Roborock S50: The Smartest Vacuum Yet
Incredible navigation abilities allow for zoned cleaning, on top of being the most powerful vacuum you can buy at this budget. Alexa support now works for Europeans too. But consider if you might be better served by buying two cheaper devices instead.
The Roborock S50 is one of the most powerful robot vacuums on the market, with an advanced navigation system that allows for selective cleaning. Retailing at $400, is the cost justified?
We previously looked at the Roborock Xiaowa E20 robot, and were impressed. So what makes the Roborock S50 any different? Let’s take a closer look, and at the end of this review, we’ve got one to giveaway to one lucky reader.
Specifications and Design
In the box, you’ll find:
- Roborock S50 and charging station.
- Water tank and two mopping pads.
- Spare filter.
- Cleaning brush.
The device weighs around 3.56kg (7.84 pounds). It’s a 6cm tall, 34cm diameter disc shape; with a 2cm height, 7.5cm diameter sensor protruding from the top. Large, buffered wheels allow it to travel over objects up to 2cm in height, so it can easily navigate rugs and slight inclines. The beater bar is a hybrid design with both rubber blades and brushes, enabling it to perform well on both carpets and hard surfaces.
On paper, the specifications are:
- 2000pA suction power.
- 500ml dust box capacity.
- 150 minutes running time.
- 60dB noise level.
- 5200mAh battery.
The most significant difference compared to other models I’ve tested is the 2000pA suction power. This is twice that of the iRobot Roomba 960, and roughly on par with Dyson’s 360 Eye (which is twice the price). Combined with a large 5200mAh battery, the Roborock S50 is really designed for large family homes. On maximum power, it can get quite loud, but not enough to obstruct conversations.
Laser Distance Sensor (LDS)
The most advanced bit of tech I’ve seen on a robot vacuum yet, the Laser Distance Sensor (LDS) is a large disc protrusion on top of the vacuum. When in use, this laser sensor is constantly spinning, giving the device an immediate 360-degree view of the world around it. What this translates to is a fast, accurate depiction of its surroundings.
The first generation of robot vacuums were equipped for obstacle avoidance only. They travelled in a straight line until they hit something, then moved off at a random angle. Somehow they got the job done, but weren’t particularly efficient for larger spaces, and would often get stuck or run out of battery before making it back to base. Second generation models have better path planning for more methodical cleaning, with a basic forward facing distance sensor. They’re able to gradually produced a map of their path taken, but it’s a basic interpretation that takes a long time to generate as device moves around, and isn’t reliable enough to be used for anything other than a report.
The Roborock S50 is what I’d define as a third generation device. Because the Roborock’s map is so fast and accurate, it can be used both for intelligation autonomous navigation, and for remote control by the user. Finally, you can tell the device precisely where to clean.
Zoned Cleaning and Persistent Mapping
The first amazing feature that the advanced LDS navigation system enables is zoned cleaning. Once a map is built, you can click and drag on the map to define areas you want cleaned again, and optional specify how many times to do those. This is a one-off event, rather than being able to name a particular room, and the zone isn’t saved once the cleaning is completed. This could be particularly useful if there’s somewhere extra dirty that you really want it to go back and do again, or perhaps your child has just made a mess. Zoned cleaning can also be used if you’ve moved the robot away from its charging station; it just needs a chance to build that map first.
Optionally, you can enable persistent mapping. This comes with a few limitations though: the robot must start and end its cleaning run on the charging station. If you’ve moved the Roborock into another room, or carried him upstairs, this feature won’t work. It can’t save more than one map, so this is only really suitable for those in a single floor home (or who can afford more than one robot for each floor of the house).
With persistent mapping enabled, you can define virtual barriers and no-go zones as the default. We often find ourselves sticking boxes or chairs in the way to stop robots entering particular rooms, so I can certainly see the value in this. On the other hand, we also have a really awkward house, with sunken rooms and random stairs where there shouldn’t rightly be.
Finally, Europeans Can Use Alexa
In my review of the Roborock’s little brother, the Xiaowa E20 , I noted that European users were out of luck with Alexa support due to GDPR. The good news is that the issue has now been solved. The bad news is that you still have to do a little server selection dance to get everything to work right. If this is the first device you’re adding to MiHome, you have nothing to worry about: just select the European server for both your MiHome account and the Roborock device.
My account was previously set up on the Singapore servers, so I needed to first change that before I could set up the Roborock. If you have other Xiaomi smart devices, you may need to set them up again. The previous Xiaowa robot was automatically migrated to the new server, but my Yeelight strips weren’t. If you already have a lot of device you control through MiHome, this could be quite annoying, so consider how much you really want the Alexa features.
Actually using Alexa with Roborock is very simple, once it’s all set up. Features are limited, since the Roborock device is presented as a basic smart home switch device, rather than a skill you can issue a range of commands to. You can turn it on (to start cleaning), or off (to go home). I found the voice commands to be very responsive; barely a second after issuing the command to Alexa, cleaning had begun.
If you have the persistent map feature enabled, with no-go zones and virtual barriers, these will be respected when initiating a standard cleaning session through Alexa or a timed schedule. However, you can’t define specific zones, such as named rooms, then ask Roborock to clean only those through Alexa.
Like the smaller Xiaowa model, the Roborock includes a wet mop attachment that clips on underneath. Two cleaning pads are supplied. The usefulness of this feature will depend on your circumstances. Bear in mind that it is literally just a wet mop, not a steam cleaner, so it’s not going to remove any serious stains.
The device also uses voice prompts to alert you to its current status, such as when cleaning begins, when it returns to dock, or when it’s stuck. You can even put it in lost mode via the app, and she’ll promptly say “I’m over here!”. Less useful are the notifications that you’ve removed the dust box (obviously, I know I’ve done that, because I literally just did it).
Aside, the MiHome app used to control the device is clean, functional, modern and reliable. I’ve never experienced crashes, or been left wondering how to enable a feature.
Who is Roborock?
As a relatively new brand, it’s worth taking a moment to explain who Roborock is, and how they’re related to to the larger Xiaomi family.
Roborock was founded in 2014 as a designer and manufacturer of smart vacuum cleaning devices. Xiaomi recognized the potential, and became a large investor, producing the first ever Xiaomi Robot Vacuum Cleaner. Since the success of the original model, Roborock is now being positioned as a separate brand. However, the Roborock devices remain a part of the MiHome (MiJia) ecosystem of smart products.
Should You Buy the Roborock S50?
At this point, it’s rare that a robot vacuum truly impresses me. Most are differentiated only in price, and really just variations on the same core features. In fact, we routinely reject review requests of generic robot vacuums that offer nothing new.
The Roborock is the first device that genuinely feels smart, with incredible navigation abilities for zoned cleaning and software defined no-go areas. If you live in an apartment or bungalow, persistent mapping features alone make this a worthy upgrade.
If you’re likely to be moving the Roborock around though, for different floors of your house, it’s still one of the most powerful vacuums out there. Enable carpet detection and it’ll pick up more dirt than other models, while conserving battery power on hard surfaces. But I’m not sure I’d recommend it on power alone: convenience is the greater benefit of a robot vacuum, and you might be better served by purchasing two cheaper devices. Ultimately, there still isn’t a robot vacuum that can compete on raw power with even the most basic of upright vacuums. For deep carpets, a robot vacuum just isn’t going to cut it.
- Stunning navigation and mapping capabilities thanks to the LDS system.
- Zoned cleaning, virtual barriers, and no-go zones can all be defined in software.
- 2000pa maximum suction power to use in conjunction with carpet detection mode.
- Notifications, if you want them, for various events like finished cleaning.
- Dustbox is a little small, so you need to empty it after every cleaning.
- “Share the results of cleaning” is an actual feature.