When I was younger and still had family, they often bought me things I didn't need for Christmas. Now that most of my family have passed on, it has become my annual Christmas shopping mission to buy these things for myself. With Christmas only three weeks away, I was pushing my cart through Sam’s Club in search of things I didn't need.

I passed an intriguing ad on top of a large stack of boxes that said “Roombas.’ I had never heard of a Roomba – probably because I don't watch TV. I know what the Rumba is, but it doesn't come in boxes. I backed up and started scrutinizing the ad and the boxes themselves. I discovered that the Roomba is a robot that can vacuum my floors without me being involved. And when its rechargeable battery gets low, it heads back to its charging dock and recharges itself. How cool is that? I had something like years ago. It was called a “wife.”

Moving on down the isle, I bought a $34, 2' x 3' framed black and white photo of US Rt. 66 that was taken in Arizona back around 1940. I've always been fond of Rt. 66 ever since I heard the Four Freshmen sing the song back in 1960. I also have a Rt. 66 shirt and hat.

Something about the Roomba was gnawing at the back of my mind, and I started doing some mental calculations about my budget for December and whether I could afford to buy a robot vacuum cleaner. The issue of whether I needed a robot vacuum was irrelevant, and I ignored the fact that I already own a dozen vacuum cleaners. Yes, you read that correctly – a dozen. I have two shop vacs – one in my basement workshop and one in my garage that was given to me, three carpet vacuum cleaners in my house (one on each floor), two more at my Colorado summer home (one for each floor), and one at my office. That's eight. Then there is my computer vac that I used for computer cleaning when I ran two computer labs. I have a dust buster in my truck, an electric broom in my hall closet, and a Xerox canister vacuum that a repairman left behind at the office. I think that makes a dozen. I like to tell people that my life really sucks.

The Roomba sucked me in, and soon I was home unpacking it and reading the directions. It is small – about the dimensions of a large cow pie. I guess that's so it can get under beds where vacuuming is rarely done. While it was doing its initial charge, I dutifully began filling out the warranty registration card. Then I noticed that I could save the price of a stamp by registering it on line. Never mind that fact that I’d just spent $200 on something I didn't need. I was going to save 37 cents.

In filling out the on-line computer registration form, it asked me for the model number. It said I could find the model number “under the battery (Discovery Model only)” and that I had to remove the battery to see it. I wasn't sure what model I had since neither the box or the Roomba revealed that bit of information, but if I found a model number under the battery I'd know I had a Discovery Roomba. Fortunately I had also read the instructions that said, “Do not interrupt the initial charging cycle,” so I had to wait until it was fully charged before I could get the model number and complete the registration. I'm fairly certain that many new purchasers of Roombas don't see that and interrupt the initial charging cycle. The directions didn't say what problems that might cause. In fact the manuals that come with it don't say much at all. They also suck. The least informative of any manuals I've ever gotten with an appliance.

There was a special slip with the battery that did say that my iRobot Roomba had “received a special upgrade that helps Roomba extend its own battery life,” and that it would begin a 16-hour charge cycle. Yikes. I was going to have to wait 16 hours to try it and to fill out the on-line registration. After two hours of charging the charging light on my Roomba changed from flashing red to green. So much for the upgrade it was suppose to have.

I removed the now charged battery and saw a tiny 22 digit/character model number, which required my reading glasses and a magnifying glass to decipher. To confuse matters, the box my Roomba came in said it was Model # 4110.  Why does it have two model numbers? And why does one of them need to be 22 characters long when everyone in the U.S. can be uniquely identified with a 9-digit social security number?

The next question on the registration form asked what product I was registering. Since I had purchased an iRobot Roomba, that question would seem straightforward. But the pull-down menu didn't list that. It listed “Roomba Red, Roomba (sage), Roomba Discovery (white), and Roomba Discovery SE (Silver)." I had already searched the box it came in and all the paperwork that came with it, but nowhere did it mention any of these product names. You would think that at least the box would tell you the model name of what you were buying if it was important enough to be required for warranty registration.

Since the model number was under the battery “only on the Discovery,” that was strong evidence that I had a Discovery, so I registered it as such. Later I went and looked carefully at my Roomba. I noted that it was silver, gray, and green. Hey, sage is green. I went back on line and saw that the Discovery models were either white or silver. Hmmmm… 

I logged back on and reregistered my Roomba as a Roomba (sage). That should cover it. I then received an email from iRobot thanking me for registering both my Roombas. I briefly considered registering it as each of the models and let the iRobot folks sort it out. After all, their 22-digit model number should certainly shed some light on the matter. You would think people who are smart enough to design a robot that can clean your house unattended, would think to put the required product registration name on the product and/or the box. And I'm also sure they could come up with a shorter model number.

Not being able to wait until morning to try it, I got my Roomba ready for its first test. My bedroom gets lots of dog hair because my dog sheds constantly. I have to vacuum several times a week, so the Roomba could be the perfect solution. I turned it loose in my bedroom and my dog and I watched it scurry around the room bumping into things and redirecting itself. It was definitely cleaning, but it was definitely not very efficient about it. More primitive cultures would have argued about whether it evolved or was the product of intelligent design.

After it went around my bedroom for about 15 minutes on a route that had no discernable pattern, it discovered the door and went down the hall and finally into the guest bedroom. Later it came back and resumed its activities in my bedroom. I went to investigate where it had been and what it had been doing. I discovered that periodically it was dumping vacuumed up dog hair back onto my carpet. I quickly captured my Roomba and discovered that its dust bin was full -- which isn't saying much because the dust bin is about the size of a cat's stomach. It had been leaving hair balls on my floor.

Now I have thirteen vacuum cleaners. Thirteen is an unlucky number, and I am considering whether to admit I'm a sucker and keep it, or take it back. I did let it resume it's activities after a second charge and it found the cord on my computer's removable flash drive and tried to eat it, which caused it to abort its cleaning. On the third attempt it again started leaving hair balls after about 15 minutes but had returned to its recharging station on its own volition.

If you want a novelty item or are disabled and can't use a regular vacuum, the Roomba might be your solution. But you will need to be able to bend over every 15 minutes, remove the dust bin, and clean it out along with the filter. I don't recommend buying one if you have pets or are untidy, since the rooms where it cleans must be child proofed. The Roomba doesn't like electrical cords, shoe laces, throw rug tassels, fringes, paper, socks, phone cords, or anything that a cat doesn't want in it's stomach.

• • •

PostScript: Because the manuals were so unhelpful, and I had lots of questions, I went to iRobot's web site and used their "contact us" feature to ask them some questions. After a week they wrote back. I think I have a Roomba Sage.

Dear Lew,

Thank you for writing.

We apologize for the confusion. The Roomba Sage, including yours with a model number 4110 is part of the “Discovery Series”. Within the “Discovery Series” there is a specific model referred to as the Roomba Discovery, this is model 4210. JENO4110 only refers to the manufacturer ID, with the model number following it. Again, we apologize but assure you that you would in fact be registered for the warranty, regardless of which series you would have registered your Roomba under.
If you have any further questions, please contact us again.

Thank you,