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Roborock S5 robot vacuum review: Powerful, intelligent competitor takes care of your chores

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I am a very busy man with a couple of jobs, three daughters, a house, and a wife, all of which occupy my time. Thus, if I can find ways to have today’s modern electronics take care of tasks and lift the chore load, then I am going to pass off what I can.

See it now: Roborock S5 robot vacuum on Amazon

One area that I’ve given over to robots is vacuuming the lower level of my house, which is primarily composed of hardware floors and a couple of area rugs. Various models have been tested over the past couple of years, so I have some practical experiences with these devices. Most people have heard of Roomba, Samsung, and Neato in this space, but there are some other options out there that are worth consideration.

Also: Beyond vacuums: Home robotics

A couple of months ago the Roborock S5 arrived, and it has been cleaning my lower level floors since then. This has included through a couple of business trips, vacations, and weeks of activity with two dogs, a cat, and a family of five moving around throughout the house.

Hardware and box contents

The Roborock S5 arrived in a plain cardboard box with some identifying words in black. It was actually shipped from Amazon since that is the retail partner for Roborock and Xiaomi. You may recall that the Mi Electric Scooter I tested in April was also from Xiaomi and sold through Amazon.

The Roborock brand is not prevalent in this space or in the US, but it seems to be gaining traction with highly rated reviews on Amazon and a selection as Amazon’s Choice. After using it for a couple of months, it is definitely one of my favorite robot vacuums due to its capability, reliability, functionality with smartphones, and effectiveness at cleaning up the house.

There is a power button on the top center with two other buttons on either side. The left button is for spot cleaning, and the right button is to send your vacuum home to the charger. I only used these occasionally, as I relied on the smartphone integration and apps for most functionality.

The top houses the LDS (laser distance sensor) in a central round area that rises above the top of the vacuum about half an inch. Behind this is the lid to access the dust bin and other internal parts of the vacuum. A wall sensor sticks out from the front half of the vacuum with a rotating side brush over on the right side peeking out from under the vacuum. The speaker and an air vent are found around the back.

Lifting up the lid reveals the Wi-Fi indicator light, system reset button, main brush cleaning tool, and the dust bin with a removable filter for fine dust.

Also: Hands-on with the iLife A7 robot cleaner: A must-have for automated office and home cleaning

On the bottom, we have two large main wheels with silicone tire treads that are sure not to scuff up your hardwood or tile floors. There is a main brush, the side brush, an omnidirectional wheel, and two charging contacts.

The Roborock S5 also supports wet mopping with a slim water tank, mopping cloth, and moistureproof mat. One of the primary problems I have had with robot vacuums is having them return every time to the charging station and recharge on their own. The moistureproof mat connects to the dock charger so that the vacuum properly aligns with the charging contacts every single time and the only time the vacuum has died on me was when it ended up in a stuck position under a chair or behind some other obstacle.

The dust bin, 480ml capacity, has proven to hold one to two vacuum sessions for the approximate 700 square feet of coverage on my wood floors with a few raised area rugs. My floors look pretty clean, but it is stunning to everyone how much dog hair and other things are picked up by this vacuum on a regular basis. There is a washable E11-grade strainer/filter in the dust bin that is rated to provide 95 percent filter performance after a year of normal use.

Our acacia hardwood floors are beautiful and well taken care of. My wife was concerned about the vacuum creating marks on the floors, but the soft silicone wheels turn and navigate around the floors with no trace of their passing. The bumper also quickly detects obstacles so has not dented or marked up our walls, table legs, or chair legs in any way.

The retail package also includes a main brush cleaning tool with a hook end that slices through hair stuck on the brush bar. With my long-haired dog and women in the house, hair is a constant battle for the vacuum.

Software and services

You can control the vacuum using your iOS or Android device by downloading and installing the Mi Home app. This is the same app used to manage the electric scooter that I tested earlier this year, along with other products from Xiaomi.

Simply walk through the setup of the Mi Home app to connect your phone or tablet to the Roborock S5. The great thing about this Mi Home app is that you can install it on multiple devices, which can all control the Roborock S5 with the same login. Unlike some other robot vacuums I have tested, the Roborock S5 map translates over to all connected devices. This was a major frustration with other vacuums that constantly wanted to recreate my floor map.

The Mi Home application launches with the floor plan (after it creates it the first time), history of last cleaning event, and quick controls below the map. These controls currently include Go, Dock, Clean, and Zoned Cleanup. The Go option lets you designate spot cleanup and manual control over where you want the vacuum to operate. The Dock option sends the vacuum back to its charging station. The Clean option initiates a full cleaning operation.

Also: Startup Kindred brings sliver of hope for AI in robotics

Zoned cleanup lets you designate one or more square zones for targeted vacuuming. This takes some time if you want to vacuum most everywhere except for one or two spots, so I am hopeful that a future software update will take the opposite approach and let you designate exclusionary zones.

I would also like to see virtual barriers supported, so I could draw lines across some areas that really do not need cleaning as often as other areas.

The smartphone software provides the ability to control the vacuum volume, carpet mode, level of suction (higher levels are louder), setup a cleaning schedule, update the firmware, monitor the status of accessories, and much more. It is a full-featured software application that is easy to use.

Price and competition

The Roborock S5 has a MSRP of $579.99, but the white model can be found on Amazon for $463.99.

Competition includes the array of Neato Botvac Connected vacuums ranging in price from $500 to $700, the iRobot Roomba vacuums priced $400 to $550, and the Samsung POWERbot line from $400 to $900. All these have different capabilities, so there is a lot to check out when comparing these vacuums to the features included in the Roborock S5.

Also: Best Robot Vacuum Cleaners for 2018 CNET

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Roborock S5 has proven to be a very reliable vacuum with a floor map that is captured and then maintained across devices. It is very powerful and does an excellent job of sweeping and mopping while having battery power to easily vacuum my entire main floor of the house. The Z-shape cleaning pattern has excellent coverage to make sure everything is cleaned. The 5200mAh battery is advertised to last 150 minutes and that is just about what I have been seeing over the last couple of months.

See it now: Roborock S5 robot vacuum on Amazon

I appreciated using the floor wet mopping feature, as the system adds just enough to wet and clean the floor without soaking it or leaking water everywhere. It seems to be an effective system and has helped keep our floors clean, although it is obviously not as powerful as cleaning your floor on your hands and knees.

Also: Photos: Robot vacuums and rolling laptops TechRepublic

It rarely gets stuck, unless someone in the house changes the arrangement during vacuuming. One time, the vacuum had some issues going back and forth attempting to vacuum over a thick carpet, but that only occurred once in the two months of use.

Another area for improvement in the software is to include voice assistant support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and others.

Overall, the Roborock S5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner has proven to be a great performer at a price that is reasonable given its power, efficiency, and utility.

Previous and related coverage:

Automation: How iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner became part of the family

CEO Colin Angle talks about Roomba’s path from research thesis to vacuuming your house, and why nearly everyone names their robot.

iLife V8s robot vacuum hands on: A great 2-in-1 cleaner for the office

I wanted to see if the iLife V8s could handle the day to day cleaning of a small to medium office. Here’s what I found.

Ecovacs Deebot R95 review: Amazon Alexa and smartphone control bring us closer to the Jetsons’ lifestyle

The Ecovacs Deebot R95 is the most affordable high end robotic vacuum that gives you full control over your cleaning experience while also making sure the job is done well.

Neato announces Botvac D7 Connected: Robot vacuum controlled by your smartphone, Google Home, or Amazon Echo

As a busy person working two jobs, finding the time to vacuum can be a challenge. Robot vacuums used to be a Jetsons fantasy, but products like the Neato Botvac D7 Connected are capable, functional, and make chores enjoyable.

DIY vacuum actuators make robots that squirm and squish

Video demonstrates the flexibility of robots that run on air

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Twitter’s decentralized future – TechCrunch

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This week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey finally responded publicly to the company’s decision to ban President Trump from its platform, writing that Twitter had “faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance” and that he did not “feel pride” about the decision. In the same thread, he took time to call out a nascent Twitter-sponsored initiative called “bluesky,” which is aiming to build up an “open decentralized standard for social media” that Twitter is just one part of.

Researchers involved with bluesky reveal to TechCrunch an initiative still in its earliest stages that could fundamentally shift the power dynamics of the social web.

Bluesky is aiming to build a “durable” web standard that will ultimately ensure that platforms like Twitter have less centralized responsibility in deciding which users and communities have a voice on the internet. While this could protect speech from marginalized groups, it may also upend modern moderation techniques and efforts to prevent online radicalization.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Twitter Inc., arrives after a break during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. Republicans pressed Dorsey for what they said may be the “shadow-banning” of conservatives during the hearing. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What is bluesky?

Just as Bitcoin lacks a central bank to control it, a decentralized social network protocol operates without central governance, meaning Twitter would only control its own app built on bluesky, not other applications on the protocol. The open and independent system would allow applications to see, search and interact with content across the entire standard. Twitter hopes that the project can go far beyond what the existing Twitter API offers, enabling developers to create applications with different interfaces or methods of algorithmic curation, potentially paying entities across the protocol like Twitter for plug-and-play access to different moderation tools or identity networks.

A widely adopted, decentralized protocol is an opportunity for social networks to “pass the buck” on moderation responsibilities to a broader network, one person involved with the early stages of bluesky suggests, allowing individual applications on the protocol to decide which accounts and networks its users are blocked from accessing.

Social platforms like Parler or Gab could theoretically rebuild their networks on bluesky, benefitting from its stability and the network effects of an open protocol. Researchers involved are also clear that such a system would also provide a meaningful measure against government censorship and protect the speech of marginalized groups across the globe.

Bluesky’s current scope is firmly in the research phase, people involved tell TechCrunch, with about 40-50 active members from different factions of the decentralized tech community surveying the software landscape and putting together proposals for what the protocol should ultimately look like. Twitter has told early members that it hopes to hire a project manager in the coming weeks to build out an independent team that will start crafting the protocol itself.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the initiative.

Bluesky’s initial members were invited by Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal early last year. It was later determined that the group should open the conversation up to folks representing some of the more recognizable decentralized network projects, including Mastodon and ActivityPub, which joined the working group hosted on the secure chat platform Element.

Jay Graber, founder of decentralized social platform Happening, was paid by Twitter to write up a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem, an effort to “help Twitter evaluate the existing options in the space,” she tells TechCrunch.

“If [Twitter] wanted to design this thing, they could have just assigned a group of guys to do it, but there’s only one thing that this little tiny group of people could do better than Twitter, and that’s not be Twitter,” said Golda Velez, another member of the group who works as a senior software engineer at Postmates and co-founded civ.works, a privacy-centric social network for civic engagement.

The group has had some back and forth with Twitter executives on the scope of the project, eventually forming a Twitter-approved list of goals for the initiative. They define the challenges that the bluesky protocol should seek to address while also laying out what responsibilities are best left to the application creators building on the standard.

Parrot.VC Twitter account

Image: TechCrunch

Who is involved

The pain points enumerated in the document, viewed by TechCrunch, encapsulate some of Twitter’s biggest shortcomings. They include “how to keep controversy and outrage from hijacking virality mechanisms,” as well as a desire to develop “customizable mechanisms” for moderation, though the document notes that the applications, not the overall protocol, are “ultimately liable for compliance, censorship, takedowns etc.”

“I think the solution to the problem of algorithms isn’t getting rid of algorithms — because sorting posts chronologically is an algorithm — the solution is to make it an open pluggable system by which you can go in and try different algorithms and see which one suits you or use the one that your friends like,” says Evan Henshaw-Plath, another member of the working group. He was one of Twitter’s earliest employees and has been building out his own decentralized social platform called Planetary.

His platform is based on the secure scuttlebutt protocol, which allows users to browse networks offline in an encrypted fashion. Early on, Planetary had been in talks with Twitter for a corporate investment as well as a personal investment from CEO Jack Dorsey, Henshaw-Plath says, but the competitive nature of the platform prompted some concern among Twitter’s lawyers and Planetary ended up receiving an investment from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s venture fund Future Positive. Stone did not respond to interview requests.

After agreeing on goals, Twitter had initially hoped for the broader team to arrive at some shared consensus, but starkly different viewpoints within the group prompted Twitter to accept individual proposals from members. Some pushed Twitter to outright adopt or evolve an existing standard while others pushed for bluesky to pursue interoperability of standards early on and see what users naturally flock to.

One of the developers in the group hoping to bring bluesky onto their standard was Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko, who tells TechCrunch he sees the need for a major shift in how social media platforms operate globally.

“Banning Trump was the right decision though it came a little bit too late. But at the same time, the nuance of the situation is that maybe it shouldn’t be a single American company that decides these things,” Rochko tells us.

Like several of the other members in the group, Rochko has been skeptical at times about Twitter’s motivation with the bluesky protocol. Shortly after Dorsey’s initial announcement in 2019, Mastodon’s official Twitter account tweeted out a biting critique, writing, “This is not an announcement of reinventing the wheel. This is announcing the building of a protocol that Twitter gets to control, like Google controls Android.”

Today, Mastodon is arguably one of the most mature decentralized social platforms. Rochko claims that the network of decentralized nodes has more than 2.3 million users spread across thousands of servers. In early 2017, the platform had its viral moment on Twitter, prompting an influx of “hundreds of thousands” of new users alongside some inquisitive potential investors whom Rochko has rebuffed in favor of a donation-based model.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Inherent risks

Not all of the attention Rochko has garnered has been welcome. In 2019, Gab, a social network favored by right-wing extremists, brought its entire platform onto the Mastodon network after integrating the platform’s open-source code, bringing Mastodon its single biggest web of users and its most undesirable liability all at once.

Rochko quickly disavowed the network and aimed to sever its ties to other nodes on the Mastodon platform and convince application creators to do the same. But a central fear of decentralization advocates was quickly realized, as the platform type’s first “success story” was a home for right-wing extremists.

This fear has been echoed in decentralized communities this week as app store owners and networks have taken another right-wing social network, Parler, off the web after violent content surfaced on the site in the lead-up to and aftermath of riots at the U.S. Capitol, leaving some developers fearful that the social network may set up home on their decentralized standard.

“Fascists are 100% going to use peer-to-peer technologies, they already are and they’re going to start using it more… If they get pushed off of mainstream infrastructure or people are surveilling them really closely, they’re going to have added motivation,” said Emmi Bevensee, a researcher studying extremist presences on decentralized networks. “Maybe the far-right gets stronger footholds on peer-to-peer before the people who think the far-right is bad do because they were effectively pushed off.”

A central concern is that commoditizing decentralized platforms through efforts like bluesky will provide a more accessible route for extremists kicked off current platforms to maintain an audience and provide casual internet users a less janky path towards radicalization.

“Peer-to-peer technology is generally not that seamless right now. Some of it is; you can buy Bitcoin in Cash App now, which, if anything, is proof that this technology is going to become much more mainstream and adoption is going to become much more seamless,” Bevensee told TechCrunch. “In the current era of this mass exodus from Parler, they’re obviously going to lose a huge amount of audience that isn’t dedicated enough to get on IPFS. Scuttlebutt is a really cool technology but it’s not as seamless as Twitter.”

Extremists adopting technologies that promote privacy and strong encryption is far from a new phenomenon, encrypted chat apps like Signal and Telegram have been at the center of such controversies in recent years. Bevensee notes the tendency of right-wing extremist networks to adopt decentralized network tech has been “extremely demoralizing” to those early developer communities — though she notes that the same technologies can and do benefit “marginalized people all around the world.”

Though people connected to bluesky’s early moves see a long road ahead for the protocol’s development and adoption, they also see an evolving landscape with Parler and President Trump’s recent deplatforming that they hope will drive other stakeholders to eventually commit to integrating with the standard.

“Right at this moment I think that there’s going to be a lot of incentive to adopt, and I don’t just mean by end users, I mean by platforms, because Twitter is not the only one having these really thorny moderation problems,” Velez says. “I think people understand that this is a critical moment.”

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Facebook blocks new events around DC and state capitols – TechCrunch

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As a precaution against coordinated violence as the US approaches President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Facebook announced a few new measures it’s putting in place.

In a blog post and tweets from Facebook Policy Communications Director Andy Stone, the company explained that it would block any events slated to happen near the White House, the U.S. Capitol or any state capitol building through Wednesday.

The company says it will also do “secondary” sweeps through any inauguration-related events to look for violations of its policies. At this point, that includes any content connected to the “Stop the Steal” movement perpetuating the rampant lie that Biden’s victory is illegitimate. Those groups continued to thrive on Facebook until measures the company took at the beginning of this week.

Facebook will apparently also be putting new restrictions in place for U.S. users who repeatedly break the company’s rules, including barring those accounts from livestreaming videos, events and group pages.

Those precautions fall short of what some of Facebook’s critics have called for, but they’re still notable measures for a company that only began taking dangerous conspiracies and armed groups seriously in the last year.

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WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp delays enforcement of a controversial privacy change, Apple may get rid of the Touch Bar in future MacBooks and Bumble files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for January 15, 2021.

The big story: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

Earlier this month, WhatsApp sent users a notification asking them to consent to sharing some of their personal data — such as phone number and location — with Facebook (which owns WhatsApp). The alert also said users would have to agree to the terms by February 8 if they wanted to continue using the app.

This change prompted legal threats and an investigation from the Turkish government. Now the company is pushing the enforcement date back three months.

“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a post. “We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”

The tech giants

Uber planning to spin out Postmates’ delivery robot arm — Postmates X is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company.

Apple said to be planning new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros with MagSafe and Apple processors — This could be the end for the Touch Bar.

Amazon’s newest product lets companies build their own Alexa assistant for cars, apps and video games — Yes, that means your next car could have two Alexas.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Bumble files to go public — The company plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange, using the ticker symbol “BMBL.”

Tracy Chou launches Block Party to combat online harassment and abuse — Currently available for Twitter, Block Party helps people filter out the content they don’t want to see.

Everlywell raises $75M from HealthQuest Capital following its recent $175M Series D round — Everlywell develops at-home testing kits for a range of health concerns, and it added a COVID-19 home collection test kit last year.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Fifteen steps to fundraising a new VC or private equity fund — Launching is easy; fundraising is harder.

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree — The acquisition of Fountainhead Press marks Top Hat’s third purchase of a publishing company in the past 12 months.

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers — Takeaways from Lawson’s new book “Ask Your Developer.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Video game spending increased 27% in 2020 — According to the latest figures from NPD, spending on gaming hardware, software and accessories was up 25% in December and 27% for the full year.

DOT evaluated 11 GPS replacements and found only one that worked across use cases —  The government wants to create additional redundancy and resiliency in the sector.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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