Shark's first self-emptying robot vacuum, the $599 IQ Self-Empty XL (R101AE), earned high marks thanks to its excellent cleaning performance and stress-free bagless design. Its successor, the $649.80 Shark AI Self-Empty XL (RV2502AE), has a larger dustbin, longer battery life, and a new UltraClean Mode for pet hair and carpeting. It also gains AI-powered laser navigation technology, although in testing this feature didn't deliver the flawless obstacle avoidance we anticipated. So while the Shark AI offers some notable upgrades, the Shark IQ ultimately delivers a pretty similar experience for $50 less, remaining our Editors' Choice winner in this price range.
Shark sells several different robot vacuum models with similar names, so its product lineup can be a bit confusing. The Shark AI Self-Empty XL (RV2502AE) launched late in 2021 for $649.80, overtaking the $599 Shark IQ Self-Empty XL (R101AE) as the brand's most expensive model. The Shark IQ, which launched in 2020, was the company's first robot vacuum with automatic dustbin emptying. A Shark spokesperson says the IQ model isn't being restocked on the company's website, but will remain available via major retail partners through 2022.
Shark also sells a version of the AI robot without a self-emptying base for $400. For this review, the company sent the $649.80 model with a self-emptying base, which will I refer to as the Shark AI throughout the rest of this review.
The Shark AI is still moderately priced for a self-emptying robot vacuum despite its premium over the Shark IQ; it comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee and a three-year warranty, too. Many competing models with similar features cost upward of $850. Other self-emptying models in the Shark AI's price range include the iRobot Roomba i3+, which lacks smart mapping abilities.
Shark's self-emptying robot vacuums use a bagless system; most competing models transfer the contents of their bins into an allergen-sealed bag. Instead, Shark's robots have two dustbins: one in the robot and a larger one in the base station. Each time the robot returns to its dock after cleaning, it (loudly) transfers the contents of its bin to the base station. Shark says the base station canister traps 99.97% of dust and allergens down to 0.3 microns, complying with HEPA standards. A transparent window on the right side of the base lets you check the fill level. It holds up to 60 days of dust and debris, twice as much as the Shark IQ.
When the dustbin is full, simply press a release button on the top of the base, slide out the dustbin, hold it over a trash can or a bag, and press the Empty button on the side. The bottom of the dustbin opens and the contents into the trash. It's a relatively clean process, but if you have severe allergies to dust, you might prefer a bagged model. The convenience of Shark's system is that you never have to buy replacement bags.
As its name suggests, this model uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laser Navigation technology to detect and avoid objects that are four inches high or taller. Similar to a self-driving car, the Shark AI uses a raised, 360-degree Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor in combination with AI algorithms to scan the ground for obstacles, then reroute itself around them so it doesn't get stuck or cause a mess. The older Shark IQ lacks AI Laser Navigation technology, but it also maps your home, cleans in orderly rows, and rarely gets stuck.
Shark says the AI Laser Navigation technology is so accurate that the robot can work at night and in the dark without issue. The Shark IQ, on the other hand, works best in good lighting.
Several other premium floor-cleaning bots boast AI-powered obstacle-avoidance technology, including the $849 iRobot Roomba j7+ self-emptying robot vacuum and the $799.99 Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI robot vacuum and mop hybrid.
The Shark AI is one of the tallest robot vacuums we've tested because of its raised LiDAR sensor. Measuring 13.7 inches in diameter and 4.1 inches tall, it's slightly bigger than the Shark IQ, which measures 12.9 by 12.6 by 3.5 inches (LWH). If you're in search of a shorter robot vacuum to pass under low-profile furniture, consider the $349.99 Eufy RoboVac G30. It can't empty its own dustbin, but at just 2.85 inches tall, it can clean where a lot of other robot vacuums won’t fit.
The Shark AI's auto-empty base has a rectangular black design. Measuring approximately 13.0 by 8.5 by 13.8 inches (LWH), it's much larger than a basic robot vacuum docking station and a bit of an eyesore, but that's par for the course with self-emptying models.
Like its predecessor, the Shark AI features two side brushes and a self-cleaning brush roll on the bottom. With a combination of fins and bristles, the brush roll combs through pet and human hair, filtering it into the dustbin so it doesn't get wrapped around, a common problem with other robot vacuums.
The Shark AI is simple to set up. The base arrives fully assembled; the hardest part of the process is locating a spot for it. Shark recommends setting it up at least three feet away from anything on either side and five feet across from anything. For the best results, set up the base on a bare floor in a location with a strong Wi-Fi signal.
Then, just plug the base power cord into an electrical outlet and flip the power switch on the back to turn it on. A small house icon on the top right then illuminates to indicate that it has power.
Next, attach the side brushes to the posts on the bottom of the robot and manually place its back against the base. The Shark AI turns on once you align it properly. A battery icon on the robot and a charging icon on the top right of the base then illuminate. Shark says to charge the robot for six hours the first time.
While you're waiting for it to charge, take some time to prep your home. Shark recommends cleaning any cords and removing objects such as toys, clothing, and drapes from the floor, as well as opening the doors to areas you want it to clean and map.
The robot doesn't come with a remote, but you can control it from your phone via the SharkClean app (available for Android and iOS); with your voice via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant; or by using the physical Clean and Dock buttons on the top. The SharkClean app is well designed, and makes it easy to control the robot and use its smart features, including scheduling, area cleaning, virtual no-go zones, and cleaning history reports.
To get started, just download the SharkClean app and create an account. Then, press Add a Robot and follow the on-screen instructions as the app walks you through the setup process. The app instructs you to hold the robot's Dock and Clean buttons simultaneously until a Wi-Fi indicator light on the unit begins to blink, indicating it's in setup mode. If prompted, allow Shark to connect to other devices on your local network, then tap OK. Next, select your home Wi-Fi network from the list, enter your password, and press Continue.
After a successful connection, the app asks you to name the vacuum and lets you enable Evacuate and Resume, a feature meant for homes with pets. When enabled, the robot will return to its base to empty the dustbin after 30 minutes so it doesn't get overly clogged with pet hair, then resume cleaning where it left off.
The first time you run the Shark AI, it explores your home and creates a map of the floor plan. The Explore Run takes about 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your home. Some robots take several cleaning runs to generate a map, so it's nice that the Shark AI can do it so quickly. After the Explore Run, you can customize the map by labeling individual rooms and creating no-go and high-traffic zones.
The robot avoids rooms and areas labeled as no-go zones. If it often gets stuck in the same place, you can create a no-go zone around it to prevent future problems. Shark recommends adding high-traffic zones to areas you want to clean more often, such as around your front door or couch.
The Shark AI has three power levels: Eco, Normal (the default option), and Max. As its name suggests, Max offers the most suction power, but also drains the robot's battery the fastest. Eco offers the least suction power, but drains the battery the slowest.
If you don't want the robot to vacuum all over, you can choose between Room, Zone, and Spot cleaning options in the app. Room mode lets you select one or more rooms you want to target. In Zone mode, the robot goes directly to your high-traffic zones. Spot mode lets you draw a square over any area on the map for the robot to clean.
The Shark AI also offers a new UltraClean mode for single rooms, high-traffic zones, and Spot cleaning. In UltraClean mode, the robot increases its suction power and vacuums the targeted room or area two times in a crosshatch pattern. This mode is especially useful for cleaning pet hair and carpet. It's not available on the Shark IQ.
I had no problem connecting the Shark AI with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant via their respective apps, and in testing the robot worked flawelessly with commands such as, "Alexa, tell Shark to start cleaning," and, "Hey Google, send Shark back to the dock." Just search for and enable the Shark skill in the Alexa app or link your Shark account via the Google Assistant or Google Home app. For detailed instructions, visit Support > Voice Control in the SharkClean app. After linking the robot with the virtual assistants, you can start, pause, and send the robot back to its dock with your voice.
The Shark AI moves quickly and efficiently, cleaning in straight lines instead of haphazardly ping-ponging from wall to wall like some cheaper robot vacuums. In testing, the vacuum delivered strong suction power, effectively collecting dust, debris, and pet hair from hard flooring and carpet. After each test run, my floors looked noticeably cleaner. Because of its new UltraClean feature, the Shark AI picked up more debris from my off-white medium-pile wall-to-wall carpeting than most other robot vacuums I've tested. The robot had no problem traversing different flooring types, including tile, laminate, wall-to-wall carpeting, and area rugs.
Even with its new obstacle avoidance technology, however, the Shark AI got stuck on a door threshold that also halted the Roomba j7+ and Neato D8. After it got stuck in that same spot on two consecutive test runs, I created a no-go zone around the area, and the robot successfully avoided it on subsequent cleanings. Another time, it became wedged under a kitchen cabinet, another spot that tripped up the Neato D8. It's interesting to note that while it doesn't have the same AI-powered laser mapping technology, the Shark IQ never got stuck in these areas.
It also got stuck on power cords, but the Shark AI never had a problem around long curtains or bath mats, obstacles that have foiled many other robot vacuums. In addition, I intentionally scattered dog toys around the floor during one test run, and the robot successfully maneuvered around them.
That said, for homes with a lot of clutter or accident-prone animals, I prefer the Roomba j7+, which costs $200 more, but comes with a guarantee to avoid pet waste, snaps images of obstacle areas it encounters, and intelligently suggests zones to keep out of.
The robot's self-empty feature worked well. Every time it docked, it successfully transferred the contents of its bin to the base station. After a handful of test runs, I could already see some debris through the base station's fill window. Though it wasn't nearly all the way filled, I emptied it early for testing purposes and was pleasantly surprised to see how much dirt, dog hair, dog toy remnants, and other debris it collected.
Next, I checked the self-cleaning brush roll on the bottom of the robot, and it was free of hair. This is a big perk if you have long hair or live with someone who does.
As for battery life, the Shark AI cleaned for up to 120 minutes in Normal mode, covering up to around 719 square feet, before running low on juice. Its battery life surpasses that of the Shark IQ and the Roomba j7+, which lasted up to 97 minutes and 86 minutes, respectively, in our tests. That said, the Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI lasted for 170 minutes in testing, the longest of any robot vacuum we've tested.
When I reviewed the Shark IQ, I griped about its loud operating volume. The Shark AI is even noisier. In Normal mode, it operates at around 60dB over hard flooring and 55dB over carpeting, according to readings from the NIOSH Sound Level Meter app that I took in the same room as the robot when it was cleaning. For reference, the CDC says that 60dB is about the volume of a normal conversation or air conditioner.
Dust bunnies and hair are no match for the Shark AI Self-Empty XL RV2502AE, which offers strong suction power, ample smart features, and a bagless self-emptying base that holds up to 60 days of dust and debris. Its new AI Laser Navigation technology doesn't offer a significant improvement in terms of obstacle avoidance, but it allows the robot to clean in the dark and quickly map your home. That said, its predecessor, the Shark IQ Robot Self-Empty XL R101AE, offers similar performance for $50 less, so it retains our Editors' Choice award. Still, the Shark AI's longer battery life and larger dustbin capacity might make it a better fit for your home.