Robot vacuum cleaners, such as the iRobot Roomba 880, are interesting little gadgets. They are far from cheap, costing the best part of £500, but for that mighty lump of cash they take one of the worst household chores off your hands.
The idea behind these chaps is to vacuum your house so you don't have to do it yourself. And while the models we have tested in the past have been good, they haven't been quite good enough for us to part with our trusty Dyson.
iRobot's latest Roomba, the 800 Series, claims to be the company's most advanced robo-vac yet. It features a cleaning system that will "clean floors like no vacuum has ever cleaned before", so we took it in for a couple of weeks to see how it performs. Does it do enough to save us from the treacherous task of vacuuming?
The iRobot Roomba 880 is a good-looking robot vacuum cleaner that features a simple circular design, measuring 350mm in diameter and 90mm in height. It's no small device, nor is it light given its 3.8kg weight, but its fuss-free and simple look is sophisticated, which we appreciate given its new home was our hallway.
The Roomba 880 takes a different approach to design compared to the likes of the LG Hom-Bot Square that we tested a couple of months ago. The two devices are near enough the same size, but the Roomba opts for physical buttons as opposed to touch buttons on the LG model.
There is one large silver "Clean" button in the centre of the Roomba, with four small rectangle buttons beneath it, all of which have their own functions comprising Dock, Clock, Schedule and Spot that become visible when the device is switched on.
The big main button looks great, especially when the green backlight appears, and it makes operating the Roomba very easy. Pushing it once will turn the device on and a second push will start the cleaning process in a matter of seconds. The same design principals have been followed from previous Roomba models - but the 800 Series refines everything to offer an altogether better looking device.
A grey rim surrounds the perimeter of the Roomba, which measures roughly an inch wide and acts as the bumper, while the inner circle of the Roomba features a pull-up handle. The bumper makes the Roomba look a little bulkier than it perhaps needs to be but the handle sits flush when not in use and is a great addition when carrying the weighty Roomba up and down the stairs.
The front of the Roomba 880 houses a lip that pushes down to release the bin, tucked away beneath the robot, allowing you to empty it by pulling it out towards you. It's not as easy to empty as the LG Hom Bot Square, but once it is out, the filter can also be cleaned. The Roomba displays a small red bin symbol to let you know when it is time to empty, which is handy as it eliminates guesswork.
The underside of the Roomba 880 has a rubber driving wheel on either side, along with a smaller removable rotating roller wheel at the front. There are numerous cliff sensors around the edge of the device to stop the Roomba falling down the stairs or off ledges. You'll also find a set of three brushes to one side for cleaning corners and edges around the home. iRobot's Tangle-Free AeroForce Extractors take pride of place in the middle, consisting of dual counter-rotating extractors with a rubber tread design to grab and break-down dirt and debris.
The Roomba 880 also comes with a remote control, which is much simpler than the one included with the LG Hom-Bot Square, despite being a little larger in size. The only options you get with iRobot's remote are steering, starting a clean, starting a spot clean or sending the Roomba back to its dock to recharge.
The iRobot Roomba 880 doesn't come with as many features the likes of LG Hom-Bot Square, but there are three cleaning options: Clean Mode, Spot Mode and Scheduled Cleaning Mode.
In Clean Mode, the Roomba automatically calculates the room size and adjusts its cleaning time accordingly, while in Spot Mode the Roomba will spiral around one-metre in diameter cleaning that area more intensely. Both modes worked well and the Spot Mode was particularly useful after we had been cooking.
The Scheduled Cleaning Mode was the one we found ourselves fall in love with the most, though, as it was extremely easy to configure. We set it and could then forget about it, while still achieving a spotless house - and anything that provides a clean house with minimal effort is a winner in our book. You need to programme the time and date of the Roomba when you first setup, but after that you can schedule it to clean seven days a week, anytime you like, so long as it is within 15-minute increments.
Similar to other robot vacuum cleaners, the Roomba 880 has its own particular way of assessing a room and cleaning it accordingly. In terms of iRobot's model, you'll find it performing one of its four cleaning patterns - Spiralling, Wall Following, Room Crossing or Dirt Detection - all of which seem pretty random if you sit and watch, but they get the job done.
The Spiralling pattern uses a spiral motion to clean a concentrated area; the Wall Following pattern cleans the full perimeter of the room, navigating around obstacles and furniture; and the Room Crossing pattern criss-crosses across the room to get the maximum cleaning coverage. When it comes to the Dirt Detection pattern, a small white light represented by a small magnifying glass appears on the top of the Roomba indicating that dirt has been found and it will then clean more intensely in that area.
In addition to the Roomba's cleaning features, it also comes with a couple of optional accessories that allow you to determine where the robot cleans, and what it avoids. The black, battery-operated devices have three functions: Auto Virtual Wall, Virtual Wall Lighthouse and Virtual Wall Halo. The first two are on one device and separated by a slider, while the Halo is a separate device that we didn't have included for this review.
The Auto Virtual Wall mode creates an invisible barrier that the Roomba won't dare to cross, which means you can confine it to one room, which is particularly handy if you have an open-plan house like we do. It will block openings of up to two metres by creating a cone-shaped barrier that gradually gets wider and it will come on automatically when the Roomba starts cleaning.
The Virtual Wall Lighthouse mode allows the Roomba to clean multiple rooms before it returns to its base by helping it navigate around your house. You place the device in the doorway, set the switch to Lighthouse and it will then act as a guide for the Roomba, letting it know there are other rooms once it has finished the one it is in.
Virtual Wall Halo mode can be achieved by inserting the Virtual Wall into the Halo accessory, ensuring the circular lens of the Halo is completely visible at the top. The idea of this function is to create a protective zone of around 500mm and it is especially useful for households with pets. By placing the Virtual Wall Halo in between your pet's food and water bowls, or next to it if there is only one bowl, it means you can stop the Roomba bashing into them so you don't end up with a very wet floor.
Having separate accessories to control where the Roomba cleans means you have something extra to take into consideration rather than just the robot itself. However the modes are very simple to setup and the two we used worked flawlessly - so it is worth the extra pieces of plastic hanging around in the doorways.
Performance and battery
The iRobot Roomba 880 offers good performance and battery life. We got a full cleaning cycle out of it before it automatically returned to its dock, which was over an hour.
It works the room well and even if there appears to be no definitive order in how it does it, we were always surprised to find our floors spotless after it had finished, even when it looked as thought it was missing sections when we stood and watched it.
The Roomba 880 managed to pick up dust, hair and even larger bits of debris from our wooden floor and tiles without any grumbles, collecting bits of cat litter, cat food and even a small plastic tube that was lying around on the floor.
Bits of fluff that had got caught in our grooved, hard-wearing carpet on the landing were also no problem for the Roomba 880. Although it had to go over the same area a couple of times to collect all the fluff, it succeeded in the end - so the AeroForce Performance Cleaning system achieves the job it's designed to do.
The Roomba happily cleans around the room, bashing into the sides, skirting boards and walls with its bumper, remaining unfazed by much. It went straight over the bottom of our bar stools and whenever it got stuck anywhere, it always managed to get itself free without any intervention.
Wires and cables weren't much of an issue either, at least nowhere near as much as they have been with previous robot vacuums we have tested in the past, which is probably in part thanks to the Anti-Tangle System. This system enables the Roomba to sense when it has got hold of your phone charging cable, for example, and it will automatically stop the debris extractors or side brush and then move to release what it has captive.
The iRobot Roomba 880 has done a great job of impressing us, but we did encounter a few problems when it was living under our roof.
First off, it didn't take kindly to our high piled rug. When the Roomba reached the edge of the rug, rather than go over it and clean it like the LG Hom Bot Square did, it would turn around and go back to cleaning the floor instead. We tried to force the Roomba to clean the rug by placing it on top of it, but this didn't work either and instead we were just greeted with an error message and asked to move it back to a different position.
Secondly, there's the problem that all robot vacuum cleaners face: it bumps into things. Even when it had hit objects like our cat's water bowl and even the cat itself, it continues to go about its business. While there is almost a solution in the Virtual Wall Halo with the Roomba, for the water bowl at least, we would rather it not be a problem in the first place - we look forward to more advanced room-scanning systems in the future for greater sensitivity to surroundings.
Our last complaint is that the Roomba 880 is a little noisy. With it bumping into the sides of the rooms it was cleaning, or objects, it certainly makes its presence firmly known. That said, our Dyson isn't silent either and as you can set the Roomba to do its business when you aren't home there's the potential for you to never hear it. So, to some extent, this point can be forgiven.
The iRobot Roomba 880 is a great looking and great performing robot vacuum cleaner. It does exactly what it sets out to do, offering good suction, great cleaning power and a decent battery life to keep your floors spic and span.
It doesn't miss much when it starts cleaning and although you need additional accessories for the Virtual Wall off-limits areas, these are super simple to setup.
We were disappointed that the Roomba didn't have the ability to clean the high piled rug in our living room, as it meant we still had to get out vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard, but for those that have relatively clutter-free homes with minimal rugs, the Roomba 880 will be an addition you wish you introduced years ago.
It isn't the quietest gadget you'll have in your house, and it certainly won't be one of the cheapest, but if you are looking for a robot vacuum cleaner to keep on top of your weekly cleaning, the Roomba 880 is certainly worth considering.