specifications and Design
In the box you’ll find:
- Deebot 901 and charging dock.
- Two sets of side sweeping brushes.
- One direct suction attachment (mostly for picking up pet hair).
- A Multi-Purpose Cleaning tool (a brush with a recessed blade on the other end).
- One Spare Filter.
- Manual and Quick Start Guide.
The device is just under 34cm (12.2″) wide, and 9.5cm (2.2″) tall at the top of the sensor tower. This size allowed it to fit under pretty much everything during testing. Thin enough to fit between chair legs and under coffee tables, low enough to fit under beds and cabinets.
A set of reasonably heavy-duty wheels allow the Deebot 901 to jump up and down from carpets and other small obstacles up to a max height of 18mm, and at 3.5kg it’s not too hard to move if it gets stuck.
The stated specifications for the Deebot 901 are:
- Laser Sensor featuring Smart Navi mapping technology.
- 3000mAH battery, claiming up to 90 minutes of run time.
- 240 minutes charge time.
- 1000pA suction power.
- 67db noise level on standard power.
- 350ml waste box.
These specs put the Deebot 901 in an interesting position. It’s not as powerful as some of its competitors at this price, but it’s definitely smarter than most.
Smart Navi Technology
By far the most interesting feature of this device is the way it maps and navigates your home. The little tower on top of the unit houses a Laser Distance Sensor (LDS), which rotates constantly to give a 360-degree picture of the space it is in.
This is a significant improvement on previous smart vacuum technology which was fairly blinkered, and unable to operate efficiently within normal living spaces. Rather than caring only about what is directly in front of it, Deebot 901 maps the space and can move to any point within it. This opens up some possibilities that previous robot vacuums sorely lacked, like cleaning a specific area, and virtual boundaries.
Custom and Area Cleaning Capabilities
After a simple first setup guided by the Ecovacs home app, the Deebot 901 makes a complete map of your space. This triggers via the app or the onboard button. After the initial run, a map shows the areas it’s identified, which will usually correlate with different rooms. This map can then be used to specify custom cleans by dragging a box in the app around the area you want to clean. It’s worth noting that once this map is made, you cannot move the base station as this will cause the device to lose its orientation and create a new map from scratch.
Virtual boundaries are a fantastic addition, allowing you to drag boxes around areas you don’t want the vac to go (such as trailing cables, shoelaces, or a particularly frilly rug), and the robot will never go there until you remove it. You can follow the robot in real time through the app, and receive notifications for completed cleaning or any errors the robot has encountered. This allows you to keep tabs on its progress when out of the house.
All of these functions are intuitive to use within the app, which also features scheduled cleaning (but only for the auto cleaning mode). The continuous cleaning mode also allows for large spaces to be cleaned, as the robot will return to base to recharge when it gets low and continue where it left off.
Alexa and Google Home
Very few robot vacuum cleaners have Voice Assistant integration, and those that do can be difficult for Europeans to use. Setting up the Deebot 901 with Alexa was incredibly simple. Add the Ecovacs Deebot Alexa skill, and link your Ecovacs account. This opens up three new Alexa commands:
- “Alexa, ask DEEBOT to start cleaning.”
- “Alexa, ask DEEBOT to stop cleaning.”
- “Alexa, ask DEEBOT to start charging.”
Starting a clean via Alexa command is instantaneous, and the stop cleaning command is handy for stopping the vacuum from chomping on unwanted items.
The voice control feature is generally great, but not without its quirks. The Alexa support is only for use with auto-cleaning, so issuing a command to clean specific areas isn’t possible. This isn’t a huge deal, but when you get the command structure wrong, Alexa will list off what she can do with Deebot. This includes status and location reports—things that aren’t actually supported by the Deebot, or mentioned on the Alexa skill page. Whether this is leftover code from features that were pulled, or a hint at things to come, is not clear.
The Deebot 901 gives voice prompts for pretty much everything, in a variety of languages. Everything from starting and ending cleans to having a full dust tank is reported to you. This feature is especially handy if the robot gets itself truly lost: you can trigger a voice alert in the app to locate the vacuum and play “Marco Polo” until you find it again.
This voice feedback can be turned off in app, but really, why would you? The app also gives a rough calculation of the time the brushes and filters have left before needing to be replaced.
Does it Suck?
The critical question for a robot vacuum is whether it performs the job well. These devices are convenience items, and not designed to replace conventional vacuum cleaners.
For simple dusting and cleaning, the Deebot 901 worked perfectly. Floors were visibly less dusty, and since it could get under the bed and various cabinets there was less dust in general. The standard clean power was adequate for most tasks, and quiet enough to be able to speak over. I found the maximum power setting to be loud enough that is was annoying, without significant benefit to cleaning, so mostly avoided it.
Unfortunately, my time with the Deebot 901 was not without issues. Initial setup and usage were fine, but during review, I was prompted to download a new firmware update and app. After doing so, the old Ecovacs app stopped recognizing the vacuum. The new Ecovacs Home app was quite frustrating to use.
The new app didn’t seem to have any benefit over the old app. It did, however, crash every other time it was opened or switched to. Once the app restarted, it frequently listed the robot as offline, despite the onboard wifi indicator showing an active Wi-Fi connection, and Alexa still being able to trigger a clean.
The new firmware was intended to make the robot smarter, though if anything it seemed to struggle more with navigating the space than before. Both of these issues don’t seem confined to my particular Android device either, with iOS and Google Play store ratings sitting at less than 2 stars at the time of review. Things did seem to improve regarding stability as the review went on (ninja hotfix perhaps?), but as it stands the Deebot 901 and the Ecovacs Home app need further work in terms of stability to make this robot a real contender.
Should You Buy a Deebot 901?
This little vacuum is excellent, but unfortunately, it comes with problems that make it hard to recommend. The technology inside the device is impressive, and the Smart Navi system is a sign of how smart these robot vacuums are getting. The problem is that these features entirely rely on the app, which was not a great experience to use. Hopefully this will be improved in time.
It’s also hard to recommend when the recently reviewed Xiaomi Roborock s50 is a similar price and seems to do all Deebot 901 does, with a more reliable app.
Strangely enough, where Deebot 901 misses out, the Deebot 900 may be the robot you are looking for. Available for significantly cheaper than the 901, and functionally identical according to all sources (the only difference being the color), it seems to be the best value smart navigating robot available currently.
Courtesy of Ecovacs, we have a Deebot 901 to give away. Enter below for a chance to win!