In a crowded botvac market, it can be hard to stand out. LG’s latest vacuum, the Hom-Bot Turbo+, tries to fulfill several functions, above and beyond what you might expect of a humble home appliance.
For example: it includes a home security camera! And while most robot vacuums are boring black disks, the Hom-Bot is striking and gorgeous, a low-profile vacuum in brilliant colors made in the shape of a rounded square. It’s especially attractive in the champagne hue of my test model.
My toddler kept asking if she could touch it. “Is this a good robot vacuum?” my spouse asked hopefully, as we watched it trundle around the living room.
But I had serious doubts. Unlike every other robot vacuum, the LG Hom-Bot Turbo+ issues a near-constant stream of voice notifications. “Hello,” it says when you turn it on. “Please turn on the switch at the back of the robot vacuum,” it says. “Remote connection terminated,” it says, if you have the app open when your phone falls asleep.
I finally lost it when the botvac informed me, for the billionth time, to empty the dustbin after the cleaning cycle was over. “NO DOY!” I shouted, and muted it.
Why would you have voice notifications, especially if you, like many people, run the vacuum at night or while you’re at work? In fact, why would you have a surveillance camera three inches above the ground? Why would you want to view the world from a vacuum’s point of view?
This botvac prompted many questions, but I only have one answer: When you combine so many of these half-baked experiments with the Hom-Bot’s subpar cleaning abilities, it makes for a disappointing product.
Slap this App
But first things first. The Hom-Bot does come with a remote, but most people will prefer to use LG’s companion app, SmartThinQ. Late last year, LG hired a security firm to double-check for issues with the app. They discovered a vulnerability that made it possible for hackers to hijack the robot and view its video feed.
LG issued an update in September which addressed that security problem, but I do think that it’s important to note that the Hom-Bot’s maneuverability, combined with the camera, make it an enticing target for hackers.
Beyond that, the app could also use a lot more work. As of publication, online reviews of both the iOS and Android versions show an aggregate of 1.5 stars and two stars, respectively. I personally didn’t experience any difficulty connecting the botvac to my phone, but of all the botvac apps that I’ve tried, this one is the slowest and hardest to navigate.
Each time you open it, the app is painfully slow at restoring a connection with the Hom-Bot. Sometimes my phone went to sleep while the app was still “getting the data,” and the process started all over again.
And there are so many questionable choices: why is the weather in Celsius, not Fahrenheit? Do you tweak the settings by clicking on the ellipsis at the top, or the tiny symbols at the side? Once you adjust a setting and click the back button, why does the app return to the home page and need to reconnect to the bot? Why can’t you direct the robot manually from the iOS app?
At the moment, the SmartThinQ app just doesn’t look or feel like a finished product.
Nevertheless, I did find the app to be the most convenient way to explore the robot’s options. You can switch from a quicker random zigzag cleaning pattern or a more methodical cell-by-cell cleaning mode, or from normal mode to turbo; you can schedule it to clean once, or daily (although not every other day, or every third day).
It has mapping capabilities, and not only that, each map has a cleaning diary. You can watch the botvac’s path as it moves through your house. It also has an optional mop attachment, which is a plate and a cloth that attaches to the bottom of the botvac, and uses a magnetic strip as a barrier.
One thing the the Hom-Bot has going for it: it’s really quiet. I measured it at an average of 60 decibels in normal mode, and it only went up to 70 dB on turbo mode.
And finally, the botvac has an upper and lower camera. The upper one is used for navigation. You can check the video feed of the front-mounted camera as the botvac runs through your house, and it’s also used for LG’s Home Guard system.
To set up Home Guard, the Hom-Bot needs to be on its charging station. Open the app and select a vantage point on the map. Do not try to pick up the botvac and point its camera by yourself—didn’t I already tell you that the botvac needs to be on its charging station? Rotate it on the app for the best viewpoint, and start Home Guard, which takes a series of five still pictures every time it detects movement.
The Hom-Bot encountered the ultimate test shortly after I opened its packaging. My spouse and toddler decided to make buttermilk biscuits and quickly covered the entire kitchen in white flour. My two dogs walked through it repeatedly, leaving perfect white footprints through the house, all over the wood floors and rugs.
The Hom-Bot takes 2.5 hours to charge, but the battery lasts for only a little over an hour on a mix of hardwood, linoleum, and rugs. An hour wasn’t enough to clean 500 square feet. It gave up before finishing and went back to the base to charge. Rather than wait for the Hom-Bot to recharge, I vacuumed up most of the white footprints with the push vac instead.
Every time I ran it, the botvac left debris left in our trouble spots. The Hom-Bot lacked the ability to edge-clean thoroughly, leaving dirt by the front door, or sand in the kitchen. One evening, I found my toddler chewing and methodically spitting shreds of carrot in a corner. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” she assured me. “The robot vacuum will get it.” Unfortunately, it did not.
If you were hoping that this would double as a mop, then prepare for more disappointment. The included mop attachment has no water reservoir; it is just a dry cloth that you attach to the bottom of the botvac. It’s far easier to grab a towel than to tell the Hom-Bot to come wipe anything up.
And this little guy was hungry for cords, plowing through the magnetic strip to get at some, and then it couldn’t find its home base. I timed it for five minutes, watching it hesitantly circle the charging station at a radius of about two feet, before I gave up and put it back.
Finally, I have to say it: Home Guard is dumb. There’s a reason why no one installs security cameras three inches above the ground. It’s the same reason why babies constantly pull themselves up once they have the ability: If you’re lying on the floor, you can’t see anything. Also, a ground-level motion-activated camera is completely useless if you have pets.
I set Home Guard to monitor my front door. But every time I got a Home Guard alert, all I saw were a set of five blurry pictures of my dog’s ankles. They weren’t even cute pictures of my dog’s ankles. If you want a security camera, you might as well buy one with more storage and install it where you can see uniforms or faces. It’s difficult to positively identify burglars by their Happy Socks.
Save Dat Money
I did appreciate the botvac’s beauty, its quietness, and the attempts to innovate within such a severely limited set of constraints. Most robot vacuums look the same and do the same things, and testing them can get repetitive. It was entertaining to cruise around my house, checking each room out from Stuart Little’s point of view.
But a robot vacuum should actually clean. A dishwasher that plays David Bowie is also entertaining, but unless it leaves your dishes sparkling, it’s just a big box that swishes hot water around while Ziggy plays guitar. Both the botvac and its software felt so undercooked, and from a big company like LG, I didn’t expect such a lackluster product. Maybe a year or two will see both of them vastly improved.