Most robot vacuum improvements are iterative—how can we pack a few more software features into the app? Can we make the it a little smaller, or make it run for a little longer? A self-emptying bin, on the other hand, is life-changing.
In my two-kid, one-dog house, I can fill a standard 0.6-liter robot vacuum dustbin in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t matter how powerful or smart the little machine is if it runs out of bin space to pick up dirt. Until now, to get a self-emptying bin in a robot vacuum, you had to shell out almost four figures for one of iRobot’s top-of-the-line models.
But not anymore! Shark recently debuted its first smart vacuum, the Shark IQ, which has a self-emptying base. At $550, it’s less than half of the Roomba’s price.
Shark has a reputation for making decent, affordable robot vacuums. However, this is its first “smart” vacuum, and it shows. While the robot itself is a decent piece of hardware, the mapping software it uses to traverse your house is bonkers slow. The first unit Shark sent failed to develop a map beyond 22 percent completion after 18 runs, and after several runs, the second unit’s map is still incomplete. For comparison, my house is 1,000 square feet, and most smart robot vacuums develop a complete map after around 3-5 runs.
But what are you going to do? I’d rather have a self-emptying bin than a smart map, hands down. If you’re okay with longer run times, I still think the Shark IQ is a great pick.
The Shark IQ is a medium-sized robot vacuum. It stands 3.5 inches tall and about a foot wide, about an inch taller than the slim Eufy RoboVac 11S Max. If you get the self-emptying base, you won’t be able to store the robot vacuum under a couch, since it stands at 16 inches tall.
It took five hours to charge from 30 to 100 percent. On its first few cleaning runs, it took 40 minutes and 50 percent of the battery to clean 480 square feet. Not included in that time were the multiple stops and starts as it carefully tested the drop from my kitchen step, and bumped over a 10-centimeter rise to get into my bathroom.
Like many robot vacuums, it navigates via one optical sensor, four cliff sensors, and four bump sensors that occasionally collided with a couch leg or two. Because optical light sensors require light to navigate, it’s best to not run it at night in a dark and sleeping house (because you might get startled from the loud thunks as it bumps into your garbage can).
The vacuum has two rotating side brushes, a carpet brush, and a bumper. It also has two buttons, a Dock and a Clean button, which aren’t as intuitive as they seem. If the Shark IQ encounters an error while vacuuming and sends a notification via the app, you have to push the physical button multiple times to clear the errors before sending it on its way again.
The Shark IQ is enabled for both Alexa and Google Assistant, and the app is attractive and easy to use. You can name the vacuum (I picked “Sherman”), add multiple units for multiple floors, change cleaning mode from Eco to Normal to Max (there is no auto setting), see your cleaning history, create a cleaning schedule, and—theoretically—make a cleaning map and designate separate rooms. There is no manual remote if you find that it’s missed a spot.
There’s no dust bin sensor inside the vacuum to tell you when it’s full; instead, it uses pre-programmed, proprietary algorithms to send it back to the base. Still, whatever those algorithms are measuring, they work. On its very first run, Sherman ran for 10 minutes before beginning a long, quiet trek back to the dock.
“He couldn’t possibly be done?” I thought until I heard a whoosh that meant the dust bin was emptying. Not having to do this myself after every run (or even mid-run) is a feature I didn’t think I’d love until Sherman came into my house. Sherman will also automatically return to the base to recharge if he’s still cleaning when power runs low.
Even on Max mode, I measured Sherman at a moderate 65 decibels, or at the volume of a loud conversation. The whoosh is at 75 decibels—which is startling if you’re not expecting it, but it’s brief. A second whoosh is the base, blowing out the robo vac’s roller brush with high-pressure air. It kept the roller brush mostly free, but I did have to cut a few of my long hair strands out.
When I was first sent the Shark IQ, Shark told me it would take about five runs to develop a complete map of your home. After five completed runs, when my map stayed at 22 percent completion, I reached out to Shark’s engineers, who pushed an update to the app.
This update failed to help Sherman complete his map, and also stopped his mapping progress entirely. Cleaning time went from around 44 minutes for 400-500 square feet to around 60-70 minutes per run. I again reported this news back to Shark after another dozen runs, and the company sent a replacement unit, which my daughter named Rainbow Snowflake.
I want to believe Rainbow Snowflake is currently developing a map of my house, but there’s no longer a progress bar in the app. After 30 runs in total between two units, I’ve lost hope that I will ever live to see a completed map. Shark now notes it may take up to 10 runs to complete the floor map, double what it originally told me. For comparison, it’s never taken more than 3-5 runs for any of the smart robot vacuums I’ve tested to develop a complete map.
Not being able to create a map also meant that I was unable to test the Shark IQ’s smart mapping features, like telling it to clean only one or two rooms at a time. Rainbow Snowflake did come with black magnetic boundary strips, which I used to keep him away from my kitchen step. His cliff sensors often led him to tip off perilously, though this is a common problem with most robovacs.
Still! Working without a complete map was less of a handicap than you might think. Rainbow Snowflake still moved methodically in lines across my house, carefully edging around the shoe racks, and sucking up beads that were bigger than the tip of my finger. It didn’t get stuck when it ran across markers, strips of paper or electrical cords. Run time ended up being around 60 minutes to vacuum my whole house.
And it has a self-emptying bin! Did I mention that it has a self-emptying bin? The bin has a capacity of 1.85 liters and is easy to click and lift off the base. It also doesn’t require additional bags. Shark claims that you can leave it be for a month, but I found that I needed to empty it every 10 runs or so.
Does one great feature make up for a list of shortcomings? Sometimes, I think it does. If you, too, have two messy kids and a large, sheddy dog, I think you’d also think the Shark IQ robot is worth it.