iRobot Roomba 980 Review

Detailed Review

We looked at 7 factors that will likely influence which robot vacuum you decide to invest in. These areas were Cleaning Ability, Objective Avoidance, Features, Charging/Battery Life, Aesthetics and Price. Each category is scored individually, with the final score reflecting the average of each of the 7 categories.

Cleaning Ability

The Roomba 980 truly shines in its cleaning ability. Few robot vacuums are packed with as much high tech cleaning options or abilities as this device. iRobot touts the “3-Stage” cleaning function of this device. This works well, but for the most part the branding is a little over-the-top for what it’s actually doing.

The Roomba 980 bucks the trend for vacuums when it comes to the use of a brush. To say this vacuum is brushless is a bit of a stretch. However, iRobot does away with the typical brush, instead opting for two rotating rubber “extractors”. These extractors spin toward each other. Combined with the powerful suction, it helps to agitate dirt and dust on the floor and pull the material into the device rather powerfully. The design also helps prevent hair and strings from getting tied up on the rotators, which is a common problem with most vacuums. Alongside the unique brush design, the Roomba 980 includes a high-quality filter that catches particles down to 10 microns.

Like most round robot vacuums, the Roomba cannot get all the way up to the wall. However, the spinning side brush is rather large, and helps move the dirt and particles in toward the the brush and suction in the center. The device has a rather methodic cleaning pattern, and utilizes a wide range of sensors, including an acoustic sensor, to help determine the dirty spots and give those areas some extra attention.

The Roomba 980 will indeed keep going until the job is done. It is without a doubt one of the best robot vacuums on the market today, although its price might make you question whether you want it or not. However, if price is no issue for you, and you’re all-in on the idea of a good robot vacuum, the cleaning power here is hard to beat.

Score: 5/5

Object Avoidance

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The only thing that can stop a good robot vacuum is how well it can or cannot avoid objects. The Roomba 980 is perhaps the best at getting around one of the worst trouble spots for robot vacs: chair legs. It rarely gets stuck on these, and will actively avoid areas that it can’t fit into.

Dark shaded floors and carpets are a problem for this device. The cliff avoidance system will keep it away from dark carpet, as it will consider this to be a hole or a cliff. There is no actual remedy for this, so that is something to consider for those that have dark floors. Nevertheless, this robot is fantastic at avoiding objects. You may still have the occasional problem with it sucking up loose cords or tassels, but this is a common problem with all robot vacuums. Somehow it is less of a problem with this robot, probably due to the brush design.

Be warned that this robot does run directly into objects. While it has a bump guard that should help mitigate the damage, do expect that over time, any wood furniture it runs into time and time again will show the wear and tear of a 13 pound object repeatedly bumping into it.

Score: 4/5

Features

The Roomba 980 is actually limited on features that are not directly related to specific cleaning functions. It has a nifty Apple and Android app that allows you to schedule cleaning and receive reports if anything goes wrong. The app even includes some handy data readouts, such as how far your robot has actually traveled. Unfortunately, you can’t really do anything with this information, but it’s certainly fun to know.

The sensor loadout on the Roomba 980 is top-of-the-line. It has all of the typical optical sensors and guidance sensors robot vacuums are known for, but also includes a few extras that set it apart. This includes a topside sensor that helps map out the room and create landmarks to help it keep track of its location, and an acoustic sensor that helps it locate dirty areas. There is some indication that the acoustic sensor may not actually make a difference, but this is hard to measure without having a feature that turns off the sensor or without tearing into the machine and voiding the warranty. We’ll just have to take their word for it that it’s working as intended. That the device has a wifi connection (which is obvious from the inclusion of an app) adds to the high-tech features that place it in the top-level among robot vacuums.

Score: 5/5

Charging/Battery Life

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Auto-charging comes standard on most robot vacuums these days. iRobot pioneered this function, and this continues with their Roomba 980. The device is designed to return to its docking station to recharge, which it does fairly well. You’ll want to make sure that the docking station is centered well against the wall, and that it’s not in a room where signals are blocked. Otherwise, your Roomba may have trouble finding its base.

The battery life on this device is about as good as it gets for robot vacuums. It will last, at most, 2 hours to a charge. This is assuming you are not using it primarily on carpet. When it hits carpet, it automatically switches to a higher suction power. This will drain the lithium ion battery much faster, and drop that run time down to as low as 30 minutes. The device takes about 90 minutes to recharge, so running longer than it takes to recharge is a good thing. It will keep up the cleaning regimine until its done, so it will just go back to recharge and then return where it left off.

Finally, another knock against it on this end is the lack of a battery meter on the display screen. Seems like a simple oversight, but it’s there, and it’s relevant.

Score: 3/5

Aesthetics

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The sleek design on this robot makes it a nice center piece. It’s a bit of a showboat, which is what you want when you’re plopping down so much money. Unfortunately, the basic design hasn’t changed much since the first Roomba, so anyone familiar with a Roomba may not be very impressed at first sight. The device has a nice weight and size to it, which show that it’s not a cheap piece of machinery. At nearly 13 pounds, it’s clear that Roomba uses high-quality materials on their device.
Score: 4/5

Accessories

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This is the area where the Roomba is lacking the most. If you take a quick look at the “Accessories” section of iRobot’s website, you’ll find that they don’t offer much in the way of replacement parts. The most important thing to note, which is also rather troubling, is the lack of a replacement battery. If there’s anything you’re going to want to replace, it’s going to be the battery. You can certainly find replacement batteries online,
but this is one replacement part that should be in their accessories store. They do have replacements for filters and the side brush, but little else.

The device does allow the use of an interesting virtual barrier. This little device creates a light barrier that the Roomba will not pass. This is a good way to keep it out of rooms where it might suck up things you don’t want it to. You can program the virtual barrier to turn off when the Roomba finishes cleaning the room its in, which will then allow it to move on to another room. You can buy additional ones from iRobots accessories store. However, they are pricey, as are most items iRobot sells directly.

Score: 3/5

Price: $899

The Roomba 980 is a high-end robot. As such, you can expect to pay some rather high-end prices for it as well. At $899 for the base price, you’re looking at a bit of a wallet-emptying device. The price might be a bit hard to justify. The real question here is whether its benefits are better than some of its competitors and some of the other models that Roomba sells. It’s hard to definitely say yes to this. Many robot vacuums clean just as well as the Roomba 980, even on carpet. It does avoid objects better and it does handle pet hair much better as well. Does that justify having to pay nearly $1000? That’s hard to say. We’re going to have to say no, however.

Score: 2/5

Detailed Summary

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In all, the Roomba 980 is a fancy piece of high-tech machinery. That iRobot decided to pack this robot with some of the latest in cleaning technology is a testament to how serious they are as a company. Particularly nice is the inclusion of the phone app, and the use of high quality materials in the design, both inside and out. The battery life is superior on this device, which ultimately is also one of the most important features of any robot vacuum. There are few reports of it dying while doing the job. It returns to its docking station almost without fail, so you can set it and forget it for a long time. The dust bin will only get full quickly if you have a lot of dirt lying around.

The biggest concerns are the ones you should expect from a high-end device. The price tag is without question a head turner, and somewhat difficult to justify. Are the parts and materials used in the construction expensive? Perhaps. But you may be better off buying the Roomba 880 and saving a few bucks, as the two devices are fairly similar. The real reason you may want to invest in the 980 is the upgrade in the cleaning brushes, which do seem to work better than most other robot vacuums. If the money is not an issue for you, it’s a vacuum that’s certainly worth taking a risk on. However, if you have a tight budget, you may want to think twice.

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