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Just in time for the Holidays, iRobot released their prized Roomba 980 vacuum cleaner to the masses. With competitor Neato recently releasing their slightly improve Botvac “D” series, it was speculated that iRobot might be following suit.
However, it has been a relatively long time since the Roomba 880 and 870 debuted. I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
Clearly, iRobot is not interested in ceding any market share to competitors, and rightfully so.
As with all previous Roomba’s there are things to like and things that I don’t like. Regardless, it’s going to be hard for me to not gift a few Roomba 980’s this year.
In this Roomba 980 review, I’ll get into the key features (what’s new) as well as the Pros and Cons. At the bottom, I’ll make an overall recommendation and suggest a few alternatives.
Bottom Line Up Front: If money is of little object, the Roomba 980 is the best robot vacuum currently on the market.
Contents (Jump to)
- 1 Key Features – What’s New with the Roomba 980
- 2 Pros and Cons – Things I like and Things I Don’t
- 3 Other Roomba 980 Alternatives to Consider
- 4 Final Call – Is the Roomba 980 Worth it?
Key Features – What’s New with the Roomba 980
The following are some of the new, updated, and noteworthy features on the 980:
- More Battery Charge Life: The Roomba 980 is now capable of running fro a full 2 hours before needed to recharge. This is a personal best for Roomba. On some of my older 700 series vacuums I’ve come close to this with after market third party replacement batteries, but this is the best factory default (out of the box) battery life so far. It’s still not Lithium-ion (for those who like that), but it is an improvement. Like the 800 series robots, the 980 will automatically return to the docking station base, but now it will recharge, and then resume cleaning where it left off.
- iRobot HOME App: For me, this is the game changer. I’ve been waiting for robot vacuums to become more fully integrated into the smart home experience. iRobot is the first robot vacuum company – to my knowledge – that has an app like this. You can press “Clean” from anywhere and the 980 will start/stop as desired. This is perfect for people who are on the go (like me). If I’m at work or out of the house, I can get things started while I’m away. The app is simple enough to use and basically functions as an advanced remote control. On the older Roomba’s you could have a pre-determined schedule to run each day, but not instant control like this!
- New Navigation System: It’s really more of an upgrade. In addition to the traditional “bumper” sensors, the Roomba 980 now features the “VSLAM” (Visual Simultaneous, Localization, and Mapping) technology. This is a big deal. Essentially it allows the visual localization allows the Roomba to “look” out and up to help navigate and map the room. This is the type of ground-breaking improvement that vastly improves the 980 over previous versions. What does this mean practically? Less bumping into things randomly and a more organized – and efficient – cleaning route.
- More Suction Power: Thankfully, iRobot wasn’t content with just a few new features. They also upped their game in the power department. The AeroForce cleaning system is the same base technology, but 2 times more effective at picking up debris per cleaning cycle. It also has “carpet boost” which maximizes air power when it detects a carpet or rug underneath. The end result is a more thorough clean, replicating a higher grade traditional vacuum.
- Improved Virtual Wall Lighthouse: Roomba uses these little towers to signal where to clean (and where not to clean…acting as an invisible wall barrier). The 980 has stepped up it’s lighthouse game. They are now smaller and take AA batteries (as opposed to the hulking “D” batteries for previous series). This is a nice improvement because who has spare “D” batteries lying around?
Pros and Cons – Things I like and Things I Don’t
- The App is Awesome: It’s fairly simple and straightforward, but it means everything to me. Being able to control my robot from my phone means the Roomba is now part of my smart home family. Picking up on where tools like the Nest and Ecobee smart thermostats have left off, iRobot has really delivered on a smart, web-connected, roomba vacuum. I’m already eagerly thinking about the possibilities for future integration with my various smart home apps and controllers.
- App Helps Monitor Maintenance: There is a really cool “diagnostics” portion of the app that monitors different parts of the Roomba and uses simple bars to let you know when things need to be changed or serviced (think emptying the bin, changing extractors, filters, etc…). It also tells you exactly how to perform the desired maintenance requirement.
- Better on Carpets: Robots vacuums always tend to perform better on hardwood floors and hard floor alternatives (tile, etc…). Now, the newly redesigned motor is particularly good at adapting to carpet surfaces as well. Once detected, the 980 will engage a bit more muscle to thoroughly clean carpets the way they should be cleaned. In a side by side test with my Roomba 880 (and a bunch of spilled crushed cheerios), both “appeared” to clean the same at a distance, but the 980 actually was able to pick up more of the crumbs that had filtered down to the bottom of the carpet. It was a subtle difference, hard to tell from standing up even, but an important difference nonetheless.
- More Hands Off/User Friendly: In short, it’s more of a robot! The new app, the stronger battery and the automatic recharging/resume feature makes the Roomba 980 even more hands free than both previous models and the competition. Slowly but surely, home robotics is living up to it’s promise. If you hate vacuuming – or physically cannot do it anymore – this is the quintessential outsourced solution. Short of hiring cleaning help, the Roomba 980 is now the best option out there.
- Navigation is Noticeably Improved: Sometimes new features are added and I can hardly tell the difference. Not so with the new navigation technology. In the past, Roomba’s have had the knock for cleaning in a randomized, haphazard pattern. While the end result was clean floors, how it happened wasn’t pretty. Still, it was also a bit inefficient. This was one of the contrasts I liked about most Neato models. Now, the 980 is much more organized, methodical, and efficient. It still bumps into things to gain its bearings, particularly in rooms with lots of furniture. Just not nearly to the degree it did in the past. On careful observation it even appears the 980 will remember these “bumps” for future cleans and will not keep doing it with the same wild abandon.
- Smarter Algorithm: For all you geeks out there, this robot is actually smarter than it’s predecessors and the competition. In general, I noticed that the 980 spent much less time than both my 880 and Botvac’s (included the new Connected Botvac) pausing and calculating as it creates the map of the room.
- Excellent Customer Service: iRobot is still the leader when it comes to customers service. This more of a general “pro” and less specific to this model, but still worth noting. Every time I’ve needed to replace a Roomba, I’ve had no issues. They are also good at walking you through diagnosing problems.
- Strong Secondary Parts Market: As a longtime Roomba owner, I know that it’s only a matter of time before I need to replace a battery, brush, or filter (among other items). Unlike other robot companies, the Roomba has a deluge of after market companies specializing in creating better replacement accessories and parts. For example, I’ve been able to find replacement batteries that are better than the factory default ones. This is only somewhat true for companies like Neato (smaller market share) and this market is virtually non existent for the other small players.
- Better Suction Overall: My two quasi scientific ways of measuring this are that A) I can feel a lot more wind/air coming out of the device and B) those larger particles of grit that only high powered vacs tend to get are being captured in the dust bin. This is an upgrade over the Roomba 880 which I was comparing it too as my baseline.
- App Could be More: This isn’t really a legit gripe, because I’m thrilled with the new app. It’s more of a wish. I’d like to fully integrate my Roomba with the rest of my smart home. It would be nice to be able to handle everything from one app (and one controller like the SmartThings Hub and others). It probably wouldn’t be hard to do and it may be something iRobot already plans to do anyway.
- Still Not “Perfect”: It’s a definite improvement, but it’s still not perfect. It sometimes gets confused by power cords and can have trouble with sizable thresholds. Once in a while it will get stuck, but once you figure out the problem areas, it’s easy to “Roomba proof” your house. It’s not quite like a human….yet.
- Competition on the Way? Both the Dyson Eye and the Neato Botvac Connected are rumored to be coming out “soon”. How soon? I can’t really tell. The Botvac Connected (which features similar app controls) will likely be out sometimes this year, but no firm release date has been set. The Dyson Eye has been rumored to be in the works for years, but I haven’t heard much lately about an anticipated release date. It could still be 6-12 months away. What this means is that the Roomba 980 could have some stiffer competition on the horizon. Right now, the 980 is the best robot on the market, but that could change. Particularly if the price points are more affordable, Roomba could be seriously undercut. UPDATE: The Dyson 360 Eye has recently been released. In general, it has a more powerful vacuum, but less competent room-to-room navigation. You can read my full review for more details.
- Doesn’t Work in Complete Darkness: As long as there is some light i.e. you can see your way around, the 980 should work fine. However, for pitch black rooms you will inevitably get an error code. If cleaning at night or in a basement with no lights, this could be a concern. My simple solution is to keep night lights on in every room that needs it.
- Carpet Boost is Loud: It picks up more dirt, so I’m a happy customer, but it’s still worth noting. Don’t plan on sleeping in the same room.
- Only Available in One Place: So far – as is often the case with new releases – the Roomba 980 is ONLY available via the iRobot store here. This is likely because they want to control pricing as long as possible. As soon as it’s released to other marketplaces like Amazon and box retailers, I’ll be sure to update this post. UPDATE 10/8/15: It’s just been released to Amazon (see here for the listing)!
- Price: As always, iRobot is the price leader. All their robots are usually slightly to moderately more expensive than the competition. The 980 is no different. In fact, it’s pretty darn expensive! At $900 per unit, this is probably not something that’s easy to spring for. You can check out this listing for more detailed pricing information. In this case, you do get what you pay for. This generation actually HAS improved many important aspects. Hands down, this is the best robot vacuum currently available. Still, if this is your first robot, you might want to look into some less expensive – but still competent – alternatives (see below)
Other Roomba 980 Alternatives to Consider
If the price is too much of a sticking point, not to worry. There are other great vacuums with considering.
Sometimes last years model is the best value around. Sure, it’s not the latest and greatest, but it still can offer many of the same benefits. You get 3 virtual Lighthouses which allow for setting up a perimeter for larger homes and spaces. The Roomba 880 WAS the cream of the crop, until the 980 was released. You can check out my review of it here. At the time, it was the most effective robot vacuum money could buy. The patented AeroForce cleaning system is 50% more effective at cleaning up debris than the 700 series. This, combined with a larger dust bin, a better battery, and a remote control made it the most hands free device at the time. Now it’s the 2nd best. It doesn’t have the revolutionary app, but it has all the other key features for a true runner up. Most importantly, it’s a full $200 cheaper than the 980 (check this listing for even steeper discounts). Still pricey, but a lot less so.
I wasn’t too impressed with the original Botvac release, but the new “D” series has made some helpful improvements. Notably, they’ve fixed a problem with the brush (by changing a bearing) to make it less susceptible to getting tangled (particularly with human and pet hair, in my experience). The Botvac D80 doesn’t just look better, it also functionally performs better than previous Neato models. The suction power is the best yet and arguably comparable to the new Roomba 980. Still, you won’t get the app controls, but it’s still relatively easy to schedule and use. The patented laser navigation technology means more organized routes and it generally works quite well. You can see this listing here, where it generally retails for less than the top line Roomba’s.
It’s been around for a while, but it’s still reliable. It’s also MUCH more affordable. You can read my full take here. If budget is your top concern, try the 650 out to see if it’s good enough for your needs. Yes, it’s missing a bunch of nice “extras” but the core cleaning technology is till there. The 650 is ideal for people who have small homes, apartments, or just a small area they want regularly cleaned. It does not come with the standard HEPA filter (good for those with allergies and pet owners) like the 880 and 980, but the AeroVac filter does a good enough job. On the whole, this is a great robot for those just getting started, curious to see if the technology works for their needs. I still have mine running to this day after 3 years (and a few replacement batteries). Best of all, you can find the 650 for a very affordable price at this listing.
The Roomba 960 was released a few months AFTER the 980, but at a lower price point. Essentially, the 960 is identical to the Roomba 880 BUT it has WiFi capability (just like the 980). This is a great option if the WiFi feature is the most important thing you want. Basically, it has the 880 specs + WiFi/App control, at midpoint price between the 880 and 980. You can read more about my thoughts on it or check out this listing for the latest prices.
Thinking Cleaner Faceplate
I was a bit skeptical of this “work-around” at first, but it actually works reasonably well. Thinking Cleaner was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. It functionally adds WiFi capability to any Roomba 500 or 600 series robot. Skeptical? I was too. Basically, you attach a “faceplate” that modifies your Roomba. It’s simple enough to attach. Best of all, it can synchronize with other smart home apps (like SmartThings, etc…), something that I’ve criticized the Roomba 980 for not doing. You can do most of the same functions as the Roomba 980 WiFi, just in a less “polished” and intuitive way. The app is pretty solid and will let you schedule remotely, alert you when your Roomba needs help and even plays a song if you need to locate your lost Roomba. It’s available for just a fraction of the cost of a new Roomba here.
Who is this a good option for? 1) Existing owners of a 500 or 600 series Roomba. 2) Prospective buyers who want WiFi capability, but can’t afford/don’t want to spend $899 on the 980. For example, buying a new Roomba 650 and Thinking Cleaner Faceplate will run you no more than $500 total.
I’ll caveat by saying that 1) it’s still “laggy” 2) reduces average run-time by about 10-15% and 3) it’s not native to iRobot (third party app). Thinking Cleaner is working on a new faceplate for the 700/800 series, but as of yet it only exists as a Kickstarter project here.
New Robots on the Horizon?
As I mentioned previously, the long rumored Dyson Eye is officially under development. Who knows when it will be released. They still haven’t discussed release dates, but at this stage it will be unlikely to hit before the 2015 Holiday season. The new features on the Roomba 980 may actually cause them to delay release until they can match the core features.
The more intriguing possibility is the the Neato Botvac “Connected” robot which aims to add similar WiFi capability to the Roomba 980. You can read more about it via the official press release here. It would make sense for them to release it prior to the 2015 Holiday season, but they’ll have to do it soon to capitalize fully.
UPDATE: The Botvac Connected has officially been released in early Novemeber 2015! It’s very comparable to the Roomba 980, but doesn’t have the same smart boundary control mechanism and carpet boost, among a few other items. You can see my full review for more details.
Roomba 980 vs Botvac Connected
I’ll be writing up a full comparison soon, but I wanted to touch on this briefly because I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it.
Both the Roomba 980 and Botvac Connected feature WiFi enabled control. This is clearly the headline feature for both. I personally prefer the Roomba app better, but both are comparable in terms of features/usage.
What are the Key Differences? 1) The Botvac Connected is significantly more affordable (usually about $200 less), but see this listing for up to date information. 2) The Botvac now has “Eco” and “Turbo” mode. 3) The Roomba 980 has “carpet boost” and the Botvac doesn’t. 4) The Roomba uses virtual wall’s (invisible beams to contain the robot) whereas the Botvac still relies on laying down “magnetic tape” to define boundaries around your home.
UPDATE: You can read my full comparison (recently completed) right here.
Final Call – Is the Roomba 980 Worth it?
The short answer: Yes! The longer answer? If you have the money, this is arguably the best robot vacuum cleaner on the market. At the very least, it’s certainly the best roomba model to date. Whether or not it is “worth it” comes down to what your unique needs are.
UPDATE: The Roomba 980 has also topped my list for the best robot cleaners for 2017, which you can check out here.
Large Homes/Offices: If you have a larger home or office/business that needs to be cleaned regularly, the 980 is the best robot for the job. It can cover the ground and recharge on it’s own as needed.
Traditional Vacuum Replacement: If you need a vacuuming job that closely resembles a traditional upright vacuum clean, the 980 has the most power/suction and the best cleaning tech of any robot to get the job done.
However, if you have a small apartment, the 980 becomes an extravagance. One caveat: If you are a geek like me, it doesn’t matter. This is a MUST own!
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!