by Garrick Dee
Updated December 3rd, 2018
No talk about robotic vacuums should be complete without mentioning Roomba.
In case you aren’t familiar with Roomba, it is a sub-brand of iRobot. This company specializes in consumer robotic products such as robotic mops, vacuums, pool cleaning robots and more.
The purpose of this article is to help you decipher the differences between variants to help you choose which one is the best Roomba.
Our concern is to help you find one that will meet your needs and budget.
All Roomba products have the same dimensions – around 13.9 inches wide and 3.6 inches tall. All variants also have retained the round shape with a single side brush.
Compared to a Neato, this round shape does not clean corners as well and has a narrower cleaning path.
But this brand still remains as still one of the best performing and bestselling robotic vacuums even out selling the more high-tech Dyson 360 Eye.
1 year (robot)
6 months (battery)
This variant is currently the cheapest Roomba available right now at around $350.
It uses the iAdapt 1.0 navigation system which has a random cleaning pattern.
Inefficient but thorough
This hurts efficiency but is very thorough especially if you use it to clean one room at a time.
For cleaning both bare floor and carpet, it utilizes counter rotating brushes – a bristled and squeegee type that work together to agitate and pick up dirt.
It does not have the HEPA filtration that the more expensive Roombas have. But we’re taking about a price difference upwards of $400. This is significant but unless you suffer from a condition like asthma, it shouldn’t be a big deal to you.
Two virtual walls
For containment, it comes with a one virtual wall that acts, well, like a wall and virtually blocks the path of the robot from going in areas that are off limits.
iRobot says that the 650 cannot clean multiple rooms but in reality it can. Efficiency will suffer and the chances of it going back to the charging base drops significantly.
Despite being using an old technology, this robotic vacuum is still a very good product capable of cleaning your home thoroughly.
It has everything you need from an autonomous cleaner – scheduling, multi-room cleaning, decent sized bin and good cleaning performance.
Value for money: Roomba 860
This variant has the features found in the 980 while retaining the same navigation found in the older 650.
You may be wondering why I’m not recommending the cheaper 700 series.
One big reason would be the warranty. Roomba has discontinued production and the ones that are on sale are from the last production cycle.
So long term viability would be a concern.
Some similar features to the 900 series
Features found in the 980 that you’ll see in this robot are the bristle-less rubber extractors and HEPA filtration.
It has the same motor as the 960 which means more power plus it uses a lithium ion battery that doubles the battery cycle of the 600 and 700 series.
Now you know why I’m recommending this over the 700 series.
The 700 series while being more than $100 cheaper than the 860 still uses the old bristled brush found in the 650.
Another concern would be the NiCad battery that has a shorter service life and run time. So after enumerating all the pros of the 860 which would you prefer?
What’s the difference between this and the 880?
Both variants are the same, except for some aesthetic differences like color. Under the hood, both have the same motor, use the same lithium ion battery and motor.
The difference would be the accessories inside the box. The 880 comes with a virtual lighthouse while the 860 comes with a virtual wall.
A virtual lighthouse is a more complex tool that iRobot developed for the Roomba. It acts like a door that blocks the path of the robot for a period of time and then opens it so that it can clean another room.
Watch this video to see what I mean…
In my book, the 860 provides the best value for money proposition among all Roomba robots. It comes equipped with same features found in the 900 series like rubber extractors, lithium ion battery and motor.
Best performing: Roomba 980
This robot is the crème-de-la-crème of all the Roomba variants available in the market right now.
It boasts of the most powerful motor, largest battery, vastly improved navigation that is the most efficient plus it has a smartphone application that allows you to control this robot even when you’re not at home.
The same app also allows you schedule the robot to clean at a specific time you want it to clean (once a day, 7 days a week).
It also shows you where the robot is on a map in the middle of the cleaning cycle or when it’s returning to the charging base. If you need more thorough cleaning, the app also allows you to activate advanced features like “Two Cleaning Passes”.
The app however does not show you the status of the battery. It does not allow you to schedule cleaning more than once a day (something that the Xiaomi has).
New and Improved Navigation
If you’re familiar with the previous Roombas, you’d know that these robots use an IR-based navigation that isn’t efficient.
In fact, this is one of the biggest complaints that consumers have.
While it is thorough, it isn’t as smart as a Neato and iRobot has addressed this issue with the 900 series.
Gone are the days where a Roomba will go in a random direction.
Thanks to an onboard camera and the SLAM algorithm, it builds an internal map of the area it is cleaning…
The 980 will remember areas that it has cleaned and will not go over it twice. When battery runs low, it goes back to the charging base, refuels then goes to the area it last cleaned.
This system is much smarter and efficient than ever before.
If you want a high tech robot vacuum and don’t mind spending the $$$ to buy such then the 980 is a great option. A refurbished 980 is also available in Amazon for $100 less. Consider this if you don’t mind a second hand robot restored to a nearly brand new state.
A stripped down 980: Roomba 960
I just finished talking about the $900 Roomba 980 as the most feature-rich Roomba cleaner.
But if paying that much for an autonomous cleaner is too much for your budget and you still want the same features then I suggest you give the 960 a long look.
A bare bones 980
The 960 is a bare bones version of the 980 that retains the same navigation and WiFi connectivity but with a smaller battery and motor.
It also is compatible with the Roomba app that allows you to control this robot through WiFi.
These downgrades halves the power and reduces run time by 55 minutes.
This means that the 960 will not have the carpet boost feature found in the 980. But it shouldn’t be an issue if your home only has low pile carpet.
If you run this machine every day, it will keep dirt from piling up and keep your home’s environment clean.
All this downgrades come at a $200 discount.
Consider this robot if the 980 is too expensive for you. But remember that comes at the cost of a weaker motor and smaller battery. It still retains the same efficient navigation and smartphone app.
Cleans the bin for you: Roomba I7
Roomba and Neato are at it again in their battle for robot vacuum supremacy. Months after Neato releasing the BotVac D7, Roomba now has the I7.
On the outside, you wouldn’t think this is just a refresh but it isn’t. There are several major upgrades that make owning a robot vacuum more convenient than ever.
First upgrade is the second vacuum that sucks up the contents of the robot’s bin into a bag that you can easily throw out without exposing yourself to its contents.
The navigation also gets an upgrade with the I7 getting the new iAdapt 3.0 with the latest vSLAM technology.
This upgrade means better efficiency at cleaning your homes. It saves the layout of your home in iRobot’s cloud servers.
You can then name each room and ask the robot to clean each one individually or schedule it to clean at a specific time.
This is the type of convenience the I7 brings to the table. Once the dirt bin is full, it goes back to home base, dumps the contents to a second vacuum in the charging station and resumes cleaning.
How’s that for a helper?
The counter rotating brushes also gets an upright with getting deeper grooves for better agitation.
All of these upgrades comes at a premium price. Expect to pay over $900 for this. iRobot also sells this with the regular charging station minus the vacuum. If you opt for the latter you’ll get a $200++ savings.
The jury is still out on how the Roomba I7 will perform but initial reviews have been largely positive. There’s not doubt that this robot vacuum is the best right now in terms of features. The big question for any consumer is would the $950++ price that justify all of it?
When robot vacuums first came out and this includes the Roomba, one of the biggest issues was reliability.
Part of that was due to the lack of spare parts – to be more specific replacement batteries. A busted battery during the early 2000s meant an expensive repair or trashing the robot.
As manufacturers improved the quality of these robots, the market also matured and grew and demand increased.
An increased demand meant more competition and like the automotive industry manufacturers sprouted and sold spare parts. Even if iRobot says that they will not honor warranties if you use non-iRobot parts, the reality is it won’t really matter because warranty will expire long before the battery gives out.
So using non-iRobot brands will make sense if you want to extend the life of the robot. Whether you have a 600, 700, 800 or 900 series Roomba, you’ll be able to find a replacement battery just for it.
The great thing about it is you’ll have the option of purchasing a Lithium Ion version instead of an older NiCad that was prone to power fade and had a shorter lifespan.
Both are similar to the 650 and 880 respectively, the only difference is, it has an app that you can use to control the robot remotely.
If you have Alexa or planning to buy one, these two variants are also compatible with it.
These by are are the best Roomba robots currently available in the market. The keyword is available. All of these machines are still in production so you don’t have to worry about warranty.
If you are a first time user and don’t want to spend a lot of money then I’d recommend either the 650 or the 860. Performance-wise both of these robots are close, the biggest difference would be the intangibles.
The 650 would be the rougher of the two, meaning it will hit furniture harder and potentially damage it. iRobot addressed this issue with the 800 series by dialing down its aggressiveness. It will not hit furniture as hard but it won’t clean as well because edge cleaning won’t be as good.
So it is a compromise you have to carefully weigh if the price difference would be worth the scuff marks. When it comes to navigation both are similar.
A cheaper option would be the 960 that retains the same navigation and WiFi connectivity but with a smaller motor and battery.