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Dyson's $1,200 robotic vacuum is expensive, but also the best

I might have to fire my Roomba.

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Dyson is very confident about its new vacuum. Then again, with this price, it has to be. On sale now in Japan for just shy of 150,000 yen ($1,200), the 360 Eye is the company's first robotic model -- although it's not for lack of trying. It might be worth the wait, though: It actually cleans like you always hoped a robot vacuum would. It's so good, in fact, that I might have to fire my Roomba.

Gallery: Dyson 360 Eye impressions | 12 Photos

I used the 360 Eye for a week but before I unpack my impressions, here are some relevant facts about my life: I live in a single-floor, hardwood apartment. It's a Japanese apartment, which means it's probably smaller than average western abodes. I've used the Roomba 700 for over a year now — it's not the latest model, but it's not especially old, either.

My problem with the Roomba is that while it picks up dust, hair and other things, it often doesn't do a thorough enough job of it. It misses rooms or corners, and the rotating brushes on the outer edge push dust further into trickier nooks and corners. It also never seems to pull dirt from my rug, either. So how does Dyson's robot vacuum compare? Very favorably. Engadget has written in fair detail about how Dyson designed its first robot vacuum, but the real-world performance is more convincing than those flour-strewn robot horse races the company likes to put on for press.

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Dyson's 360 Eye doesn't navigate haphazardly. Its namesake, a 360-degree camera nestled in the top of the device, is constantly monitoring and triangulating its position relative to the room. This is paired with a methodical (and obsessive, were it human) cleaning method that aims to cover your entire floor in the most efficient way possible. The vacuum rolls out of the dock and starts to clean immediately. Once it's interrupted, it starts to plot the most concise way of cleaning around the obstacle, trying not double-back on itself if possible. I didn't get the gorgeous concentric squares I saw in Dyson's own demos, as I don't live in a perfect square and my furniture isn't all oblong-shaped. Still, it did form a neat snaking pattern down my hallway, and cover the majority of my apartment each cleaning cycle. Importantly, the robot never gave up or got lost in pillars of dining chairs, and I never found it sulking under the bed.

The 360 Eye isn't the first vacuum to use a camera for navigation assistance. iRobot's Roomba 980 also has an embedded camera, which means it too follows a more intelligent route than prior models. Compared to competitors like the Roomba 980 and others, the 360 Eye has a smaller footprint, but it's also taller. While that means it has an easier time navigating smaller spaces and around chair legs, in my case it couldn't quite sneak under my sofa or bureau desk. Yes, I own a bureau desk. If your home is filled with low-rise obstacles, then, this robot vacuum might not be a good fit. That said, when it comes to rugs, doorsteps and other gentle interruptions to your floor, the caterpillar tracks located on each side work really well. Cleverly, because the 360 Eye can surmount such obstacles with ease, the direction of the vacuum doesn't change -- and it can continue its concentric, 90-degree march around your house.

The 360 Eye sticks with the bristles, with carbon fibers that are hardy but not too hard and also to counteract the static cling that keeps dust attached to things. They're all enclosed on a plastic shell; the bristle bar is just as wide as the Dyson itself, but is enclosed in a plastic casing. This means all that cyclone suck can be transmitted across the entire bar. Each day, I reacted with a mix of surprise and disgust at just how much it could pick up from my rugs and floors. Because there's more suction (Dyson pegs it at around 100 times the strength of some older competing models), not much escapes. Models with external rotating brushes often buffer away as much dust as it pulls in, but because the 360 Eye's bristles and suction are both in the same place, dust bunnies don't get the chance.

The charging contacts are on a flat surface that extends far enough for a large proportion of the robot to roll onto. My current robot vacuum often pushes the dock around my apartment; clean landings aren't a regular occurrence. However, the Dyson model isn't quite perfect either: After a week's use, I'd often arrive back home to find that the vacuum hadn't quite docked correctly. It was in the right place, but the contacts hadn't quite met.

Before setting foot in my house, I knew that it wasn't charging because of the companion app, which offers status updates and notifications when things go wrong. You can even set the vacuum going with a single button press, all from your phone. The app is simple to use, and the features are easy to navigate. You can schedule cleaning across a week, but my favorite feature is the Activity tab. Here, the app generates metrics based on recent cleaning cycles. There's something satisfying about seeing your apartment floor sketched out by a robot. Both the Roomba 980 and Neato map your apartment internally -- but you never see that yourself. Having a map beamed to your smartphone adds peace of mind that the robot it doing its job with some degree of accuracy.


The readout also shows how much area the robot covered, how long it took and how many charge cycles it used. It generally takes a few, too: The 360 Eye had to recharge multiple times in order to cover my 30 meter-squared apartment. Whether it's due to the robot learning as it cleaned, or algorithms or whatever, the vacuum seemed to get increasingly better at navigating my floors. The final clean took four charges and managed to clean a high percentage of my bedroom -- the darkest and most distant room from the charging dock, and the place it seemed to miss the most.

Some cleaning cycles took five hours (thankfully I'm out of the house when it does), but with a longer clean comes a better result: one far superior to what you'll get from other robot cleaners. It was kind of embarrassing how much the Dyson picked up after each cycle, despite me using the aforementioned Roomba (and the occasional mop and flooring wet wipe). Disposing of debris is simple: The see-through compartment pulls out with a button press, and then you take the lid off to tip away the fluff and dust. I usually brushed my finger lightly over the filters, which were typically covered in dust when it came time to empty the cannister.

Dyson's robot vacuum isn't perfect. The each cleaning session resulted in different areas covered and cleaning times; it only managed to lap around my bedroom half of the time; it needs to recharge a little too often; and it takes too long to cover even small apartments. It does actually clean your floors, though. How much is that worth though? Dyson's reputation for occasionally overpriced products precedes itself: $1,200 is a lot for a vacuum, robot or otherwise.

However, the 360 Eye's results are grade above the competition. My floors have never been so dust-free. And isn't that the point of getting a robot vacuum anyway? To free you from even needing to vacuum your floors. This this the best robot vacuum cleaner. I just can't justify buying one right now.

Mat once failed an audition to be the Milkybar Kid: an advert creation that pushed white chocolate on gluttonous British children. Two decades later, having repressed that early rejection, he completed a three-year teaching stint in Japan with help from world-class internet and a raft of bizarre DS titles. After a few weeks back in the UK, he's recently returned to Japan, heading up our coverage of a country that's obsessed with technology -- often in very unusual ways.
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