Tidying up with the iPhone-controlled Ecovacs Deebot N79 vacuum cleaning robot

Today we’re looking at a floor cleaning robot from a company you may not have heard about — Ecovacs. The Deebot N79 (US$199.98, Amazon affiliate link provides Apple World Today with an affiliate payment if you purchase one) is designed for deep-cleaning of carpets and other surfaces, and has a feature that makes it of interest of Apple World Today — an iPhone app that can be used to control and schedule cleaning. 

Ecovacs Deebot N79 happily resting on its charging dock after cleaning the house. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

Ecovacs Deebot N79 happily resting on its charging dock after cleaning the house. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

I’ve been a fan of robot vacuums since the first Roomba models appeared on the market. After owning two early Roombas and being unhappy with their bin capacity, battery life and other quirks, I replaced both with a Neato Robotics product that had good battery life, a larger bin and the ability to return to its charging base when it needed more juice to complete cleaning. When offered a chance to check out the Ecovacs Deebot N79, which is priced about $125 less than a similar Roomba product, I jumped on the chance.

The N79 comes in its box with four side brushes (two are used to clean the corners that the circular robot can’t get into, and two are spares), a remote control, a charging base, a brush cleaning tool, and a set of filters (one set built in, one extra). Like similar robot vacuums, the N79 is equipped with various sensors that keep it from going down stairs or over ledges, allow it to change direction when faced with an obstacle or wall, and so on.

The N79 is designed mainly for low-pile carpets and hard floors, but I decided to give it a real challenge. Our master bedroom suite is large, contains a number of obstacles (a “cat condo” among other things), and has carpeting that could best be described as medium-pile. It’s also a favorite are for our cats, meaning that there is a lot of cat hair. Finally, it’s a set of rooms that can be closed off, which is important because the N79 does not include “virtual walls” like other models (my old Roombas used infrared transmitters, the Neato model uses magnetic strips). 

Design-wise, the N79 is 13 inches (33 cm) in diameter, and 3.1 inches (7.87 cm) in height. The weight is listed as 6.7 lbs (3.2 kg), although I think that might be the boxed weight. The low height makes it easy for the N79 to go under beds, chairs and other low obstacles.

Setting up the N79 with the app requires that you use the included remote; that’s a negative as far as I’m concerned as linking the app to the robot shouldn’t require a remote control that you’ll probably never use again. Setup links your N79 and iPhone over Wi-Fi. The setup process was fast and easy, and within moments I pressed the AUTO button on the app and the robot took off cleaning the room. 

It’s much quieter than most robot vacuums I’ve used; I could actually talk on the phone with the N79 working away in the next room. During the cleaning, the app showed me that the robot was in cleaning mode and what the battery status was. The N79 has a number of different modes — Auto, in which the device uses a random path around a room to get everything clean; Edge mode is used to clean around the bottom of walls and furniture; Spot cleaning mode starts at a particular location and then uses a spiral pattern to do intensive cleaning of the general area, and Single Room mode cleans one room. If at any time the N79 feels that it needs a charge, it returns to its base and charges itself.

My Roombas always made me wonder if they were going to damage furniture as they really slammed into them; the N79 senses the walls and furniture before it gently bumps into them. That's a good design feature.

Slideshow: Ecovacs App

As mentioned, it’s easy to set up a repetitive schedule to clean a room or level of your home by using the app — just think of how easy it is to set an alarm on an iPhone, and you have the right idea. You can use the app to also “drive” the robot to a particular location in a room or order it to go charge itself. One feature I thought was especially nice is that the app has a function to monitor the life of consumables like the main brush, side brushes, and filters. There's no more guessing if one of those needs to be replaced; you're told when you should do so.

The only obstacle that the N79 seemed to have issues with was the base of the cat condo, which is about a half-inch thick. Still, it tried to clean it, giving up after a while and moving on to other places. As you’d expect, you will have to move items such as floor mats and small rugs. 

The N79 seemed to have no issues cleaning the main part of our master suite, as I could see from the path that it had gone over most areas once or twice. However, the master suite has a hallway that leads to the master bath area, and it only partially cleaned those other areas. My guess is that the next time I go to clean the room, I’ll “drive” the N79 to the master bath and then do a “room mode” cleaning in there. What’s odd is that when I opened the master bedroom door at one point, it went off and cleaned three other rooms and a hallway but never did get back to the master bath area… 

The Ecovacs app warns you in the case of “malfunctions” — at one point it seemed to have issues determining where the stairs were and came up with an advisory saying “Anti Drop Malfunction: Please wipe sensor” or something like that. The owner’s manual shows where the various sensors are so it was simple to clean the balky sensor and send the N79 on its merry way again.

A ball of cat fur, dust, and other goodies in the bin of the N79. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

A ball of cat fur, dust, and other goodies in the bin of the N79. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

So, how did the N79 do on its first foray around the upstairs part of my house? Incredible — the picture above is a look at the contents of the bin after it did the first run, and that’s after being vacuumed by house cleaners just a few days ago. It ran for about 90 minutes straight with just one “malfunction”, wandered all over the second floor of our house, then went back and found its charging base and plugged in. 

One more positive: that dust bin is not only roomy, but it locks in place in the robot. The Neato Robotics model has a dust bin with a tendency to pop out unless I tape it down with packing tape. There's no way for that to happen with the N79.

If I had just one suggestion for Ecovac, it would be to have this device be HomeKit-compatible. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have the N79 clean up only when you're out of the house?

As well as the N79 cleans and operates, even when it encounters unexpected obstacles like cat toys (and cats!), I have no issues thinking about having it do a scheduled cleaning every few days — even without a virtual wall capability. I’ll just close the door on upstairs rooms I don’t want to clean. The most amazing thing? The price -- at $200, Ecovacs puts a very solid app-controlled robotic vacuum into the hands of almost anyone who wants one. 

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★