iRobot Roomba 980 Review: This Expensive Robot Vacuum Sucks

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iRobot Roomba 980 Review: This Expensive Robot Vacuum Sucks

The name Roomba may be synonymous with robot vacuums, but that doesn’t mean every model is the cream of the crop. That’s not the say that the Roomba 980 isn’t a dutiful vacuum. Like its predecessors, this device is a meticulous little helper that keeps the house spot-free, and the companion app works well.

But when you factor in its high cost — about $890 on Amazon — and that it doesn’t clean any better than the competition, you might want to go with another brand instead.

Design: Like every other Roomba

If you’ve seen one Roomba, you’ve seen them all. Like the rest of the Roomba family, the Roomba 980 is a circular device with black trimmings and a near-futuristic look. However, its round shape meant the vacuum couldn’t reach into corners as effectively as the D-shaped Samsung Powerbot R7070 or Neato Botvac Connected.

The Roomba 980 is 13.9-inches across in diameter and 3.6-inches high, making it short enough to clean under my sofa, but too tall to get under my bed. By comparison, our top two vacuums, the Powerbot R7070 and Neato Botvac, were 3.8 and 3.9 inches tall, respectively.

At 8.7 pounds, the Roomba 980 was sufficiently light that I could cart it up and down a flight of stairs, and it even features a built-in carrying handle.

The Roomba 980 offers three buttons on its chassis: a Home button on the left, a Clean button in the middle and a Spot Clean button on the right, which can be used to preserve power and clean only where there’s mess. You don’t have to start the job from the Roomba itself, however, as there’s a companion app you can use on iOS and Android to manually operate the robot and schedule when it cleans.

It’s not very easy to empty. I had to don a pair of gloves to grab the giant dust balls and dispose of them myself.

You can tell which mode the Roomba 980 is in by checking its indicator lights, which appear above the Clean button. The familiar Wi-Fi logo will light up to indicate the Roomba’s connection status, while a troubleshooting symbol will pop up if something’s gone awry; the Roomba will then sound off an error number, which is easily Google-able. The battery indicator is pretty straightforward, too, and it’ll pulse yellow if charging is needed, or display green when things are ready to go. There’s also a red trash icon to denote when the dustbin full.

The Roomba 980’s dustbin is a bit much to contend with, especially when it’s overflowing with dirt.It’s not very easy to empty, though, and I found the hole too small for to dump the mess out without assistance. I had to don a pair of gloves to grab the giant dust balls and dispose of them myself.

On the bottom, the Roomba 980 features a floor-tracking sensor, two 6.2-inch rotating brushes and a spinning side brush to capture peripheral debris. By comparison, the Samsung R7070 and Neato Botvac offer 11.2- and 11.4-inch brushes, respectively, so the 980’s suction area is a bit smaller than the competition’s.

An underside look at the Roomba.One neat trait of the Roomba 980 is that it utilizes VSLAM, an algorithm that helps the robot simultaneously map and track. On top of the 980, there’s a small notch that contains a camera pointed forward and up. To create the map, the 980 snaps a picture of its locale, and then the algorithm determines its path based on the area it’s mapped out and the objects placed around it.

The Roomba 980 is a quick cleaner but was less thorough than either the Samsung Powerbot R7070 or the Neato Botvac Connected.

The robot will then track those objects as it moves, but it will also continue to take pictures and actively scan them for the best route. There’s also a sensor on the bottom of the device that helps collect floor data.

Performance: Not the best for picking up pet hair

Part of the appeal of the Roomba is that it has an innate tendency to act a bit like a person. For instance, when you press the Clean button, the robot vacuum will sing a jingle in a sort of R2-D2 fashion, as if it’s waking up from a long nap. Press the button again to start the job, and it’s like you have your own, personal cleaning butler.

The Roomba can handle multiple surfaces.The Roomba 980 is a quick cleaner, but was less thorough than either the Samsung Powerbot R7070 or the Neato Botvac Connected. While all three picked up nearly 100 percent of Cheerios on both wood and carpet, the Roomba picked up only 82 percent of sawdust sprinkled on a vinyl surface, compared to 100 percent for both the Samsung and the Neato.

The Roomba fared even worse when cleaning pet hair. On vinyl, the vacuum sucked up just 46 percent of fur, while the Neato and Samsung both got all hairs. Repeating the test on a wood surface, the Roomba improved by 20 percent, but was still well behind the other two.

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