iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum review

Is iRobot's high-end smart vacuum cleaner worth it?

iRobot Roomba 980
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When you think of robot vacuums, you think of Roomba. iRobot's line has been the big name in smart vacuum cleaners for years and years. For good reason: they make good, easy-to-use cleaning buddies.

The Roomba 980 is its latest robot vacuum, and it's also its highest end vacuum with the most premium performance. iRobot has cranked up its ability to deep clean carpets and boosted its air power to 10 times that of the lowest end model.

Which robot is for you?: The best Roomba robot vacuums

Is all that performance worthy of the price tag and a spot in your home? Let's find out.

iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum review

Roomba 980: Design and build

If you're looking for your robot buddies to be cute as they wander around your home sucking up dust, the Roomba 980 isn't going to do that for you. Instead of quelling fears of intimidating robots, iRobot has designed the 980 entirely around simplicity.

Looking at it from the top, you see everything you need to see on its 13.8-inch diameter control panel. There's a big "Clean" button that'll start the Roomba up. Next to it are home and location buttons. The home button, naturally, will send your Roomba home. There are also indicators telling you if the bin is full, if Wi-Fi is lost or if its battery level is low.

There's also a little handle you can use to easily pick up the Roomba to move it around, and at 8.7 lbs it's not too heavy to do so. If you've ever had a robot vacuum freak out you know that sometimes you need to just pick it up really quickly. The handle here makes that easy. This handle is present on iRobot's higher-end models, and it's smaller and feels more premium than the larger handle on some of the lower-end models.

On the front of the Roomba 980 is a bumper that will be used a ton by your robot vacuum. As it moves around, it'll hit things and immediately stop, reorienting its position using that camera up at the top and moving about. On the back is the bin, and you just push down the button and pull. It actually took me a minute to figure out how to take out the bin – it's not exactly spelled out, but once you figure it out it's easy.

Underneath the 980 you've got a sensor to see what kind of surface it's on (more on that later), a single twirling brush and extractors, which – in cooperation with suction – dig dirt and hair out of your flooring. There are also two tread tires that can automatically adjust to go between carpet and hardwood.

Overall, the Roomba 980 isn't rocking the iRobot boat here. This is a Roomba. It's a well-designed Roomba optimised for performance and to clean your area the best. It's also just under 4 inches tall, which means it'll fit under things like your bed and sofa.

iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum review

Roomba 980: Performance

Performance is the improvement iRobot is touting with the Roomba 980, and the long story short is that it delivers. My home could be considered a gauntlet for robot vacuums. It quickly and often goes from hardwood to thin rug to thick rug to standard-length carpet in the rooms.

The Roomba 980 was able to take it all on simply, and its Auto-Adjust Cleaning mode regularly delivered. Basically, when the Roomba detects that it's on carpet it'll boost its power to start working harder and sucking in more air. You'll hear it because the fan will pretty much triple in volume.

As soon as it gets back onto hardwood, it returns to its normal state. That extra boost in power while on carpet makes all the difference, as all my carpets – from standard to thick – looked much better than they did after using comparable high-end robot vacuums like the LG Hom-Bot.

The Roomba 980 is also precise in its movements. You can watch the Roomba 980 seemingly turn on a dime in an effort to cover as much as ground as possible in its zig-zag pattern. It does miss some spots, but for the most part you can trust that it's going to get most of your floor.

iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum review

However, learning your area does take quite a while. It took a number of sessions for it to intelligently learn the layout of my home. The first time it went out, it did pretty much everything except the large square living room area near its home base. It just completely missed it for no reason, and the battery wasn't low nor was the bin full.

The second time it fired up, it did go and get that area and add it to its maps, but it's annoying that it didn't try to learn it the first time out. It's clearly doing its best to learn your layout, and in the long-term this isn't an issue, but when you first start using it it can be a little annoying.

What isn't annoying is that it really will go anywhere, and there's very little that can get in its way. It made its way under my sofas and bed and even under the cupboards in the kitchen perfectly fine. My dinner table is a square that has eight chairs. These chairs tend to be close together, and they've freaked out robot vacuums in the past.

However, the Roomba 980 navigated them like a pro. I had even forgotten to push in some chairs, so they were misaligned and maze-like, and it still made it through and cleaned up all the dirt and debris it could find. Oh, and it also wasn't too much of a nuisance with wires. While it will drag some wires around a bit, getting tangled is rare.

As for smart assistants, the Roomba 980 works with both Alexa and Google Assistant. The integration is simple but it works. You can start a cleaning job, pause a cleaning job and end a cleaning job with voice commands.

If there's one massive con to the Roomba 980 it's that it's quite loud. It's not as loud as my regular vacuum, but it is noticeable. You're not going to want to watch TV with this thing in the room. It's not going to drown out what you're hearing, but it's definitely going to make it difficult to hear other things. This is a sharp contrast to the LG Hom-Bot, which is absurdly quiet.

While learning your home layout takes a while and it's loud, the Roomba 980 performs like a champ. If you're looking for a robot vacuum that cleans really, really well, the Roomba 980 is a good bet.

iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum review

Roomba 980: Maintenance and battery

Robot vacuums have two things that limit what they can do: battery life and bin space. If it's got no battery left it can't clean, and if it's got no space in its bin it can't clean. Balancing these two things and making sure people don't run up against both is a tough job for any robot vacuum designer.

On the battery front, the Roomba 980 works great. It lasts for about two hours with a full charge. If it runs out of battery life before it finishes its job, it'll go back to its home base, charge up a little bit, then go back and finish. It's a nice feature, but it's not one I've had to actually use much.

That's because the Roomba 980 ran into a different problem for me: bin space. Once the Roomba 980 learned my home layout, it went all over the place and cleaned. However, the bin would fill up before it finished and before the battery life ran out.

This is a little annoying because when the Roomba 980's bin is full, it just stops and sends you a notification on your smartphone. You then have to go look around for your Roomba (I named mine Roomby), clean out the bin and start it up again.

The benefit of robot vacuums are that it takes care of things itself. It starts, it vacuums around, it heads back to home base when it's ready. Why can't my good friend Roomby sense that the bin is filling up, find me via my smartphone's location, and then prompt me to change it?

Or, you know, have more bin space. Bin space could be an issue for you if you've got a lot of carpet, as one of the Roomba 980's biggest strengths turn into a weakness. It's so good at cleaning carpet, which tends to have more dirt and hair than hardwood, that it could fill up faster.

Cleaning out that bin isn't too difficult once you figure it out. You just pull it out, pop it open and then shake it over a trashcan or whatever. You might be tempted to help pull out the dust balls, but please don't – that's gross. Maybe keep a little brush handy to pull it out.

iRobot Roomba 980
iRobot Roomba 980

So yeah, the maintenance situation here isn't the best. The bin space is small and getting the dust out of the bin is a little gross. However, the trade-off here is that you're going to have some really clean carpets. It's possible over the long term with a regular cleaning schedule there'll be less dirt in the bin after each cleaning job, which would make it easier to clean out the bin, but we'll keep testing.

iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum review

Roomba 980: App and extra features

Roomba's app is certainly aiming for simplicity. As soon as you open it up, you'll see a giant cleaning button. Everything else is hidden in menus, from the bottom menus to the hamburger menus.

The hamburger menu will take you to places like the Roomba store, your account page, and let you connect your iRobot account to Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT. There's also iRobot Beta, where you can sign up to test features iRobot is cooking up in its labs.

Down at the bottom, there are four options. Cleaning preferences will let you toggle Carpet Boost and choose how many cleaning passes your Roomba makes. There's also edge clean, which tells your Roomba to clean near furniture legs and walls.

Next up is history, which will show you how long each cleaning session was, whether the job was completed, where your Roomba ended up and a map of the job too. This can be useful to make sure your Roomba did a good job and went everywhere you needed it to.

The third option is scheduling, which will let you create a weekly cleaning schedule your Roomba will abide by. Finally, there's "More", where you can see things like how full your bin is, or which parts need replacing. Help will connect you to support articles and settings will let you play with options like Clean Map Reports, Wi-Fi, your robot's name, reduced power mode and more. And oh yeah, you can play a sound to locate your Roomba – which you should definitely do if it just stops after the bin is full.

The Roomba 980 I received also came with two virtual wall barriers. You can set these somewhere to tell the Roomba where not to clean. They have two modes. The first mode acts like a wall. You just put it down next to a door opening and point it toward the other side of the opening. The Roomba will know not to go past it and not to enter that room.

The other mode will tell the Roomba not to go in a circular area. Think of it like a force field. So if you put the virtual barrier next to some dog food or something, it knows not to go near that area.

These barriers work great, though you will have to remember to turn them on before or while your Roomba is going. Otherwise they won't work and your Roomba will go where it pleases. You can also get the Roomba 980 without the virtual wall barriers. They're $49.99 if you choose to get them separately.

Roomba 980
The Roomba 980 doesn't come with too many fancy features. This is a robot vacuum that really wants to give you the best clean it can, specifically when it comes to homes with carpets or a mix of carpet and hardwood. On that, it delivers – though it does come at a price. While the bin space is small and it is loud, the cleaning performance is so good – and it's so simple to use – that they're minor issues.
  • Carpet cleaning
  • Performance
  • Simple to use
  • Bin space
  • It's loud
  • Pricey

TAGGED    robot vacuums

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