Best Above Ground Robotic Pool Cleaners of 2018 – Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

an above ground robotic pool vacSummer is here and the living is easy, especially if you are blessed to own a swimming pool. Yet, most people with above ground swimming pools wish they could do away with tedious, manual cleaning by finding a reliable above ground automated cleaner to do the job.

Even though pool cleaners – even those at the high end – are a small fraction of your overall investment, it still pays to conduct quality research to avoid disappointment and aggravation down the road. After all, why risk your water quality and poolside experience?

Given the plethora of choices available, it may seem impossible to work through all the technical jargon and offers. That is why we are proud to offer you a list of five in-depth above ground pool cleaner reviews. Whether you place greater emphasis on performance, price, or another aspect of cleaners, the goal of these reviews is to help you choose wisely.

Our Top 5 Choices of 2018

ModelPriceWeightEditor Rating
Dolphin Escape Robotic Above Ground
Dolphin Escape Robotic Above Ground
(Top Pick)

Check Price
10 lbs4.9/5
Zodiac Ranger W01698 Automatic
Zodiac Ranger W01698 Automatic

Check Price
15 lbs4.7/5
Hayward 900 Wanda
Hayward 900 Wanda
(Best for the Money)

Check Price
15 lbs4.5/5
Pentair K50600 Kreepy Krauly
Pentair K50600 Kreepy Krauly

Check Price
14 lbs4.2/5
Aquabot APRVJR Pool Rover
Aquabot APRVJR Pool Rover

Check Price
26 lbs3.9/5

5 Best Above Ground Pool Cleaners – Reviews:

1. Dolphin Escape Robotic Above Ground – Top Pick

Dolphin Escape Robotic Above Ground

Maytronics’ Dolphin Escape stormed into 2018 as the best choice for above ground pool owners. Sleekly designed, it ensures that your pool sparkles and is free of both macro and micro-debris. Deep-cleaning performance that gives you a tremendous bang for the buck.

Its patented HyperBrush™ scrubbing mechanism is double the speed of most competing brushes, meaning that even the toughest sediment and particles do not escape its vacuuming power. The bulldozer-like rubber tracks allow it to maintain contact with the surface at all times – an advantage over traditional wheel-based cleaners in terms of traction, energy efficiency and climbing ability.

The SmartNav 2.0™ scanning system optimizes the Dolphin Escape’s pool surface coverage and cleaning time. In addition, filtration is ensured via the use of an oversized filter cartridge (as opposed to bags) and fine filters to grab anything in sight.

The Dolphin Escape’s hi-tech features and state-of-the-art design are backed by a full-year warranty and 30-day, no-hassle return policy.

Pros
  • Reliable (we’ve never seen it get stuck).
  • Computer-controlled navigation and logic.
  • Dual 24V DC motors up to 90% more efficient than AC-powered cleaners.
  • Simple “Plug and Play” installation.
Cons
  • Must purchase fine particle filters separately.

2. Zodiac Ranger W01698 Automatic – The Runner-up

Zodiac Ranger W01698 Automatic

The Baracuda W01698 Zodiac Ranger Suction Side Automatic Above-Ground Pool Cleaner is a very good option for pool owners. Dependable and easy to operate, the Zodiac Ranger’s streamlined design allows it to vacuum out all types of dirt, leaves, and other debris left over from winter.

Unlike many above ground cleaners, the Ranger ships practically pre-assembled – all you have to do is attach the hose to start cleaning. Its distinguishing feature – the smart-looking AG Disc diaphragm – enables the Ranger to easily navigate the pool and vacuum without being hindered by steps or corners.

No extra plumbing is required around your pool to make Zodiac work, and stable water flow is ensured by its Flowkeeper™ valve.

Of the four other automated cleaners reviewed here, the Zodiac Ranger was the Dolphin Escape’s closest competitor. It didn’t receive our top recommendation, because many pool owners reported having to supervise the Ranger or even manually operate it for lack of complete coverage.

Pros
  • Quieter operation than most competitors.
  • Convenient skimmer connection for hose.
  • Only one moving part to worry about.
Cons
  • 32’ hose standard a liability for owners of larger pools.
  • Declogging needed after picking up larger debris.
  • Diaphragm may have to be replaced after 1-2 years.

3. Hayward 900 Wanda – Best for the Money

Hayward 900 Wanda

The cartoonish-looking Hayward 900 “Wanda the Whale” Suction Above-Ground Pool Cleaner may be hard to take seriously at first glance. Wanda’s relatively low price also makes pool owners look elsewhere, but should it?

Under the hood, you get a turbine cleaner built to clean above-ground pools of all shapes and sizes. Together, Hayward’s SmartDrive® program steering system and its ability to use a pool’s existing filtration system make it a money saver par excellence.

Easy to install, the 900 Wanda operates very quietly and actually improves water flow as it moves along the bottom. A noticeable feature is its outside bumper ring, which helps Wanda move away from walls to quickly get back on the programmed path.

All in all, the Wanda is ideal for the budget-conscious, Do-it-Yourselfers (DIY), and first-time above ground pool owners. However, it requires several additions beyond its basic package (e.g. leaf catcher, stronger pump) to be considered with the major players.

Pros
  • Inexpensive.
  • Good coverage, smooth operator in smaller pools.
  • Easy and fast to set up.
  • Has a tendency to make people smile.
Cons
  • Pump strength decreases, especially when leaves, debris start accumulating.
  • Issues surrounding ripped liners.

4. Pentair K50600 Kreepy Krauly

Pentair K50600 Kreepy Krauly

Pentair’s K50600 Kreepy Krauly has earned a love-hate relationship with above-ground pool owners. While it shares a similar look and description with the Zodiac Ranger (i.e. hydraulic design, one moving part, circular disc at bottom of vacuum etc.), it fails to match its performance and reliability.

We like the ability to surface skim debris while the vacuuming takes place. Unfortunately, you almost need perfect pool conditions without obstacles to guarantee the kind of results you deserve.

Kreepy Krauly is well-established in the marketplace and many people remain loyal to the brand. However, with advancing robotics technology, and pool owners striving for hassle-free maintenance, the Pentair company needs to up its game to compete with its stiffest competition in the future.

Pros
  • Adequate for light use, i.e. smaller pools.
  • Economical choice.
Cons
  • Initial set-up problematic; instruction manual unclear.
  • Very heavy (49 lbs.) and loud.
  • Hose length provided not enough for medium-sized, large pools.
  • Issues moving around steps, ladders.

5. Aquabot APRVJR Pool Rover

Aquabot APRVJR Pool Rover

On the surface, Aqua Products Pool Rover Junior looks really good. It claims to cover any type of pool surface without the use of hoses. APRVJR gives you 40’ of cable and reasonable power specifications that together with a cute “rover” look seems hard to pass up.

However, problems start almost immediately in many cases. You can get service under the one-year warranty but be prepared for hefty shipping costs for additional parts. Unlike previous models for some strange reason, the current Pool Rover is susceptible to cord entanglements that prevent full coverage without regular manual intervention.

All in all, a great concept that still needs more testing and fine-tuning to earn a top recommendation.

Pros
  • Efficient at sucking up all types of dirt and debris.
  • Best used on smaller pools.
Cons
  • Poor suction and surface coverage.
  • Deceptive warranty conditions.
  • Movement is often haphazard; motor issues.
  • Rusting and corrosion issues severely limits longevity.

Buyer’s Guide

All pool owners –veterans and newbies alike – should use the set of above reviews to begin a decision-making process that ideally ends with a successful above ground pool cleaner purchase.   Apart from the specific models discussed here, you the reader should gain valuable hints about what to look for.

Here are most of the important criteria you should pay attention to when reviewing the five models discussed above:

1. Cleaner Type.

Not all above ground cleaners are created equal.  The main categories are: robotics-based cleaners (software and microprocessor-controlled motors); suction-based (i.e. vacuum) cleaners (using hoses plus the pool’s own filtration system), and turbulence-based cleaners that apply pressure to dislodge dirt and debris before filtering them out.

2. Swimming Pool Size and Shape.

Sounds obvious, but your pool size will determine the time required to maintain your pool, the power, and energy consumption required, as well as the necessary cable length (32 versus 40 feet) and pump strength needed to do a proper job.

While smaller-sized pools give owners more selection flexibility, robotic cleaners with powerful brush heads and smart path technology may be better than suction-based systems for larger pools.

If your pool has many obstacles (e.g. steps, ladders, special contours, etc.), a robotic system’s “intelligence” will be put to the test and may not perform as advertised.  Many suction-based cleaners only have one moving part, and thus may be preferable for non-standard pool shapes.

3. What is the Filtration rate?

The quoted filtration rate of your prospective machine is a key metric to consider, since it influences your water quality once the job is completed.  A good benchmark for most swimming pools would be a filtration rate of seventy to seventy-five gallons per minute.

4. Power Consumption.

With a view to keeping swimming pool maintenance costs low, owners have to strike a balance between power consumption and operation time.  For example, robotic cleaners like the Dolphin and the Aquabot are rated at 180 watts which is expected given their sophisticated electronics and software.

Suction-based systems will typically have a lower power rating, with the trade-off being longer cleaning cycles and, in some cases, the introduction of a stronger pumping mechanism.

5. Cleaner’s Physical Weight and Weight Distribution.

Automated above ground cleaners range from ten to fifty pounds, which can influence their maneuverability and stability.  In the end, you are looking for solid construction that can withstand reasonable wear and tear – regardless of weight.

6. Dirt and Debris to be Cleared.

What’s most problematic for you, leaves or fine particulates (e.g. sand, micro-debris, etc.)?  If larger objects from winter and throughout the season are your main issue, then you’ll need a cleaner that is powerful and reliable enough for heavy use.  In this vein, robotic cleaners are often favored.  However, suction-based systems often shine when filtering out and cleaning up smaller elements.

7. Ease of Use.

Do you dread having to clean your above ground swimming pool, even with a robotic/automatic helper?  If nothing else, a cleaner should be easy to use, because it will be called upon three, five, maybe ten times per year – or more!

What is more annoying than having to manually clean your pool after cleaner failure?  Every machine has a breaking point and is not perfect.  However, when things go astray, ask sales personnel some basic questions about operation if:

  • Your cleaner sticks on the wall or a ladder.
  • The cleaner suddenly slows down or stops altogether.
  • The cleaner never covers 100% of the pool without personal intervention.
  • The cleaner, if advertised as bidirectional, doesn’t go backward (or forwards).

8. Price.

It’s your bottom line consideration, but you need to consider more than just the base offer.  For example, will you need additional hoses, a stronger pump, an extended warranty or other parts and service before getting started?

In the end, peace of mind is certainly worth a few bucks, so be wary of bargain basement pricing.  At the same time, don’t get caught up with the latest features that may be both unnecessary and offered at a steep premium.

A rule of thumb: Robotic systems will be more expensive but offer more promise of hassle-free, above-ground pool maintenance vis-à-vis suction-based cleaners that frequently need manual adjustment.

Conclusion

The Dolphin Escape Robotic Above Ground Pool Cleaner is our overall product winner, with the Hayward 900 Wanda ranking as the best cleaner for the money. All five cleaners reviewed have distinctive features, although the Zodiac Ranger and Pentair Kreepy Krauly could be considered a directly comparable pair. Likewise, the Hayward Wanda and Junior Rover, even though the latter is hose-less cleaner.

Before choosing a pool cleaner, carefully prioritize your needs, find a model whose features come closest to meeting those needs, and evaluate the value/price trade-off.

On occasion, a company may mishandle your order or send you damaged goods. It’s annoying to be sure, but if it happens, try to leverage the situation to your advantage (e.g. free shipping, additional parts, extra discounts, etc.).

Hopefully, these reviews of Above Ground Pool Cleaners have sensitized you to important issues prior to your purchase. Swimming pools should be enjoyed to the fullest, and we hope that by highlighting important features here, it is now easier for you to make this important decision.

Good luck!

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