Not since Rosie the maid/housekeeper on the Jetsons has there been a cleaning robot that excites me, until now. Earlier this year iRobot released their latest Robot Vacuum, and though their devices are not quite as charismatic as Rosie the XB-500 model in the Jetson family’s possession, they are the closest we’ll get to living in Orbit City right now. Let’s boot up the iRobot Roomba 980 Vacuum Cleaning Robot, and explore!
My wife isn’t normal. I’ll just throw that out there right now. When I posted recently on Twitter about my acquisition and testing of the Roomba 980, presented as a gift to my spouse, one of my followers was quick to point out the hell they’d have to pay for purchasing a vacuum as a holiday gift for their significant other. But for the last year my wife has been begging for a Roomba. And who am I to deny her the fun of having a robot that cleans our home, right?! Plus I’m pretty interested in this technology, too!
Over the past few years iRobot has earned a name as the benchmark when it comes to automated vacuum cleaners. Their best-selling robot, the iRobot Roomba 650, is a more affordable (and less feature-packed) version of the device I’m testing here. They also offer other more expensive options in the iRobot Roomba 770, the iRobot Roomba 870, and the iRobot Roomba 880. For a full break-down comparison of what each can (or cannot) do for you, check out the chart shown at the bottom of this page on the iRobot site.
What I’m reviewing today is the latest-and-greatest Roomba ever made to date. Features that are currently exclusive to this model include: Entire level cleaning, allowing up to 2-hours run time; Recharge & Resume, which means the robot can recharge itself and then pick up where it left off, all automated; Carpet Boost, to increase suction on the soft surface parts of your home; and WiFi connectivity, to give you access to the robot using your smart phone.
There are other robot vacuums on the market today, and I admit to having zero experience with any of them. Instead of comparing the Roomba to those, I’ll instead make comparisons to the unit it is going to replace (or more likely, compliment). For the past many years we’ve owned a Dyson Animal Upright Vacuum Cleaner, which has treated us well. As I examined the Roomba, it was the Dyson upright that was my benchmark.
Below I’ve broken down this review into easy-to-chew sections for your reading pleasure. But first, some photos!
Unboxing the device was rather dull, but I did include some photos of this step. Surprisingly the unit has a lot of heft, feeling very solid and dense. Included with the device are two beacons, which allow you to prevent the Roomba 980 from going through doorways, or near certain locations. This was helpful for us, as we have two cats. Using the beacons as intended we are able to keep the Roomba from sloshing the water dish around, or knocking kibble onto the floor inadvertently.
As the photo gallery above will show, each and every little step required during the setup process is handled by a beautiful explanation on your smart phone’s screen. You get visual instructions, with imagery to show you what to look for, where to press, and what to do. Though the setup process did take a solid 15-minutes; it was an extremely straightforward affair.
Unique to this Roomba model is access to the device via the iRobot HOME app, which gives you added smart-phone conveniences. The other units sold by iRobot are not compatible with this software. Though you can still operate this Roomba without the app if you choose, having this app truly opens up features galore, which we’ll talk about shortly.
Along the setup process there are introductory tutorial videos, as well as an abundance of other help. I’ve never seen a smart app that provides this great a level of detail, with fingertip access to anything, and everything. Sure, plenty of apps have support if you dig through, usually hidden deep in some settings menu. But in the case of the Roomba 980, and specfically the iRobot HOME app, there are detailed instructions and visualizations for replacing parts, always right where you’d expect, no digging necessary. They’ve even included quick links to re-order consumable parts right on those same app pages.
From within the iRobot HOME app you have the ability to create a schedule, which is great if you tend to leave your Roomba in a singular location all the time and want it to run on certain days or times. There are also cleaning preferences you can set, such as if you want the device to make a second pass, do an edge-clean to get those nooks and crannies, and how you want the device to handle a full bin.
It doesn’t take long to set up your new Roomba, and before you know it the robot is off and running! We’ve used the device pretty much daily for a while now, some days even more than once. Here is how our experience following the setup went for us.
LIVING WITH THE ROOMBA
Let me start with the biggest complaint we have, and then move on from there. PUSH NOTIFICATIONS! Where are they, iRobot? At the time of this publication (Early December 2015), the HOME app does not provide push notfications of any sort. This has proven to be a huge shortcoming, because the Roomba stops cleaning when the bin is full if you have it set as such. If you don’t empty the bin within 90 minutes, it cancels the entire cleaning job. Even when you’re home, you won’t always notice the device has stopped, and might miss the opportunity to empty the bin. Push notifications need added ASAP!
That all being said, the Roomba robot works great! We found that on our carpeted floors it took a few cleanings before the unit was able to keep up with the residual dirt and cat hair in the carpets. Even when compared to our Dyson Animal, the Roomba continues to extract more from the carpets. We found the Roomba took longer to clean a room than we might need, but this occurs completely unattended (sometimes even when not home), allowing for a 100% time savings. All in all the time it took to clean becomes irrelevant, because you don’t have to lift a finger!
On many occasions there are still some spots we have needed to touch up, either because the Roomba was unable to move furniture out of the way like a human, or because of the shape of one specific area might have a sharp corner that the Roomba simply cannot reach. But 98% of the flooring surfaces in our home were accessible to the robot, and the quality of cleaning was undeniably great.
If you stay on top of a cleaning when you’re home, you can easily spot the flashing red indicator for a full bin, empty it, and watch as the Roomba then continues where it left off. Some cleaning jobs took only 45 minutes, others took multiple hours. Carpeted surfaces took much longer, and usually required a mid-cycle charge. We loved that the Roomba could return to home base, recharge itself, and then come back out to finish, remembering where it had left off. To avoid issues when not home and the bin filling up we would close off doors to that floor, and clean it spread over two separate cycles.
We had our hiccups along the way, finding certain pieces of furniture where the Roomba could get stuck, but using the Beacons, or repositioning items ahead of time, we were able to resolve most of the problems we experienced. Still we did come home to a stuck wheel, or a full bin, now and again. But this was less frequent than one might expect, all things considered. When our device was stuck under our bed, a push notification would have been nice. Or being able to extend the 90 minute deadline to empty the bin, could also help to enhance the overall experience.
From within the app you can see service items, like the bin/filter, the core robot hardware, or the debris extractors. There are indicator bars in this section, as shown in the gallery above, which indicate how many hours the device has run towards needing those items serviced. Some of these service requirements are simply a cleaning, where other components are meant to be occasionally replaced. This mimics your regular vacuum, but most people tend to ignore these wear and tear items on their upright. Maintenance is a huge factor in the longevity of any vacuum, but having the iRobot HOME app does bring awareness to these items you otherwise might forget. Sure, you can ignore them as many folks do on their conventional vacuum, but having spent this much money on your fancy Roomba 980, I’d not suggest it. 🙂
Though the app was fairly solid, we would like to see a battery indicator as a percent of charge, rather than just “low battery” alerts on the device, or in the app. Same goes for the bin, where it only shows full, no partial fulness data. Our suggestion is that you should empty the bin before all jobs, and when possible (when you’re home), during any mid-job recharge cycles. This will help ensure smooth sailing, and longer vacuum sessions.
We have a thick rug that has a dark black trim-edge. As the Roomba uses the sensors underneath to prevent it from falling down the stairs or off an overhang, this black trim/seam tripped these sensors. This caused the device to not go up onto this rug. Thinner runners had a different issue, where they would slip and the Roomba would just push them around the room. Having some good anti-slip pads under these resolved that issue, but there was no solution for the black-trimmed rug, sadly.
Another great feature of the Roomba is the ability to not fall off a ledge. This feature uses the same sensors that prevented the black rug from being cleaned, but the plus-side is that it also helps prevent the device from spilling down a flight of stairs. It was nail-biting the first few times we watched the robot hang a few inches over the edge of our upstairs landing during cleaning, but sure enough it works as advertised.
Connectivity of the iRobot HOME app was at times flaky, either showing the vacuum as not being on the same network (even when it was), or providing no remote access. This occured less than 10% of the time, however, and even when connectivity was missing, the device continued to perform scheduled or in-process cleanings just fine.
Navigating around our home, the Roomba is a champ; it can often fit into tighter spaces than our upright Dyson could manage, such as underneaths sofas and beds. We wish the Roomba would show you a map after a cleaning, like the Dyson Eye device does, just for peace of mind that your robot cleaned entirely when you’re not babysitting it. We also would love to see an option to “start cleaning in X minutes” for a delayed start, so that you can have the Roomba scheduled for a one-time cleaning when you know you’ll be stepping out the door shortly.
One aspect of the Roomba that I was a bit unclear about at the time of purchase was how it handled multi-floor cleaning. See, originally I had thought the unit would learn the floor it was on permanently, but that isn’t the case. Each cleaning starts fresh, and while the device does map out the cleaning along the way (so that it can resume if it needs to charge midway), there is no saving of that floor’s layout/map. At first I thought this was a shortcoming, but later realized that this allows the device to more easily travel between floors, or even between various homes.
As it turns out the mapping method was, by design, great in our home. We live in a 1960s era tri-level (split-level) home, and have been able to move the unit and charging base easily between locations, and the unit traversed between varying surfaces with ease. If anything our only complaint here is that the unit cannot travel up/down stairs on its own, making us wish we would win the lotto, to have a Roomba for each floor!
Here are some videos we took of the Roomba as it wandered around our home. You’ll notice for example that the Carpet Boost feature kicks on/off intermittently, when on low-pile carpet like our berber carpet hallway. Also shown take note how the device handles running into a wall (or in this case, the closet door). We also included some great edge-cleaning shots, too. Enjoy the videos!
When I asked my wife her final thoughts she told me she “likes it a lot!” – but that she wasn’t sure many could justify the price. She went on to say that, if you have the means to afford one, by all means, get one! However, this particular unit does carry a high price of admission, and isn’t for everyone.
Considering that the entry level Roomba 650 curently sits at less than 40% the cost of the iRobot Roomba 980 Vacuum Cleaning Robot as we head into the holiday season, that might make it the smarter buy. You’ll miss out on the smart-phone app, carpet boost, and other features mentioned earlier. But you’ll still get a great device, that will help save you time in your busy schedule.
Ultimately we’re happy with our puchase, and my wife & I both agreed we would buy it all over again. And once they add push notifications to the app, perhaps battery life data, and other tweaks, it will improve upon what we consider an already great product. If you’re thinking about getting yourself a robot maid this year, and trying to live like the Jetsons, we strongly suggest the iRobot Roomba 980 Vacuum Cleaning Robot!