Robot vacuums are game changers for home cleaning, but emptying that teeny, tiny bin is a giant pain, and if you have to do it often enough it can really limit their usefulness. Self-emptying robot vacuum cleaners are the solution, but forking out close to $1,000 for this convenience is a bit of a reach. Enter the Roomba i3+.
With its mid-range i3+ model, iRobot has brought the convenience of an auto-emptying clean base to an affordable robot vacuum. By dispensing with some more luxury features - room-by-room mapping, visual navigation - they've made the i3+ the most affordable self-emptying bot you can buy.
The i3 clocks in at $399, and adding Roomba's Clean Base (which is called the i3+) brings it to $599, $200 less than the Roomba i7+ self-emptying model.
The Clean Bases between the two models are identical, the higher-end Roomba s9+ has its own due to its square shape.
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With 10 times the suction power of the rest of the Roomba range (only the s9 sucks harder), the i3 doesn't skimp on cleaning power and has plenty of smarts too - including smart mapping, imprint link with iRobot's Braava Jet m6 robot mop, and the new iRobot Genius AI.
It also works better in dark or dim rooms than its stablemates as it doesn't rely on a camera to navigate, and of course, it empties its own bin.
We've been testing the i3+ for a month now, including its self-emptying capabilities and compatibility with the robot mop. How does it stack up in the crowded smart vacuum market? Read on for our full review.
iRobot Roomba i3+: Design and build
Sporting the classic round robot design, the i3 is 3.63 inches high and just under 14 inches wide. It's a substantial vacuum, but a new textured top, made out of a woven plastic, is a nice design touch that helps soften its industrial feel as well as ward off dust and fingerprints.
Paired with the Clean Base - which is a great big hulking device, we'd still recommend you try and tuck this in a laundry room or mudroom though, as it's not exactly a looker.
The i3 features the traditional Clean, Home and Spot buttons on the top, with the Clean button sporting a glowing LED ring for a visual cue as to what the robot is up to (glowing blue indicates its actively working, pulsing white on the base means its charging, red means danger Will Robinson!).
The signature bumper at the front helps the robot bounce off furniture walls and other object and an RCON sensor lets it find its charging doc. Another sensor up front scans for walls and obstacles - but there's no camera involved, which means it doesn't need ambient light to operate.
A standard removable bin with a 0.5l capacity is tucked in at the back. If you opt to buy the vacuum without the Clean Base it comes with a slightly different bin, and you can add the base later.
Underneath are four cliff sensors and floor tracking sensors that help the bot transition cleaning power between hardwood and carpet, and kick in Roomba's Dirt Detect feature when it hits a particularly troublesome spot.
The cleaning system is the same as the i7 - with the same sturdy multi-surface rubber roller brushes that don't trap tangled hair the way bristle brushes do.
These are shorter and more centrally located than on the s9 series, which takes advantage of a wide D shape to put its brushes more front and center. A large, edge-sweeping brush rounds out the external cleaning prowess, and inside a compact HEPA filter helps trap nasties.
The i3 has a smaller battery than the s9, and less smarts than the i7, including no digital keep out zones, so you need to buy the virtual walls if you have places that the bot can reach but you don't want it to go.
iRobot Roomba i3+: Features
Arguably the best feature of the i3+ is that it's the least expensive Roomba bot to work with a Clean Base. So you don't have to spend around $1,000 to avoid getting your hands dirty.
The Clean Base is basically a charging dock with a dustbin stuck on top - so it does take up a bit more room than the regular base.
When the vacuum is full it trundles over and the Clean Base sucks up all the debris, storing it in a small disposable bag that holds up to two months worth of dirt. Removing it is easy and a red LED light on the base warns when its time and the bag seals itself on its way out so you never have to deal with dust.
While there's no stored maps, the i3 does have smart mapping to show you where its been and give you visual confirmation that it got the job done.
iRobot uses a different cleaning system for the i3, presumably to keep costs down. Instead of a camera for visual location it uses floor sensors to employ a systematic cleaning system, relying on physical landmarks, such as walls to help it navigate and work in logical lines. And in our testing was able to avoid getting stuck in common robot vac traps (such as dining room chairs and tasseled rugs).
While you can't ask the i3 to just clean the living room and the kitchen, you can set it to clean everywhere twice, and because it also does recharge and resume, you won't have to come home to a half clean house.
Another benefit to being part of the upper echelons of the iRobot world is that the i3 can work in tandem with the m6 Braava Jet robot mop, using a feature known as Imprint Link. This lets you schedule the i3 to clean and then have the m6 start a mop when the vacuum is finished.
This is a great feature as the Braava jet is a proper mop, not just a damp pad as most mops built into bots tend to be. The m6 has smart room mapping features so can be told to only mop certain areas - i.e. those with hard floors (although it will intelligently avoid rugs).
The i3 doesn't have the same room mapping feature, but If you need to keep your i3 out of areas or away from certain spots (the TV console for example - a hive of cables waiting to be chewed), you can pick up a virtual wall ($59.99, or $99.99 for two), which can emit a 10 foot barrier or a 4 foot circle.
Roomba i3+: Performance & everyday use
First and foremost the i3 is an excellent vacuum, It has impressive cleaning power and used a methodical, thorough approach to clean our large, open plan downstairs space. Its battery life is impressive, easily tackling each room before needing to recharge.
A hare taller than most Eufy and Roborock models, it couldn't clear the edges of our very low kitchen cabinets, but it easily made it under sofas, coffee tables, and other furniture. It was particularly impressive at navigating a maze of dining room chair legs, never getting stuck and getting up all the dirt it could reach.
The systematic cleaning approach worked well and the lack of a visual navigation system didn't seem to hamper it in any way - in fact it actually worked better in some instances as it can navigate in dark rooms, whereas the Roomba's that use the iAdapt camera-based system need at least some light to work.
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The only issues we ran into with navigation were with spot cleaning and docking.
Spot cleaning should make the robot circle in and out of a small area and then stop. Twice in our testing it would do exactly that, but then trundle off to keep cleaning rather than stop.
Also, it would take a very long, circuitous route to its home base if we instructed it to stop and return home during a cleaning, While it got there eventually, this is annoying if you just want it to get home.
The i3 finished cleaning an 800 square foot area in between 60 and 75 minutes without needing to recharge. It was able to navigate some high thresholds and easily went from carpeted area to hardwood floors.
There is a noticeable increase in volume when it does this though, as it works a bit harder on carpet to suck up the dirt. Overall, it's a pretty loud boot, not as loud as the s9 but much noisier than Ecovac's Deebot T8 we just reviewed, reaching up to 74dB in our testing.
It did a great job with pet hair on the rugs and dealt masterfully with the tassels, thanks to its tangle resistant rollers, something other brands we've tested often had trouble with.
Cables are still an issue however, do you really do need to make sure there are no easy to reach iPhone charging cords or similar laying around if you want the bot to finish the job.
The map reports are especially useful, and we appreciated being able to check in and see where the robot had been and if it missed any spots. The map also show you if there have been any "dirt events," where the i3 worked extra hard to clean up.
While we missed the ability to send to vacuum to clean specific rooms - as you can do with the higher-end models, after a few weeks with this bot we don't think that feature is worth spending $200 more for.
The lack of virtual keep out zones is more of an issue however, the i3 kept getting stuck on the feet of our lounger - 5 long, flat metal protrusions. The solution, as with all the lower-end Roombas, is to get a virtual wall to keep it away from problem areas. But at $99 for two if you're going to need a few of these it's worth bumping up to the i7.
Smarter & squarer: Roomba s9+ reviewed
The i3 does have iRobot's new Genius AI that, among other things, supposedly learns how to avoid areas that might cause the vacuum robot trouble. It's not figured out the chair legs yet, but we'll give it more time.
The Clean Base worked as advertised, with the robot emptying its bin anytime it was full, or when it finished a job, with a (very loud) 10 second wooosh.
We did have a few issues with the bot having trouble ‚Äúsealing‚ÄĚ with the base. On a couple of occasions an alert in the app told us it couldn't empty the bin. One time we discovered some debris stuck in the flap where the base and the bot connect and once we removed that it worked again.
The second time was a bit more of an issue, the i3 hadn't properly situated itself on the base after it finished cleaning, so wasn't sitting directly on top of the evacuation chute. It only did this once, and every other time returned without a problem.
Roomba i3+: App & smart home
iRobot has completely revamped its app and its actually a bit more cluttered and complicated than the previous iteration.
Gone is the nice big Clean button, replaced with two options to start your bot: a "New Job" button at the top right, or a choice of "Favorites" just below the main screen.
If you choose the "New Job" button you then have to press "Start Now", so it's two clicks to get it going. There's only one option in Favorites (as the i3 doesn't have room-by-room cleaning) "Vacuum Everywhere," but tapping that sends the bot off right away.
iRobot tells us pre-set cleaning times - 15, 30 and 45 minute sweeps - are coming soon, and you'll be able to add those as Favorites from this quick start menu.
Mostly, if you're near the bot it's easier just to press the Clean button on the device. Stopping it is simpler - as soon as it starts running a big pause button appears front and center in the app.
To get the most out of a robot vacuum though, you'll want to automate it as much as possible, so you won't really need to use the app.
There are a few ways to do this. First, set up schedules in the app that send the bot to clean at a set time on set days. You can set up as many schedules as you like as long as there is a minimum of 3 hours between them.
Another empty option: Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 reviewed
An automation option in the app sends you to the service IFTTT where you can set up Applets to automatically start the i3 when you leave the house and stop it when you come home.
You can either use geolocation of your smartphone or link it with smart devices like the August Smart Lock, Ecobee Smart Thermostat, and the MyQ garage door controller to trigger it to clean while you're gone.
You can also connect the i3 to Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control or add it to smart home routines - such as have it start vacuuming downstairs as part of a Good Night routine that also turns off lights, lowers the thermostat, and locks the door.
With both voice assistants you can use your voice to tell Roomba to start cleaning, stop cleaning, and return home. This was by far the easiest way to get the bot going outside of using a schedule, and to stop it quickly if you need to answer the phone or the doorbell rings. (If you have a Ring video doorbell you can use IFTTT to set up your i3 to stop cleaning when the doorbell rings - very handy).
You will want to use the app for its history view, which uses smart mapping to show you where the bot went on its job, how long it worked for, which areas it didn't get too, plus where it found extra dirt.
The app also features the new iRobot Genius AI to give you recommend cleaning schedules based on your comings and goings, and suggestions of extra cleanings based on pet shedding and allergy seasons. We haven't received any of these during our testing so far.
If the i3 isn't getting your floors clean enough you can adjust its cleaning behavior in the app and make it clean everywhere twice, and if you don't have the Clean Base, you can force it to keep cleaning even if the bin is full.
Roomba i3+: Battery life & maintenance
The i3+ has the same 1800 mAH lithium ion battery as the i7, it can clean for up to 75 minutes on one charge and takes 2 hours to fully recharge.
It features a recharge and resume capability so will return home to charge up if it needs more juice to get the job done.
One of the main reasons to invest in a Roomba, which is one of the most expensive robot vacuum lines, is its repairability. You can buy replacements for every part and piece of these bots, and fix any issues yourself, meaning you can potentially keep your bot going for years.
To avoid having to shell out on replacement parts however (they are not cheap), give your bot a little bit of care an attention and it will last longer.
With the i3 you should wash out the bin every now and then, clean the filter and wipe down the sensors every couple of weeks, plus remove any lodged hair or debris from the brushes and wheels once a month.
The Clean Base doesn't require much ongoing maintenance, you'll just need to replace the bag every two months, but this is an easy procedure, although you'll want to have some spares on hand ($19.99 for three).
The tube that sucks the dirt out of the bot and sends it up into the bag can get clogged, and fixing this is an involved process - which includes unscrewing multiple screws under the base and pulling out the debris. But compared to having to empty the bin two or threes times a week, dealing with this once or twice is much less of a hassle.
- Smart mapping
- Works with Alexa and Google
- Pairs with the m6 mop
- Works in the dark
- Still expensive
- No room-specific cleaning
- Bit noisy
- App is cluttered