Robot vacuum cleaners come with a lot of promise, the opportunity to essentially elimination one of the most mundane chores from your life. While the category now features many competitors, the market leader remains iRobot. While I’ve used (and owned) Roombas in the past, I was keen to try the newest, top of the line model, the iRobot Roomba 980. The 980 comes with a bunch of new improvements over previous models, which may be enough to tip the scales for new buyers, or even be compelling enough for existing owners to upgrade.
Over the past 2 weeks I’ve spent with the Roomba 980, the robot has been scheduled to run, multiple times per week. After owning the Roomba 880 for some time now, I was keen to see if the newer model offered any improvements to its ability to clean our house.
Despite the 880 having recently run, the 980’s first trip around our home, resulted in a very full dust bin. To my surprise, the 980 did a far superior, like night and day, job of cleaning our home, particularly on carpet.
The 3-stage cleaning system is found on all Roomba models, but only the 980 has 10 the air power. Another important element to the advances made in the most recent robot is the change in the method Roomba uses to clean a room. Thanks to on-board cameras and sensors (and frankly better programming), Roomba now rolls through a room like the caretaker on the MCG, in nice, purposeful strips which when you watch it, looks efficient and smart. The cleaning path used by earlier versions of the Roomba resembled the trip of a drunken sailor headed back to the fridge for another cold one, during 10 foot rolling waves.
The core circular design hasn’t changed, Roombas are still round, but there are some styling updates on the 980 that makes it look more refined, more professional and appears more capable than ever.
The functional black plastics, are resolved with a more elegant top that features a U-shaped center panel. That black inner component plays host to and handle to move the device, as well as the control buttons – the primary Clean button, flanked by the Home and the spot cleaning buttons.
Compared to the older 880 model, the new 980 is slightly taller, but generally it still fits under beds, furniture etc. Overall the design is quiet confidence, its not bright and shiny and nor do you want it to. A vacuum, robot or not, is a utility, not something you want to draw attention to.
Something you’ll find on any modern Roomba model is a long list of features. Being the flagship device the Roomba 980 has the longest list of all.
The Roomba 980 features WiFi (as does the 890 and 690). This means you can connect and control your Roomba from your smartphone or tablet. This opens the possibility to modify your schedule at any stage (on WiFi or away from home) thanks to connectivity to your iRobot account in the cloud.
There’s a number of times, especially over the Christmas, New Year break, where your typical cleaning schedule had to be modified due to public holidays meaning you were off work. If you remember Roomba is scheduled to run the next morning at 9:30AM, when you’re after a sleep-in, its pretty cool being able to fire up the app and change the schedule.
iRobot has their own IFTTT channel, which means if you own the Roomba 980, you can connect your robot cleaner to your other IoT devices and services. Perhaps the most relevant being Amazon Alexa integrations that would let you say just say “Alexa, ask Roomba to start cleaning” and walk out the door.
Now here’s the fine print. The IFTTT compatibility isn’t currently available for Australian customers. iRobot says it is on the way, but have no firm date for launch.
iRobot HOME App
The mobile app allows you to get data about your Roomba 980. You can modify your cleaning preferences, find out when the robot needs emptying, needs cleaning or even just job statistics like total area cleaned. Probably one of the nicest features is the ability to see a map of your house as understood by Roomba (built on the fly) and if your robot ever gets stuck, you can find where it is instantly.
Our old 880 had a nasty habbit of nudging doors in a way that closed the door on itself, locking itself in a bathroom, or laundry, which it then circled until the battery went flat. When you got home and checked the base, the next job was to play find Roomba. Thankfully that hasn’t happened with the 980, but if it did, I’d instantly know where it was.
You don’t ever need to watch your Roomba as it goes to work, but if you do, you may see it occasionally focus on an area, running over it multiple times. This is thanks to the downwards facing dirt sensor, registering that an area of your floor needs further attention. This constant scans and checks the surface underneath is and essentially monitors its own work, repeating the cleaning until its satisfied the area is clean. Its this attention to detail that ensures you can return home at the end of a hard day have not have extra work to do.
The Roomba 980 has the largest running time of any model yet, with a massive 120 minutes of battery life. If you have a house that takes longer than that, it supports recharging, the resuming the cleaning job, to ensure its all done before you get home. My bet is, your dust bin will be full well before you run out of battery.
While the 120 minutes sounds impressive, there are other vacuum robots on the market, like the Samsung VR9300 that has double that with 240 minutes.
The reality of our homes is that we have multiple flooring surfaces and due to the differing properties of carpet, tiles, floorboards, rugs and more, this isn’t something best serviced by a one-size fits all model. To accommodate this, iRobot engineered the Roomba 980 to automatically adjust brush height to ensure the optimal performance is achieved as the robot traverses over different flooring types.
iAdapt 2.0 Navigation
At the end of the black section on the top of Roomba, you’ll find a clear panel with an angled camera. This is the iAdapt Localization Camera which is used to map out your home in order to ensure the best coverage of your home. iRobot are keen to point out that it does not record video or images, which should be comforting to privacy sensitive individuals. While I understand the need to reassure users about security concerns, this is actually a feature I wish they’d reconsider. LG actually made a feature of it with HomeView, allowing owners to access the camera at any time as a security camera, or even monitor pets while they’re away from home.
Our homes are full of weird and wonderful things, some of them you may need to keep a robot away from. Thanks to virtual walls, you can ensure Roomba stays away from items like pet bowls, creating an invisible wall so you don’t have any unexpected spills or crashes.
Part of the experience of owning a modern Roomba is to setup, schedule and control the robot from your phone. It’ll also allow you to configure settings like standard or eco modes, as well as what happens when the bin gets full (finish cleaning or not).
The iRobot HOME mobile app will send you notifications if Roomba should get stuck or need emptying. Most times I return home after Roomba tours the house, its usually back on its base. In the event it gets stuck somewhere, you can press a button in the app and sound an alert to help you discover where your robot got stuck (or at your headphones).
The cleaning reports available through the app, provides a map which is your house, as its understood by Roomba. While this is neat to see, its actually very functional as it suggests places where Roomba can’t get. If you’r wondering why the office or rumpus wasn’t cleaned, a close door is likely going to explain it and this room would be missing from your report.
Room for improvement
While the Roomba 980 is the smartest robot vaccum to date, there’s still some room for improvement. There’s currently no capacity to set zones, like your kitchen that may require more frequent cleaning than the rest of your house.
The other gripe I have is the number of locations that need to be emptied. The Roomba 980 does such a great job of cleaning that the dust can collate in multiple places. With previous models, I could pretty much empty the dust bin and be right to go again, however in the 980, I often found emptying the bin was just the start. The good side of this issue is that the on-board sensors can tell you the area that needs addressing. Its everything from the bin itself, to the opening through to the brushes, underneath the brushes, and even the wheels could and often need addressing. Despite that longer to-do-list when it comes time to empty Roomba, its still a massive time saving over having to do the vacuuming yourself, so I’m still happy Roomba is in my home.
Price and Availability
The iRobot Roomba 980 has a recommended retail price of A$1,499.00, but realistically, you’re looking at around A$1,349 from JB HiFi or A$1,347 from Harvey Norman. That price is basically on par with the top model from other manufacturers, so if you want the best robot, start saving.
iRobot continues to iterate on an already great robotics platform for cleaning your home. While there’s plenty of competition for your dollars, its this continued investment in R&D that is delivering improvements to cleaning performance and robot intelligence, backed up by great software design.
I find iRobot does the little things better than most, like featuring the date of your Roomba’s birthday in the mobile app. Its a cute touch that personalises the robot.
With the Roomba 980, you can be assured that when you walk through the door, your home will be clean. With a new strategy to navigate efficiently through your home, and better sensors and suction, the top of the line Roomba does a better job than ever before, allowing you to effectively eliminate vacuum cleaning from the list of chores you need to do. This is exactly what robots should do, like dishwashers, they need a little effort from us from time to time, but 95% of the work is done by the robot and that’s one hell of a deal for humans.
If you can stomach the price of admission, this will be one of the best technology upgrades you can do to your home. If you can afford the top of the line, you can get much of what’s on offer here with a cheaper model from iRobot.
- Cleaning performance
- Remote access
- Loud in normal mode
- Multiple cleaning locations