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Xiaomi is not a very well known brand outside of its home country of China. It is best known for its Android smartphones that come with state-of-the-art features but are more reasonably priced compared to similar offerings from Apple and Samsung. What is less well known is that Xiaomi is much more than just a smartphone company. They have a very wide range of products and they sell everything from Smart Home Kits to smart rice cookers to smart washing machines. Recently, we got to try out the Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum. It has gotten rave reviews all over and we were dying to know if it lives up to its considerable hype.

In case you have not heard of the hype surrounding the Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum, here is the short version of it. The Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum is better than the Roomba 980, iRobot’s top of the range and most advanced WiFi connected robot vacuum. While that is nothing short of amazing considering that this is Xiaomi’s first try at producing a robot vacuum while the first iRobot Roomba was launched way back in 2002, what totally blows our minds is that at $250, it costs less than a third of the $800 Roomba 980.

The Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum arrived in a fairly large and plain brown box. Inside, there is the vacuum itself, the charging station, a power cable, a brush cleaner and a simple user manual that is entirely in Chinese. Set up is easy enough by following the diagrams in the manual or you can look for English instructions on the internet. The tough part is connecting the vacuum to the Mi Home app that is required to control the vacuum.

The Mi Home app (downloadable from Google Play) is used to connect and control all of Xiomi’s smart devices and not just the vacuum. As of the latest version of the app, the parts related to the vacuum are now entirely in English. In fact, one of the biggest update to the app and firmware is the support for an English voice on the vacuum. Yes, this robotic vacuum actually speaks to you in plain English and doesn’t just gives you cryptic beeps like the others.

Just follow the instructions to connect the app to the vacuum. You do need to set the server to Mainland China for the vacuum to be listed in the list of available devices. There may be a firmware update required and this may take quite a while so please be patient.

The Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum has a dozen sensors that helps it determine the size and shape of the room(s) and how to navigate around it. The main sensor is the Laser Distance Sensor (LDS) that sits on a little bump on top of the vacuum. The sensor does laser scans and creates a virtual map using the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping Algorithm (or SLAM). This is an advanced algorithm that is also used by self driving cars. There are also cliff sensors that stops the vacuum from falling over an edge and collision sensors.

For cleaning, the Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum uses a powerful Nidec brushless DC motor that produces 1,800Pa of suction power. Nidec supplies a similar motor for the Roomba 980. A rotating side brush help to pick up dirt from the edges and sweep it towards the vacuum. The vacuum also has a rotating main brush that has a mix of stiff bristles and silicone brushes. This brush sits right under the suction area.

Powering the vacuum is a 5200 mAh rechargeable battery that is rated to last 2.5 hours on a single charge with the vacuum on its default “Balanced” setting. At this setting, you should be able to clean up about a total of 2000 square feet of floor space before the vacuum requires a recharge. The vacuum also has a “Turbo” mode that maximizes the suction power but reduces the battery life. There is also a “Quiet” mode that reduces the noise level of the vacuum.

One of the main differences between a high end versus a low end vacuum is its cleaning efficiency. A budget vacuum will randomly zigzag across a room and has minimal or no awareness of how the floor space actually looks like. The Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum uses SLAM to visualize the room and then proceeds to move along the edges to map out the room accurately. It then divides the space into smaller areas and proceeds to cover each area thoroughly before moving to the next area. Using this method, it almost guarantees that it vacuums the entire area without going over the same areas unnecessarily.

Once it is done vacuuming, the vacuum automatically returns to the charging dock. If its battery drops to below 20% during a clean up, it will also return automatically for a recharge before continuing with the job after the battery has been recharged.

Now comes the most important question of all. How well does the Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum does its job? Unfortunately, we are not able to compare it with a Roomba 980 or any other similar vacuum. However, we can confidently say that it does a better job than a normal manual clean up using a vacuum. Don’t just take our word for it. The lady of the house gives her seal of approval.

Once we got over the excitement of a robotic vacuum, we found some time to go through the Mi Home app. The app has many features and the part that interest us the most is that it produces a live map of the cleaning process in real time. You can see the LDS scan that shows the shape of the room and the trail of the Xiaomi vacuum as it moves around the room. From this map you have a very good idea of how efficient the vacuum is at cleaning. As far as we know, no other robotic vacuum has a similar feature.

Other things that you can do with the app include setting up a cleaning schedule for the vacuum and to remotely start or stop a cleaning job from just about anywhere. You will also receive notifications via the app when a job has been completed or if the vacuum encounters a problem. The app keeps a history of all the cleaning jobs including total area cleaned and total time. The saved data is used to calculate when the wear and tear parts on the vacuum like the brushes and filters need to be replaced.

Xiaomi took on a herculean task when it decided not just to come up with a robotic vacuum but one that challenges the top-of-the-range iRobot Roomba. As far as features and functions are concerned, the Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum definitely has the chops to challenge for the throne. In fact, prior to April 2017, the main thing that was holding the Xiaomi Vacuum back was the fact that the app and the voice feedback on the vacuum were not available in English. However, both problems have since been resolved with the latest update and are no longer an issue.

As of now, the Xiaomi Robotic Vacuum is still not officially available outside of China but you can buy it through importers on Amazon or on Gearbest, one of the best places to purchase China-only goods. Prices are higher than its official retail price in China of course but even with the markup, you should be able to get it for less than half the price of a Roomba 980.
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