by Garrick Dee
Updated December 3rd, 2018
iRobot has been busy in terms of product development in the last 3 years or so.
During this period they’ve unveiled two robot vacuums with improvements to keep up with the demands of technology.
To be more specific the onslaught of smart mobile phones.
WiFi Connectivity is a must have for any appliance
So iRobot has addressed this in their latest products – the 980 and 960.
The Roomba 880 was the first to use the bristle-less brush roll system iRobot calls “Tangle-Free Aeroforce Extractors”.
These consist of two beater bars made from rubber with “teeth” that interlock with each other. It works like gears and works well pulling out dirt from hard floor and carpet.
Improvements in the new 980
In the 980 iRobot introduced major improvements to navigation and added WiFi connectivity.
Right now the Roomba 880 isn’t available in iRobot’s online store. They’ve replaced with the cheaper 860. This has the same features as the 880 but it has less accessories included.
Update September 21, 2017: iRobot has recently launched a new variant – the Roomba 890. It has the same features as the 880 and 860 but it has WiFi connectivity and is compatible with Alexa.
Find out how these two products differ in this article.
First, let’s look at the aesthetic.
The Roomba 880 pretty much retained the same layout as the previous 700 series models.
But used a different color scheme. The color is however is different, using a combination of dark gray and black with silver accents, it is a classic Roomba design.
Right in the middle of the robot is the “Clean” button that is the default cleaning mode of the Roomba.
Below it are four buttons namely dock, clock, schedule and spot clean…
With the 980 iRobot further simplified their already minimalistic design. And instead of five buttons, they’ve reduced it to three – spot, clean and dock.
The rest of the functions can be accessed through an app that iRobot developed for both IoS and Android devices.
Color scheme is also different.
Instead of using black and gray, iRobot changed it up a bit, using brown as its main color to go with black and gray accents.
This is a refreshing change to me.
iRobot did this I not just to make it simpler for consumers to use.
But also to accommodate the low resolution camera mounted in the middle.
This camera creates visual landmarks so that it does not lose track where it is.
And allows this robot to remember the area it last cleaned before docking (more on that below).
Before anything else let’s look at the features side by side.
|Weight||8.4 pounds||8.4 pounds|
|Run Time||approx. 60 minutes||up to 120 minutes|
|Multi Room *|
|Entire Level Cleaning **|
|Recharge & Resume|
|Warranty||1-year on robot|
6 months on battery
|1-year on robot|
6 months on battery
It ditched the bristled brush and switched to a brush-less system they call the “Aero Force” system that uses two counter-rotating rubber extractors that will agitate and pick up debris from both carpet and bare floor.
Here’s a glimpse of it in action (this is an iRobot promotional video)…
In terms of innovation this technology scores high points.
The unique shape of these extractors not only provide agitation but also funnel dirt and debris directly inside where the vacuum motor sits and sucks it in the dirt bin.
Since it has HEPA filtration, microscopic allergens stays inside the bin and does not come back out.
This is one feature that it has over the Neato BotVac and if you suffer from allergies, consider any of this two products.
Speaking of extractors if you look closely, it does not have any bristles. And because of this, maintenance will be easier.
However it doesn’t make it immune to things like this to happen…
Long hair will wrap around these extractors even it without the bristles. If you or anyone in your home has long hair, expect this to happen.
The good thing is that short pet hair or dust bunnies will no longer be a problem. So I guess iRobot did its job but it is not completely maintenance free as you might think.
But it makes up for this with a long run time (at least compared to the Neato that uses a stronger vacuum motor hence the lower run time).
Here’s how the Roomba 880 navigates…
Ever since iRobot introduced their first robotic vacuum cleaner a few decades ago it has mainly used a combination of sensors and a main infrared sensor located at the center to detect obstacles and map out the room.
While this worked, it was very crude and cleaning a room took very long.
If you let a Neato and a Roomba clean a room at the same time, the Neato would be finished in half the time it would take a Roomba.
That’s because it uses a more predictable back and forth pattern.
Another downside to the random pattern is it will tend to miss more spots.
I don’t know why iRobot resisted this change for a long time. But they finally made the change and added this improvement. They call this the iAdapt 2.0 system.
In addition to infrared sensors, iRobot adds a top mounted camera to help it create visual landmarks. So it remembers where it has cleaned and does not go to the same area twice.
Another improvement is the cleaning pattern, instead of a random cleaning pattern, Roomba now uses a back and forth pattern similar to a Neato that makes it more efficient in terms of how fast it can clean a room.
To see how it works, watch this video…
Reviewed.com mentioned that the app did not work when there using the Robot. But that could be a early production glitch and when you read reviews from other tech sites like CNet and Engadget. They were able to use the app without any problems whatsoever.
An app instead of a remote (Roomba is now WiFi ready)
Speaking of apps, that’s the next biggest improvement that iRobot added to the 980.
Here’s how the app looks like…
The advantage of using a smartphone over a remote control is that you don’t need to be in the same room as the robot to use it.
In fact, you can schedule the robot even when you’re not at home as long as you have internet connectivity you can use the app and turn on the robot even when you’re at work.
So if you have guests’ coming over. And don’t have time to clean your home. Just power up the app and press “clean” to start the robot.
You can also use the app to schedule when the robot will clean your home.
Previous Roomba generations (from the 400 up to the 800 series) all use an old NiCad battery that can be prone to fading and short life span.
Since the new 860 was released to the market, iRobot has since upgraded the battery on all 800 series robots.
Both the 860 and 880 now have lithium ion batteries that will run longer with less power fade.
With the new 980, iRobot has swapped that with a lithium ion battery that gives it a better power band throughout the charge cycle.
The newer battery also improves the battery life (lifespan of the battery not the run time). And make this a viable option over the long term.
The new battery also extends the run time from a mere 60 minutes to close to 120 minutes.
All of these features adds up to a smarter robot capable of cleaning larger areas more efficiently.
Better vacuum and better suction (in theory)…
If you look at iRobot’s site, they say that the Gen3 motor will increase its suction up to 10 times when the system detects that it is cleaning carpet.
When you combine that with the agitation provide by the extractors – this should provide better performance on carpet.
The variable suction feature also preserves the battery life because it will only use as much power as it needs so it is a plus.
Here’s a short video comparing the features of the 880 to the 980…
Starting from the 600 series up to the 800 series, iRobot either used a virtual wall or a virtual lighthouse to block it from entering areas you don’t want it to go.
A virtual wall basically is a wall that does one thing. Block the robot’s path with a signal that extends 4 feet.
A virtual lighthouse utilizes a different principle, instead of just blocking the robot’s path.
This device acts like a door that automatically opens and shuts depending the status of the robot.
As the robot finishes cleaning it fires a signal to the lighthouse so it allows it to move to the next room.
To see how these two differ, watch this…
To be clear, iRobot specifies in their site that only the Roomba 780, 790, 880 and 980 have multi-room cleaning capabilities.
The 980 has improved leaps and bounds compared to the 880 in terms of navigation.
Instead of using just a series of IR sensors, it now has an on board camera plus the SLAM algorithm that helps it track the areas it has cleaned. Like a GPS of some sort.
This is the same technology found inside the Google driver-less car only in a more compact form.
So instead of moving in a random direction, the 980 now is now much more efficient going in a predictable back and forth line.
Cleaning multiple rooms is now possible even without the virtual lighthouse. It cleans areas by section and the robot is smart enough to remember where it last stopped just in case battery runs low.
After recharging, it will go back to that exact same spot and continue cleaning until it finishes the whole level. For folks who have larger homes, this would be a better option.
You only need AA batteries to power these babies up. These are cheap and you can buy re-chargeable batteries and save money on the long haul.
As much as I’d like to recommend the better navigating Roomba 980. The price difference is just too much to ignore.
If you look at Amazon right now the 980 costs a few hundred dollars more than the 880. And that does not necessarily translate to better cleaning performance.
When it comes to navigation, the Roomba 980 wins hands down.
The improved cleaning pattern and the addition of the camera make this a better navigator. It will clean your rooms much faster than the 880 that still uses the old algorithm from previous generations.
Run time has also improved thanks to the larger capacity lithium ion battery. A full charge will allow it to run for up to 120 minutes in eco-mode.
Combine that with the variable suction vacuum motor, you will have a smart vacuum cleaner is more efficient and will clean your home faster.
In terms of cleaning performance the gap between these two robots isn’t significant.
You could say that it’s negligable despite the 980 having the more powerful motor which could only factor in on carpet.
If you don’t mind the inefficient cleaning pattern or the lack of an app to control the robot remotely then go ahead and go with the 880 and save yourself a few hundred dollars.
But if you’re willing to invest in technology then go with the 980. And enjoy the benefits of being able to start or stop your robot even at work or while doing your grocery shopping.