There's something hilariously surreal about watching a chunk of plastic make its way around your living room, cleaning up your fluff and crumbs as it goes.
Robot vacuum cleaners are nothing new. In fact, they're much older than I originally thought: on telling my mother that a robot was currently hoovering up for me she told me about a great aunt of mine who had one in the early 2000s. A quick Google revealed it was probably an Electrolux Trilobite, which was shown off in the late 90s and released to the market in 2001. It used ultrasonic sensors to map out a room and help it avoid obstacles, so it'd make its way around a room before returning itself to the charging base.
Not all that unlike the robot vacuum cleaners today, some 18 years later. But with advanced sensors, app integration, and intelligent navigation, they're more sophisticated than we could ever imagine back in the early noughties. But are they worth the asking price - and more specifically, is the Kobold V300 worth its high-end price tag of £950?
The answer? It very much depends on your home, your lifestyle, how much throwaway cash you have, and how much you loathe vacuuming your own home. If the theoretical price of pushing around a vacuum a few times a week is equal to the price of a robot vacuum to you, then it's a no-brainer. But the Kobold V300 - and indeed this type of cleaner in general - is very much a luxury item. Nobody needs one of these. It's the sort of thing you'll point out with glee when friends come over and visit, and it's a gadget that may save you a couple of hours over the space of a month/year (I suppose it depends how big your house is). Still, unnecessary or not, the Kobold V300 is pretty cool to have around.
In terms of cleaning, the V300 does a decent job. The first time I let it run wild, I'd not vacuumed for nearly two weeks (I work a lot. I don't want to spend my spare time hoovering up. Sue me) so the floors were a bit more crumb-y than usual. But even in one journey, the V300 valiantly sucked up my dust like a trooper. I say "one journey", because on its default setting, the vacuum went over the same bits of flooring three or four times in some cases. Other areas didn't get as much attention, which was initially a little frustrating to watch.
"GO OVER THERE!" I yelled to the machine. "YOU'VE DONE THAT BIT THREE TIMES. COME AND GET THESE CRUMBS!" My cries were of course in vain; the V300 does not have voice recognition and does not care for my attitude. In standard operation mode, it'll make the way around the house however it sees fit. Eventually, it *did* get to the bits it missed, but I'd almost got annoyed enough to turn the blasted contraption off and, as if speaking to a disappointing employee, proclaim "I'll do it myself, shall I?".
I didn't - I resisted the urge to grab my own ye olde worlde Vax from the hallway and instead left the V300 to it. It took a lot longer than a human equipped with a standard vacuum would, but it got the job done. Just about.
In our first test run of vacuuming the downstairs of the house - comprising of a hallway, kitchen, living room and dining room - we had a few mishaps:
- The Kobold V300 tried to vacuum up my cat's food bowl, pushing it from one room to another
- Finding a loose strand of beads from a vertical blind, it promptly tried to suck them up too, then complained when they got stuck
- It bumped into a couple things a few times, including knocking over a mop in the kitchen and scaring the bejesus out of me
- Getting stuck in the same area of the living room where the edge of a rug seemingly confused it AND continually returning to the same area, only to get stuck again
But these small issues are, if anything, endearing. I've become a little bit attached to the small plastic-encased mechanism that diligently makes its way around my floors, and like a mischievous pet, I'll tut, smile, shake my head, right its wrongs and send it back on its way.
That first run was undertaken by simply pressing the Kobold V300's power button and letting it get down to business. Which is adequate enough – but it's not using the robot to its full potential. For that, it involves downloading an Android/iOS app and syncing the robot via your WiFi connection. It's a simple enough process, and within five minutes I had an app that would let me control the vacuum from anywhere.
That itself is pretty nifty (on holiday and want to come home to a clean floor? Set the robot on its way! At work and can't be bothered with the cleaning when you get home? Start up that vacuum from the app), but it's not the best thing the app does. While it's vacuuming, the Kobold V300 creates a floor plan of your home. It means that, over time, it'll learn the area better, so it'll be able to plan out its optimal route. It also means that you can tell your V300 to just clean a particular area if you don't need a full clean, and you can define no-go areas (for me, that means I can tell it to stay away from the cats' food bowls!).
The app also lets you create a schedule, so the V300 will automatically begin cleaning at set times. You can also change the cleaning mode from standard to eco (which is quieter and offers a longer range, but presumably not quite as powerful a suction), or, when spot cleaning mode is enabled, choose a 'double clean', when your chosen area will be vacuumed twice for "maximum thoroughness".
In terms of cleaning, the V300 has done a valiant job across various floor types. In the areas the robot has been cleaning, I've got thick carpet, low-pile carpet, laminate (with a rug on top) and lino. The robot has passed over each area with no problem, doing a good job of each of them. Going up onto the rug from the laminate floor has caused the robot to get stuck once or twice to begin with, but it seems to have fixed that issue – whether or not it's "learned" it's there so expects it, or has just approached it from better angles recently is unclear.
All of this is to say the Kobold V300 is a pretty sweet piece of technology – but it's not perfect. At least, not for everybody. A robot vacuum isn't ideal if your home is cluttered. It's also not the best solution if you have stairs. My home is spread over three floors, so the V300 is only good to clean the ground floor. Granted, this is the main part of the house, so the living room, dining room and kitchen can all be vacuumed regularly – but the bedrooms aren't the robot's problem. The ideal user for the Kobold V300 – and indeed any robot vacuum – is someone who lives in a one-storey property, ideally spacious and free of clutter. Start adding in too much furniture, too many corners, and any "stuff" left on the floor, and it starts introducing problems for the robot.
Granted, the app's mapping feature allows you to fine-tune the areas the V300 can go, so it'll know to avoid your sofa, your TV unit and that big box you've had in the hallway for weeks that really needs to be moved but you just haven't got around to it yet. But, say, you left something fairly small on the floor that's not usually there and set the robot off on a trip while you're not there to supervise. It'll likely get bulldozed by the robot, or if it's too small it'll try and vacuum it up and cause a jam. It seems anything smaller than a certain height or width doesn't trigger the robot's sensor – hence my cats' bowls getting taken for a walk. My Virgin SuperHub also inexplicably lives on the floor at the side of my TV unit and despite being pretty chunky, the V300 charged straight into it.
Naturally, the dust bin in the Kobold V300 is pretty small, but that's going to be true of any robot vacuum compared to your standard vacuum cleaner. It means you're going to have to empty it much more regularly to ensure the robot works to its full potential. Forget to empty it and your robot will start cleaning only to beep incessantly at you until you figure out what's wrong. The V300's 'error' beep is the same no matter what the problem is, so it's a little bit like attending to a crying baby and trying to figure out what's wrong. "Do you need emptying? Is something jammed? Have you got yourself stuck?"
The Kobold V300's battery claims to last up to 90 minutes (when used in eco mode). Unless you've got an absolutely massive house it should never really matter though, as the vacuum always returns itself to the base when it's finished, which'll charge it. But it also retains its charge pretty well; I had the base unplugged for a couple of weeks while the vacuum wasn't in use and it was still good to do a full clean straight away when I set it up again.
As great as the Kobold V300 can be in optimal use, though, I'm not sure if it ever justifies its price tag. Almost a grand on something that simply vacuums your home is a lot. But as I've said: if you have a fairly open-plan bungalow/apartment and really resent the time you need to spend vacuuming, this could be exactly what you want. It depends what price tag you put on your own time; once the Kobold is set up you don't need to bother with it, except to empty it after ever couple of vacuums. I have to admit, it's nice to walk into a vacuumed room when I haven't had the time to do it myself. But until these things can climb stairs I don't think they're worth the investment if you live in a multi-storey home.