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I compared a $90 robot vacuum to a $700 one. Here's my buying advice for budget shoppers

How much difference can a price point make? For general cleaning, consider the importance of these features and the bottom line.
Written by Chris Bayer, Editor
Eureka robot vacuum cleaning rice
Chris Bayer/ZDNET

Before making any purchase -- of anything -- it helps to do some research. But nothing can beat the hands-on experience of using a product before you buy it. I recently had the luxury of doing this at home, testing the Eureka E10s robot vacuum and comparing it with a much cheaper model (the OKP Life K2). Please note that in this case, the word "cheaper" does not mean inferior. Rather, the price points are far apart.

Also: I tested my favorite two-in-one robot vacuum's new model, and it's better in almost every way

To start, the E10s comes with a bagless self-emptying station, a mop combo feature, 4,000Pa suction, LiDAR navigation, and a companion app. It is engineered to use "multi-cyclonic separation technology," which purports to help reduce impurities in its HEPA filter and extend its lifespan.

After registering with my email on the app and connecting to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the unit chimed a note and a voice told me, "Connecting now. Please wait." Setting up the app took very little time, and the instructions made it easy to start cleaning right away -- so long as you're not using the mop feature (more on that later). 

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How well does the Eureka E10s navigate?

I started my testing with a dry run, meaning I did not add water to the water tank for mopping just yet. This way, I could assess the app and the Eureka's general navigation capabilities before getting down to the cleaning business. After setup, the initial run of the E10s intends to map your home's floor plan. Unfortunately, I'm not so sure this is what transpired.

The unit seemed confused, sitting in place and spinning counterclockwise more often than it made long sweeps in my living room. Watching the mapped area view through the app, I saw very little logic to the route it gave itself. 

The mapping on the app of the Eureka
Chris Bayer/ZDNET

A LiDAR sensor sits atop the unit like a little turret, but with the E10s, I did not perceive any advantage to this laser-guided system. For one thing, the turret design adds an extra 3/4 of an inch to its height, possibly precluding it from going under some furnishings, like an antique dresser.

Also: 3 robot vacuum shopping tips I wish I knew before buying one

Secondly, it took a solid three hours to cover the 700 square feet of my apartment during mapping, and the resulting view of mapping on my iPhone could be characterized as desultory at best.

While mapping my apartment, it suddenly stopped (more than once) with its power button flashing. According to the owner's guide, the fast-flashing power button indicator means: "Error has occurred." No kidding, but there was nothing hindering its path. Another challenge for the E10s was dealing with the electrical cords under my desk. Its expensive LiDAR navigation couldn't seem to make sense of these obstacles. 

On the other hand, the $90 OKP Life K2 is no navigational genius; it can struggle with cords and throw rugs, too. But the E10s -- for almost seven times the price -- could prove no better in getting stuck/unstuck on obstacles.

Also: The best Roborock vacuums of 2024: Expert tested and reviewed

For instance, the E10s gnarled up my bathroom rugs (not actually harming them) and got "trapped" in the bathroom, which was the first time I had to pick it up and move it.

Generally speaking, on this initial run, the E10s went on erratic cleaning paths, moving a few feet and then randomly swiveling and changing direction instead of traveling in a straight line. It seemed as if it were seeking out edges, but repeatedly the unit would turn about four inches from each wall, ignoring the baseboards. By my estimation, that is not ideal.

Vacuous vacuuming

Now though, I had to test its sucking power, so I poured a roughly two-by-three-foot swath of white rice on my laminate floor. Initially, the robot kept fleeing the scene of the spill, invariably scampering into the bedroom. (It had no trouble crossing the transition from floor to carpet in my home, though.) But this meant I had to pick it up again, and when this happened, the E10s committed a cardinal sin during an audition: it spilled rice everywhere. Factually, it flung it everywhere, spinning out some of the rice it had sucked up earlier.

Eureka N10s docking station
Chris Bayer/ZDNET

Once I repositioned it back in the spillway, the E10s seemed to get its bearings and finally started lapping the area in steady pathways, as if mowing a lawn.

Also: 5 things I do to keep my robot vacuum in good health (that you might be forgetting)

For any robot vacuum, you can't blame the side brushes for kicking detritus left and right, but the E10s did this in spectacular fashion -- spreading the debris rather than vacuuming it up. It quickly deserted its lawn-mowing pattern and started moving about willy-nilly. Even after roaming my living room for 2.5 hours, it did not pick up 100% of the rice (leaving up to 25% of it scattered in a radius).

Another performance test involved kibble spilled next to my dog's feeding bowl. Rice is one thing, but the E10s struggled with picking up puppy-sized chunks without going over the same area repeatedly. I watched it swivel 1,080 degrees (three full circles) before advancing to pick up the last pieces. No big deal in the end, yet it's a sign that the E10s isn't much smarter than any other robot vacuum.

The E10s claims to have a 45-day capacity for its dust cup, which might be true if your floor is covered with uniformly dense sand. As for voluminous pet hair, though, I estimate needing to empty the dust cup after every two uses.

Some mopping is better than no mopping

The Eureka E10s takes a simplistic approach to mopping compared to its contemporaries. While most robot vacuum mops now feature rotating scrubbers, refillable water tanks, or self-cleaning tools, the E10s relies on an old-school system. You simply pour water into a built-in canteen above a single mop pad, and the vacuum proceeds to drag the lightly damp pad across your floors.

Also: The best robot mops for 2024: Expert tested and reviewed

In my experience with the E10s, its mopping feature was underwhelming. It deploys a nominal amount of liquid to leave a fine film of water in its streaky path. I looked closely for post-mopping improvements to no avail. When flipping it over to inspect the mop pad, it seemed barely wet enough to make a significant difference in terms of actual scrubbing and cleaning.

For this comparison's sake, the OKP Life K2 has no mopping capabilities at all, so that's a feature you'll mostly be able to appreciate when you pay more.

Docking and self-emptying

After about an hour of cleaning, the E10s will return to its base to unload, which it does autonomously as it vocally announces its next step. Once it reconnected with its docking station, it immediately emptied itself, sucking its quarry up into the dust canister. 

The display of suction power in the docking station was rather impressive and useful. It was like watching someone making a cocktail in a blender full of dust and dog hair. I know, that's gross -- but the procedure was strong, loud, effective. This is one feature that impressed both me and my friend who came to witness the E10s in action.

ZDNET's buying advice

I haven't written much here about my own OKP Life K2 robot vacuum because I spent a week with the Eureka NER E10s with the purpose of testing and assessing its performance. I couldn't help but conclude that -- aside from its impressive docking station and self-emptying capability -- there isn't a real advantage to dropping $600 for the Eureka E10s over a budget robot vacuum like the OKP Life K2.

No robot vacuum can truly deep-clean your home, and ultimately, we want our automated cleaning tools to simply sweep the floor of tracked-in dirt and daily messes. Empirically speaking, the OKP Life K2 accomplishes this as well as the much more expensive Eureka NER E10s. While this comparison is only limited to one make and model, it serves as a cautionary tale for considering your next robot vacuum purchase.

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