Friday, July 1, 2022

Smartpool 11i – Robotic Pool Cleaner Review

It has been a long time since I started my quest to review every robotic pool cleaner on the market. Since then I have discovered so many things about this industry, and of course about the bots themselves. It is a little surprising how often a bot is simply renamed and sold at different retail sites. The companies themsleves seem to have little niches for themselves. Aquabot aim for the veyr high end and the veyr low end, Dolphin have some of the best mid range bots on the market, and some of the most advanced designs too. Hayward bots have the most robust checkout features, and are very consumer friendly. Smartpool’s series of bots are a little more all over the place. Some of them I can nearly write off entirely, while others¬†offer some of the highest build quality, at bargain prices. Today a look at the 11i.

Smartpool have taken the Direct Command and slapped a shiny new name on the bot. It is in line with their entire product rebradning, the i series. And while some of the early bots in the series have been a little lackluster, the i9 and i11 have both been very fine machines. As are the bots they are based on. Those two bots hit my core feature set requirements with ease, and the price is a little surprising too.

So let’s break this bot down, build it back up and see if it is the right option for you.

Smartpool 11i Design and Build Quality

Much like every other bot built by Smartpool, the i11 is a hardy little machine. They excel in the build quality department, and no other firm pays such close attention to the longevity of their models. It is a little smaller than the BigFoot, and as such is a little less robust than that build, but it is still impressive in its own right. When you are buying a robotic pool cleaner there are two things to remember from the get go. The first is to take a close look at the warranty offered by the company. The second is to be sure to give your bot a bit of a shake when you get it out of the box. If you hear a rattle then you likely have a factory fault, and must then make use of your warranty. Parts should fit flush, and catching issues early is imperative.

The i series of bots all have a leg up on the other cleaners in the Smartpool range in terms of looks. They all have a nice black plastic finish. This alone is not enough to call a bot great looking though, and as they are all clones of the previous bots, their core aesthetics leave a lot to be desired. I have made no attempt to hide the fact that I am not a fan of how any of their bots look, but this should not rank too highly unless you are on the fence between two bots with similar features and price, a more common occurrence than you might think.

Overall, I am impressed. Smartpool know how to build a bot that will last, even if they don’t know how to design one with a little finesse. If you are looking for a robust build, and this is the most important consideration then you are on the right track.

Smartpool 11i Features and Specs

It is almost always a bad idea to call yourself an expert at something. But over the past few months I have come up wityh a list of core features that are, in my opinion, must haves. The first, a robotic pool cleaner must be able to clean a floor, in addition to having brushes powerful enough to break up debris. The second, a robotic pool cleaner’s filter must be powerful enough to clear a pool well on one cycle. Finally a bot must be able to climb a wall, from bottom to top, cleaning all the way. A few bots in the Smartpool wheel house have been unable to meet my requirements, the 9i is not one of them.

This is an in ground pool cleaner, I have reviewed many above ground models, and while Smartpool do produce a few, I would advise you look at my Aquabot reviews. They have a wider selection, and a few of them can climb as well. Max pool size on this cleaner is 20 ‘ x 40 ‘, with an 8 foot max depth. The power cord is a 60 ‘ swivel cable. If you have owned a bot in the past that did not come with a swivel cable as standard, you will know the horror of the impromptu cycle stop. A swivel cable prevents tangling, the number one cause of stoppages, so I am quite glad to see one here.

The scrubbing brushes are bottom mounted, and are both the Smartpool standard high powered brushes, able to break up all manner of debris. The bristles are a little softer than the norm though, allowing them to do the hard work, but not leave unsightly marks on a tile bottomed pool. The vacuum ports are wider than is normal too, allowing the bot to pick up larger debris with ease, think acorns and twigs. Add in the enlarged filter bag and we are onto a winner. This bot has no trouble making that 90 degree transition to the pool wall, climbing well and cleaning well.

There are a few bonus features here that elevate the build above the 9i a bit. There is a dual drive motor, which allows the bot to make zero degree turns. It is a must have feature of any bot that comes with a remote control option, like the 11i. The build can also detect when it is being lifted from the water, and vents held liquid on the way up, making it a little easier to heft out of the pool. Beyond that, nothing else to report.

The added bells and whistles, in addition to the core features, really makes the 11i a great bot. Finally taking advantage of the great drive system, the same used across the i series, with a remote control.  Overall an impressive little machine

Smartpool 11i Ease of Use

In this section my musings on robotic pool cleaner design come into play again. There are, as far as I can tell, only two core types of cleaner. The all in one models, and the more difficult to use external pump models. If you have an industrial sized pool, whatever that might be, then a bot with an external pump might be what you are looking for, but beware the complication in installation. If you have a residential pool then you want a plug and play device, like the 11i.

The plug and play models can be broken down into two more types of cleaner. The Legacy Design builds, and the Ultra Moderns. The 11i is what I call a Legacy Design model, not inherently inferior, but it comes with some day to day annoyances that a cleaner designed in the last year will not have. They are mostly a result of the bottom mounted filter chamber, and the use of a filter bag system, over the filter cartridge system that is more popular with the Ultra Moderns.

A bottom mounted filter chamber means you have to flip the whole bot over to change the bag. There are plenty of bots with top mounted chambers, so seeing this is always a disappointment. The use of a filter bag is a minor issue too. They are more prone to user error, and an improperly fit bag can cause cycle stops, the number three cause of them I might add. The remote that comes with the bot might be great in the features section, but in terms of ease of use it is a minor black mark. You have to learn how to use it right, and while it does not take long, it is still an extra layer of complication.

The weight of the bot might be a bit much for some. The 11i is a little under 20 pounds, so moving it without the aid of a caddy will be annoying, depending on where you store it. The short handle, even at full length, makes getting it out of the water more difficult than it needs to be too. The rapid drain system is useful here, but not enough to render the issue moot. It is not the heaviest bot I have seen though, so while it does have these issues, it is far from the most affected.

It might sound like I am being pedantic about the problems inherent in this build, but the truth is far simpler. All in one models of robotic pool cleaners are very easy to use regardless of the specifics. All companies are focused on creating a product that is truly automatic, freeing up your time, so I must get down to the nitty gritty of day to day use to find fault. If you go for the 11i you won’t be disappointed with the performance, but you might be occasionally irritated by the design quirks.

Smartpool 11i Pricing, Value, & Discounts

I love the pricing section. It is here where the choice is made for most of us. When almost all the bots on the market meet my standards, one of the benefits to having a niche product, then the price becomes the deciding factor. The 11i, I am sad to say, falls into the $900 to $1100 category. With a feature set as small as this, the longevity of the bot is almost immaterial. Now, I would like to point out that any robotic pool cleaner you buy will save you hours of your life. It is one of their major selling points. Buy a bot and you have made an investment in your free time, and depending on how you value and hour, any bot will pay you back eventually, but I feel like the timescale here is a little long.

There is also the running cost to consider. The average cycle time is 3 hours, and the price per cycle sits at a little over 10c per use. This is a nice small number, but it is one that will add up over time. I think too few folk know the cost of running their hardware, so please look up your local price per kilowatt hour and do a few calculations yourself, it is very useful. I have had to use 180W as an estimate power consumption, as only Aquabot release the full power consumption info on their robotic pool cleaners. The final figure for you may be closer to 15c per cycle.

Finally a look at the warranty. Or at least I would like to have a look at the warranty now at the end, but Smartpool have not saw fit to release the full written to the public. I have inquired with them about this, and am currently awaiting a reply. The 11i comes with 3 years of limited coverage, and a limited warranty can swing both ways. The Aquabot limite warranty is a little lacking, but the Hayward Limited warranty is toip notch, so a full value judgement cannot be made at this time. I will update this review, and the others, as soon as I have word back from Smartpool.

Smartpool 11i Conclusion

This is an unfortunate end for the 11i. I was happy with the feature set and the build quality. It is even very easy to use, but that price is a little much. I know for certain that there are better options out there, with more features and a lower price, so you are better off looking through the rest of my reviews for a bot you like the look of. The lack of any real warranty information was the final nail in the coffin. Even if the warranty promised magic angel babies that come down from the heavens to fix your bot, I would not be able to recommend it. Okay, maybe if that was the case I could recommend it, but I doubt it.

Pros:

  • Works out of the box, no need to connect it to a pool pump.
  • A slight machine that is capable of withstanding the elements and can even vacuum acorns.
  • Can climb walls, a rarity for Smartpool bots.

Cons:

  • The warranty information is light on the ground, I am waiting for more information on this.
  • The handle is a little short, and for such a weighty build that is an issue.
  • The price is a little ambitious. Not worth the money I’m afraid.
  • Legacy design issues.
Barry W Stanton
Irish born writer who drinks too much caffeine and reads too much Terry Pratchett. I enjoy long walks on the server and Korean cuisine.
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