(Pocket-lint) - The iRobot Roomba range of robot vacuum cleaners are probably the most well-known, thanks in part to the "shark cat riding a Roomba" YouTube video that went viral a few years back, but also because of the superb cleaning abilities these robots offer.
These robo-vacs are a strong favourite with us, so when we heard there was a new Roomba in town we just had to get it in to test. Does the iRobot Roomba 980 leave other robot vacuums eating dust, or does it simply suck?
- 91.44mm tall and slim design for cleaning under furniture
- Large wheels with good ground clearance over thresholds
- "Self-cleaning" dual multi-surface brush system
- Replaceable high-efficiency filter
- 27-degree edge-sweeping brush
- 353.1 x 353.1 x 91.4mm
The tried-and-trusted shape of this robot vacuum is unmistakably similar to many of the other robot cleaners we've tested before. There's a large bump-rail, sleek and shiny finish, plus a smattering of buttons and sensors to aid with controls.
Unlike some competitors, the Roomba 980 isn't too tall, allowing it to clean neatly underneath and around furniture without compromise. Indeed, we've been happily watching the robot slip between chair legs and under tables with ease. This design makes it perfect for cleaning hard-to-reach places like under beds, in and around the kitchen table and much more besides. Its large wheels also allow it to mount and pass over thresholds and small obstacles with ease.
An edge-sweeping brush sits along one side, which enables the bot to clean close to the edges of rooms despite its round shape. We've seen other robot vacuums sporting two brushes in this fashion, but the Roomba 980 seemed to cope just as well with the one brush.
The design highlight is the dual multi-surface brushes, found underneath. Like the Samsung VR7000 Powerbot we tested recently, this kind of brush design doesn't use traditional bristles, rather rubberised rollers that are not only capable of handling multiple surface types but also are capable of "self-cleaning". These brushes don't get knotted up with hair and fur or clogged up as easily as traditional bristles, thus allowing the bot to clean for longer without the need to manually declog - which is just what you want from your robotic cleaning companion.
The Roomba 980 comes with a compact charging dock included - which needs to be setup against a wall, and not in a tight spot - that the bot automatically returns to recharge when needed. We did find that the dock could easily get bumped out of the way, though, so keep an eye on in.
To stop it going places it shouldn't, the Roomba 980 also comes complete with a couple of battery-powered virtual barriers, which you can setup to stop the bot proceeding - places like pet bowls, areas where it'll get stuck, where you keep your fine china, and the like.
There's no remote control for this bot, though, instead this robot is intended to work with the accompanying smartphone app or via the prominent and easy-to-use buttons on top.
The large silver "clean" button doubles as the power button and sends the robot into an automatic cleaning routine. The home button sends it back to the dock for charging. The spot cleaning button does just that - sends the robot off to clean a particular spot.
Setup, cleaning cycles and settings
- Automated cleaning schedules
- Up to 120 minutes cleaning time
Setting up the iRobot Roomba 980 is reasonably straightforward. Plug in the base station, charge the bot for a while, then download the iRobot Home app for iOS or Android and follow the instructions. This setup process requires the creation of an iRobot account (if you don't already have one) and access to your local Wi-Fi network. Although we found this setup experience wasn't quite as seamless as we've experienced with other robot vacuums.
Once completed, the app offers access to a multitude of settings that allow for both manual and automated control of the robot's cleaning skills. Our first step was to setup a daily clean. You can choose a specific time each day, seven days a week to automatically send the robot out for a cleaning cycle. We were pleased to be able to tweak these settings to our liking.
The standard automated cleaning mode sends the iRobot Roomba 980 out to vacuum every area of your home that it can reach. This is an all-rooms cleaning mode similar to that we've seen with other robot vacuums. You can stop the bot cleaning a room or area by using the supplied virtual barriers or by simply closing a door, otherwise it will get everywhere it can to clean until the job is done.
Obstacle detection and room cleaning
- Smart mapping and vSLAM (Visual Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) technology
- Cliff detection sensors (so it won't fall down the stairs)
The iRobot Roomba 980 uses a number of sensors to support its smart mapping technology. This not only allows the robot vacuum to suss out the areas it's cleaning, but also to navigate any obstacles that might appear in its way. We've watched as it's made its way around toys left strewn around the floor and worked its way in-between and around table and chair legs.
Those sensors include a cliff detection system, which prevents the robot from falling down stairs or over a steep drop.
The bump rail design also means the bot can get close to the edges of rooms and seems to do so with aggressive vigour, bashing up against things perhaps more enthusiastically than we've seen with other robot cleaners. If you're concerned about precious household items then those virtual barriers can be used to protect their surrounding area - although we didn't have any issues with Roomba knocking things over.
Cleaning performance and suction power
- Automatic variable suctions levels for different floor types
- Dirt detection sensors to concentrate cleaning on messy areas
The iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum cleaner is one of the most powerful robot cleaners we've seen. We were impressed by the suction levels and the cleaning results. Although it occasionally missed some spots, for the most part this robo-vac provides a more-than-satisfactory clean.
We found that we were emptying the dust tray on a daily or bi-daily basis, as well as cleaning dust and debris from the filter. This itself is a pretty telling tale of the cleaning results in an average-sized house (especially as we've had different robot cleaners working week in week out for 2018).
A highlight of the cleaning performance is the automatic variable suctions level system. This allows the robot to sense the floor type it's cleaning and adjust suction power accordingly. On carpet, therefore, the Roomba 980 will suck harder than on wooden or tiled floors. The sensors also allow it to detect areas that need extra attention and it will account for these spots during its cleaning cycles.
The dual brush system is unusual but effective - sometimes a little too effective. We found the robot was occasionally sucking up small kids toys or bits of paper (such as pages of a brochure that had dropped through the letterbox while it was cleaning) and either getting clogged up or just depositing them inside its cleaning tray.
We also found this robot got stuck more often than some of the other bots we've tested. Unless the floor is completely clear, it has a tendency to get snagged on household items, whether that's them getting stuck in the wheels or caught up in its brushes. This is partly user error, but equally shows the capabilities of this powerful cleaner. When it does get stuck you'll get a notification on the app along with an audible warning from the bot itself ("Error 5. Please clear obstructions from the Roomba's wheel and press clean to restart").
As we say of all robot vacuum cleaners, the Roomba is good - but not a replacement for a proper full-sized vacuum. Instead think of it as good for a cursory daily clean of carpets (it's not so hot on hard floors, we found), saving you time on your cleaning schedule.
If there are any cleaning qualms then the Roomba 980's spot cleaning mode can provide special attention. Picking the robot up by its carry handle and plonking it down in the area then pressing the spot cleaning button will send the Roomba out on a cleaning cycle of ever-increasing circles from the spot it started on. We found this didn't work terribly well for messy areas near walls or narrow spaces, though.
iRobot claims the Roomba 980 is capable of cleaning for up to 120 minutes. During testing, we found it realistically needed to return to the charger or had completed cleaning the rooms it had access to within a little under an hour. The length of cleaning will vary according to the layout of your house and the area to be cleaned, including the surface types. The settings can be adjusted to ensure the job is done properly, even if the robot needs to return to its dock for some extra juice midway through its cleaning cycle.
One downside of powerful suction is the noise: the 980 is far from the quietest bot we've tested. It also blows out warm air as it passes by - which can be an annoyance if you're in the house when it's cleaning. Of course, you can schedule it to clean while you're out, which is a large part of the appeal of owning a robot vacuum cleaner.
App functionality and connectivity with voice assistants
- Compatible with Google Home and Amazon Alexa voice assistance
- Scheduling, cleaning settings and suction adjustment in app
As we've touched on above, this robot is firmly powered by its accompanying smartphone app. There's cleaning power, scheduling, performance history and even Amazon Alexa and Google Home compatibility. This means you can use your voice to do cool stuff like ask your personal assistant where the Roomba is, what it's doing, asking it to clean, stop and more.
For Alexa, that's as simple as enabling the iRobot Home skill in the Alexa app. For Google Home, you can search for the Roomba ability by clicking "explore" within the Google Home app then linking your account.
The app also includes map data, to show which areas of your home the robot has seen during cleaning. Alas, this map isn't interactive like the mapping system we saw on the Ecovacs Deebot R95 MKII (where the virtual map could be used to send the robot out for spot cleaning sessions). Additionally there's cleaning history, including time spent cleaning and any errors the robot encountered along the way.
After initial setup, especially with scheduling, we rarely found the need to use the app. We did, however, have some issues with the app where it would randomly disconnect from the bot or declare it "could not talk to the Roomba via the cloud" - making it unusable, although not affecting its cleaning schedule. During testing we hit a few problems like this that meant we had to uninstall the app and reconnect it, which was an inconvenience - but not the end of the world. It seems that this might be a common problem and iRobot has a support page with guidance on what to do if it happens.
The iRobot Roomba 980 is one of the more powerful bots that we've tested. Regimented automated cleaning is impressive and this robot cleans well on a variety of surfaces - adjusting suction when it needs to - allowing it to deliver an efficient and effective clean.
On the downside, it's let down a little by a flakey app which often disconnects from the robot or fails to communicate with it. There's also no included remote, while the addition of battery-powered barrier stations won't suit all setups.
Small niggles aside, there's a lot to like about this bot and the way it performs. It's a no-mess, no-nonsense cleaner with a tried-and-tested design that has improved nicely over previous models.
Alternative robot vacuums to consider
Samsung VR7000 Powerbot
When it comes to cleaning, the Samsung VR7000 Powerbot is no slouch. This is another robot vacuum cleaner with impressive cleaning performance and a mass of features that make it highly appealing.
Read the full article: Samsung VR7000 Powerbot review
Ecovacs Deebot R95 MKII
The Ecovacs Deebot R95 MKII has loads of cleaning power backed by a wealth of features that make it really appealing. We love its interactive mapping system, easy-to-use app and much more. It's not necessarily the first brand that would come to mind, but it's certainly not a robot vacuum to be overlooked either.
Read the full article: Ecovacs Deebot R95 MKII review