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Living with a robot vacuum - why I won't sack my cleaner Yet

Living with a robot vacuum - why I won't sack my cleaner Yet

I don't want to come across all posh, but I will confess, I hire a cleaner. Her name is Annie, and she's wonderful. We couldn't exist without her.

For two hours every fortnight, Annie whizzes around my house mopping up all the mess my wife and I create while we're working from home, physically unable to do it ourselves.

We also have two dogs. And our youngest pooch, Honey, is a moulting monster. She's half Labrador and seems to shed mountains of hair every hour of every waking day. Couple this with all the detritus two dogs drag in on a daily basis and Annie will never be out of work.

But I've always been open to the idea of lightening Annie's excessive load with a robot vacuum cleaner. I'm not convinced it will ever replace her entirely, we're not in a living episode of The Jetsons after all, but every time I see one demonstrated on Youtube I'm fascinated by them.

So when the nice people at iRobot, which manufactures the iconic Roomba range of robot cleaners, offered to send me a robot vacuum to try out, I almost bit their hands off. I haven't told Annie. Yet.

I was sent the i7+, which, they told me, is one of their entry-level flagships. This sounds like an oxymoron, but scanning the range available it sits below the uber-posh, ultra-powerful machines designed to service massive loft apartments but above the entry-level machines designed for small apartments. It should suit my sub-urban four-bed semi-detached house very well.

And, having lived with it for a few weeks, I can absolutely say it does.

Roomba insists you give your new robot a name. We resisted the urge to call it Annie, and named it after my wife's late aunt, a clean-freak called Phyllis.

So Phyllis sits in a corner of our hall, ready to wake up at a moment's notice, to clean any room we ask her to. And this is where it gets clever...

The learning system in this particular range of Roombas maps out each room of your house, then reports its findings back to a smartphone app. I then just have to tweak Phyllis's layout, suggest some no-go zones so she doesn't suck in the dog's tail accidentally, show her where the boundary lines are, and then I have the option to set up routines, or pre-defined tasks.

Connecting Phyllis up to my WiFi was a doddle, and it was even easier to link her to my smart speaker system. So I could now be sat at my desk and ask Google to tell Phyllis to go and hoover the lounge, for example.

Or, if I spill something in the kitchen, I can ask her to nip out and give the floor a once over. Within a second or two she'll leap off her base, scoot through the hallway, vacuum up my detritus, and then head back to her base.

Living with a robot vacuum - why I won't sack my cleaner Yet

And that's where even more magic happens. The "+" in i7+ denotes that it comes with a smart base that includes a bin, equipped with a vacuum bag. And, every time Phyliss goes back to the base, she'll empty her tank into this bag. So she's a self-emptying robot.

This process makes a lot of noise, I will admit. So we have to make sure Phyllis isn't sent out to work while one of us is trying to sleep. But the robot itself makes barely any more noise than a conventional Hoover.

And a similar thing can be said for Phyllis's functionality. I'm amazed that such a small, clever and lightweight disc can run around each room and perform nearly as well as a top-notch Dyson. But it can.

Its shape means there will always be the odd nook or cranny which it can't reach, but it does a very good job of giving us a general once over, and, impressively, it's not put off by the dividers in our doorways, which it needs to make quite an effort to get up.

Of course, there are limitations. Phyllis will never be able to climb our stairs, for example. We have to carry her up to our top rooms, which feels quite undignified. And the step down into our utility room is, according to Phyllis, a "cliff". It seems a bit melodramatic, but it's hard to put ourselves in her shoes, in fairness.

Another limitation some people might find is the price of a robot vacuum. While you can buy one of Roomba's products for just over £200, the i7+ retails at £799. Although there is currently a deal on offering it for £639.

The i series, which bundles in the smart mapping tech, starts at £449. So robot vacuum ownership doesn't come cheap. But, honestly, it's worth every penny for the joy of being able to bark an order at a smart speaker and, in just over half an hour, you have a spotless floor again.

I'm a big fan of smart tech, and particularly robotics and, of course, it's going to come at a price. But you do get what you pay for and Roomba's experience at making smart vacuums has led to a product I think it has honed almost to perfection. I really am bowled over at how well Phyllis works. Carpets and hard floors are no challenge to her whatsoever.

Annie will be coming to clean again in a few days and I suspect she might be a bit shocked at how nice our floors look. I will introduce her to Phyllis, when the time is right, and I hope the two of them get on.

If I had to choose between them, I think we'd ultimately keep Annie. She does a great job at making the bathroom units sparkle, she's a dab-hand with a feather duster and, at the end of the day, she can climb the stairs.

But she only turns up every two weeks, whereas Phyllis has settled into a routine of zipping around our floors every two days.

So while Phyllis will never replace Annie, she certainly lightens her load. At least, that's how we'll soften the blow for Annie when we finally admit we've been unfaithful to her.