iRobot Roomba 980 Review by Janyce Raynolds
|Last Updated: 14/03/2016 02:08 UTC. Because of the rate with which conditions change, prices may slightly vary or product may be temporarily out of stock when checking out the product at the vendor's site. Any price and availability information displayed on the vendor's site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.|
Anyone at all familiar with robot vacuum cleaners has heard of Roomba, and probably for several years. It might make you wonder what iRobot could possibly create that’s new. The look is settled, the function is clear. What could they add or improve to justify a new model, especially one that’s definitely on the high end, price-wise?
Tune in and find out…
Basic Design & Features
Like every other model from iRobot you’ve ever seen, the Roomba 980 is a black disc about four inches high and 14 inches in diameter. Ok, to be precise, it’s 3.6″ x 13.8″. And, like most other models, it’s medium weight: 8.7 lbs, in this case.
There are lots of familiar features here, too.
Consistent with a design change made a few years ago, the 980 has “brushless brushes”. That is, there’s no series of broom-like nylon needles sticking out of a roller like whiskers. Instead, there is a car-tire like pattern of raised rubber ridges around the cylinder.
Is that better? Tests – both professional and anecdotal in real-world use in many homes – say a resounding “Yes!” Having performed several myself, I have to agree. Whether it’s actually easier on wood floors or tender carpets could be debated for a long time. But one thing is certain: it picks up dirt and debris better. That’s measurable, even in a single session.
It’s also a lot easier to clean and re-use quickly.
One bit of evidence of that superior function is how it handles hair on the floor. Ask anyone who’s ever owned any kind of vacuum cleaner with traditional brush rollers. She knows how hair gets tangled in the bristle assembly. None of that here. Some does get wrapped around, but for the most part it’s directed into the bin.
Speaking of that bin, it’s pretty substantial in volume. Forget the number. The way hair and paper bits get compressed it doesn’t mean anything. Consider the question another way…
The 980 will operate for a couple of hours on a charge (see below under Battery). Even so, you will rarely have to empty the container in the middle of a session.
The only times that’s required might be when you haven’t vacuumed pet hair for a month, or if you’ve closed the house for a season in a very dusty environment.
There are now just three buttons: Clean, Home, and Spot. Simple, but is that good? I’ll leave that to the individual to decide. I prefer more controls; others want the simplest possible system.
Press Clean, as you would on any Roomba, and that’s the function it starts. Press again to Pause. That’s pretty simple. Other functions that used to be on the top of the robot have migrated to the iRobot Home app, about which see below (under Cloud Access & Scheduling).
iRobot vacuum cleaners have for several years now garnered a great reputation for good navigation. It’s earned. While they may not have the only good scheme – Neato is very good, too – there’s no denying it performs excellently.
iAdapt 2.0 Responsive Navigation is the company’s latest buzzphrase, but fortunately it actually delivers on the promise. They’ve obviously been taking some tips from the competitors.
With the Roomba 980, iRobot has recently added an interesting twist. There’s an array of sensors that combines a cell-phone-like low-res camera view with infrared to get a very extensive “view” of the terrain.
The result is that the 980 is “aware” of all the furniture, toys, and other things in its path before it even begins its cleaning round.
One advantage of the Roomba case design has always been the low profile. It can clean under all but the lowest chairs or couches. Getting under the beds is no problem at all, provided of course that they’re not blocked off by the Walls.
And, as it has for a long time, the 980 has the ability to sense upcoming stairs – and thereby avoid falling down them. That’s especially important for those in two-story homes where the railing is open. Falling down a step would be one thing. Falling off the second story would be fatal, even for something as robustly made as the Roomba.
Where the iRobot has really improved is in pathing. For the longest time, one thing that characterized a Roomba was its more or less random cleaning pattern. Now, it acts much more like a Neato in tracing out a logical back-forth pattern.
The accompanying Dual Virtual Wall components add to that level of intelligence. The Walls work essentially the same as they have for a long time. You put a device in the bedroom doorway, for example, and it either admits or excludes the robot, depending on the setting.
However, now they’re smaller. And they’ve been enhanced to include Halos. You can protect the area around pet bowls or other objects on the floor from getting bumped.
The 980 will adjust automatically to different levels of carpet-floor, or carpet-rug, different shag heights, and more. For those like me with a mixture of hardwood and medium-pile, that’s essential.
At the same time, whenever it senses a need to raise the vacuum power, it does so. That will happen most often when moving from floor to carpet, but if there’s a pile of thin dust on the floor you might hear it kick into high also.
It’s a little unfortunate that iRobot chose such a long buzzphrase for that feature: AeroForce Cleaning System with Carpet Boost. But it does actually work as advertised. The suction can increase up to 10x over the normal level.
No such boost is needed to get effectively into the corners and edges. Don’t be fooled by the circular case. For a long time, Roomba vacuum cleaners have had pretty good side brushes that get into the nooks and crannies well.
As always, the Roomba automatically docks when complete and then starts a new recharge cycle. More on that below, under Battery.
Inside the unit are a number of filters to prevent clogging the motor, eliminate re-entry of dust into the air, and so forth.
The HEPA deserves special mention. It’s not a true HEPA filter. iRobot labels it “HEPA-style”. But it does a good job of trapping dirt and other allergens down to about one micron in size. That’s not quite so small as the 0.3-micron level of a true HEPA filter. To earn the level and “official” designation, it also has to capture more than 99.97% of such debris.
Anyway, this isn’t an air purifier, so I count it as a “nice to have” feature and don’t mark it down for not being better. If you really need an allergy-ease aid, best to look into home air purifiers.
Cloud Access & Scheduling
The most significant new feature, found only on the 980 so far, is also the most controversial: “Cloud” access. i.e. you can set menu options and controls over the Internet using your cell phone.
To some, the ability to access and control your robot vacuum cleaner over the Internet could be reasonably viewed as just another tech trick. It could seem like a feature you’d rarely use, and have no reason to pay extra for. But that depends, not surprisingly, on just who “you” is.
For some users, it will be like the scheduling feature on a lot of Roomba vacuum robots. It will simply sit there, unused. But that’s why the company included it here, so that more people would actually take advantage of scheduling. If you can do that from work, or from the living room chair – rather than bending over a short canister for ten minutes – you just might use it more often. Or, so the thinking goes. You decide.
The iRobot Home app itself is easy to use and very reliable. I haven’t had it blow up once, and you can schedule the robot to clean any of seven days of the week. A few swipes and taps on the iPhone and it’s done. There’s an Android version, too. I haven’t tested it personally, but it’s gotten good marks from some who have.
There are other features, too, such as Two Cleaning Passes. By default, the robot makes only one. And it will still use the debris detector when it senses extra dirt to clean up. But you can change that. Edge Clean takes care of the perimeter, which again can be adjusted using the application.
One feature it would be nice to have here is the ability to schedule different rooms on different days, or to vacuum them at different lengths of time. Currently, it does all or nothing for every room (unless blocked by a Virtual Wall). In real life, some rooms get more traffic than others. It would be helpful to automate vacuuming the living room every day, the bedrooms twice a week, or some such variation.
Also, and this is really a stretch for the wishlist, remote control via cell phone might be nice for special events. If you have a camera setup in your home that allows you to see something needs extra attention, an online “order” to concentrate on it could come in handy. But those are rare occasions, admittedly. There are other more important places for iRobot to spend its programming efforts for the time being.
Lifetime, Battery & Charging System
As mentioned, the Roomba 980 will last a good long time on a single charge, up to two hours.
There are downsides to that. For example, one way to extend battery life is to reduce power, which means a less clean final result. Dyson takes a different tack on this by shortening the time but upping the power. But the proof is in the pudding, as the old saying goes. The 980 does a good job, so no worries there.
The key is whether the vacuum cleaner robot uses that power efficiently. This is one area where a Roomba has traditionally fallen short, but (again, as mentioned above) it’s made great strides with this model.
The other potential issue is with the Wi-Fi / Internet connectivity. As with your phone, tablet, or laptop, Wi-Fi does suck up battery power. And, the harder it has to work to stay in touch with your router, the more the battery drains.
Happily, that’s a relatively minor percentage in this device. It’s only in use during scheduling or other infrequent circumstances. And, provided you have a router that’s in good shape, and one kept where the robot can make contact without straining, you’re good.
The lithium ion battery onboard doesn’t represent any great innovation, but this unit gets a lot of life out of this new, relatively small, relatively lightweight component. And, in the eyes of many experts, it’s an improvement over the prior NiMH (nickel metal hydride). There are pros and cons to each, but Li-ion is becoming more and more standard. For one thing, it lasts longer.
The new iRobot Roomba 980 houses excellent cleaning components, an intelligent navigation system, and a new cell-phone app that works over the Internet. It has several control options that used to be on the on-unit menu.
The biggest red flag is that this new model is currently $200 more than the already excellent Roomba 880. It doesn’t clean significantly better than that model. So is improved pathing and the ability to control it from your phone worth that much more? Hard to say. For me, no. For you, maybe. Either way, it’s an excellent robot vacuum cleaner.