Robot vacuums equipped with mapping offer a host of advantages over sensor-driven models. Their high price tags, however, can be a deterrent, especially if you’re not yet sold on automating this household chore. Enter the Ecovacs Deebot 901, which fills a needed niche. It’s a robot vacuum with premium features like floor mapping and Google Home and Amazon Alexa voice control, yet it’s priced for more modest budgets.

The Deebot 901 sports the same circular design and black-and-gray color scheme as virtually every other robot vacuum. It measures 13.9 x 13.9 x 3.3 inches, with about an inch or   so of its overall height coming from the LDS (laser distance sensor) turret that sits atop the vacuum’s rear. A lid on the vacuum’s surface flips up to reveal an on/off switch, reset button, and the 901’s dustbin.

Underneath, the 901 uses a pair of spinning edge brushes and a main roller brush to clean. The main brush can be swapped out for a “direct suction” attachment in homes with pets, as it’s designed to better deal with clumps of animal hair.

goods image 1523153973ecovacs robot vacuum deebot 901 2 Deebot

The 901 cleans well in open areas but its high turret keeps it from getting under low couches and other furniture.

There’s not much to setting up the 901. First snap the two edge brushes onto the bottom of the vacuum, then plug in the docking station, set the vacuum on the charging pins, and turn it on. While the 901 charges, download the Ecovacs mobile app, add the 901, and follow the onscreen prompts to connect it to your Wi-Fi network.

During its initial cleaning—which you can initiate by pressing the Auto button on the vacuum or in the app—the 901 maps the room. (Curious as to how robot vacuums navigate your home? Read this story.) You can follow the vacuum’s movements on the app’s main screen (where the 901 is represented as a blue disc) as it builds the room layout that will allow you to customize future cleanings.

The 901 moves in a fairly linear, back-and-forth pattern, slowing as it approaches objects its sensors detect. In out testing, it deftly navigated household obstacles like chair and table legs by plotting courses around them. It also gently pushed through toys, shoes, and other lose objects it encountered, and easily transitioned over uneven floor-to-floor transitions, such as between carpet and hardwood.

deebot 901 map Michael Ansaldo/IDG

You can create virtual boundaries—shown in red—on the map to tell the robot vacuum which areas to avoid.

The only real navigation hang-ups I experienced were when the 901’s long spinning edge brushes snared a stray electrical or device cord. During these incidents, the vacuum reminded me of a hapless fish futilely trying to break free from a fisherman’s line, pushing itself up on one wheel and spinning doughnuts until it gave up and its female-voice prompt declared “I am suspended.” So, if you don’t want to repeatedly rush to the 901’s aid, it’s best to clear up any cable clutter before deploying it.

The app

After the 901’s initial cleaning is complete, you can start leveraging its navigation map to tailor future jobs. You can send the 901 to a general area of the floor simply by tapping it on the map, or you can mark tighter areas to clean by creating a bounding box on the map with your finger. Similarly, you can create virtual boundaries where you don’t want the 901 to clean by making a no-go line or shape in the map. The 901 honored these boundaries without fail, and it’s much easier than dealing with the magnetic tape or other physical boundaries most other robot vacuum models employ.





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