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IRL: iRobot Roomba 700

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Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

We're not sure how long it takes for someone to become an honorary Tokyoite, but whatever the answer, it's clear Mat Smith is still fairly green. After two years as an Engadget editor based in London, Mat moved to Japan last summer to run our coverage there. And run it he does. But can he call himself a transplant? Probably not yet. But adopting a robot was a good first step.

When in Japan, you buy a robot vacuum. That's the rule, right? I needed no persuasion, although I'm already imprinting pet-owning behavior on the not-sentient Roomba 770, which I've now named TBD-3000. I managed to game the multiple chains of electronics retailers here in Tokyo, cutting around $150 off its MSRP, but even then, robot vacuums (the decent, sensor-loaded types) aren't cheap. The argument goes they're more of a supplementary dust and hair remover you can add to your existing OCD cleaning arsenal. I don't believe that: I don't own a normal vacuum cleaner. Instead, I go for the old-school dustpan and brush when the TBD can't clean where I want it to.

One month in, I'm still very much in the honeymoon period of robot vacuum ownership. When it bumps into the same table leg umpteen times in a 30-minute period, it's still adorable. The iRobot models are far quieter than regular upright vacuums, but by no stretch are they silent. I've scheduled mine to clean mid-morning as a sort of brutal alarm clock to ensure I make the most of my weekends. My apartment is practically built for a robot cleaner too: it's a one-floor affair, with hard flooring and a few rugs, none of which the bot had trouble getting onto. Disposing of what the robot finds is easy and pretty much mess-free, and I've been pleased with how much cleaner the floor remains. As long as the Roomba manages a few circuits every two weeks (you can schedule specific days too), I don't need to concern myself with floor cleaning at all.

It's not perfect, however. Sometimes it simply peters out of power, and I'll later stub my toe on it under the dining table, or beneath the corner of my bed. It also likes to chew up the mat next to my kitchen sink -- this is where I find it most days, stuck. It's also gone through one pair of iPhone headphones and two USB cables, coercing me into being tidier. A little more disturbingly, I often catch TBD-3000 chewing its own AC charger, which hooks into its charging dock. That's not going to end well.

-- Mat Smith

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