iRobot's $800 Roomba seems like a ridiculous cost, but I've tried my fair share of robot vacuums and it's one of the best
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- Robotic vacuum cleaners still aren't as powerful as their upright counterparts, but they have come leaps and bounds since they were first introduced more than two decades ago.
- When it comes to innovation, no company in this space compares to iRobot, the makers of the Roomba, which has become synonymous with "robot vacuum."
- The Roomba 980 is one of iRobot's top models featuring an excellent app that connects via Wi-Fi, cliff detection so it doesn't fall down stairs, and increased suction for carpeted areas.
- Though the Roomba 980 is one of the most expensive options available at a list price of $899 (it's currently on sale for $200 off at The Home Depot), it's incredibly durable and comes with iRobot's exceptional customer support.
Cleaning is at the bottom of my to-do list.
Sure, it would be nice to have a clean house, and when I strike it rich someday, I'm definitely going to hire someone to clean up after me. But, in the meantime, I have to hope for a complete void of interesting things to do before I'll clean. However, the floors are taken care of. Thanks to my faithful robot vacuum servants, I don't have to worry about dirt, dust, pet hair, and other debris on my floors.
One of the best robots in my fleet is iRobot's Roomba 980.
Released in late 2015, the 980 is designed to seamlessly clean an entire level of your house by navigating obstacles, adjusting the suction for different flooring, and returning to its home base when it needs a charge and starting again when it's ready to go.
iRobot sent me the 980 for free to test. Here is my experience.
My first experiences with the Roomba 980
Out of the box, I was struck by the heft of the 980.
It weighs about nine pounds. The vacuum is also 3.5" high and 13.5" in diameter so it has a taller profile than many robot vacuums, which might make it hard for it to get under your furniture. I had a little trouble with the 980 getting stuck under my radiators.
In addition to the vacuum and charging dock, the Roomba 980 comes with two virtual wall barriers (batteries included), an extra side brush, and an extra filter. And, as parts wear down through regular use, you can order replacements through the iRobot website and app.
The unpackaging and setup process took five minutes. Initially, you're supposed to let the unit charge for three hours. So, I did. Next, I spent five minutes downloading the app and connecting to the robot. I was then ready to go.
How the Roomba 980 performed
The app is really cool. One of my favorite features is the Clean Map Reports. This shows a map of where Roomba cleaned, how many square feet, and where the most dirt was located. If your Roomba gets caught somewhere and you can't find it, you can press the "Locate Roomba" button, and it will play music until you find it. This was useful in my son's cluttered room. In the app, you can also choose to run Roomba on eco-mode. Roomba operates great without the app, too. You just press the "Clean" button and let it do its thing.
Scheduling the Roomba 980 is pretty simple with the app. Though, I would like it if I could just set it to clean at the same time each day. As it is, each day of the week is scheduled separately. For instance, I set it to clean every Sunday at 3 p.m., every Monday at 3 p.m., every Tuesday at 3 p.m., and so on.
I was impressed with the 980's ability to avoid getting stuck. I'd say about 80% of the cleaning cycles, it would complete the job and return to the home base without needing me to intervene and free it from obstacles. This is despite my kids' and pets' best efforts to trip it up.
To test the 980's cleaning abilities, I scattered flour, coffee grounds, and kitty litter on carpet and hardwood.
Then, I estimated how much it picked up in one cleaning cycle. On the carpet, I'd estimate Roomba picked up 95% of the kitty litter and grounds and 75% of the flour. On the hardwood, it got 90% of the flour and 75% of the kitty litter and grounds. I also sprinkled some flour in right-angle corners to see how close it could get to the very corner. On both surfaces, it got about an inch away.
When it comes to pet hair, the 980 is great but not perfect.
I have two cats and an old long-haired dog. They all shed a ton. After a cleaning cycle, there would only be trace amounts of fur left on the floor. The vast majority was in the dustbin.
iRobot provides a maintenance schedule detailing when to clean the filter, the full bin sensors, the front caster wheel, and a variety of other parts. I didn't stick to the schedule. I'm just not that organized. I went on a personal "Oh, I should probably do that" schedule, and the vacuum continues to work well.
Some concerns about the robot vacuum
My biggest beef with the Roomba 980 is how loud it is.
From approximately 12 feet away, it registers about 77 decibels. My wife and I work from home. And, when we have video conferences and phone calls, we can't have the Roomba running anywhere near us because it's distracting. My kids also complain when it drowns out their screen time.
I experienced what every robot vacuum and pet owner fears: a "poopocalypse." You see, my family moved to a new home a few months ago, and the cats are still trying to get acclimated. I had the 980 on a strict schedule of cleaning at 3 p.m. every day. Well, one day, one of the cats left a little "present" on the floor outside of his litter box. The Roomba found it before I could and spread it all over. The floor was a mess, and the Roomba was ruined.
I contacted the iRobot's customer support (without flashing my media credentials) on a Sunday night and had a response waiting for me in my inbox Monday morning. The representative told me that while the Roomba's warranty doesn't cover damage caused by pet waste, they would replace it for me free of charge anyway. The replacement arrived a few days later. It's clear that iRobot aims to take care of its customers.
The bottom line
I've tried my fair share of robot vacuums, and the only one I've found that is better than the 980 is the recently released Roomba i7+ (stay tuned for my full review), which is about $50 more. The key difference between the two is the i7+ automatically empties its dustbin. Both are exceptional machines that make cleaning simple for people who don't have time to vacuum every day.
If you have pets, a family of dirty people, are busy, or are just plain lazy, I strongly recommend buying the Roomba 980.
The app is incredibly helpful and user-friendly, iRobot provides exceptional customer service, and the vacuum gets the job done without getting stuck very often. Just make sure your pets haven't left any accidents on the floor before your Roomba starts its shift.
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