The Shark Ion model S87 (aka RV851WV – we call it "Sharklon" for short) is a two-vacuum system consisting of a higher-clearance, multi-floor robotic vacuum unit and a handheld quick vacuum for dust-busting. Both are wireless, charging on a "hub" stand, and both are powerful suckers.

Robot vacuums are growing in popularity as they move from household novelties into actual, useful machines. With convenience and a Jetsons-like futuristic appeal, the market for robo-vacuums is growing quickly, and there are plenty of manufacturers willing to jump on the bandwagon to provide their wares. New Atlas has tried a few, and some hit while others missed. The Shark Ion largely hits with this mid-priced offering.

The setup is available both with the handheld vacuum unit at about US$499 including the dual charging stand (as tested), or the robot vacuum alone (labeled the S85, but exactly the same) with a smaller charging stand at $400. The W1 Handheld unit is available on its own for $130, with a slender charging stand included. Given that the handheld is one of the most powerful and surprisingly ergonomic quick cleanup vacs we've tried, it's well worth the upgrade to get the S87 kit.

The Shark Ion features a powerful amount of suction and the ability to traverse varied indoor terrain, from hard floors to soft piled carpet. Its brushes are reliable at maneuvering dirt and debris into the suction mouth, and are easy to remove and clean. The system's major downside is its battery life, which is short-lived compared to other units we've tried. That seems to be the price paid for the herculean suction of this unit.

Running on two drive wheels and a third stabilizing wheel, the Shark Ion has a surprising amount of ground clearance, moving up and down about half an inch on its suspension. The vacuum's total height is about five inches (127 mm) at its lowest, which is low enough to get under most taller furniture – such as beds – without problems. When the Shark Ion gets stuck (as all robot vacuums do), it's usually because of very thick cords or a jam against something that it isn't quite low enough to scoot under. Often it's a combination of those elements, since plugs and cords tend to get hidden underneath furniture.

Setting up the Shark

Opening the carry-on-sized product box, one will find organized trays of individual parts and accessories, and simple pictorial instructions for assembling the Shark Ion. The process is pretty quick, with most of it focusing on attaching the side brushes to the robot unit and setting up the charging stand to get everything powered up. From there, it's a matter of downloading the app and connecting to your home Wi-Fi. Total setup time (not including charging) is about 20 minutes in all – a few more if you enable the ability to control the Shark Ion via your in-home Amazon Alexa or Google Home, which requires enabling the Shark app and using simple voice commands like "Alexa, ask Shark to clean."

Before running the Shark Ion, it's a good idea to get familiar with where the dust bin, brush release tabs, etc. are located. Being able to quickly assess how full the dust bin is (it has a small "Max Fill" line at the 0.66 quart mark) and remove it for emptying is important. Down the line, the bin will be dusty and more difficult to work with if this familiarity isn't already there. Emptying is a matter of pushing a tab to slide the bin off the Shark Ion and then pushing the tab again (over a garbage can) to hinge it open and dump out its contents. The small particle filter at the front of the bin is also removable, so it can be tapped clean.

Similarly, the vacuum's brush units, especially the large central rotating brush, can be removed and detangled of hair and the like during regular cleaning intervals. Removing this is a simple process of pushing a couple of tabs forward, tilting up the retainer for the brush, and then lifting the brush out. This brush sits directly in front of the vacuum mouth, so making sure it works properly is key to keeping the Shark Ion doing a good job of things. The easy habit is to set up reminders on Google or Alexa for regular (say weekly) emptying of the bin and bi-weekly brush cleaning. Expect to spend five minutes of your time on the latter if maintenance is kept up regularly.

Once the Shark Ion is set up initially and on its first clean, it's a good idea to observe its habits. The movements of most robotic vacuums are relatively random, as the unit senses and goes around objects and finds walls. Observing where the Shark Ion tends to get into trouble the most, then using the kit's included magnetic strips to create demarkation zones so the Shark will avoid them in the future, saves trouble later. The vacuum is pretty good at sensing stairs and large elevation changes, so most of the DMZ creation will be around hazards like pet foot containers, spaghetti bowls of cords, and spots where the kids tend to leave Legos or other items laying about.

When the Shark Ion is comfortable in the space it will be working in, the app can be used to set up regularly-scheduled cleaning times. The vacuum usually runs until its battery is near to empty, and then seeks out its charging stand and parks to recharge. The average run time is roughly an hour per charge and the Shark does not restart cleaning unless scheduled to go again. Alternatively, the unit can be activated by simply pushing the "Clean" button on its top or asking a connected Google Home or Amazon device to activate the Shark.

Daily use of the Shark

The Shark Ion arrived on our doorstep in early December, and has been running in our house since. After the initial setup, which took place in an area that is entirely hardwood flooring, we tested the unit against another robot vacuum already patrolling that area. The comparison showed that the Shark Ion has much more suction, but far less battery life than does the Deebot comparison unit we've been using for nearly a year. With the Shark's multi-floor surface capability, however, it was ultimately destined to reside in a different area of the house where both hard and carpeted flooring are present.

Moving the unit and retesting it in that area showed that the Shark Ion does well in adapting from one surface type to the next, as it goes. The long travel of its suspension and its large drive tires keep it moving over transitions from one floor to another.

The handheld vacuum is also a boon, working very well at cleaning up quick messes from (dry) spills and the like. Its debris trap quickly hinges open to pour out into a garbage receptacle, and the charging stand's high storage position for the handheld recharges the unit. Our only problem here is that there's no convenient spot to store the three attachments for the handheld. Those are now hiding in a drawer somewhere and will probably never get used again.

We also like the handheld as a quick cleanup unit for the stairs and for cleaning out cars. Its high amount of suction and lightweight portability make it great for those things, hence our recommendation that it be included if a Shark Ion is purchased.

The Shark Ion app

The app for the Shark Ion is simple to use and feature-rich. It's capable of being both "set and forget" and "micro manager friendly." Once the app is installed on a smart device (phone or tablet), connecting the Shark to home Wi-Fi is quick. From there, it's a matter of adding the skill or feature to smart devices (Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa) if control through those is desired.

The app itself allows full remote control of the Shark Ion unit, if desired, and can be used to set up notifications and scheduling. Notifications are a cool feature we haven't seen on other robotic vacuum apps, sending a phone/tablet a notification when the Shark Ion gets stuck or needs some kind of service. The app tracks the vacuum's history as well, cataloging its cleaning habits and whether there were any issues. It also tracks time, including uses outside of scheduling.

Vacuum controls such as suction amounts, setting up the aforementioned schedules, or immediately activating/deactivating the Shark Ion are available in the app. Current battery charge state, status of the vacuum if it's cleaning, and so forth are also in the app.

Overall assessment

The Shark Ion S87 is a great robotic vacuum unit that does the job at a reasonable price. It's robust, capable, and has all of the usefulness expected of a modern robotic vacuum. Our only concern is that the Shark's 14.4V 2,550-mAh lithium battery isn't quite large enough for the unit if it's meant to clean larger spaces (more than 600 or so square feet, or about 56 sq m) regularly. Recharge time for that battery is about three hours. The Shark Ion S87 is otherwise a solid choice in robot vacuums for today's modern households. Setup is easy, integration for smart homes is a snap, and the price is right.

Product Page: Shark Ion S87

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