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Cat vs best and worst robot vacuum cleaners  – TechCrunch

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If you’ve flirted with the idea of buying a robot vacuum you may also have stepped back from the brink in unfolding horror at the alphabetic soup of branded discs popping into view. Consumer choice sounds like a great idea until you’ve tried to get a handle on the handle-less vacuum space.

Amazon offers an A to Z linklist of “top brands” that’s only a handful of letters short of a full alphabetic set. The horror.

What awaits the unseasoned robot vacuum buyer as they resign themselves to hours of online research to try to inform — or, well, form — a purchase decision is a seeming endless permutation of robot vac reviews and round-ups.

Unfortunately there are just so many brands in play that all these reviews tend to act as fuel, feeding a growing black hole of indecision that sucks away at your precious spare time, demanding you spend more and more of it reading about robots that suck (when you could, let’s be frank, be getting on with the vacuuming task yourself) — only to come up for air each time even less convinced that buying a robot dirtbag is at all a good idea.

Reader, I know, because I fell into this hole. And it was hellish. So in the spirit of trying to prevent anyone else falling prey to convenience-based indecision I am — apologies in advance — adding to the pile of existing literature about robot vacuums with a short comparative account that (hopefully) helps cut through some of the chaff to the dirt-pulling chase.

Here’s the bottom line: Budget robot vacuums that lack navigational smarts are simply not worth your money, or indeed your time.

Yes, that’s despite the fact they are still actually expensive vacuum cleaners.

Basically these models entail overpaying for a vacuum cleaner that’s so poor you’ll still have to do most of the job yourself (i.e. with a non-robotic vacuum cleaner).

It’s the very worst kind of badly applied robotics.

Abandon hope of getting anything worth your money at the bottom end of the heap. I know this because, alas, I tried — opting, finally and foolishly (but, in my defence, at a point of near desperation after sifting so much virtual chaff the whole enterprise seemed to have gained lottery odds of success and I frankly just wanted my spare time back), for a model sold by a well-known local retailer.

It was a budget option but I assumed — or, well, hoped — the retailer had done its homework and picked a better-than-average choice. Or at least something that, y’know, could suck dust.

The brand in question (Rowenta) sat alongside the better known (and a bit more expensive) iRobot on the shop shelf. Surely that must count for something? I imagined wildly. Reader, that logic is a trap.

I can’t comment on the comparative performance of iRobot’s bots, which I have not personally tested, but I do not hesitate to compare a €180 (~$200) Rowenta-branded robot vacuum to a very expensive cat toy.

This robot vacuum was spectacularly successful at entertaining the cat — presumably on account of its dumb disposition, bouncing stupidly off of furniture owing to a total lack of navigational smarts. (Headbutting is a pretty big clue to how stupid a robot it is, as it’s never a stand-in for intelligence even when encountered in human form.)

Even more tantalizingly, from the cat’s point of view, the bot featured two white and whisker-like side brushes that protrude and spin at paw-tempting distance. In short: Pure robotic catnip.

The cat did not stop attacking the bot’s whiskers the whole time it was in operation. That certainly added to the obstacles getting in its way. But the more existential problem was it wasn’t sucking very much at all.

At the end of its first concluded ‘clean’, after it somehow managed to lurch its way back to first bump and finally hump its charging hub, I extracted the bin and had to laugh at the modest sized furball within. I’ve found larger clumps of dust gathering themselves in corners. So: Full marks for cat-based entertainment but as a vacuum cleaner it was horrible.

At this point I did what every sensible customer does when confronted with an abject lemon: Returned it for a full refund. And that, reader, might have been that for me and the cat and robot vacs. Who can be bothered to waste so much money and time for what appeared laughably incremental convenience? Even with a steady supply of cat fur to contend with.

But as luck would have it a Roborock representative emailed to ask if I would like to review their latest top-of-the-range model — which, at €549, does clock in at the opposite end of the price scale; ~3x the pitiful Rowenta. So of course I jumped at the chance to give the category a second spin — to see if a smarter device could impress me and not just tickle the cat’s fancy.

Clearly the price difference here, at the top vs the bottom of the range, is substantial. And yet, if you bought a car that was 3x times cheaper than a Ferrari you’d still expect not just that the wheels stay on but that it can actually get you somewhere, in good time and do so without making you horribly car sick.

Turns out buyers of robot vacuums need to tread far more carefully.

Here comes the bookending top-line conclusion: Robot vacuums are amazing. A modern convenience marvel. But — and it’s a big one — only if you’re willing to shell out serious cash to get a device that actually does the job intended.

Roborock S6: It’s a beast at gobbling your furry friend’s dander

Comparing the Roborock S6 and the Rowenta Smart Force Essential Aqua RR6971WH (to give it its full and equally terrible name) is like comparing a high-end electric car with a wind-up kid’s toy.

Where the latter product was so penny-pinching the company hadn’t even paid to include in the box a user manual that contained actual words — opting, we must assume, to save on translation costs by producing a comic packed with inscrutable graphics and bizarro don’t do diagrams which only served to cement the fast-cooling buyer’s conviction they’d been sold a total lemon — the Roborock’s box contains a well written paper manual that contains words and clearly labeled diagrams. What a luxury!

At the same time there’s not really that much you need to grok to get your head around operating the Roborock. After a first pass to familiarize yourself with its various functions it’s delightfully easy to use. It will even produce periodic vocal updates — such as telling you it’s done cleaning and is going back to base. (Presumably in case you start to worry it’s gone astray under the bed. Or that quiet industry is a front for brewing robotic rebellion against indentured human servitude.)

One button starts a full clean — and this does mean full thanks to on-board laser navigation that allows the bot to map the rooms in real-time. This means you get methodical passes, minimal headbutting and only occasional spots missed. (Another button will do a spot clean if the S6 does miss something or there’s a fresh spill that needs tidying — you just lift the bot to where you want it and hit the appropriate spot.)

There is an app too, if you want to access extra features like being able to tell it to go clean a specific room, schedule cleans or set no-go zones. But, equally delightfully, there’s no absolute need to hook the bot to your wi-fi just to get it to do its primary job. All core features work without the faff of having to connect it to the Internet — nor indeed the worry of who might get access to your room-mapping data. From a privacy point of view this wi-fi-less app-free operation is a major plus.

In a small apartment with hard flooring the only necessary prep is a quick check to clear stuff like charging cables and stray socks off the floor. You can of course park dining chairs on the table to offer the bot a cleaner sweep. Though I found the navigation pretty adept at circling chair legs. Sadly the unit is a little too tall to make it under the sofa.

The S6 includes an integrated mopping function, which works incredibly well on lino-style hard flooring (but won’t be any use if you only have carpets). To mop you fill the water tank attachment; velcro-fix a dampened mop cloth to the bottom; and slide-clip the whole unit under the bot’s rear. Then you hit the go button and it’ll vacuum and mop in the same pass.

In my small apartment the S6 had no trouble doing a full floor clean in under an hour, without needing to return to base to recharge in the middle. (Roborock says the S6 will drive for up to three hours on a single charge.)

It also did not seem to get confused by relatively dark flooring in my apartment — which some reviews had suggested can cause headaches for robot vacuums by confusing their cliff sensors.

After that first clean I popped the lid to check on the contents of the S6’s transparent lint bin — finding an impressive quantity of dusty fuzz neatly wadded therein. This was really just robot vacuum porn, though; the gleaming floors spoke for themselves on the quality of the clean.

The level of dust gobbled by the S6 vs the Rowenta underlines the quality difference between the bottom and top end of the robot vacuum category.

So where the latter’s plastic carapace immediately became a magnet for all the room dust it had kicked up but spectacularly failed to suck, the S6’s gleaming white shell has stayed remarkably lint-free, acquiring only a minimal smattering of cat hairs over several days of operation — while the floors it’s worked have been left visibly dust- and fur-free. (At least until the cat got to work dirtying them again.)

Higher suction power, better brushes and a higher quality integrated filter appear to make all the difference. The S6 also does a much better cleaning job a lot more quietly. Roborock claims it’s 50% quieter than the prior model (the S5) and touts it as its quietest robot vacuum yet.

It’s not super silent but is quiet enough when cleaning hard floors not to cause a major disturbance if you’re working or watching something in the same room. Though the novelty can certainly be distracting.

Even the look of the S6 exudes robotic smarts — with its raised laser-housing bump resembling a glowing orange cylonic eye-slot.

Although I was surprised, at first glance, by the single, rather feeble looking side brush vs the firm pair the Rowenta had fixed to its undercarriage. But again the S6’s tool is smartly applied — stepping up and down speed depending on what the bot’s tackling. I found it could miss the odd bit of lint or debris such as cat litter but when it did these specs stood out as the exception on an otherwise clean floor.

It’s also true that the cat did stick its paw in again to try attacking the S6’s single spinning brush. But these attacks were fewer and a lot less fervent than vs the Rowenta, as if the bot’s more deliberate navigation commanded greater respect and/or a more considered ambush. So it appears that even to a feline eye the premium S6 looks a lot less like a dumb toy.

Cat plots another ambush while the S6 works the floor

On a practical front, the S6’s lint bin has a capacity of 480ml. Roborock suggests cleaning it out weekly (assuming you’re using the bot every week), as well as washing the integrated dust filter (it supplies a spare in the box so you can switch one out to clean it and have enough time for it to fully dry before rotating it back into use).

If you use the mopping function the supplied reusable mop cloths do need washing afterwards too (Roborock also includes a few disposable alternatives in the box but that seems a pretty wasteful option when it’s easy enough to stick a reusable cloth in with a load of laundry or give it a quick wash yourself). So if you’re chasing a fully automated, robot-powered, end-to-cleaning-chores dream be warned there’s still a little human elbow grease required to keep everything running smoothly.

Still, there’s no doubt a top-of-the-range robot vacuum like the S6 will save you time cleaning.

If you can justify the not inconsiderable cost involved in buying this extra time by shelling out for a premium robot vacuum that’s smart enough to clean effectively all that’s left to figure out is how to spend your time windfall wisely — resisting the temptation to just put your feet up and watch the clever little robot at work.

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Google isn’t moving Legacy G Suite users again, despite admin console warnings

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Google

Grandfathered-in “Legacy G Suite” users got a scare recently when another new “transition” message started popping up in the Google Admin console. “The transition to Google Workspace has started,” said the new message that suddenly appeared in people’s accounts. This was after Legacy G Suite users went through a contentious transition last year, where Google’s opening position involved shutting down their accounts if people didn’t start paying, but eventually, it was talked into not doing that. A Google spokesperson tells us the Workspace transition message was “a bug that surfaced an old banner from earlier in the process last year, and our team is working on removing it. More changes are not happening at this time, and those who previously opted-in for personal use are not expected to take any further action.”

We’ve received a few questions about this message, and this Reddit post has people wondering what the deal is, but it’s just a bug. That’s great because Legacy G Suite users have gone through enough already. To recap, Google currently offers businesses the option to pay a monthly fee for a Google/Gmail account that ends in a custom domain name instead of @gmail.com. Today this is called “Google Workspace,” but due to Google’s constant rebrands, it was first called “Google Apps for your Domain,” then “Google Apps,” and then “G Suite.” Google’s custom domain service was not always paywalled and not always exclusively aimed at businesses—it was free from 2006 to 2012. Google even pitched these accounts to families as a way to let everyone have similar email addresses. Some people did so, which means today they are getting a paid service for free.

Don't believe a word of this message.
Enlarge / Don’t believe a word of this message.

Last year, the Google accounting department turned its Eye of Sauron on these long-term users and threatened to take away their nearly 16-year-old accounts if they didn’t start paying a business rate for these formerly free and not necessarily business accounts. After a public outcry, Google eventually left these “Legacy G Suite accounts” alone after making users confirm that they were using their accounts for “non-business” purposes. After that, everything was settled.

Legacy G Suite users are specifically not a part of “Workspace,” which is a paid service. So this new message that popped up yesterday suggests they would have moved to another new service. Even though Google says it’s an error that users could see this message, actually following the prompt would lead you to another error message about “Google Workspace for personal use” which is a product that does not exist. Workspace has tiers like “Business Starter,” and grandfathered-in users are on “Legacy G Suite”, but “Workspace for personal use” is not a thing. Apparently, this was all the beta branding for the original plan last year, and somehow it all got published yesterday.

Enlarge / “Google Workspace for personal use” is not a thing that exists.

Lee Hutchinson

Google Workspace for personal use would be a great product for Google to sell, by the way. We’ve complained before that while Apple and Microsoft both sell custom domain email services to consumers at a reasonable rate, Google does not, only offering business email at much more expensive rates. A big part of the Legacy G suite problem is that these personal users have nowhere to go inside Google.

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Apple Q1 earnings miss the mark almost across the board

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Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple reported its earnings for Q1 2023 today, and it was one of the company’s poorest-performing quarters in recent years. It was the company’s biggest decline since 2016 and the first since 2019. Overall revenue was down more than 5 percent year-over-year as the company failed to match sales from the same quarter last year across most of its hardware categories.

iPhone revenue was $65.78 billion for the quarter, down 8.17 percent year over year. Similarly, “Other Products”—which includes the Watch, AirPods, and some other outliers—was down 8.3 percent year over year at $13.48 billion. The real underperformer was the Mac, which was down almost 30 percent at $7.74 billion.

The two parts of the business that did grow were services— which include things like Apple Music and TV+, iCloud, and AppleCare—and the iPad. Services were up 6.4 percent at $20.77 billion, while the iPad grew 29.66 percent to $9.4 billion.

CEO Tim Cook said in the company’s earnings call that Apple faces a “challenging macroeconomic environment.” Besides that, he named two other main factors behind the down quarter: production and supply issues in China and a strong US dollar. Apple struggled to meet consumer demand across many of its products, with shipping sometimes running several weeks behind. Cook said that while Apple might have met analysts’ estimates had the supply issues not been a factor, it’s impossible to know for sure.

On the bright side, Apple says it has resolved many of those supply problems for now and that there are now 2 billion active Apple devices in users’ hands worldwide. And obviously, $117.15 billion in revenue for the quarter is still huge, even if it didn’t meet expectations or match last year.

Apple declined to give guidance on what it expects for the next quarter. It has not done so for any quarter since the pandemic began in 2020.

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Razer’s $280 mouse is covered in gaping holes 

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Razer

There are a lot of cookie-cutter mice out there that, although made by different manufacturers, have the same shapes and features but rely on mild changes in color or sensor specs to differentiate themselves. So when Razer announced the Viper Mini Signature Edition (SE) today, a wireless mouse that looks like it forgot to get dressed, we took notice.

The Viper Mini SE uses a magnesium alloy chassis “exoskeleton,” as Razer describes it. Lines of dark gray stretch across the mouse’s palm area, creating a web-like design and bold, gaping holes. Razer’s using an extreme take on the honeycomb design, which has holes drilled into a mouse’s chassis to reduce weight. However, the typical honeycomb mouse, like the Glorious Model I, has many more holes that are smaller, while the Viper Mini SE has holes that are so big, it looks like you could poke your finger through them.

It'll be easy for dust to fall into those openings.
Enlarge / It’ll be easy for dust to fall into those openings.

Razer

At first look, I’m immediately concerned about the mouse’s durability. Despite what Razer claims, I still think I’m more likely to break a mouse with 18 holes in it than one with none. Large openings can also attract dust and debris, but bigger holes should make the mouse easier to clean with, for example, an air blower than a  honeycomb mouse topped with more, smaller openings.

Razer graciously gives the mouse a three-year warranty, which is one year longer than it usually gives mice. We’ll be keen to check out reviews and long-term experiences with the Viper Mini SE to see how it fares, especially among power users, like gamers, who tend to use their mice aggressively.

From a glass-half-full perspective, the cavernous mouse could have the benefit of helping the hand on top of it stay cool. With less contact between the user’s hand and the electronics, plus more air flow, users may find their hands clamming up less easily during long hours of intense use. Razer didn’t go so far as to install a cooling fan in the mouse like Marsback’s Zephyr, though.

Big holes help make the Viper Mini SE Razer’s lightest mouse. It’s 1.73 ounces, which is about 30 percent lighter than the Viper Mini (2.15 ounces) with the same form factor and nearly identical dimensions. It’s still not the lightest mouse around, however. For example, Cooler Master’s MM720 is also 0.11 pounds, and Finalmouse has sold mice weighing as little as 1.48 ounces.

With the weight savings gained, it would have been nice if Razer added buttons to the mouse’s right side so it could be truly ambidextrous, like the Razer Viper Ultimate.

Razer's mouse uses a 2.4 GHz USB-A dongle.
Enlarge / Razer’s mouse uses a 2.4 GHz USB-A dongle.

Razer

Razer used magnesium alloy for the mouse because it had the preferred “strength-to-weight ratio.” Plastic, it said, was less sturdy with drilled holes and had minimal weight reduction comparatively. And titanium, while lightweight, stronger, and sturdier, had fabrication limitations. Finally, fabrication limits, plus a heavier weight than plastic, precluded Razer from making the Viper Mini SE with carbon fiber.

According to Razer’s press release, the mouse is made “with an injection-molded exoskeleton that is then CNC machined and polished. The exoskeleton shell then undergoes passivation to reduce any susceptibility to corrosion, after which it is painted and assembled. At each step, each unit is meticulously inspected…”

The Razer Viper Mini SE targets gamers seeking a mouse that’s as easy as possible to flick around their desk. But a featherweight mouse with a high dots-per-inch (DPI) spec (up to 30,000 DPI in the Viper Mini SE’s case) can also appeal to users of increasingly high-resolution monitors and multi-screen setups, or those who find their arm or hand getting tired while mousing.

If you’re looking for a lot of chassis for your buck, this isn’t it. The wireless peripheral will cost a whopping $280 when it debuts February 11.

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