iRobot Roomba 980 Review: Roomba Now Ditches The Random Navigation

Last updated on December 3rd, 2018 by Garrick Dee

The Roomba 980 one of iRobot’s flagship models right now.

It isn’t the latest but it’s still one of the top performing robot vacuums available right now.

With the recent release of the Roomba I7 to the market, the prices of the 980 have gone down significantly since it was introduced.

If you don’t want to spend over $900 for the top-of-the line I7 this is a good option. It won’t clean the bin for you or remember your home’s layout but you’ll save a few hundred bucks.

In 2013 iRobot introduced the Roomba 880 that ditched the bristled brushes.

However it still uses the same random navigation and NiCad batteries that limits its potential.

With the new Roomba 980, iRobot has upgraded the navigation and the batteries to boost the performance of this already great performing robot.

No more remote

Also this robot does not come with a remote. In it’s place is WiFi connectivity and app so you’ll be able to use it to control the robot remotely. Yes, you’ll have access to this robot even when you’re not at home.

Related: Find out how the 980 is different from the 880 and see if it’s worth the price difference.

The battery also gets an upgrade. It now comes with a newer lithium ion battery that’ll last longer against the NiCad battery. Not only will it last longer, it’ll also run longer.

Take note that these upgrades come at a $300 premium over the old 880 and for a limited time you can avail of the Free replenishment (up to a $50 value) kit if you buy direct from iRobot.

Let’s look closely at these upgrades if they are worth the premium price.

A quick look at the features

  • Instead of using a random cleaning pattern, the 980 uses a more predictable grid like pattern similar to that of a Neato
  • Comes with an app that lets you schedule and control this robot anywhere using your smartphone
  • Lighthouses have a new sleeker design with cheaper AA batteries
  • Newer lithium ion batteries will run for 2 hours
  • Has cliff sensors (same sensors as the old Roombas)
  • After the battery runs out it will automatically return to its charging station to recharge and continue where it left off

Pros

  • Uses a more predictable and efficient back and forth cleaning pattern
  • Wifi connectivity ditches the remote control
  • Lithium ion battery will have a longer service life compared to the NiCad equipped 800 and 700 series
  • Lighthouses aren’t as bulky and uses cheaper AA batteries
  • Has HEPA filtration

Cons

What To Expect From The iRobot Roomba 980?

With their rivals going the cloud route namely the Dyson 360 and the Neato BotVac Connected, iRobot had to come up with a similar feature or risk getting left behind hence the Roomba 980 was released a few months after their rivals.

Features

At the heart of this robot cleaner is a new navigation system called the iAdapt 2.0 that uses a more predictable back and forth cleaning pattern that all Neato robots has used (more on that later on).

And instead of using a remote control, iRobot has developed an app that allows you to schedule cleaning using your smartphone.

Here’s how the app looks like.

Roomba 980 App

Image courtesy of CNet.

The app allows you to schedule the exact time the robot will clean your home (Roomba allows you to schedule up to 7 times per week).

It also gives you access to advanced cleaning options with just a few taps. It also shows you the status of the robot whether it’s in the middle of a cleaning cycle or returning to the charging station for refueling.

However it does not give you the status of the battery which I hope they’ll include in future app upgrades.

Navigation

iRobot has completely redesigned the navigation system of the 980, instead of relying on just infrared signals to detect obstacles, this robot uses a combination of IR sensors and an on board camera to track its location plus the iAdapt 2.0 navigation that utilizes the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping algorithm or the SLAM.

This allows it to have a more predictable grid back and forth pattern – similar to what the Neato uses.

This improves the Roomba’s efficiency and lessens the chance of it missing spots here and there. It also speeds up the cleaning time and maximizes the 2 hour run time from the new lithium ion batteries.

The cameras also detect the presence of obstacles and it tells the Robot to avoid them instead of bumping into them.

Here’s a long exposure shot of the navigation…

Pattern

Image courtesy of CNet.

Here’s a video from iRobot which summarizes how the new navigation system works…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj3Vawn-kRE

Compared to the previous Roombas the 980 cleans more efficiently thanks to the more predictable cleaning pattern.

Bare Floor Cleaning

This machine would be great on cleaning dust prone hardwood surfaces where constant vacuuming would be a chore. With a low profile height of just 3.6 inches, it would be able to clean under most furniture like beds where dust can easily accumulate.

In the rice test done by CNet the Roomba 980 came in 4th behind the BotVac 85, D85, Roomba 880 and Samsung Powerbot VR9000. It slightly outperformed the Roomba 880. In the sand test which is denser thus harder to clean than dust, the 980 came in only fifth.

Check out the graph below to see the rankings.

Hard Floor Test

Here’s a video demonstration on how it did on carpet cleaning small pieces of paper…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DllgfYk9QAU

Carpet Cleaning

On carpet the results were roughly the same. The 980 simply could not outperform the Roomba 880 and even the BotVac 85 that ran away as the best performing all around robot vacuum out of the 6.

It did fairly well in terms of picking up rice and particularly on mid pile carpet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVwmYXSrNIo

You’ll notice that the side brushes will fling large debris like cheerios but it was able to clean a majority of it but didn’t get it all in one pass. I just show this to you to show you how it performed in extreme conditions.

Pet Hair Removal

For the pet hair test, Roomba ranked in the middle of the pack with surprisingly better performance on medium pile carpet were it came in second in picking up pet hair behind the Botvac D85. It also outperformed the 880 at least on carpet.

Will it Clean Stairs?

Unfortunately, there no robotic vacuum in the market right now that can clean stairs. You’ll need a stick vacuum for that.

Scheduled Cleaning

You can schedule this to automatically clean your home up to 7 times per week or once a day. You can schedule it using the app that you can download on your smartphone.

Charging Time

iRobot does not specify how long it will take to fully charge the batteries.

Maintenance

Take note that you can’t wash the HEPA filter in the Roomba 980. The best thing you can do is use a handheld to vacuum dirt. But you’ll have to replace it after 6 to 12 months.

Make sure you wipe all the sensors before reinstalling the dirt bin back.

Here’s a short video on how it is done…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjZu4t0NUHI

The side brushes also take a lot of beating and will gather debris, particularly pet hair. To maintain the performance side brush performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roMKOo5Oc-M

Don’t forget to clean the camera and other sensors using a clean microfiber towel lightly dampened with water.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UqVT__jbXA

Run Time

When fully charged, the lithium ion battery will give roughly 2 hours of run time. With the more efficient and predictable cleaning pattern this robot should be able to more square foot per charge than the previous Roombas.

Warranty

Roomba vacuums come with a 1 year warranty on the robot and 6 months on the battery.

Product Specifications

Battery typeLithium Iion
Charger typeCharging Station
Charge timeN/A
Run Time 2 hours
Doorsill crossingup to 1.5 cm
Net weight (with battery)8.7 pounds
Shipping weight13.7 pounds
Diameter13.8 inches
Height3.6 inches
Multi Room
Yes
Self docking
Yes
Remote control
No

* You can download an app to your smartphone
Hepa filtration
Yes
Cliff detection
Yes
Self adjusting
Yes
Edge brushes
Yes
Full bin indicator
Yes
Stair Cleaning
No
Cleaning sessions per week 7
Extra Filter1
Containment 2 virtual walls (AA batteries are included)
Brush cleaning tools
No
Accessories included1 Home Base Charging Station

1 Rechargeable Battery

1 Line Cord

2 Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barriers (batteries included)

1 Extra Filter

1 Extra Side Brush
Voltage110v
Manufactured inChina
Warranty1-year on robot
6-months on battery

Customer Reviews

Consumers who purchased or received a free product for review (the Amazon Vine program) said that this robot cleaner has very good suction. They especially liked how the carpet boost function that increases suction on carpet – similar to that of the Max function in a Dyson cordless vacuum.

In terms of cleaning performance, consumers say it did well with pet hair and light dusting but for larger debris, the side brushes will fling some of those around.

Rug tassels could be a potential problem as it could get stuck in between the extractors so you’ll have to fold these away or remove the rug.

App is easy to set up

Most of consumers say that they didn’t have any trouble connecting the Roomba app to the robot itself but take note that it is only compatible with 2.4 GHz networks. One consumer complained about this limitation saying that they should have also made it compatible with 5 GHz networks.

The app itself is pretty basic and based on reviews you can schedule cleaning times from anywhere as long as there is an internet connection. It’ll send you a notification if the bin is full. Here’s the neat thing, the app also tells whatever maintenance is requires like cleaning the extractors.

Better navigation

Compared to the older 800, 700 series models the navigation of the 980 is much better thanks to the more predicable back and forth cleaning pattern.

The new navigation system will actually save a map of your room in its memory and will “remember” the obstacles and shape of the room.

This in theory should make this a more efficient cleaner and miss less spots. But consumers say that it is methodical in the way it cleans which means it is slow. This could be a good thing because it will pick up more dirt.

But it still uses the same cliff sensors so it will not be able to go over black carpet.

Since this robot comes with a camera, it’ll have trouble navigating in a dark room. Anything that uses a camera needs light to function.

There are still complaints about this robot not being able to return to home base and getting lost so you’ll have to do your part and prepping the room (e.g. removing obstacles and wires) to maximize any robot vacuum.

The steep price tag turned off some and whether or not it will be worth it will depend on your preferences. If you’re really busy and need a helping hand with your floor cleaning then this would be a huge help.

Where can I buy this?

The best price to buy this would be in Amazon where you can buy this for just under $850 and you get Free Shipping. When you buy this direct from iRobot, expect to pay close to $900 but if you are a Amazon Prime member the price goes down by almost $40, yes even if you register with a free trial you can still get that discount.

iRobot also has a promo right now where you can get a free replenishment kit (around a $50 value) for any Roomba purchase.

To wrap up

This robot is a huge step forward in terms of integrating cloud based technology to appliances.

The app based control panel is a huge upgrade over the IR based remote controls that limit range.

iRobot also improved the navigation in their latest product, adding a camera sensor and moving away from the random cleaning pattern that made the old Roombas terribly inefficient in terms of cleaning.

But are these improvements worth the $800 price tag you’ll pay for this?

In terms of performance the Neato Botvac 80 series still wins in terms of overall cleaning performance. But it doesn’t come with the gadgetry as the Roomba.

So you’ll have to think long and hard whether or not the high tech improvements of this will be worth the extra $$$ that you will have to pay.

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