Any title like “the Roomba 780 versus the Roomba 790” is necessarily a little silly. After all, they’re essentially the same unit. The major difference is in the remote control, but a general overview of the 780/790 and the minor differences first will help.
|Features||Roomba 780||Roomba 790|
|Full Bin Indicator|
|Room Confinement||Virtual Lighthouse||Virtual Lighthouse|
|Virtual Wall Halo||optional||optional|
|Wireless Command Center||optional||Radio Frequency|
|Weight||8.4 lbs||8.4 lbs|
|Review||Roomba 780||Roomba 790|
|Where to buy?||Best Price||Best Price|
Design and Specs
The Roomba 780 hit the U.S. market about May, 2012. The Roomba 790 followed a couple of months later. The difference is more than just a little time. With every generation there are internal improvements that consumers don’t see.
Manufacturers take feedback on reliability, usability, and so forth and try to do better. At least, good ones like iRobot do. Though it hasn’t been available long enough to judge the long run, that’s likely to be true for the Roomba 790 as well. The short gap between the two releases modifies that rule but two months is long enough to make some quality control improvements.
One change that is obvious is the external case – which has been redesigned. Whether a given buyer will like the change depends, of course, on personal taste. Personally, I prefer the darker grey/black of the 780 to the lighter blue of the 790, but you may well feel just the opposite.
Both vacuum cleaners measure 13.9 inches in diameter and weigh 8.4 lbs. Both house the same set of filters and bristles. The 790 box holds three extra side brushes, two spare beaters, and a pair of bristle brushes in the accompanying replacement kit. The 780 offers only one each.
Similarly, the 780 package has only one extra filter, while the 790 kit includes three Dual HEPA filters. So, there are a few extras included with the 790 besides the unusual remote control.
Remote Control/Command Center
Speaking of that remote control, here’s where things get interesting between the Roomba 780 and the Roomba 790.
The handheld that comes with the 780 is decidedly usable but it’s an IR (infrared) unit. That means you need a line-of-sight to the vacuum cleaner in order for it to receive the signal.
By contrast, the remote (called a Command Center) for the 790 works by RF (radio frequency). That makes it possible for the signal to go through walls and even the ceiling. That means you can turn the robot on/off or direct it from another room, a big benefit for those who have difficulty getting around.
The RF unit’s range is a bit greater, too. The 790 remote operates up to 25 feet away, less when going through walls. How much less depends on the nature of the wall (or ceiling/floor) but plan on losing around 30-50% of the maximum distance. Still, that’s pretty decent.
Both remote controls share the same basic functions: On/Off, Initiate Clean, Spot Clean, and Return to Base. The 790 remote has also an additional schedule feature.
Virtual Wall Lighthouses
Both the Roomba 780 and 790 come with extra components that aid in automated vacuuming. The most significant are the Virtual Wall Lighthouses. The 780 box houses two, the 790 offers three.
Virtual Walls are what the term suggests: small towers that send a signal the Roomba receives to prevent it entering another room.
Virtual Lighthouses are dual mode devices. That is, they can operate like Virtual Walls but have a second mode/feature. Rather than keeping the unit out of a second room they guide it comfortably into one. That allows the Roomba to seamlessly enter, say, a bedroom after the living room is done.
How useful that is depends on your individual circumstances. I like the robot’s ability to do more than one room without simply bouncing around or entering by accident. However, the Roomba operates only about an hour in an approximately 450 square foot room.
Granted, that would be a very large room, so it can easily have enough juice to do two if it operates efficiently. Good battery management makes that possible. But, the Roomba has sensors that let it detect dirt very well. So, it might go over one section repeatedly, which naturally uses some battery life.
Both models house the same sensors, which are both optical and acoustic. Yes, the Roomba can ‘hear’ the kind of debris it confronts – such as sand versus ordinary dirt. Likewise, it can ‘see’ dustballs versus cat hair. Those sophisticated detection methods let the Roomba adjust how it cleans the room.
One thing the Roomba does not have that is incorporated in the Neato XV-11, for example, is a laser that scans the perimeter. The XV-11 does more than just judge the dimensions of the room, as the Roomba can. It actually makes an internal map of the layout.
How important that is depends on how well the information is used by the smarts inside but in this regard the Neato does very well. Still, the Roomba is pretty good about finding its way around without a lot of wasted motion, which optimizes battery usage.
Speaking of battery and power issues, both models have the same system and offer the same charging base. It works well and takes about three hours to recharge. That’s less than ideal if you need to go over multiple rooms in the same day, but it’s fine if you just want to vacuum once a day or less.
So, with so much in common the basic question is: which to buy, the Roomba 780 or the Roomba 790? Not surprisingly, that comes down to whether the extra $100 for the 790 is worth the expense, a strictly personal decision.
The extra filters and brushes that come in the Roomba 790 package over the 780 box account for part of that cost. Also, if you have more rooms you want to guard/guide having an extra Virtual Wall Lighthouse in the package is appealing. You can buy them separately but currently they run at $40 each so that’s already 40% of the difference.
Last, but far from least for a gadget freak like me, getting a fancy remote control that operates through walls is pretty tempting. In either case, whether you choose the 790, 780 or even the Roomba 770 (Read here how the Roomba 780 compares against the Roomba 770) you’ll get a superb robot vacuum cleaner.