It’s 2019 and the robots are here — on the roads, in your home and in your swimming pool. Robotic pool cleaners are the most advanced pool cleaning systems on the market. Not only do they completely clean your pool by wiping the floor and walls, vacuuming debris, but they also serve as independent filtration systems by getting rid of tiny allergens and excess/unmixed chemicals from the pool water.
They are straightforward and easy to use — Simply drop it into the pool and the robot will do the rest; without leeching off your pool filtration system or pool pump.
Although robot cleaners are relatively expensive, in the long run they save you a lot of time, which in my opinion, is worth every penny. Nobody on their death bed wishes they spent more time cleaning their pool. Time is our most valuable resource, so I feel it’s a fair trade-off — What you pay in money, you get back in time.
Intro | Best Above Ground Pool Robotic Cleaner
A lot of pool owners have been skeptical of robotic pool cleaners in the past, since the earlier models lacked the cleaning power of a suction/ pressure side pool cleaner and didn’t have sufficient space onboard for storing garbage that they picked up. Larger objects like leaves, pebbles, twigs, etc. would get stuck in their vacuum inlet port and prevent older pool robot models from functioning. Power cords would get tangled up as the robot made its way around the pool bottom, since earlier versions lacked a 360° swivel cord. You had to then remove the 25 or 30-pound robot from the pool by hand, along with the 40 or 50 feet of tangled up cord.
Once you straightened the mess, there was still no guarantee that the robot would clean up every part of the pool since the navigation programs and sensor technology weren’t very advanced back then. So, the robot would either miss an entire part of the pool or run over the same spots that it has already cleaned.
What’s Your Budget? Pro-Grade Robot : Dolphin E10
Fortunately, advances in technology have tackled most of those issues and now is the best time to invest in a robotic pool cleaner. There are models optimized for both in-ground, as well as above-ground pools. Our article focuses on the latter, since there isn’t a whole of material online that you can use to guide your research for purchasing an above-ground robotic pool cleaner. Most people can’t tell the difference between a robotic pool cleaner that is intended for above-ground pools, and one that is designed to clean in-ground pools. Maytronics, one of the market leaders in robotic pool cleaning does a great job of separating their above and in-ground robots. You can see that they have an entirely different class of robotic pool cleaners, specifically intended for above ground pool owners. Their Above Ground “Performance Class” lineup consists of 5 different models :
Today, we shall review two out of these 5 above ground pool robots-the Dolphin Escape, and the Dolphin E10. Both of these robots have their own strengths, as well as weakness which we shall thoroughly explain in our overview. And to make things even more interesting, we decided to take a look at the Aquabot Spirit-unlike most other pool cleaning robots, this one uses wheels instead of rubber tracks and can be purchased for much cheaper than either of the two Dolphin models. We believe the Aquabot Spirit is THE most “value for money” robotic pool cleaner currently available for sale, and you should definitely check it out if this is your first time purchasing a pool cleaning robot.
What to look for when purchasing a robotic pool cleaner?
Choosing a pool robot can be quite complicated if you don’t know what to look for. And let’s be real here-most of them are extremely expensive so if you mess up and get one that isn’t suited to your specific pool, you’re essentially stuck with a very costly pool toy. Imagine having to go through the pain of spending hours every week cleaning the pool manually with a pool vacuum or skimmer, even though you spent all that money on a state of the art pool robot.
And there are many reasons why your pool cleaning robot may not do its job as intended, even though it is loaded with an array of impressive technologies. Before you purchase a robot for the pool, ask yourself the following questions :
- What type of pool do I have? (Vinyl, fiberglass, gunite, etc.)
- How big is the pool? (in terms of length and width)
- What type of cleaning do you need? (Floor only, floor and waterline, steps, etc.)
- Are there any specific features you’re interested in? (360° anti-tangle power cord, remote control, different cleaning modes, powerful suction, large garbage bin, etc.)
The first question is crucial to determining whether your pool robot can clean the pool without damaging its liner. Most pool cleaning robots these days are by default equipped with soft rubber or PVC brushes on the front. These brushes are constantly spinning when the robot is underwater, scraping the dirt off your pool liner and helping the suction take it all through the filter within the robot’s garbage bin.
Classic Above Ground Pool Cleaner | POOL ROVER S2-40
A brush that uses hard materials isn’t suited for a pool that uses soft, easily scratchable liner material like fiberglass or vinyl. Check and see if the manufacturer supplies special foam-based brush rolls to deal with soft pool liners. For example, consider the Hayward TigerShark RC9900CUB which comes with a PVC brush from the factory, but you can also purchase a separate foam roller separately if you own a fiberglass or vinyl pool. Don’t purchase the TigerShark for above ground pools however, as it is specifically designed for inground pools.
Secondly you must consider the size of your pool, since the robot is tethered to a power supply box placed on the pool deck. You have to account for the length of the cable, as well as the fact that your robot’s power box must be between 10 to 12 feet away from the waterline to prevent electrical accidents from water splashing into it. Typically, the power supply is placed along the side of the pool, somewhere in the middle to allow for maximum reach. This way, the robot can access all corners of the pool without running out of cable length. Consider the length of the cord and take a look at the manufacturer recommendations which should give you a good idea of the pool size your robot can handle. For a rectangular 40 ft. x 20 ft. pool with a depth of around 6 feet, your robotic pool cleaner must have a cable that is at least 40 feet long.
Typically, when purchasing an above-ground pool robot, you don’t expect the waterlines or steps to be cleaned. Most above ground pool robots are only meant to clean the floor; hence they are so cheap when compared to the average in -ground pool robot. But in case you have a large concrete above-ground pool with a nice wooden deck around it, you might want your robot to handle all the cleaning-waterline, pool floor, steps, drain covers, ledges, etc. In that case, be prepared to invest more money in something like a Dolphin Triton Plus (PowerStream) or Aquabot Breeze IQ. Yes, the two robots we mentioned are intended for in-ground pools but the reason we recommend them for large above ground pools is their exceptional wall climbing ability.
Finally, once you have considered the previous 3 factors it is time to take a look at what features the robot comes with. Does it have a powered brush roll in the front? Is it a single brush or a split-brush design? How large are the vacuum inlets, and can the robot sweep up large debris such as leaves? Is there a tangle-resistant swivel cord? Does it come with a remote and caddy, or do you have to purchase those separately? How many cleaning cycles does it have? Maybe you have an above ground in which you clean the walls by hand, so the robot only cleans the floor and it makes no sense to get a robot that takes 3 hours just for the floor.
Dolphin Escape | Pool Robot Cleaner
If you have the budget and can afford a full-featured cleaner then this is the Best Above Ground Pool Robotic Cleaner. It’s efficient, modern, lightweight and reliable.
- Sleek design for above ground pools, an above-ground cleaner
- No messy bags! Large and in charge oversized debris cartridge holds up to 60% more debris
- Hypergrip Continuous Tracks – Travels with tracks instead of wheels for improved traction
- Hyperbrush Active Scrubbing brush helps scrub away hard to remove contaminants
- SmartNav 2.0 : Robotic Scanning to optimize cleaning patterns
- Only 14 lbs. Energy Efficient 24 Volt DC motors.
- One year warranty
Above ground pools measuring up to 33 feet in length (rectangular or oval), will clean all types of surfaces including-concrete, plaster, marble, vinyl, and fiberglass. It boasts a 2hr cleaning cycle which makes this one of the fastest pool cleaning robots on the market, and the light weight of just 13.8 pounds means that you can conveniently lift it out of your above-ground pool when it is done cleaning.
- Excellent navigation system
- Option of Regular or Fine filter (Regular for small to medium to large sized debris such as leaves, and Fine for small debris like allergens, microbes, excess pool chemicals, etc.)
- Only weighs 13.8 pounds
- Quick water release feature lets you tug on the handle to instantly dump all the water from within the unit, making it lighter and easier to lift up.
- 5hr cleaning cycle
- Bi-directional cleaning so it keeps vacuuming even when moving in reverse
- 75GPM flow rate mixes pool chemicals really well
- Doesn’t clean the entire wall
- No weekly scheduler or delay timer
- No remote control or Bluetooth connectivity
Overview (Dolphin Escape) :
Maytronics is the market leader in pool cleaning robots, and they are renowned for developing technologies such as CleverClean, PowerStream, etc. The navigation software on Maytronics robots is superior when compared to similarly priced robots from other manufacturers such as Hayward or Zodiac. As a consumer, you will enjoy cleaner pools and quicker clean cycles since the robot doesn’t just wander around aimlessly for hours like some pool cleaners. Even though it is rated for above-ground pools as large as 33 feet in length, the Dolphin Escape will finish a complete cleaning session in just 2 hours, which makes it the perfect choice for a robotic pool cleaner that you want to use during the weekends right before pool parties.
Remember that it only cleans the floor of the pool, and some sections of the cove. Even though this robot is powered by dual 24V 3000rpm electric motors and only weighs 13.8 pounds, it is not designed to clean the walls of an above-ground pool. As soon as the Escape finds itself at a 90° to the pool floor, it will start reversing and head back down towards the floor.
There are two things that make the Dolphin Escape stand out from the rest of the above-ground robotic pool cleaners-its insanely efficient SmartNav 2.0 scanning + navigation system, and the HyperGrip rubber tracks. Both of these technologies are only found on Maytronics pool robots, and we highly recommend HyperGrip tracks for pools with vinyl or fiberglass liners. The soft rubber doesn’t leave scratch marks on your expensive pool liner, and the unique composition of this rubber compound combined with the tread pattern helps the Escape generate enough traction to climb up to 8” inches along the pool wall, even when the transition angle between floor and wall is 90°.
SmartNav 2.0 uses a combination of clever navigation algorithms and advanced sensor technology to make sure that the robot “scans” the area around it and chooses the optimal path for achieving a quick and through clean. The Escape learns more about the layout of your specific pool over time and adapts accordingly improve the cleaning performance as it gets used to your pool. No more wandering around over the same spots or getting stuck in corners, the Dolphin Escape scans every square inch of your pool floor for dirt and sweeps it all up into the oversized filter cartridge.
Note that this isn’t THE most advanced navigation we have ever seen on a pool robot, and we don’t expect it to be on that level either based on the price of this robot. But the only pool robots which are more efficient with their cleaning patterns are other Maytronics models higher up in the price range, such as the Dolphin Triton Plus or Dolphin Oasis Z5i.
Specs (Dolphin Escape) :
- Pool Size : Up to 30 Ft
- Pool Shape : Above Ground
- Obstacles : Steps, Ladder, Drain Cover, Ledges, Pop-Ups
- Surface : Concrete, Plaster, Gunite or Pebble, Tile, Vinyl Liner, Fiberglass
- Filter : Cleaning Fine
- Filter Type : Top Load
- Cleaning Coverage Floors
- Cleaning Cycle(s) 1.5 Hours
- Mobility : CleverClean
- Number of Brushes : 1 Brush
For : InGround and Above Ground Swimming Pools
- Lightweight TwinBody Chassis : Easy filter access and maintenance, the patented TwinBody design makes regular filter maintenance a breeze.
- 360° Anti-Tangle Swivel Cable
- Affordable : Efficient and well-designed, yet still very affordable.
- Better Water Circulation : Dramatically reduces your pools reliance on chemical additives, lowering your pool costs.
- 2 Year Warranty
- DUAL IMPELLER HIGH-FLOW JET PROPULSION : Powerful jets dislodge and free more dirt and debris, efficiently circulating up for 85 gallons per-minute giving you a clearer, cleaner pool.
- NEVERSTUCK OBSTACLE GUIDANCE SYSTEM : Where other pool robots will simply wander, Spirit will actively avoid all obstacles and pool installations that could potentially hinder performance.
- POWERFUL 24-VOLT DC MOTOR : Housed in the top section of the cleaner where it drives dual impellers, the powerful 24-volt DC Drive Motors are mounted for optimum efficiency.
- ENHANCED DUAL FILTRATION : Best-in-class filters handle more dirt and debris than any other cleaning method. Two oversized filter bags capture fine particles and contaminants down to 2 microns in size. Dual bags allow you to get in more cleaning cycles before having to clean the filter bags. The top-loading filter bags are easy to remove and clean in seconds.
- Uses a separate, low-voltage power supply, using only 180W. Cost savings of up to 90% of traditional pool cleaners. Energy efficient design means each cleaning hour costs under 5 cents.
Cheap and extremely easy to service, the Aquabot Spirit is our top choice for small above-ground pools that are filled with a mix of both small and large debris. The dual 2 micron filter bags will comfortably accommodate all of the waste dispersed around a 30 foot long pool, and the unique water jet propulsion system guarantees that this robot won’t scratch the pool liner in your fiberglass or vinyl pool.
Remember the old Aquabot above-ground pool cleaning robots like the Rover Junior (APRVJR) and S2-40i? The Rover Junior looked more like a toy than anything else. This discouraged potential customers even though it was in all honesty, a pretty decent above ground robotic pool cleaner. The S2-40i is a bit of a different story, it had the sleek looks and convenience of a modern robotic pool cleaner with its dual filter bags and anti-tangle swivel cord but was lacking in the suction department.
Aquabot decided to create a new breed of above-ground pool cleaning robot, one that combined the simplicity of the Rover with the sleek design of the S2-40i. And the result is this-the Aquabot Spirit, a lightweight pool cleaning champion with 85GPM of suction which places it well above industry leaders such as the Hayward TigerShark, Maytronics Dolphin Premier, and various other expensive inground robotic pool cleaners in the suction power department. Yes, it still uses wheels, and there is no super advanced computer aided navigation system. In all honesty, this is basically what a suction side pool cleaner would like if you made it really small, detached it from the pool pump, and gave it its own propulsion and filtration mechanism.
The wheels are not driven by the motor, but the axle is capable of tilting slightly to allow for steering as the cleaner moves back and forth within your pool. Since it lacks electronic navigation, the change of direction takes place through a mechanical valve which opens and closes two flaps on either end of the Aquabot Spirit. These flaps control the flow of water exiting the top half of the robot, and the jet stream of water acts as a means of propulsion for the robot within your pool (similar to a propeller in a submarine). There is a single 24V DC motor housed within the two section chassis of this robot, the motor sucks in water from the bottom of the Spirit through two huge intake ducts.
VIDEO REVIEW | Aquabot Spirit
The water sucked into the Spirit passes through two filter bags which can trap particles as small as 2 microns. So, you don’t have to worry about your pool being infested with algae. Large objects like leaves, twigs, sweetgum seeds, etc. are also trapped in these filter bags. And then the water flows out through the top of the robot after it is done passing through the filter bags, the action of water flowing out the top through a tube at high speed causes the pool robot to move in the opposite direction. Flow rate is insanely high at 85GPM, so you can pretty much think of the Aquabot Spirit as a little self-contained pool filter scurrying around on your pool floor.
Some customers have complained about its ability to climb walls, saying that it tends to cover the same area multiple times. But that aside, the tremendous suction power and simplistic design make this one of the best “value for money” robotic pool cleaners you can currently purchase. It is extremely easy to make DIY repairs on this machine and sourcing spare parts is easy. You can literally take off the entire top half which contains the motor, cord, propulsion system, etc. by pressing down on two spring loaded tabs. The lack of a spinning brush at the front means it won’t pick up fine debris that is stuck onto the pool liner, but this can actually turn out to be an advantage in some pools because the spinning brushes of more expensive pool robots tend to kick up clouds of dirt instead of sweeping the debris into the filters. Then the cloud settles down, and all that you accomplished is relocating the dirt instead of cleaning it.
- Extremely cheap compared to other robotic pool cleaners
- Filters down to 2 microns, similar to Diatomaceous Earth pool filters
- One of the lightest above-ground pool cleaning robots ever made
- Extremely fast water suction rate of 85 GPM
- Partial wall climbing despite using wheels instead of tracks
- 360° anti-tangle cable swivel
- Multiple cleaning cycles-1hr and 2hr modes (for small and large pools respectively)
- 2 year warranty as opposed to the 1 year warranty of the Dolphin Escape (bumper to bumper on 1st year, and parts only on second year)
- No scrubbing brush in the front, so it will struggle to pick up stuff that is stuck onto the pool liner
- The wheels are not directly driven, and the robot doesn’t steer very well so it will struggle to clean pools that aren’t the traditional rectangular shape
- Since it uses filter bags instead of cartridges, cleaning all the debris out of the filters will take slightly longer compared to other pool robots
Learn more : View the dedicated Aquabot Spirit site.
Dolphin E10 — 99996133-US
for Above Ground Swimming Pools up to 30 Feet. Best above ground robotic pool cleaner for homeowners.
- Drop and go. Easy-to-use, light weight single button plug and play above ground robotic pool vacuum with a 2 year assurance.
- Pool cleaning made easy. Smart Navigation – Clever Clean Technology scans and cleans your swimming pool in a quick 1.5 hours.
- Removes large debris you can see, as well as hidden debris like fine dirt, sand and algae. The only automatic pool cleaner brand with active brushing for 2X the scrubbing power when cleaning pool floors.
- Swim more, work less. Easy-to-clean large capacity top access filter basket. Rinse and reload in minutes.
- Work less, save more. 8X more energy efficient than suction and pressure cleaners
- Features a super-fast 1.5hr cleaning cycle
- CleverClean active scanning system prevents it from getting stuck on steps or drain covers
- Has an actively powered PVC brush on the front which spins twice as fast as the drive wheels, dislodging stubborn debris from the pool floor
- Fine cartridge filters can trap algae, bacteria, and pollen while regular filters will handle larger stuff like leaves, twigs, seeds, insects, etc.
- Top loading basket style filter is super easy to clean-just pop it out and hose it down
- 2-year limited warranty
- Lacks the ability to scale walls
- No remote control or filter full indicator
- Slightly shorter range than the Escape, due to its 40-foot long cable (the Escape features a 45 foot cable)
VIDEO | Dolphin E10
Medium sized above ground pools and small in ground pools. It will work on all types of pool liner including concrete, fiberglass, vinyl, tile, pebble, etc. The wall climbing capabilities aren’t on par with true in-ground pool robots, but it will keep climbing until it detects a 90° angle at which point it will stop and reverse back towards the pool floor.
At first glance this may seem like a rebadged Dolphin Escape or Active 10 but in reality, this is equipped with slightly different electronics compared to either of those two. The evidence is in the fact that it only requires 1.5hrs for a complete cleaning cycle as opposed to the 2hr cleaning cycle of a Dolphin Escape. Part of this has to do with the smaller range, which means the E10 doesn’t have to cover as much area as an Escape. The cord is shorter at 40 feet, but it does feature an anti-tangle swivel system to prevent the cable from tangling up in your pool.
It shares a lot of features with the Escape like quick water release, actively powered spinning brush, SmartNav 2.0 scanning and navigation system, top loaded filter basket, etc. and if you take away the color difference it is pretty much an Escape with a couple tweaks to the cleaning cycle. The E10 has a slightly taller stance and uses the exact same HyperGrip rubber track as the Escape, along with a similar release system for the top mounted filter. You can also purchase a special Fine filter which will trap extremely tiny objects such as algae, fungi, unmixed pool chemicals, etc. By default, the Dolphin E10 comes with a standard filter mesh designed to provide a nice balance between water flow rate and filtering power. The E10 comes with a 2-year limited warranty, which is one more than the warranty cover of the Escape.
Learn more : Visit the dedicated Dolphin E10 website.
Inground vs Above-Ground Robotic Pool Cleaners?
This is a question very few pool owners know the answer to. You will find many people who purchase an above-ground pool robot and then wonder why it isn’t cleaning the walls of the pool. One thing we need to consider is the pool-to-wall transition angle in your average above ground pool. This is the angle between the pool floor and wall. Usually the value is 90° which means the robot must have a really good propulsion system and sufficient traction in the form of rubber tracks or 4-wheel drive (if it uses wheels instead of tank tracks) to climb on such a steep incline. And since above ground pool robots are meant to be cheap and lightweight above everything else, the manufacturers cannot put in the technology required to climb a 90° incline.
Think about it, an above-ground pool is cheaper and smaller than an in-ground pool so it makes perfect sense that the person looking to purchase an above ground pool robot doesn’t want to spend over $1000 on it. And since the walls on an above ground pool are steeper, it actually takes more effort for the robot to transition between floor and wall compared to an in-ground pool. If you use an in-ground pool robot in an above-ground pool it may work just fine, but the inverse is not true. An above ground pool robot will almost always get stuck on the deep end of an in-ground pool, and it won’t do a very good job of traversing over footsteps and drain covers.
Inground Pool Cleaner | Dolphin Nautilus CC (Read Review)
In ground robotic pool cleaners are heavier, sturdier, and equipped with better computers to clean large pools more efficiently. The programming and logic used in the microchip of an above-ground pool robot doesn’t provide the same level of flexibility and cleaning efficiency, which is why they aren’t a good fit for large pools. Makes sense, since above ground pools are generally much smaller in size compared to in-ground pools so the robot will clean it quickly even without good navigation abilities. Just because the pool is smaller, and it doesn’t have to clean the walls or steps.
A reliable way of telling if a pool robot is optimized for above-ground or in-ground pools is by looking at the top-do you see an oversized handle? In ground pool cleaning robots will have a giant handle like apparatus on the top which swivels from side to side and has two water “ballasts” integrated into the handle. One side of the handle fills up with water, causing the robot to incline towards that direction and slide along as it cleans the waterline of your pool. When it reaches the edge of your pool, the handle will pivot in the other direction and the robot will start sliding in the opposite direction. In-ground pool cleaning robots are also larger and almost always use tracks instead of wheels, with the exception of certain Polaris models like the F9550 Sport. Even when in-ground pool robots use wheels, it is going to be 4-wheel drive instead of regular 2-wheel drive like you would find on cheap above-ground pool robots.
Some robotic pool cleaners are “hybrids”, meaning they clean the floor along with a small part of the walls. These pool robots don’t clean the entire wall, rather they suck up debris accumulated around the place where the pool transitions from the floor to the wall. For example, the Aquabot Spirit can’t really climb pool walls, but it is capable of partial wall cleaning in a 6” radius which means it will gather up all the dirt accumulated around the cove and edges of the wall up to a height of around 6” on the wall.