We’ve been relying on robotic cleaners on our floors for nearly two years at the studio, and a Dyson V6 for everything else. So far this arrangement has been really positive! Of course, there have been a few instances of despair and annoyance - when they get stuck over cables or suck in a scarf and totally freak out. Our latest robot friend is the Vorwerk Kobold VR200 Robot Cleaner, which enters the market at the higher end, at a price of £749. This German design takes on the likes of the top-end iRobot models and plays them at their own game. Designed to be simple and effective, Vorwerk are confident they’ve got floor cleaning covered and you can just go ahead and keep that upright in the cupboard - really?
To us the Vorwerk Kobold VR200 Robot Cleaner is unconventional in its shape. Unlike the previously reviewed circular Miele Scout RX1 and iRobot Roomba 880, the Kobold VR200 has a rounded front and squared off back. Its overall appearance, with an easy to clean glossy white top, protruding laser scanner and rugged plastic side bumpers, produces an object that’s a welcome refreshment to the all-black circular affairs of the other robotic cleaners in our studio. We use the integrated hinged carry handle on top to transport the 5kg VR200 upstairs and to flip it over to reveal the spring-loaded wheels that can overcome obstacles of 2cm; also revealing a cleaning method that’s somewhat similar to the iRobot AeroForce system using rollers and a single spinning side-brush. The difference is that Vorwerk have a side brush, and interestingly use a combination of nylon brushes and silicone scrapers in their bar design - with each half being slightly offset from the other. Combined with suction this set-up is intended to disturb and capture dust and debris at a more efficient rate - all will be revealed… However, the bar design is a first sign of the excellent attention to detail from Vorwerk, because whilst they brag that the only maintenance required will be to remove hairs from the bar, the fact is that hairs haven't built up after a month of usage - unlike our experience with the Miele. The waste can either be sucked out with a hose or, as we actually do, you can entirely remove the waste bin to dispose of the contents (give the filter a good clean every 2-3 weeks).
Vorwerk have developed an excellent spacial awareness system; in fact, this is probably the most intelligent robotic appliance we’ve used. A 360 degree laser scans rooms 1800 times per second, along with ultrasonic sensors that detect clear and reflective objects - and there’s also a familiar affair of other sensors. It notes objects, doorways, walls and any drops like stairs on its start and continually evaluates the environment whilst cleaning. If we step in front of the cleaner in its cleaning cycle, it detects this long beforehand and won’t attempt to come closer than about 3cm. In fact, the lack of scuffs it attains speaks for itself, we’ve never seen the Vorwerk crash into a piece of furniture or knock the cat's water basin, the side brush is the only thing that touches against articles. An important distinction with this cleaner is it vacuums as a human would do: it’s a systematic approach in lines and not sporadic. In terms of practicality it covers a considerably larger area on a single charge. Furthermore, its shape makes navigating a similar ordeal to the rounded designs, but we think it’s a tad better at getting into corners. Like the other robotic cleaners at our studio, its 9cm height squats underneath tables, beds, etc with ease.
Controls & Modes
It’s a set and forget type of product. We give the very responsive bright LCD screen and touch sensitive control panel interface on top of the Vorwerk Kobold VR200 a big thumbs up - it’s unquestionably one of the best robot cleaner interfaces we’ve used. We can very easily schedule in the date and time of when we want cleaning cycles to begin (a beauty of robot automation is you don't even need to be at home). Within the menu of the cleaner you can update the firmware, change cleaner sounds and even turn off the LED lights when charging; ideal if it resides in a bedroom. What feels like one of the only missed opportunities on this cleaner is the lack of any App or internet integration. There is a remote control to commence an ECO, regular or spot clean. For fun you can steer the cleaner using this control too, which is easier to use than the iRobot’s. But notifications, controls, an analysis of cleaning, etc., via an App would have been most welcome.
Battery Life & Charging
ECO mode uses less battery and from our testing can last up to 70 minutes or around 120² metres. In standard mode the battery lasts for around half this time, but the amount of cleaning being undertaken is more than the iRobot Roomba 880 due to the efficiency. Its dock is longer than others we have and sends a signal to the cleaner so it finds its way back, either after cleaning or for a battery top-up to resume cleaning (as its internal memory remembers where is has already cleaned). With the iRobot and Miele robotic cleaners, their bases need to be located in wide open spaces to allow them to push the cleaner contacts onto the base, and then feed the electricity into the battery. The Vorwerk design improves on this, because it has wider contacts that uniquely depress about 2cm: this definitely makes docking more reliable. Admirably there’s a gentle charge management system deployed, which intends to preserve the lithium-ion battery for 800 charging cycles before any noticeable life-loss. Due to the autonomous nature of the product, the slow charging is not noticeable.
The first thing to say is at 67dBA it’s louder than the Miele and iRobot models we’ve reviewed. Upon start-up it resembles a jet engine getting ready for take off, and whilst ECO mode is quieter, it’s still several decibels louder than the above mentioned models at the studio - although it’s nowhere near typical ‘plug-in’ upright cleaner volumes. Nevertheless the cleaning results clearly show that this extra noise volume has much to do with how well it sucks; in a good way - so this aspect is a bit of an ultimatum.
Carpet test: Pet hair is annoying and general fine static dust is a constant battle where carpets are concerned, and robot cleaners find this surface harder than any other. Our Vorwerk Kobold VR200 has been over man-made and natural wool carpets and the results are consistently good - it’s a new tier of robotic cleaning performance! It produces a deep channelled clean that disturbs the piles, capturing pet hair and plentiful amounts of static dust (up to 0.3 micron particles) and in most cases within a single pass. Additionally it cleans up to the edges of skirting boards, around furniture legs with the spinning brush and transfers from our carpet to rug without ruffling it. Even with our carpets littered with larger debris like bits of wood bark and leaves, it sucked it all up in a single pass. And then finally we have fine debris like embedded flour, which our photo results show the Vorwerk cleared in one single pass, sucking up not just the surface layer but the deeply embedded flour - something the iRobot Roomba 880 failed to complete after many attempts.
Hard floor test: Our studio has large surface areas of real wooden floors that collect dust in the grain and much more according to the contents of the Vorwerk bin. It’s kept our floors looking spotless. As clearly illustrated again by our flour test, the Vorwerk Kobold VR200 utilises a significantly deep clean in just one pass when in standard mode, capturing all the flour in one go. We've tried rubbing our fingers across the grooves and used a magnifying glass - the Kobold VR200 did a fantastic job at getting every speck! In contrast, the iRobot took a whole minute in its spot cleaning mode to do the same task - and we thought that was impressive. Importantly the path cleaning movement that the Kobold VR200 uses does not take as long to clean any floor as our iRobot - a whole 10 minutes quicker on one wooden area!
Robotic products have recently jumped the line from useful and complementary novelties, to genuine replacement products. The Vorwerk Kobold VR200 belongs in this category. It’s a serious design that’s efficient, reaches the nooks and crannies and sucks up embedded pet hair in carpets, as well as loose cornflakes and everything in between. Simply put - it’s the best robotic cleaner we’ve used, leaving the competition in the dust.