With the Memorial Day holiday now officially behind us, I’d like to provide commentary on several smart home products that I’ve spent time with over the spring. Today we’ll look at a surprising new laptop, a new robotic vacuum from one of my favorite companies in the space, and lastly, for consumers with an aversion to traditional voice assistants, a “why didn’t I think of that” push-button solution for smart home management.
A continuation of the robot vacuum war
Robotic vacuums have proven to be a popular household product since their debut in the early 2000s. Global robotic vacuum cleaner sales reached an estimated USD 2.56B in 2020, and the market is expected to grow at a healthy 17.7% CAGR from 2020 to 2021. There are several demographic reasons behind this, such as a growing working population with less time on their hands for household chores. Equally, if not more important, however, is the emergence of more fully-featured, affordable and user-friendly vacuums.
The majority of robotic vacuums on the market focus on hard surface and rug cleaning, but forgo mopping. The Holy Grail in this space has always been a hybrid solution that can do all three. I believe Roborock’s new S7 may be a contender.
Like most other robotic vacuums, the Roborock S7 doesn’t embrace a bold new design. It is relatively large (13.9” by 13.8” in diameter and 3.8” tall), so, like other robot vacuums, it has challenges going between chairlegs. However, it’s this size for a reason: in addition to an integrated 470-milliliter chamber for dust and dirt, it has a 300-milliliter electronic water tank for deep cleaning (up to 2,150 square feet in a single session).
The Roborock S7 utilizes ultrasonic sound to recognize carpet with astonishing accuracy, enabling it to both mop and vacuum during a single session. However, you can designate a “No-Mop Zone” to keep it away from any carpeted area you do not want mopped. The S7 also impressed me with its ability to effortlessly capture fine dust, hair and dirt on my hard floors and carpets. The mopping capability of the S7 is equally impressive—the integrated mop, which scrubs up to 3,000 times per minute, left my hardwood floors streak-free and pristine.
Priced at a premium $650 MSRP, the S7 is more expensive than many other non-mopping vacuums on the market. But, for those who have searched for years for a hybrid robotic vacuum, the Roborock S7 could be a real game-changer. Throw in voice control, LIDAR capability (which facilitates straightforward navigation), multi-level mapping, automatic room recognition and its unique intelligent mop lifting, and this product could represent the dawn of a new age in the robotics vacuum category.
The new Neato Robotics D8, which I have also been testing, focuses squarely on conventional vacuuming for hard floor surfaces and carpets. Neato introduced its iconic D-shape to the industry more than 15 years ago, under the explanation that you can’t use circles to clean a square corner. The D-shape form factor enables the brush to extend up to the edge of the vacuum, versus round robots, which feature the brush between their wheels. The D-shape also accommodates an extra-large dirt bin for storing the dust, hair and grime accumulated during a single cleaning session. The D-shape design also delivers corner-to-corner and edge-to-edge cleaning in the shortest amount of time. This makes it particularly advantageous for homeowners with odd-shaped, furniture-laden floor plans.
The D8 is Neato’s highest-end model and offers approximately 100 minutes of cleaning on a single charge. If the D8 requires more time to finish a long cleaning cycle, it is intelligent enough to return to its charging dock and resume precisely where it left off to complete the job. Neato has an excellent brand reputation for products that excel at pet hair and allergen collection. The D8 comes with a high-performance filter that traps up to 99% of allergens and dust particles during its cleaning cycles. Like all Neato models, the D8 utilizes LIDAR capability (essentially the same technology found in self-driving vehicles) to accurately map and navigate houses with uncanny accuracy (even in the dark).
What’s more, the D8 uses lasers to determine where it is in your home. Laser technology also allows the D8 to systematically clean from room to room in straight lines, leaving carpets with that admittedly highly satisfying “just vacuumed” look. If you have a home with multiple flights of stairs, the D8 incorporates drop sensors to avoid falling downstairs.
Lastly, the D8 utilizes Bluetooth and its intuitive MyNeato smartphone app (available in iOS and Android) for a sub-10-minute setup. Like all Neato products, it’s exceedingly well-built, has a wide spectrum of navigation features and is straightforward to maintain. At $599, it’s not inexpensive. That said, Neato’s flagship model is likely to last for many years of service in your home.
The Flic 2 Smart Button is almost magical
Do you ever wish you could automate almost any home task with the press of a literal button? If the thought of that intrigues you, the Flic Smart Button is right up your alley.
Flic initially debuted as a popular Indiegogo project back in 2014 that exceeded its funding goal by more than eight-fold (almost a million dollars). The product concept is deceptively simple. Users can install the Bluetooth-based button virtually anywhere in the house, connect it to multiple apps and devices and “just press play” for various home automation tasks.
For the most part, the product works as advertised. At only 8.5mm x 30mm, the new Flic 2 is small, but don’t let that fool you. Its battery lasts up to 3 years, depending on usage, and it features a line-of-sight range of about 600 feet (more than sufficient for inside the home. Flic 2 is available in a Starter Kit format (priced at $169), which covers 3 Flic devices, a power cable and a Flic Hub LR that lets anyone control Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit-compatible devices. In this way, a physical button push could be used to toggle all of your smart devices on or off instead of using an app or your voice. What’s especially useful is that the D8 can add push-button convenience to your Siri and Alexa routines. In this way, it addresses a significant pain point that many homeowners have with Siri or Alexa: remembering the exact voice command cadence to perform a smart home action. Flic 2 also recognizes different button push combinations such as a “simple” push, a “double” push and a “hold,” giving it added flexibility for controlling lights, playing music, or setting an elongated wake-up routine.
I believe the Flic 2 is a practical, inventive solution with the potential to complement any smart home.
MSI Summit E13 Flip Evo: surprisingly stylish and powerful
Rounding out this column are some thoughts on a sleek new laptop from MSI that I’ve spent time with lately. I usually don’t comment on laptops as I focus on connected home solutions, but this product in particular caught my attention.
MSI is a popular brand in the PC gaming community. The MSI Summit E3 Flip Evo is MSI’s attempt to pull 2-in-1 business laptop consumers into the PC gaming space. With its powerful Core i7-1185GB processor, the Summit E13 Flip Evo is a significant step towards fulfilling that mission.
What stands out with the E3 Flip Evo is its highly useable keyboard, and its brilliant 13.4” 1920 x 1200 display. The Flip Evo’s $1,899 price point also includes 32GB of memory, a roomy 1TB SSD and Intel Iris Xe graphics, all of which are suitable for reasonably demanding mainstream games. I also appreciate the laptop’s industrial design and its aerodynamic, black aluminum hood, accentuated by copper. It’s hard to take your eyes off of it.
As it will be used by work at home and business users, the E13 Flip Evo includes many security features, including a Microsoft Windows Hello-compatible webcam, a fingerprint reader, a physical Webcam “kill” switch and a TPM 2.0 chip. All in all, it’s a highly secure laptop.
I could go on and on, but this is one of the best non-HP or Dell laptops I’ve encountered. I was a bit underwhelmed with the integrated (bottom-firing), but I suspect many users will be using Bluetooth headphones or earbuds while using it. I wish this laptop had a higher resolution webcam; 720p just doesn’t cut it anymore in today’s video conferencing world.
The bottom line is that the Summit E13 Flip Evo has more good things going for it than against it. Weighing less than 3 pounds, it has a comfortable keyboard, an excellent touchscreen display and overall solid system performance in a stylish 2-in-1 chassis design. If anything, this laptop bodes well for MSI’s portable business. For those who are looking to upgrade their aging system, I believe it’s an excellent product to consider. You might even end up playing a few games on it in your spare time.
Some closing thoughts
As the world knows, Apple’s annual WWDC event takes place next week. Like last year, it will be a virtual affair. As I opined in my Forbes column last week, it will be interesting to see if Apple reveals any company plans to merge its Mac and iOS/iPadOS platforms. However, I suspect most of what Apple reveals will focus on the new features and iterations of its popular operating systems. Be on the lookout for my blog next week, where I’ll provide some rear-view mirror commentary on what Apple ends up disclosing. Stay tuned.