Excellent cleaning performance. Easy to use and maintain. User-friendly app. Sturdy construction. Numerous programming options.
Expensive. Lacks push notifications.
- Bottom Line
The Polaris 9650iQ Sport is a top-notch, easy-to-use robotic pool cleaner you can control from your phone.
When we last tested robotic pool cleaners, the Polaris 9550 Sport took top honors thanks to its superb cleaning performance, easy-to-clean debris canister, and multiple programming options. The new Polaris 9650iQ Sport brings more of the same, only this time it offers smart home features like Wi-Fi connectivity and a useful mobile app that lets you control the cleaner from your smartphone. It's expensive at $1,499, but if you'd rather spend more time swimming in your pool than you do cleaning it, it's worth every penny.
Design and Features
Designed for in-ground pools up to 60 feet in length, the 9650iQ Sport looks nearly identical to the 9550 Sport, sharing the same sports car-like design; both have a sturdy blue shell with gray accents, and black-and-gray tires with thick rubber wheels. Other than a badge with the model number on the cover, the only way to tell them apart is by the extra gray trim on the 9650iQ's lid and its gray 70-foot head unit cable (the 9550 uses a blue cable). The cable is made of the same rubbery material used on the 9550, but this time around there's a swivel mechanism to help reduce the chance of cable tangles. The cable's flexibility makes it easy to wrap up and store on the caddy hook when not in use.
The 9650iQ measures 16.9 by 18.9 by 10.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 21 pounds. It uses a powerful four-wheel drive system to navigate the pool bottom and sides, and has a pair of rubber brushes at the front to help dislodge dirt. Debris is sucked into the cleaner and trapped in a removable mesh canister, while filtered water is returned to the pool via a water jet located at the back. As with the 9550, the debris canister is easy to remove and clean without ever having to get your hands dirty. Simply pop the canister open, shake out accumulated debris, and rinse it out with a hose. Other pool cleaners, such as the Aquabot Turbo T4RC, require removing a cloth filter and washing it by hand. I have a lot of trees on my property, so my pool sees a fair amount of dirt, acorns, and insects, which makes changing a cloth filter a messy (and unpleasant) chore.
You can leave the cleaner in the pool if you'll be scheduling regular cleanings, but the company recommends removing it when not in use, and you should always remove it prior to swimming. To ensure proper drainage the cleaner is stored vertically on the included caddy, which has two wheels and a long handle that make it easy to move the cleaner and head unit around without any heavy lifting. It also has a hook for holding the 70-foot cable.
The brains of the 9650iQ is the head unit. It measures 8.0 by 7.5 by 4.5 inches (HWD) and is mounted on the caddy. It has a 2-inch LCD panel that shows the time remaining for the current cleaning cycle, and LED indicators for Wi-Fi, web, and LAN connectivity. It has a Wi-Fi to Phone button that is used during setup and also allows you to connect your phone directly to the head unit without going through your home router (this function times out after 15 minutes), a Start/Stop button, a dirty canister indicator, and a button and indicator for configuring the robot to clean the pool floor, the floor and walls, or just the waterline. It also has a Lift button that sends the cleaner to the side of the pool up the wall. As you begin to remove the cleaner it will expel any water it is holding, making it easier to remove.
The iAquaLink app, available for Android and iOS devices, gives you the same control over the cleaner as the head unit, and more. The home screen tells you everything you need to know at a glance. It has a large Start/Stop button, a cleaner status indicator, a dirty canister indicator, and a readout that displays the remaining time left in the current cleaning cycle. Plus and minus buttons on either side of the readout allow you to increase and decrease the cycle by 30-minute increments.
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From within the app you can select a regular or high intensity cleaning cycle, create a daily or weekly cleaning schedule, and use your phone as remote to manually steer the cleaner. There's an on-screen joystick for steering, or you can use your phone as a motion controller by tilting it in the direction you want the cleaner to travel. You'll receive in-app notifications when the cleaner is out of the water, if it goes offline, and when the next cleaning cycle is scheduled, but your must have the app open to see them. Push notifications are not supported at this time.
Installation and Performance
Preparing the 9650iQ Sport for first use was quick and easy. The caddy assembly does not require tools and is simply a matter of popping in the wheels, handle, head unit cradle, and the cleaner hook, all of which took under five minutes. Once assembled, I locked the head unit into the cradle, attached the floating power cable to the head unit, and plugged the cleaner into a GFCI outlet. Next, I downloaded the iAquaLink app, created an account, and selected Add Robotic Cleaner from the list of devices. I then selected Wi-Fi to Phone as a connection method, pressed the corresponding button on the head unit, and followed the instructions to connect my phone to the cleaner's SSID using my phone's Wi-Fi settings. Once connected, I entered my time zone and selected my pool shape (rectangular or free form). I then connected the cleaner to my home Wi-Fi, entered my password, and was done.
I tested the 9650iQ in my 16-by-32-foot gunite pool, which is rectangular and slopes from three to nine feet in depth. It has three steps in the shallow end and a steel ladder in the deep end. As we saw with the 9550, the 9650iQ is a stellar performer. It had no trouble picking up the acorns and blueberries that fall every day from my neighbors' trees and stain the bottom of my pool, and it picked up sand from my filter as well as hair, grass, and insects.
The motion controller worked well, but I found the joystick method to be more responsive and easier to use. In fact, I found it to be even more responsive than the 9550's handheld remote. The 9650iQ followed my scheduled cleanings to a tee, and sent notifications if it was out of the water during a scheduled cleaning. The Lift system worked wonderfully, and the cleaner never once got tangled in its cord or became stuck upside down like the Hayward AquaVac 500.
With the Polaris 9650iQ Sport, you can kick back and enjoy your pool while the robot does all the dirty work. It's simple to use, and does an excellent job of removing debris. When paired with the free iAquaLink app you can use your mobile device to start and stop the cleaner, set schedules, and chose between various cleaning cycles. You can even use your phone as a remote control to steer the the robot for quick spot cleaning.
While the 9650iQ's $1,500 price may seem steep, it's actually a bit less expensive than the Aquabot Turbo T4RC, which is also an impressive cleaner but lacks Wi-Fi connectivity and can be difficult to clean and maintain. I'd like to see push notifications added to the iAquaLink app, but that's a minor gripe and doesn't prevent the Polaris 9650iQ Sport from earning our Editors' Choice award for robotic pool cleaners.
By John R. Delaney Contributing Editor
As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, John spent six years in retail operations for… More »
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