What Is the iRobot Roomba 980?
Founded in 1990 by three MIT graduates, iRobot Corporation is a tremendously successful company that creates all sorts of autonomous robotics for civilian and military use. Most people will know of them due to the launch of their Roomba robot vacuum back in 2002 which sold over a million units in just two years. It wasn’t the first robotic vacuum cleaner on the market, but it was definitely the most effective at the time. Over the years they have continued to improve upon their Roomba line up, and have recently launched the Roomba 980.
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Now, even if you have the same inclination as Will Smith’s distrustful character in the 2004 iRobot movie, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be fascinated by the Roomba 980. Luckily, or unluckily we’re still some way from achieving artificial intelligence, but with this machine cleaning your home you may beg to differ. At the moment iRobot has five new robot vacuums to cater to all budgets, but the 980 is their flagship model. It isn’t cheap, but can run for up to 120 minutes, has a super low profile, and a wide range of cleaning and app capabilities, which puts it in perfect contention with Dyson’s 360 Eye and Neato’s D7.
We decided to buy one and write this iRobot Roomba 980 review to find out just what it can do. Read on to find out what we discovered.
- Powerful Suction – The Roomba 980 has powerful suction capabilities and the ability to differentiate between hard floors and carpets.
- Obstacle Avoidance – Unlike some earlier models and competitors the Roomba 980 is much better at avoiding obstacles.
- Spot Clean – If you’ve spilt coffee on the floor, or one of your children or pets has tracked dirt into the house, you can easily use the Roomba for a quick spot clean without it having to do the whole house.
- Simple App – For those who aren’t technically inclined the iRobot app is user-friendly and can even let you control more than one Roomba if you have multiple stories.
- Filtration – The filter is not washable and therefore needs to be replaced every two months.
- Loud – Even in eco mode, the Roomba 980 measures in at around 70 dB and 10 dB more while in performance mode. Though it’s possible to set it to clean when you aren’t at home to avoid disruption.
iRobot Roomba 980 Key Features
Dirt Detect Technology – Using dedicated dirt sensors, the Roomba 980 has the ability to detect especially dirty areas (commonly in high traffic locations) and clean them more thoroughly.
Multi-Surface Friendly – The Roomba 980 has the ability to detect what type of floor you have and adjust its power setting accordingly. For instance, it will normally use the eco mode when cleaning hard floors to save as much energy as possible, but switch to performance mode when it detects carpeted flooring.
Suitable for Pets – Many people have shied away from purchasing robot vacuum cleaners because of the challenges offered by pet hair. The Roomba 980 uses rubber counter rotating extractors rather than brushes, which coupled with the advanced Gen 3 motor (providing 10x more power than their 600 series and 5x more than the 960) has no problem picking up hair without it getting as tangled as it would with a bristled brush.
Auto-Adjust Cleaning Head – The Roomba 980 can adapt its height depending on the surface being cleaned which is an incredibly smart feature, and an insight into the type of thought that has gone into the research and development from iRobot.
Battery and Charging
The Roomba 980 uses a 14.4V lithium-ion battery, allowing it to clean for up to 120 minutes without fading as the battery depletes. The specified runtime is for the eco mode which will usually be more than adequate to clean homes with hard surfaces, but those who have carpeted flooring will need to use the performance mode which lasts closer to 60 minutes.
While some robot vacuums need a full day to charge before first use, the Roomba 980 is shipped partially charged and can be used right away if you choose. However, to fully charge it let it remain on the dock or ‘home base’ for three hours. The dock has a green light to indicate when it’s docked properly and charging, though the Roomba itself also has a battery indicator to let you know when it’s fully charged, or close to being depleted while cleaning.
As for the charging dock, it’s not as stylish as other models but is still relatively unobtrusive. To recharge, the Roomba will need to navigate onto the charging points, which it has little difficulty doing due to dedicated ‘RCON’ sensors on both the robot and the docking station. As with other robot vacuum docks, it’s important to have ample space around it so the vacuum is not impeded – 0.5m on each side, 1.2m in front, and at least 2.4m from any virtual walls. One area we didn’t like about the dock was that there was nowhere to wind up the excess cable at the back to keep it looking neat.
Due to the heritage and notoriety of the Roomba, it’s considered the quintessential robot vacuum cleaner in terms of design. Basically, a glorified three-wheeled, hockey puck if we’re honest, but one that’s packed full of features and not one you’ll want to hit with a stick. It features two large rubber height-adjusting wheels on each side to help it traverse difficult areas, and a rotating caster wheel on the front so that it has no problems spinning on its axis and manoeuvring about. The 980, in particular, is actually quite elegant with its brown-burst and grey colouring and is clearly a sturdy and cleverly thought out robot.
On top, you have three simple buttons – a large silver ‘clean’ button in the centre, and two small black buttons on each side to tell it to go home or perform a spot clean. Above these buttons you also have error, Wi-Fi, battery, full bin and dirt detect indicator lights.
The Roomba 980 uses a forward facing sunken camera (to maintain the low profile) on top which it uses to triangulate it’s position while cleaning your home and navigate around obstacles. However, it also utilizes several sensors such as the RCON sensor on top so it can dock itself, and several underneath to detect dirt and avoid drops.
The 980 has a smartly designed flap-style handle on top which doesn’t negatively affect the appearance of the robot and makes it easy to pick up for spot cleaning. An interesting feature of the Roomba which has been present on older models is a front bumper which can absorb small impacts and therefore be less likely to damage furniture.
The Roomba 980 uses a three-stage cleaning system which includes an angled (27 degree) sweeping brush on one side that captures dirt and debris from corners and edges and directs them into the rubber dual counter-rotating extractors in the centre of the vacuum. This dirt and debris are then suctioned into the bin where the air that’s expelled is free from 99% of all dust, mites and allergens as small as 10 microns thanks to the AeroForce high-efficiency filter. While there is no denying the power and efficacy of the 980, we were surprised that it couldn’t capture smaller particles (the Dyson 360 Eye captures particles as small as 0.5 microns, and the Neato Botvac D7 as small as 0.3 microns), though by comparison the width of a human hair is around 75 microns across so this shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your purchase.
The dirt receptacle resembles a cassette and can be removed with a press of a button while pulling it away from the back of the Roomba. You can then flip down a door on the side to empty all the captured dust, debris and hair into a dustbin. On top of the dirt receptacle, you’ll also find the filter under a flap, which can be removed and cleaned by tapping it against a bin at intervals. Unfortunately, you can’t wash and re-use the filter like you can with the Dyson 360 Eye and will need to replace it every two months. However, a spare is included in the box and additional filters are inexpensive.
It’s worth noting that you also have the option to remove the side brush (spare included), main rubber extractors and front caster wheel for cleaning, which should be done periodically. The 980 has made this surprisingly easy so you won’t be tearing your hair out trying to keep on top of maintenance like you may do with other robots. Some parts will need to be replaced after some time to maintain optimal performance, which includes the front caster wheel after a year, and the extractors every 6-12 months.
Setup Process, App Functionality and Cleaning Pattern
The setup process of the Roomba 980 is perhaps one of the easiest, although much the same with other robot vacuum cleaners. After unboxing, you’ll need to flip the Roomba upside down and remove a couple of tabs (one for the battery and another for the bin), before placing it on the dock for three hours to fully charge. As mentioned, the dock is small and unobtrusive, but you’ll need to find a flat surface with adequate space around it so the Roomba has no problem finding it.
While you can use the Roomba manually by pressing the ‘clean’ or ‘spot’ clean buttons, it’s a good idea to install and connect it to the app to enjoy all the features it has to offer. To app is called iRobot HOME and can be installed from Google Play and the App Store. Once installed, you can choose to “add a robot”, “set up a new robot” and then follow the wizard. You’ll need your Wi-Fi details and password to complete the process, although the app includes little video tutorials to help you through certain sections if you get stuck.
What’s great about the app is that in addition to being able to command the Roomba to clean right away, schedule cleaning seven days a week (at specific times), and check cleaning history, you can also look at the ‘care’ section and see when certain parts need to be cleaned or emptied – such as the bin, filter and extractors.
The cleaning preferences section of the app is quite handy, and allows you to adjust the following:
- Carpet Boost Settings – Choose whether it automatically turns on performance mode when transitioning from hard flooring to carpet, or whether it permanently stays in eco or performance mode for all cleaning tasks.
- Cleaning Passes – Choose whether it will only make one cleaning pass or two for a more thorough clean. Keep in mind that the Roomba does feature ‘Dirt Detection’ technology so will concentrate on especially dirty areas automatically so setting one pass is usually all you need.
- Cleaning with Full Bin – Choose whether it completes the cleaning job with a full bin, or returns to the dock for emptying before it continues.
- Edge Clean – Although this should really be automatic, you have the option to choose whether the Roomba will focus on edges along walls and furniture legs at the end of a cleaning cycle.
The Roomba 980 uses new iAdapt 2.0 navigation which along with VSLAM (visual simultaneous localization and mapping) is a vast improvement over previous models. It has no problem navigating around the house systematically and in straight lines rather than a random pattern while working its way under and around furniture and objects as necessary. While the app doesn’t allow you to create no-go areas, included in the box are two dual-mode virtual wall barriers. With these, you can either create a linear boundary that the Roomba 980 can’t cross (such as if you were blocking off a room), or a halo type boundary if you don’t want it to go near dog bowls or delicate ornaments.
Lastly, the Roomba 980 can be linked to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant if you would like to control it by voice rather than just using the app. However, the app is so easy to use that this is more of a novelty than a great convenience.
The 980 is the most powerful Roomba ever created, which says something as the previous models have been consistently better and helped the company to build the legendary reputation they are known for. It has absolutely no qualms picking up small particles such as spilt sugar or coffee or larger particles such as dried mud, breadcrumbs or even popcorn. Just keep in mind that the dirtier your home is, the more frequently you’ll need to empty the bin which is generally recommended after each full cleaning cycle. If you have pets this is a great robot vacuum to have, especially as the hair is less prone to tangle around the rubber rollers.
The ‘Dirt Detect’ technology is particularly helpful for cleaning high traffic or overly dirty areas of your home, such as your entrance or kitchen. Here it will make more than one pass as necessary until the area is clean. Even so, with the app, you have the option to choose for it to stay in high-performance mode or to make more than one pass per cycle to ensure your home is always immaculate. It didn’t have any problems navigating onto rugs, though on occasion did manage to flick the edges up in the process.
It was quite noisy in the performance mode which is something to keep in mind if you’re working, on the phone or trying to relax in front of the television. For these occasions, you can choose to set in eco mode, or rather schedule or just command it to clean via the app when you’re away from home. It’s common for robot vacuums to pick up a persona of sorts, and iRobot has enhanced this phenomenon by adding a number of sounds to let you know what it’s doing (i.e. docking, undocking, gets stuck or is lost).
It always managed to find its way back to the dock, apart from when it was picked up to do some spot cleaning. In which case the 980 had trouble finding it, especially if it was quite some distance away from it. However, this is common among many robot vacuums so it’s hardly a con. A couple of negative points worth mentioning is that if you have any black rugs it might perceive these as drops and refuse to clean them, and because it uses a camera for mapping it needs adequate light in order to do its job. Overall though, the Roomba 980 did a great job, rarely got stuck, was easy to setup and simple to maintain.
As with other high-end robot vacuum cleaners, the price is usually enough to put most people off. However, those who made the jump have largely been happy with their purchase and feel as if their home has never been cleaner. The Roomba 980 does come with a one year warranty (which also includes the battery), though you can extend this to two or three years when purchasing through Amazon. In terms of value, it sits comfortably with its rivals such as the Dyson 360 Eye and Neato Botvac D7, though in our opinion is a touch more practical than the Dyson and on par with the D7.
All in all, the Roomba 980 didn’t fail to impress and is definitely a step in the right direction for robot vacuum cleaners. The rubber rollers is an interesting development compared to a bristled brush and one we’ll have to keep an eye on to see how it performs over time. Nevertheless, it’s a great cleaning companion to have and should especially be considered by those who have to clean under their furniture due to the ultra-low profile. The app is also very easy to use, and it’s one of the few robots with a bin full indicator. If you want the best robot vacuum on the market, we recommend looking at both this and the Neato D7 which we reviewed here before making up your mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it possible to purchase more virtual walls?
Yes. The Roomba 980 comes with two dual-mode virtual wall barriers, but you can buy additional virtual walls from iRobot directly or from Amazon.
What are the specifications of the Roomba 980?
35.3cm in diameter, and 9.1cm in height.
Is the filter washable?
No. You can tap the filter on the side of the bin to remove dust build up once or twice a week, but you will need to replace it every two months.
What can I do if it has trouble returning to the dock properly?
Although this isn’t a common problem with the Roomba, make sure that your docking station is on a flat surface and has adequate space around it as specified in the user manual.
If the bin full indicator light is showing, will I need to wait until the robot returns to the docking station to empty it?
No. All you need to do is pause the robot and empty the dirt receptacle. Once you have replaced it, you can let it continue its cleaning cycle.
Do I need to clean the sensors?
Yes, it’s advised to clean the sensors with a dry cloth periodically. Every two weeks for the bin full sensors, and once a month for the cliff and floor tracking sensors.
Can I use the app for more than one Roomba?
Yes. If you have more than one robot to clean different stories of your home you can control them all from the iRobot HOME app.