The Roomba 900 series was the first iRobot vacuum with a revamped navigation system that’s more efficient thanks to the iAdapt 2.0.
No, these robots aren’t the latest Roomba products (the Roomba I7 is!), but these two are still the best performing robotic cleaners available.
If you want to know the difference between the Roomba I7 and 980, please click on the link to find out more.
We will be comparing the Roomba 960 vs. the Roomba 980 and breakdown the differences between these two high-end robotic vacuums in detail.
It includes the features, usability, design, cleaning performance and any quirk that you may need to know.
Make sure to read the whole article to help you decide which variant will best suit your home’s need.
Between these two variants, the Roomba 980 is the better performer thanks to the more powerful motor.
However, getting one would entail spending a few hundred dollars more.
If you don’t mind paying the premium and your home has lots of carpets that need daily vacuuming, it would be a more prudent option.
Which Roomba is better?
The Roomba 980 is the better robot versus the Roomba 960. This variant has a stronger motor and larger battery that allows it to run almost 50% longer. Carpet boost gives this robot extra power for cleaning medium pile to thick carpet. If you live in a small house with less carpet, then the Roomba 960 would suffice. However, like most robot vacuums, it will struggle with fine dirt like sand on carpet.
Roomba 980 Review: More Power
With the release of the Roomba I7, the 980 is no longer iRobot’s top-of-the-line variant.
That’s great news for consumers because that means price cuts.
The Roomba 980 uses iRobot’s third generation motor that is five times more powerful than the motor found in the Roomba 960 that uses the same engine as the Roomba 860.
This upgrade can be felt on carpet surfaces thanks to the “carpet boost mode” that turns up the power to its maximum.
Aside from the more powerful motor and larger battery, you’ll get more accessories.
This robot will run for about 120 minutes after a recharge which will equate to a 1,200 square foot range.
The 980 comes with one more virtual wall to block out areas you don’t want it to go.
All the features in the 980 make it an optimal robot for homes with a lot of carpets.
- Has excellent performance on carpet thanks to the carpet boost feature.
- The larger battery helps this robot to clean a larger area.
- One of the more expensive robot vacuums right now.
- The larger motor makes this robot louder.
Roomba 960 Review: Cheaper
The growing popularity of cheap robot vacuums that come from China has forced Roomba to release a “lite” version of the 980 which is the Roomba 960.
Brands like Xiaomi and ILIFE are aggressively trying to catch a market share of this growing market, and frankly, their products offer a lot of value at a lower price point.
Despite the growing popularity of cheap robotic cleaners, iRobot is still a market leader thanks to its performance, availability in the U.S. and customer support.
The Roomba 960 is a result of this price war coming from the Far East.
This variant is a watered-down version of the Roomba 980, so there will be some downgrades.
One of those features is the motor. The Roomba 960 comes with the same motor as the Roomba 800-series.
It lacks the carpet boost mode found in the 980 that limits its cleaning performance on the carpet.
Another feature downgraded was the battery. This variant uses a smaller Li-Ion battery that will only run for 75 minutes.
- It is a few hundred dollars cheaper.
- It is the same iAdapt 2.0 navigation found in the 980 that makes this efficient.
- Shorter run time means it won’t cover as much ground.
- Will not clean carpet as well as the more expensive 980.
Roomba 960 vs. 980: Design
Both the Roomba 960 and 980 have a similar design with subtle differences with the color schemes.
Let’s look closely at each one in detail.
iRobot opted for a more straightforward interface with the 900-series.
In the older 700-series robots, Roomba had five buttons.
In the Roomba 980, it’s down to three round buttons – clean, home and spot.
At the bottom of the three buttons is a camera that’s vital to the revamped navigation in the 980.
The camera scans the room then takes notes of all the furniture, walls and other potential roadblocks.
It also scans the layout of your home to create a map and know exactly where it is (more on the navigation later on).
Moving this robot around is simple thanks to the handle at the front.
This feature will be handy if you need to return the robot manually to the charging station.
The 980 retains the puck shape design we’ve grown accustomed to since the first iRobot vacuum as introduced a few decades ago.
The Roomba 960 has the same design as the Roomba 980. All the buttons and the camera are on the same points.
The only difference would be the color as the 960 uses a lighter shade of gray as opposed to the 980’s darker finish.
Outside of the aesthetic difference, all the other design elements of these two robots remain the same.
Both have the same sized bin, interface and brushes.
The Roomba 960 even comes with the same iAdapt 2.0 navigation that the more expensive 980 has.
How does the Roomba 980 and 960 clean?
Next, let’s look at how these two robotic vacuums clean our homes.
If you flip both robots, you wouldn’t be able to tell which one is 960 or 980. Both robots use the same bristle-less counter-rotating brushes and single side brush.
At the heart of the Roomba 980 is the counter-rotating brushes that iRobot calls extractors.
Instead of using a traditional bristle brush, Roomba opted for something easier to maintain.
These “extractors” actually perform better than the counter-rotating bristle and squeegee brush combo found in the lower end Roomba robots like the 650 and 690.
The single side brush extends the reach of the robot to grab dirt near the edges and corners the sweep it toward the main brushes.
One big difference between the 980 and 960 would be the motor.
The Roomba 980 comes with iRobot’s third generation motor that has ten times more power versus the 600 series and five times more than the 800 series Roombas.
This power translates to better cleaning on a carpet. Combine this with the advanced dirt detect feature plus efficient navigation (thanks to the iAdapt 2.0), and you’ll have a robot that will clean both thoroughly and efficiently.
To avoid obstacles, the 980 comes with IR sensors on the bumper at least to prevent the robot from scuffing furniture.
Like the 980, the Roomba 960 also comes with the same counter-rotating extractors and side brush. iRobot calls this the AeroForce – a three-stage cleaning system.
Unlike the 980, the Roomba 960 comes with a smaller motor – the same one found in the Roomba 890.
It also has a smaller Li-Ion battery that will only run for 75 minutes. That’s 45 minutes less than the 980.
Unlike you live in a large 2,000++ square foot home, run time shouldn’t be an issue.
Add to that the ability of the Roomba to return right where it left off after recharging somehow negates the shorter runtime of the 960.
The 960 has the same navigation as the 980, so it will be efficient and thorough at the same time.
Navigation: How the Roomba 960 and Roomba 960 navigate
One of the most significant improvements that iRobot did with the Roomba 980 was the navigation.
In older Roomba robots before the 900 series, iRobot only put IR sensors around the robot as a measure for collision avoidance.
While the Roomba robots (600 to 800 series) were thorough, they were also inefficient going in a random pattern and didn’t clean multiple rooms with efficiency.
The Roomba 980 and 960 are different. These robots are much smarter and far more efficient than any Roomba before them.
These robots now have VSLAM (or Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) technology that allows it to navigate larger areas with greater efficiency in straight lines.
Colin Angle, CEO, and co-founder of iRobot said that “This is probably the most important robot that iRobot has launched since the original Roomba.”
He further said that “It is still round, still cleans but it is a completely new robot.”
On top of the robot is a camera pointed forward at a 45-degree angle. This camera is connected to the VSLAM software that dynamically builds a map in its memory.
As the camera takes a photo, a fancy software looks for distinctive patterns like edges of furniture.
When the VSLAM algorithm sees those patterns, the robot identifies these patterns and keeps track of them as it goes along its cleaning cycle.
It does this continuously and builds up a picture-based map of its environment.
The resulting product is a robot that cleans in a straight back and forth patterns. It knows exactly where it is so when it goes back to the charger; it’ll go back exactly where it left off and resume cleaning.
It solves a lot of issues that plagued the older Roomba robots.
Instead of manually carrying the robot room to room, you can just hit the clean button, and the robot is smart enough to clean multiple rooms.
With smarter navigation, battery life becomes less of an issue because the robot is sufficiently autonomous.
The Roomba 980 and 960, however, will not save these maps. Once the cleaning cycle is done, it has to build that internal map all over again.
The latest Roomba I7 has that feature where it stores your home’s map in iRobot’s cloud servers. Having this feature, helps the robot become more efficient in succeeding cleaning cycles as it already has a map that it can refer to.
It makes the Roomba 960 an enticing option if your home does not have any carpets since you’ll only see the benefits of carpet boost, err, on the carpet.
One potential issue with an efficient robot is the lack of thoroughness.
A random cleaning robot while inefficient will go over an area multiple times that result in a much cleaner surface especially on carpet.
On average, the older Roomba robots will go over an area an average of three times.
Roomba addresses this by programming the 980 to increase the performance of the motor on rugs and carpet.
It also has a combination of acoustic and optical sensors that tell the robot areas that need a more thorough cleaning, so this will solve the thoroughness issue.
Learn more about how the iRobot 900 series navigates here and here.
Size and Dimension of the Roomba 980 and Roomba 960
The Roomba 960 and Roomba 980 have the same dimensions – 13.8 inches in diameter and 3.6 inches tall.
It’s low profile enough that it can go under most beds and furniture. These are the areas that will benefit the most from a robot vacuum.
In terms of weight, both robots weigh just 8.7 pounds. So carrying this robot won’t be an issue.
Parts and Accessories that the Roomba 980 and 960 come with
All the differences between the Roomba 980 and 960 are under the hood. Outside of that, both robots use the same parts, so these are interchangeable.
Both these robots come with the following:
Charging base: It is the “home base” so to speak for the Roomba 980 and 960. This device has a sensor that tells the robot “I’m here, please go back and recharge” after the cleaning cycle or if the robot’s battery runs low.
Side brush: The side or spinning brush extends the reach of the Roomba and allows this robot to reach edges and corners.
Virtual wall/barrier: The Roomba 980 comes with two of these and the 960 only one. A virtual wall or barrier acts like a wall that blocks a straight area (e.g., door posts) or radial area (e.g., area around pet litter). This tool is useful if you have a bigger home with regions that have areas not suitable for a robot.
HEPA filter: At the end of the AeroForce system is a HEPA filter that blocks allergens from coming back out of the exhaust. This filter isn’t washable, and you’ll need to replace it every two months or so.
Usability of the Roomba 980 vs. 960
Out of the box, these robots are simple to use. Just set up the charging station, charge the robot and then press clean. It will activate the default cleaning mode for you.
The three buttons on top of the robot represent the most used functions.
However, you can also access other functionalities such as scheduling and map through a smartphone app.
You can then connect the app and robot through WiFi that’s built-in the robot. WiFi is now a standard feature in robots regardless if it costs $200 or $900.
Both the Roomba 980 and 960 come with the same WiFi connectivity that gives you access to the robots even if you’re not physically present in the house.
So let’s say you have guests coming over and you need to tidy up your home, open the iRobot app then click on the default cleaning mode.
If you own Alexa, this robot is compatible with that device so you can also use voice to command the robot to clean.
It further adds to the convenience of owning this robot.
Battery and Run Time
Between the two robots, the Roomba 980 comes with the bigger battery. It comes with a 3,300 mAh Li-ion battery that will last up to 120 minutes. This run time equates cleaning about 120 square foot of floor space.
Charging time will take around 2 to 3 hours which will depend on how much charge remains on the battery.
If the Roomba 980 runs out of battery with unfinished areas, it will recharge and resume where it left off.
The Roomba 960 has a smaller 2,600 mAh battery that will for around 75 minutes before needing a recharge.
It is roughly around 45 minutes less than the Roomba 980.
However, the deficit isn’t much of an issue because of the charge and resume feature.
The larger motor of the Roomba 980 makes it the louder robot between the two.
How loud? It’s around 70 decibels at carpet boost mode.
The Roomba 960 is not as loud at 5 decibels less.
If 65 decibels is still too loud for you, then please have a look at other robots such as the ILIFE A4S or the ILIFE A8.
Cleaning Performance between the Roomba 980 vs. 960
To see how well both of these robots clean first we’ll have to see the results on cleaning tests done by tech blogs.
I’ve gone this route because I want to see different perspectives on how blogs test.
For the Roomba 980, we’ll look at a trio of tests done by Modern Castle, Tech Gear Lab, and CNet.
With each one of these tests, the methodology is different.
For example, Modern Castle did their cleaning test in an enclosed area with four different types of debris – rice, dry cereal, kitty litter, and sugar.
The test reveals that the Roomba 980 was able to pick up 100% of the dirt on hardwood, low pile, and medium pile carpets.
image source: Vacuum Wars
However, it did not do as well on sugar on high pile carpet as it only picked up 47% of the 3 ounces.
What their test didn’t account for is the performance of the robot on the edges and how it handles cleaning dirt around furniture.
They also did not test it on pet hair.
Tech Gear Lab did a more extreme test scattering more dirt on a larger area.
They also tested how the robot was able to handle dirt on around office chairs and edges of rooms.
The Roomba 980 did reasonably well on their cleaning tests on hard floors and low pile carpet scoring 70% out of their 100% benchmark for rice, oats, and flour.
It did leave behind traces of each test subject on the edges and corners which is a reason why it did not score 100%.
While it did well picking up more substantial items like mini-wheat on fluffy carpet, it struggles with the smaller stuff like flour and rice.
Cleaning pet hair could be an issue based on the Tech Gear Lab Test, as it only was able to pick up 30% of the pet hair.
Lastly, let’s look at CNet’s test.
CNet did not specify precisely any specifics about their test, only the type of dirt and how much the robot was able to clean.
In CNet’s test, the Roomba 980 did much better in the pet hair test.
It was able to pick up 90% of pet hair on hardwood, 95% on low pile carpet and 84% on mid-pile carpet.
For rice, the 980 was able to pick up 96% of it on hardwood, 91% on low pile carpet and 85% of mid-pile carpet.
The Roomba 980 did not do as well cleaning sand as it only was able to pick up 22% of it on mid-pile carpet and 29% on low pile carpet. It did much better on hardwood, picking up 92.8% on it.
Here’s a video of the Roomba 980 trying to cleaning a big pile of dirt on hardwood.
You can see the dirt detect system at work when the robot goes back and forth over a dirty area.
It wasn’t able to pick everything up in a single pass, but the results are impressive.
For the cleaning test of the Roomba 960 let’s look at the tests done by Modern Castel, Tech Gear Lab, and House Method.
In the Modern Castle cleaning test, the Roomba 960 did well picking up rice, cereal, kitty litter, and sugar on hardwood, scoring a perfect 100%.
It didn’t do as well on sugar on low pile carpet, picking up only 52%. It was worth on high pile carpet, as it just got 49% of the sugar on high pile carpet.
In the more extreme test done by Tech Gear Lab, the Roomba 960 was able to score 5 out of 10 on bare floor cleaning.
Image source: Tech Gear Lab
The biggest culprit would be the struggles it has cleaning flour. In the rice cleaning test, it did much better picking up nearly everything from hardwood except for the three grains of rice.
It scored slightly higher on the carpet, with a score of 6 out of 10. Again, it will struggle to pick up dirt at the edges and corners despite the presence of the side brush.
If there’s one thing that the Roomba 960 struggles with, it is cleaning fine dirt such as powder. It does much better at cleaning larger items like rice, leaving just a few strands behind.
House Method tested the Roomba 960 on four types of debris – cheerios, kitty litter, coffee grounds, and pet hair.
For their cleaning test, they used the spot cleaning mode to see how much of the dirt it will pick up. Their cleaning test does not factor in how the robot will clean on edges and corners.
They also did not test potential navigation issues with different types of furniture and how it will affect cleaning performance.
It is strictly a performance test done in the middle of the room to see how much the Roomba 960 will pick up.
Overall, it scored well, getting a 9.67 out of the 10 rating.
On hard floors, it was able to pick up all of the debris after 7 minutes.
On high pile carpet, it did reasonably well except for the coffee grounds. It pushed it deeper in carpet strands, and they needed to use a hand vacuum to clean it.
On low pile carpet, it did better. After initially pushing cheerios and kitty litter across the carpet, the Roomba 960 was able to pick it up eventually. It was also able to clean up coffee grounds and pet hair in a single pass.
The Roomba 980 and 960 will require some upkeep to ensure performance does not degrade.
Aside from the emptying the dust bin, cleaning sensors, and other general maintenance stuff, there are parts that you need to replace periodically.
Here’s a table of the schedule of cleaning and replacement frequency of different items for both the Roomba 960 and 980.
Take note that you will need to empty and clean the dirt bin after every use if possible.
To extend the service life of the HEPA filter, you can use a hand vacuum with a brush tool like the Dyson V7 Trigger to clean allergens from the surface.
I like this technique to at least extend the lifespan of the HEPA filter by a few weeks.
If you add everything up, the maintenance cost will be around $35 to $37 annually.
Value for money
The price difference between the Roomba 980 vs. the 960 is close to $200.
So the question is, is the Roomba 980 worth the $200 premium?
There’s a short and long answer to it. The short answer is No.
When you consider that the only upgrades that the Roomba 980 has are the battery and motor, the performance difference does not add up to $200.
One reason to choose the Roomba 980 over the Roomba 960 would be the type of floor and the size of your home.
If it has lots of carpets and a bigger floor area, the longer run time and more powerful motor will be of help.
Otherwise, it’s not worth the extra $$$ you’ll spend.
Spec comparison of the Roomba 980 vs. 960
Which robot should you buy? Roomba 980 or 960
If you want to buy a high-end robot, which of these two Roombas should you buy?
Both of these robots offer excellent cleaning performance and efficient navigation.
The Roomba 980 has better overall performance than the Roomba 960 that can be felt most when cleaning carpet.
This variant will be able to clean pet hair and smaller debris better on carpet better than the 960.
However, the Roomba 960 is the cheaper option. You can use the difference to buy a high-end handheld vacuum like a Dyson V7 Trigger to complement this robot.
The Roomba 960 has the same navigation features such as VSLAM, advanced dirt detection and WiFi found in the 980.
So the difference isn’t that significant.
To summarize here are the main differences between these two robots:
- Vacuum motor: The Roomba 980 comes with the iRobot’s third generation motor that has five times more potent than the Roomba 960 that uses the second generation motor.
- Carpet boost mode: The Roomba 980 has another gear that it can go to when cleaning carpet. iRobot calls this the carpet boost mode. This mode automatically kicks in when the robot detects carpet.
- Run time: The Roomba 960 has a decent run time of 75 minutes which is more than enough for most cleaning needs. However, it is child’s play when you compare it to the Roomba 980’s 120-minute run time. The resume function does negate the difference in run time.
The Verdict: Roomba 980 is the Winner
When it comes to top-of-the-line performance, the Roomba 980 is hands down the better robot vacuum than the Roomba 960. It runs longer and will clean better on carpet. The combination of the VSLAM, dirt detect sensors make this robot both efficient and thorough. And the WiFi connectivity allows for remote access using a smartphone. However, performance and run time don’t paint the overall picture. You’ll also have to look at price, navigation, and value for money. With you add those things, it gets interesting.
The Verdict: Roomba 980 is the Winner
When it comes to top-of-the-line performance, the Roomba 980 is hands down the better robot vacuum than the Roomba 960. It runs longer and will clean better on carpet.
The combination of the VSLAM, dirt detect sensors make this robot both efficient and thorough. And the WiFi connectivity allows for remote access using a smartphone.
However, performance and run time don’t paint the overall picture.
You’ll also have to look at price, navigation, and value for money. With you add those things, it gets interesting.
Which of these two should I buy?
The Roomba 980 is one of the best robot vacuums available regardless of price. It is one of the best performing robots I’ve seen on carpet and hard surfaces.
iRobot did a great job at upgrading its navigation that it knows where it is and smart enough to go back to where it was to resume cleaning.
It has a smartphone app, WiFi and even has Alexa compatibility if you prefer to use it. So this robot will give you some options.
You should buy the Roomba 980 if you:
- Have a home with carpet: The more powerful motor in this robot make it suitable inside homes with carpet. I’ve said this several times in this review that one of the reasons why you should pick this over the 960 is if your home has carpet.
- Need a robot that runs longer: The Roomba 980 will run 45 minutes longer than the Roomba 960. It is an excellent option if you live in a bigger home, so it doesn’t have to dock as often to recharge.
Check the Roomba 980 in Amazon
You should buy the Roomba 960 if you:
- Don’t want to spend the extra $$$: The Roomba 960 is at this moment around $200 cheaper, and that’s a significant difference in my book.
- Don’t have carpet at home: Roomba 960’s motor has more than enough suction to clean houses with hard surfaces.
- Want an iRobot that’s efficient: The Roomba 960 is a significant upgrade over the Roomba 890. It has better and more efficient navigation that’ll require less babysitting.
Check the Roomba 960 in Amazon