Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so human nature abhors vacuum cleaning. Samsung, however, is aiming to liberate mankind from the eternal struggle against the build-up of dust. The company says its NaviBot will whip around your gaff, suck up dust, return to its charging station, and start all over again the next day -- with a minimum of human intervention.
Liberty from domestic drudgery doesn't come cheap, though: the touchscreen model that we've reviewed, the SR8855, costs around £390 online, while the version with physical buttons, the SR8845, costs around £350. Can the NaviBot's performance justify its price, or will you feel like you've been taken to the cleaners?
How it works
Before you can use the NaviBot, you'll have to charge it for around 2 hours on the bulky, mains-powered charging dock. Once that's done, you'll be able to select one of four modes that will give up to 1.5 hours of cleaning time. Auto mode lets the NaviBot handle everything, 'spot' mode will see it focus on a 1.5 by 1.5m area, 'max' mode will make it clean until the battery's exhausted, and manual mode will let you take control, using the remote. When the battery runs low, or the NaviBot thinks the job's done, it'll automatically return to the charging station.
You can schedule the NaviBot to start at a certain time of day, so it can go about its business while you're playing a round of golf. If you're worried about it entering certain areas of your house, you can also deploy one or both of the 'smart gates' (the cheaper SR8845 comes with only one).
These battery-powered gates are about the size of a large can of tomato soup and emit an infrared beam that the NaviBot can't cross. You can also set them to allow the NaviBot to cross their beam only once it's completely cleaned the room it's currently in. Note that you won't need to use a smart gate to prevent the NaviBot falling down a stairwell. Three cliff sensors on the NaviBot's underside frustrated all of our efforts to make it commit robotic suicide.
Warms the cockles
The NaviBot is a veritable bobby dazzler, and guaranteed to send the temperature of your cockles soaring when you first see it in action. Somewhat resembling a giant, shiny, moustachioed beetle, its diameter is about 35cm -- roughly that of a toilet seat -- and it measures around 9.5cm high. It makes slightly less noise than a hairdryer on a low setting.
The display is home to numerous yellow symbols that respond to a prod satisfactorily, although the touchscreen is far less sensitive than those you'd find on virtually any mobile phone. Pressing a mode icon, or a mode button on the remote, will send the NaviBot into battle with a cheerful beep.
The NaviBot does an admirable job of navigating its way around a room, but, despite having a ceiling-mapping camera on top and an array of sensors all over its carcass, it's prone to gently bashing into obstacles. Nevertheless, it successfully circumnavigated obstructions in our tests -- most of the time. You'll want to make sure the floor is as free of impediments as possible to get the best results.
All the components of this system work well together. The smart gates successfully kept the NaviBot at bay, the remote worked exactly as you'd hope, and the robot made its way back to the charging station with ease.
Dishing the dirt
But, alas, the bath-water of our admiration quickly drained into the plughole of discontent -- the otherwise charming NaviBot just isn't a very effective vacuum cleaner. The main problem isn't so much the fact that it's fairly slow to clean a room, or that you'll only get a couple of goes out of it before you'll need to empty its dustbin. Nor is it that you'll have to carry it up and down the stairs yourself. It's not even that you'll need a screwdriver to be able to remove long hairs wrapped around the axles of the two sweepers that direct detritus into the vacuum system.
Rather, the issue is that the NaviBot simply can't reach into nooks -- or crannies for that matter. It won't be able to cope with dust on skirting boards, TVs or hi-fis either, or get under furniture that sits close to the floor.
The result is that, although the NaviBot did a generally impressive job on the wooden flooring of our London garret, we still ended up with select pockets of filth all over the place. Consequently, we had to whip out a conventional vacuum cleaner after the NaviBot had finished, which made us think we might as well have done it all ourselves in the first place.
The NaviBot doesn't perform as well on carpets as it does on hard surfaces. We mashed a custard cream into the carpet at the office and had to pass the NaviBot over the area seven times before we were happy that nobody would notice what we'd done.
We're not entirely convinced that leaving the NaviBot to its own devices while you're out at the pool is a barnstormingly good idea either. We've seen the NaviBot completely fail to navigate past the leg of our couch, get trapped on a 15mm-high section of raised flooring, and drag around a loose cable for sufficiently long that we thought it might try and eat it. The thought of the NaviBot causing mayhem in our home while we're away is too much for our paranoid minds to bear.
The Samsung NaviBot is a highly appealing gadget with the noblest of ambitions. But it doesn't clean sufficiently well for us to recommend it at this price. If you're feeling flush, love robots and absolutely detest vacuum cleaning, it could fit the bill. For everyone else, we'd advise keeping your money, gritting your teeth and getting on with the housework as usual, or putting the money towards a cleaner.