Review: Deebot N79S robotic vacuum sucks at its job
For a vacuum, sucking at a job is a good thing. The Deebot N79S is aimed towards low-pile carpeting and solid surface flooring, and does a reasonably good job of everyday maintenance on those floors. Its connectivity with Amazon's Alexa, though, leaves a little to be desired.
We've now spent a little more than a week with the Ecovacs Robotics Deebot N79S and have found it to be generally good at what it's made for, and have far fewer complaints about it than we did with an earlier version of an Ecovacs product, the D35. Compared to that low-cost option, the N79S is about US$100 more, but far better at getting the job done.
The Deebot N79S has three brushes, two rubberized wheels, a charging dock, a wireless remote control, app-enabled control, and connectivity with Amazon Echo. It sells on Amazon for about $250 and can be remote-controlled via your house Wi-Fi or the Alexa app from just about anywhere.
The bottom of the N79S includes a rotary brush and two sweeper brushes, both of which rotate towards one another from either side of the vacuum. These spinning brushes push debris into the central suction under the rotary brush and also act as a visual for the edge of the vacuum's "vision" in detecting edges and corners from either side.
There is some assembly required for the main unit, but it consists only of attaching the side brushes (they snap into place) and setting up the unit with its Wi-Fi connection and enabling the Deebot app on your Alexa device. Setting up the Deebot N79S is pretty straightforward, and an included handy visual guide helps make it a five-minute process from assembly to app-enabling and running.
From the mobile app (we used the Android option), the N79S can be controlled in various ways, from one-button "go clean" options to more complex programming and even remote-control options. The main screen of the app shows the vacuum's status, including battery power, a large remote controller pad, and five quick buttons that let the user either enter sub-menus or send the Deebot on a one-touch cleaning mission.
From left-to-right, the buttons are Auto, Edge, Spot, Room, and Charging. The Auto button leads the user to a menu for scheduled cleaning tasks. The Edge button sends the N79S on a mission to clean the edges of the room. The Spot button brings up a list of trouble spots to have the Deebot focus on – they can also be programmed here. The Room button has the vacuum clean the room, and the Charging button sends the robot back to its dock for charging.
The included remote control has similar options, but they are less readily defined as just symbols on buttons on the pad. A little time referencing the manual and using the remote familiarizes, but most users will likely forego the remote for the app option most of the time. The app is simpler, quicker, and generally easier to understand. The remote is best left for network outages, pausing the N79S on the rare occasion it gets stuck, and so on.
Like most robotic vacuums, the Deebot N79S will get stuck on some things. Thick power cords, for instance, are a problem as are tall thresholds that create a potential high-center. Most of the time, though, we found that on hard floor surfaces (such as laminate), the Deebot could get itself out of such situations without turtling. We note that part of this is thanks to the improved design of the N79 series over the smaller D35. The N79's wheels appear to be slightly farther forward on the chassis, and the whole unit is a bit larger and heavier.
In operation, the Deebot N79S runs across hardwood/laminate flooring without issues, even over throw rugs and the like, and programming it to stay in a room is relatively simple if the boundaries are made obvious. That can be done either through programming an area as the room (manually drive the Deebot around the room by remote to set perimeters) or by closing doors and having the unit "do the edge" via the Edge button on the remote or app.
We started testing of the Deebot N79S in a large room we'd just completed remodeling, so it was mostly devoid of obstacles in the initial run. The N79S went through the 350 square foot (32.5 square meter) room in a pattern that started out as a zig-zag, where it seemed to be feeling out the room's dimensions, and then around the edges, then back and forth from wall to wall in a slightly off-square grid pattern. Vacuuming the entire room in this way took about an hour and used most of the unit's battery.
Next, we started adding furniture and obstacles. A large cabinet, king-sized bed (open underneath), shelving, and other bedroom furniture were added in increments. With about half the furniture in place, the N79S took longer to figure out the new layout, but still took roughly an hour to finish covering the room.
With a throw rug, a complete set of furniture, etc., the Deebot was sent on another run. This time, it went back to its charger to recharge after getting about two thirds of the way through the room. It then started about where it left off and continued after a full recharge. We were surprised, as most vacuums of this type reset when charging. The Deebot seems to have good sensors for finding obstacles, pushing unimportant obstacles (such as curtains) out of the way, and for finding drop-offs and other things. We would not recommend using it in a room with obstacles like pet food dishes or plastic bags, as it is likely to knock over pet food bowls (seeing them as "forgiving" obstacles) and to try to suck up plastic grocery bags and the like as debris.
Next came tests with the Deebot N79S' Amazon Echo connectivity. For this, we used the Alexa device to first find out the commands that can be issued, and then went through those commands with the Deebot. The Ecovacs Deebot Skill works with several Ecovacs models. There are only three skills available thus far: cleaning, stop, and start charging. Each of these is activated by just saying "Alexa, ask Deebot to ..." and adding on the phrase.
We found that the cleaning (or "start cleaning" as an alternative) works well and has the N79S entering standard "clean the room" mode. Stop does what it implies. Most of the time, however, the Echo has a hard time telling the difference between "stop" and "start charging" so the command often just becomes "stop" every time. This gets annoying and seems to be a problem with the app rather than the person speaking or the device, as we tried it with more than one person issuing commands and on more than one Echo device in the house.
Maintaining the Deebot N79S is fairly simple. Ecovacs sells replacement filters and hardware should anything become broken, but most maintenance involves simply detaching the litter tray on the bottom of the vacuum and emptying it. This is released with a thumb press on a release lever. The filter is located inside the tray and can be pulled out and patted clean and reinserted. Replacements are easy to push in, and the N79S comes with a second filter in the box and a brush for cleaning in and around the tray and its receiver position as well as for cleaning and removing hair and string caught in the rotary brush. It might also be a good idea to use window cleaner or glass cleaning wipes on the rubber treads of the wheels after a while, as they tend to collect debris over time.
When used in the right environment, we found that the Ecovacs Deebot N79S is a good robotic vacuum for the price. It's great on hardwood/laminate flooring with light throw rugs and has enough battery power to clean a fairly large room without pause. Ecovacs sells the N79S on Amazon and other outlets at about $250 with a one-year warranty. That's cheaper than almost every other similar device sold.
Product Page: Ecovacs Deebot N79