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The best smart home devices of 2020: Amazon and Google fight to control your house – CNET

If you’ve already connected the various devices and fixtures around your home — perhaps it’s something you’ve paid more attention to now that many of us are spending more time at home — you’ll know there are many different ways to approach the problem. You might just need one device to address a particular issue,…

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The best smart home devices of 2020: Amazon and Google fight to control your house     – CNET

If you’ve already connected the various devices and fixtures around your home — perhaps it’s something you’ve paid more attention to now that many of us are spending more time at home — you’ll know there are many different ways to approach the problem. You might just need one device to address a particular issue, like a smart plug to put a lamp on a regular schedule. You might also already have an Amazon Alexa- or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or even Siri and Apple’s HomeKit smart home service, and now you’re thinking about how to build on what you already own.I tend to think of the voice assistants as the starting point for building a do-it-yourself smart home. They offer a convenient way for family members or roommates to interact with the various devices without worrying about who has what access in a given app. Many, but not all of the products on our list of the best smart home products will work with multiple voice assistants.   Before you dive in, keep in mind that Amazon has announced a whole new set of smart home speakers and other devices from its own line and from its Ring subsidiary. The devices will come to market over the next six months, starting in October with the new spherical Echo speaker. Google is rumored to have a new smart speaker out soon as well. It’s likely the products below will have some changeover before the end of the year, so you might wait to read our ongoing coverage before making a new purchase. We will keep this list updated as new products make the cut. Read more: 6 coolest smart home devices you didn’t know existed  
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Our list focuses narrowly on the best product in each smart home subcategory. If you want to know the best smart thermostat or the best smart lighting kit, regardless of which voice platforms support it, we have you covered. What this list is not is a road map for a single, coherent smart home installation (you won’t get far trying to pair an Amazon smart speaker with a Google smart display). For that, please refer to our platform-based lists linked below:   In each subcategory section, I’ve also added a link to the best list for that particular product type. If you’re looking for more options for lighting or locks, you’ll find a list of our favorite products if you’d like to see a broader selection. We regularly update this list as we review new products.

Amazon’s entry-level Echo Dot had the edge over the competing Google Home Mini speaker, but with the arrival of the newer, rebranded Google Nest Mini, we’re officially calling the entry-level smart speaker category a tie. Both speakers will run you about $50 on a normal day, and you can find both of them discounted regularly. The two voice assistants are pretty much at parity right now. Amazon usually boasts about more skills and support for more third-party devices, but the numbers for both voice platforms are in the tens of thousands, meaning the difference isn’t enough that you’ll really miss out on anything significant with Google. Read more: The best smart speakers of 2020Google Assistant does a better job at mimicking natural conversation flow, but the difference is that it isn’t really that noticeable in your day-to-day interaction with each speaker. Most of the time you’ll ask a smart speaker for the weather, to set a timer, and maybe have it play a song or two. Both devices are good at all of that.The Amazon Echo Dot was our pick due to one small hardware advantage. It has an audio-out jack. The Google Home Mini doesn’t, and neither does the Nest Mini. Now, the Echo Dot also offers a variant with an LED clock embedded around its edge, for $10 more. That’s a convenient quality-of-life feature.Google has another card to play, which you can read below.

Read our Amazon Echo Dot (third-generation) review.

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Google’s new Nest Mini smart speaker improves on its predecessor, the Google Home Mini, in a few ways. Google improved the audio quality in the Nest Mini, giving its bass output more oomph. It also added a wall mounting notch to the underside it, if that’s what you’re into. An interesting new presence detection method that uses the speaker and microphone to determine your proximity to the Nest Mini helps it trigger LED indicators that help you make better sense of the otherwise obscured physical volume controls. That’s all fine, but the thing that puts the Nest Mini over the edge is the machine learning chip embedded inside the tiny speaker. With that chip, Google says the Nest Mini can learn what commands you give to it most often, and it will then begin to process those commands locally, rather than on Google’s servers. Anything that helps to keep control of your smart home inside your home is worthwhile. Letting you still issue certain voice commands even if the internet goes out, and improved response times are great, too. For all of that, the machine learning chip puts the Google Nest Mini at parity with the Amazon Echo Dot and its distinct audio-input jack. Now let’s see a speaker that has both.

Read our Google Nest Mini review.

Amazon may have introduced the smart display with the Echo Show, but Google refined the concept with the Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub) both in terms of its design, and in the way it leverages its voice assistant. You get the same Google Assistant features in the Nest Hub that you get with the Google Home speaker line, along with a screen interface that gives you just the right amount of visual feedback. It will show you your spoken commands so you know Google heard you correctly, it can deftly walk you through a recipe from popular cooking websites, and it works seamlessly with Google-supported smart home cameras and video doorbells to display their camera feeds onscreen. Read more: The best smart displays of 2020Google prudently opted out of including a video camera on the Hub itself, getting ahead of some privacy concerns, and likely prompting Amazon to include a manual video shutter on its new, smaller Echo Show 5 display. If you really want a Google-based smart display that allows for video chatting, a few third-party options can make that happen. Even without it, the Nest Hub is the best, most affordable marriage of a voice assistant and a display interface on the market.

Read our Google Nest Hub review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon’s midtier smart display is the best one in its line. For $130, the Echo Show 8 has great audio quality, a highly visible screen and a convincing nod to privacy with a physical shutter you can slide over its camera. We still like the interface better on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Those Google Assistant displays also have the edge in useful video due to the voice-activated YouTube integration, which Amazon’s lineup lacks. Regardless, for those of you who are committed to an Alexa-only ecosystem, the Echo Show 8 is the best smart display.

Read our Amazon Echo Show 8 review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Wi-Fi is everything — particularly once you start spreading things like smart speakers, smart lights, smart plugs and smart all else from room to room. After all, those connected doodads won’t do you much good if they can’t, you know, connect. That’s why a mesh router that’s built to spread a strong, speedy signal throughout your house might make for a particularly smart upgrade — especially if you’re living in a big home. And, of the ones we’ve tested, we think the Nest Wifi is the smartest pick. At $269, the two-piece starter kit was able to fill the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home with decent signal strength, and it never once dropped our connection as we moved around conducting speed test after speed test. On top of that, the range extender doubles as a smart speaker, so as you spread a reliable connection from room to room, you’ll be spreading the Google Assistant’s footprint in your home with it.Read more: The best Wi-Fi routers in 2020The Nest Wifi doesn’t support the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, but you really won’t notice the difference Wi-Fi 6 makes unless you’re already paying for super-fast internet speeds of 500 Mbps or more. What you will notice with is the ease of installation, the simple network controls that sit right alongside your smart home controls in the Google Home app, and advanced Wi-Fi features like device prioritization, WPA3 security, and 4×4 MU-MIMO support, which lets the Nest Wifi boost speeds to devices that use multiple Wi-Fi antennas, like the MacBook Pro.The Nest Wifi is obviously best for Google smart homes, so Alexa users will likely want to stick with the Eero or Netgear Orbi, our honorable mentions in the mesh category. But if you just want rock solid Wi-Fi that you and your growing number of internet-connected gadgets can rely upon, put the Nest Wifi right at the top of your list.

Read our Nest Wifi review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

We often point to smart plugs as the entry point for anyone interested in trying out a connected home device. They’re cheap, they’re simple to install and they perform a function that’s pretty easy to grasp, toggling power on and off remotely. Read more: The best smart plugs of 2020You can find a lot of smart plugs out there. TP-Link’s Kasa Mini is our favorite. It includes a single outlet that connects to your network via Wi-Fi. The app is well-designed and lets you program the plug to turn on or off on a schedule or even based on your location. It works with Google Assistant and Alexa, and it doesn’t cover up the adjacent outlet on a standard two-outlet wall fixture.

Read our TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini review.

Philips Hue smart light bulbs have been our top pick for years, and with good reason. The company’s range of products is the broadest in the category, encompassing standard A19 bulbs, flood lights, light strips, fixtures and most recently an entire range of outdoor lighting options. That kind of variety makes it easy to bring the lighting scheme for your entire home onto the Hue service. It also helps that Philips supports Amazon, Google, and Apple’s voice assistants.Read more: The best smart lights of 2020The Hue line came to prominence with its color-changing bulbs, but the best way for most people to get started is with its standard white light bulbs. For $70, you can get a set of two bulbs and the Hue hub to get them online. Already own an Alexa or Google Assistant device? $30 will get you the new Bluetooth version of the bulbs, no extra hub needed.Honorable mention: Wyze Bulb. This $8 smart bulb works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it doesn’t require a hub. It’s not quite as fully featured as Philips Hue (it only comes as a standard A19 bulb, no HomeKit support), but it’s the best deal in this category.

Read our Philips Hue White LED review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Like its competitor, the Nest Learning Thermostat chief among them, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is a WIFi-based thermostat that lets you control your home heating and air conditioning system with an app or with your voice. A few features help it stand out.Ecobee set itself apart with its earlier products by including a remote temperature sensor in the box with the thermostat. The thermostat itself can read the ambient temperature of whatever room it’s in and adjust accordingly. If you want it to adjust the temp based on the conditions in another room, just switch it over to the remote sensor. This is a useful accessory if your thermostat install point isn’t in a central location, or if you want to make sure a nursery or your home office is the focal point for the Ecobee’s temperature readings, rather than a far-flung hallway. Read more: The best smart thermostats of 2020You can buy the same accessory for a Nest thermostat, but Ecobee includes one in the box. Ecobee is also more agnostic about working with voice assistants than its Google-owned competitor. Where Nest will work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (maintained perhaps as a legacy function from before Google purchased Nest), Ecobee supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. Perhaps most unique, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is itself an Amazon Echo speaker. You won’t be impressed by its audio output for playing music, but as a basic extender for Alexa around your home, the Ecobee does an admirable job. Maybe you actually want Alexa in that far-flung hallway.

Read our Ecobee SmartThermostat review.

Arlo

The Arlo Pro 3 is our new favorite smart home camera, taking over the crown from its predecessor, the Arlo Pro 2. It’s not cheap to get started with Arlo cameras. The most affordable starting package for Arlo Pro 3 costs $500 and includes two Pro 3 cameras and the required wireless base station. If you can get past that initial investment, you’ll be able to take advantage of the most versatile video camera set up on the market. Every additional Arlo Pro 3 will cost $199. That’s expensive, but it also about the same as a single Nest Cam Outdoor, another well-regarded outdoor Wi-Fi security camera. If you already own an Arlo Pro base station from an earlier kit, the Arlo Pro 3 will work with that as well.We have always liked Arlo’s cameras for their battery-powered, weatherproof design that makes that suited for use indoors or outdoors. You can power them with a cable, or with the included, rechargeable battery for up to six months. An easy-to-install magnetic base also gives you almost infinite flexibility in terms of how you want to position each camera. They can also stand by themselves without a base on any horizontal surface. In short, you can put these cameras anywhere, or move them between locations with incredible ease. What’s new with the Arlo Pro 3 is a higher resolution video feed than its predecessor (2K versus 1080p), and a siren built into the camera, as opposed to the base station. Now you have an outdoor deterrent for any would-be intruders. For the sake of your neighbors, please use it with restraint. Want just an affordable indoor cam? The Alexa-supporting $30 Wyze Cam Pan is our current favorite. No other camera comes close to the Wyze in terms of features for the dollar. But for an indoor/outdoor, whole-home installation, the Arlo Pro 3 gets the nod. 

Read our Arlo Pro 3 review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Cameras are one thing, but if you’re really concerned about security across your entire home, your best bet is the SimpliSafe 3.0 kit. It starts at $229 for the base station, a keypad, a motion sensor, and an open/close sensor. That’s a start, but one of the things we like most about SimpliSafe is the ability to customize your set up from a selection of eight different sensors, from smoke to glass-break. Unlike many whole-home security systems, SimpliSafe requires no contract to lock you into its service plan. You can opt into a $15-a-month professional monitoring package, but it’s not required, and you can cancel at any time. Read more: The best home security systems of 2020Competing systems from Ring, Nest, ADT and Vivint all offer similar-seeming combinations of hardware and a la carte service, but they all offer either too few features if you don’t opt-in to a service package, or start at significantly higher price points than SimpliSafe without making up the difference in better hardware. The one system we like that comes close is Abode, which has a higher starting price, but deeper integration with other smart home devices. Look into Abode if you don’t mind paying a little more upfront and you want it to work with other products. As a standalone product, SimpliSafe is our top pick.

Read our SimpliSafe review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The hardwired Nest Hello video doorbell connects to your Wi-Fi network so you can see who’s at the door in real time. It can also capture and store three hours worth of video clips for free. But the most compelling thing about it is the owner-controlled facial recognition feature. Read more: The best video doorbells of 2020Facial recognition has its controversies, but the way Google uses it in the Nest Hello doorbell seems like the right way to do it, at least until the next data privacy scandal. Unlike many commercial systems which pull from existing databases to make a match, Nest Hello helps you build your own personal facial recognition database based on the people that come to your door. Once you tag the most common visitors, the app will eventually recognize them, and alert you when they show up at your door. The Nest Hello’s normal listing price is $230, which is on the high end of the scale.

Read our Nest Hello review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart locks make people nervous because they insert another point of failure between you and your physical security. With a smart lock, a malicious hacker, or even a plain old technical failure or connectivity issue could all of a sudden compromise the entry point of your home. There might be some truth to that. A keyless design with no physical failsafe could indeed lock you out but the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock isn’t one of those locks.Read more: The best smart locks of 2020The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is a breeze to install. It fits over the internal thumb latch of most existing deadbolt designs, and you can set it up in 10 minutes. Because it doesn’t replace the lock mechanism itself, you can still use your original, physical key. It’s good looking too, and 45% smaller than older August models.The lock itself connects to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and from the August app, you can assign and revoke timed virtual keys to anyone you like, from your in-laws to your dog sitter, at no extra cost. Many other locks will charge extra for virtual keys. Because this model has Wi-Fi built in, you won’t need to purchase the August Connect accessory to enable remote access. Simply setup your lock with Wi-Fi in the app, and you can not only control the lock from anywhere, but you can also connect it to Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri (be sure to make each of them require a PIN to accompany the unlock command) for added convenience. Another accessory included with the Wi-Fi Smart Lock model is the tiny open-close sensor. This lets the lock tell you if it’s locked or unlocked and lets you know if the door itself is open or closed. It’s the most complete product available on the market for now.

Read our August Wi-Fi Smart Lock review.

Arlo

Our favorite all-around security camera maker released a floodlight camera this spring that’s also a best-in-class product. It has all of the things we like about the Arlo camera line in general, long-lasting battery, a sharp HD video feed, mounting hardware that’s both flexible and easy install and compatibility with all three major voice platforms. Along with all of that, Arlo has added the most powerful array of LED lighting in its category, leaving competing products from Ring and others in the darkness. The 2,000 lumen light (3,000 if you add the optional Outdoor Charging Cable) will light up your entire backyard if you want that kind of power. It’s also dimmable, which is useful if you still want your neighbors to like you. 

Read the CNET review.

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Acer’s new smart speaker is a colorful contribution to the market – CNET

Acer’s new smart speaker will be available in early 2021. Acer If you’re interested in smart speakers, but not impressed by what you’ve seen from Amazon, Google or Apple, there are third-party speakers out there. Acer on Wednesday announced the Acer Halo, a $109 smart speaker with DTS sound, LED display and more.The Acer Halo sits…

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Acer’s new smart speaker is a colorful contribution to the market     – CNET

Acer’s new smart speaker will be available in early 2021.
Acer
If you’re interested in smart speakers, but not impressed by what you’ve seen from Amazon, Google or Apple, there are third-party speakers out there. Acer on Wednesday announced the Acer Halo, a $109 smart speaker with DTS sound, LED display and more.The Acer Halo sits on a base lit up by RGB lighting you can customize. The glowing lights can sync with streaming music, too. That music streams from a speaker with DTS sound designed to project in 360 degrees to fill the room.

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On the front of the speaker’s gray fabric cover, an LED light display provides visual information like weather or time. Acer is working on an app that will let you personalize the message or image displayed via LED.An LED display on the front of the speaker displays information.
Acer
The smarts behind this speaker come from Google Assistant. You’ll use the usual “Hey, Google” voice command to request music, podcasts, news and answers to questions. The Acer Halo is equipped with two far-field omnidirectional microphones to detect ambient noise and voice commands. A physical switch is available to mute the microphones.Acer isn’t the first third-party manufacturer to try its hand at a smart speaker. We’ve seen successful models from Bose and Sonos, among others. The Acer Halo Smart Speaker will be available in North America in early 2021 starting at $109. Its European price of 119 euros converts to about £110 or AU$200. 

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Google smart displays are getting a makeover, dark mode included – CNET

Google smart display interfaces are getting a new look.  Google Smart displays are just a few years old, but updates and redesigns are already in the works. Google just announced a brand new look for the user interface of its Google Assistant-enabled smart displays such as the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Keeping tabs on…

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Google smart displays are getting a makeover, dark mode included     – CNET

Google smart display interfaces are getting a new look. 
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Smart displays are just a few years old, but updates and redesigns are already in the works. Google just announced a brand new look for the user interface of its Google Assistant-enabled smart displays such as the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Keeping tabs on your homeThe overhaul starts with several new screens. The home screen now displays a quick glance at your day. In the morning that section is called “Your Morning” and it progresses throughout the day, displaying information like news, events on your calendar and the weather.

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Other new tabs across the top of the home screen will direct you to specific categories. Those tabs include Home Control, Media, Communicate, and Discover. Each tab holds tappable cards and widgets. On the Media page you’ll find music, videos, shows and recommendations. You’ll also be able to see and control what media is playing on other connected devices in your home. Media widgets will be customized to show content from your preferred streaming service. The Home Control tab displays a dashboard of all the connected devices in your home and tappable cards to adjust any device settings, like dimming lights or viewing the doorbell camera.The Communicate tab houses cards for video and chat settings, and the Discover tab displays ideas for things to do with your smart display like playing a game, hear a joke or find a new recipe. Dark mode and ambience settingsIn addition to organized tabs, Google-enabled smart displays are also several new ways to wind down in the evening and wake up each morning.Relaxing ambient sounds are coming to Google Assistant-enabled smart displays. 
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With dark mode on, your smart display’s color scheme changes, reducing light emission. You can set dark and light modes to activate automatically depending on ambient light of the sunrise and sunset. A selection of ambient sounds is also coming to smart displays for added relaxation options. A Sunrise Alarm feature is also making its way to smart displays, gradually increasing the brightness of your screen for 30 minutes before your alarm time. You can manage alarms on your display, set different alarms for weekdays and weekends, as well as choose alarm tones. Meetings and calendarsIn recent months, the team at Google improved Google Meet and Duo on smart displays and announced plans for Zoom to come to the device. Now smart displays will be able to link multiple Google accounts, so you can see personal and professional meetings all in one place. You can also cancel or reschedule meetings on your smart display. If you use Google Meet on the camera-enabled Nest Hub Max display, you’ll be able to move around the room while staying in frame. Google smart displays will support multiple accounts for calendars and meetings. 
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These new features and the new interface design will be rolling out in the coming weeks to all Google Assistant-enabled smart displays in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and US.  

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Best robot vacuum for 2020: Neato, iRobot Roomba, Electrolux, Eufy and more – CNET

It used to be that robot vacuum cleaners were only to be seen in dream homes from the future. But now they’ve become reality. In fact they’re more advanced than they’ve ever been. They boast arrays of sophisticated sensors, lasers, CPUs, even AI-enhanced software. The fact is these robots are useful tools to keep your home…

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Best robot vacuum for 2020: Neato, iRobot Roomba, Electrolux, Eufy and more     – CNET

It used to be that robot vacuum cleaners were only to be seen in dream homes from the future. But now they’ve become reality. In fact they’re more advanced than they’ve ever been. They boast arrays of sophisticated sensors, lasers, CPUs, even AI-enhanced software. The fact is these robots are useful tools to keep your home nice and tidy.Living the robot vacuum dream can set you back a healthy pile of cash — some cost as much as four figures. While you don’t have to spend that much, you do get a lot in return. That includes multiple room and floor mapping, self-emptying dust bins, powerful suction and thoughtfully designed hardware. Despite all this sophistication, however, none of these machines can really replace a mop.

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To choose the best robot vacuum, I spent over 120 hours (that’s a lot of time) torture-testing a group of 12 robotic cleaning vacuums for things like suction power, their ability to perform on carpets and hard floor and how well each performed during each cleaning cycle. Among them are brand-new models that have recently launched, flagship models and compelling options offered across numerous online retailers. I excluded older models that likely won’t be sold for much longer. I update this list periodically.

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If someone were to give you a blank check and tell you to buy the best robot vacuum, this is the bot to get. That said, the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus costs a whopping $1,100. For that staggeringly steep sticker price though, this robotic vacuum delivers powerful suction and superb dirt and dust removal. On hardwood floors this Roomba picked up an average of 93% of our test sand, the highest amount in our test group, but it struggled a bit cleaning sand from low-pile carpeting and area rugs, earning a low average dust and sand pickup of 28%. That said, the Roomba robot vac removed an average 71% of sand from our mid-pile carpet while vacuuming. Again, this is the best result that we saw on this specific test. It also cleaned up more dog hair, pet dander and allergens than any vacuum in this test group, and the bot navigates and maps multiple rooms and floors. iRobot has also updated its app to let you designate “keep out zones” that you want the S9 Plus to avoid when cleaning. The app also lets you use voice commands to immediately clean a room using Alexa or Google Voice Assistant.The robot zipped through our test room in a short average time of 25 minutes, too. You can link the S9 Plus to the Roomba app and your home Wi-Fi as well. Best of all is the Roomba S9 Plus’ CleanBase docking station. The dock both charges the robot’s battery and empties its dustbin automatically, making cleaning even easier and keeping you from worrying about battery life. Now that’s convenient.

Read our first impressions of the Roomba S9 Plus.

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For roughly half the price of the Roomba S9 Plus, the $600 Neato’s D7 vacuums up dirt, dust and messes almost as well, making it the best robot vacuum at a midrange cost. On average this robotic cleaner picked up a greater amount of sand (36%) across low-pile carpet and rugs than the Roomba did. This automatic vacuum cleaner narrowly beat the S9 Plus for cleaning power on hardwood bare floors, too, collecting an average of 95% of the sand we put down. The vac cleaned dirt, dust and sand from midpile rugs less effectively though, notching a pickup average of 47% while cleaning. While the Neato can’t match the Roomba’s prowess at removing pet hair or empty its own dust bin, the D7 navigates more efficiently around furniture yet covers more ground thanks to smart robot vacuum built-in lidar laser navigation mapping. You can also control the cleaning robot using the Neato app as a remote control, as well as link it to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The app allows you to designate areas of your home as off-limits to cleaning, too.

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Here’s a robotic vacuum that proves you don’t need to blow your budget to purchase a solid robot vacuum cleaner. Even though the Robovac 11S Max costs just $227 right now, it cleans floors effectively. That’s especially true when cleaning bare hardwood floors. It managed to remove an average of 71% of our test sand from this type of surface. The bot didn’t work as well cleaning carpets, earning sand-pickup averages of 21% and 27% on low-pile and mid-pile, respectively. And thanks to this vacuum’s basic navigation system, it took well over an hour to negotiate our test room. As far as time goes, that’s a lot. Still, the Eufy used its runtime wisely. The vacuum covered the space well, cleaning up and leaving almost no spots untouched. The Eufy is also self-charging, so again, no need to worry about battery life or factor that into overall cleaning time. It’s the best robot vacuum for value.

Read more.

How we test robot vacuumsOur method for evaluating robot vacuums is straightforward, yet grueling. There are two types of tests we run. The first trial is to figure out how well a robot covers the floor while cleaning. We built an industry-standard testing room as specified by the International Electrotechnical Commission, just for this purpose. The IEC is an international standards body responsible for managing robot vacuum testing procedures, among other things, for vacuum manufacturers.  Obstacles in our test room mimic what robot vacuums run into in the real world.
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Inside this room are objects designed to simulate typical obstacles a robot vac encounters for navigation as it cleans. These obstacles include wall edges, table and chair legs, couches and other furniture, and so on, plus bare tile and hardwood floors, as well as carpet.  Here’s a coverage photo of the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus as it moved through our test room. You can see the Roomba S9 covered the floor well, except for one slight section in the center (left, bottom).
Gianmarco Chumbe/CNET
We mount LED lights to the top of each vacuum cleaner. The dimensions of the lights correspond to the measured nozzle width of each particular robot vacuum we test. 

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As robots move through the room while cleaning, a camera overhead captures a long-exposure image of the entire room in low light. That photo will then have a light trail, created by the LEDs, that shows the exact areas where the robot traveled (and its nozzle position) during its runtime. We can also see areas of the floor the vacuum may have missed or gotten stuck. This is the coverage pattern created by the Neato D7. Its movement through our test room was very orderly, logical and effective.
Gianmarco Chumbe/CNET
You can see the navigation results of all the robot vacuums in our test group in the gallery below.
Some robot vacuums have a better sense of direction than others
See all photos

The second type of test reveals exactly how much physical debris a vacuum is able to pick up off of the floor. To mimic dirt of small particle size, we use a mixture of play-sand and landscaping sand. For bigger particle soil, we use grains of uncooked black rice. Robots then run in straight line mode across three types of flooring (low-pile carpet, medium-pile carpet and hardwood bare floors). We test robot vacuums on three types of floor surfaces.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET
We control for the specific nozzle width of each vacuum, too. We constructed an adjustable tool to soil our test floors. It lets us lay down a strip of precise area of soil to match the nozzle dimensions for every robot. The mass of soil isn’t chosen at random either. We measure a proportional amount that’s related to the flooring material, type of debris, plus each vacuum’s nozzle width. Our custom-built tool lets us match soil area to a robot vacuum’s nozzle width.
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We conduct three cleaning runs (at minimum) on each floor type. We also perform cleaning tests with sand and rice separately. That comes to at least 18 tests per robot vac. We weigh the robot’s dust bin both before and after each run. From there we can calculate the percentage of debris pickup for every cleaning run and the average amount of soil a machine manages to remove. Additionally we run anecdotal (visual) pet hair tests for each robot, on all three floor types.  We run robot vacuums in a straight line during the debris pickup tests.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET
The chart below shows the fine particle cleaning performance data for all of the robot vacuums we tested. It should give you a pretty good idea about their cleaning performance on different kinds of flooring surfaces. Our rice-based, medium-size particle test didn’t show enough differentiation between each cleaner, which says they can all handle larger particles without trouble. For fur removal for pet owners, we judged anecdotally. Percent soil removed

Neato Botvac D6 Connected

Legend:
Sand from low-pile
Sand from hardwood
Sand from medium-pile
Note:
Results listed are the average percentage of total material removed from test surface

Want more robot vacuum options? Here’s a list of the other robot vacuums we tested besides the models listed above. More vacuum advice and recommendations

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