When the iRobot released the Roomba 980 several years back, it was their first with smart navigation. Soon after, the 960 came out.
What’s the difference between these models? Technical specifications were pretty vogue, so I decided to test both to find out, and this comparison resulted from it.
The Roomba 960 and 980 are iRobot’s cheapest alternatives with intelligent navigation, but which option is better? I’ve put it through a series of tests with navigation, cleaning performance, and more to find out.
Here’s a quick overview of the Roomba 960 vs. 980
- Airflow: 9.33 CFM
- Side Brush: Yes
- Navigation: Neat Rows
- Battery life: 75 mins.
- Filtration: High-Efficiency
- Dirt Capacity: 600 ml
- Recharge and Resume: Yes
- Deep Cleaning: 85.6%
- Map Saving: No
- Auto Empty: No
- Airflow: 19.24 CFM
- Side Brush: Yes
- Navigation: Neat Rows
- Battery life: 120 mins.
- Filtration: High-Efficiency
- Dirt Capacity: 600 ml
- Recharge and Resume: No
- Deep Cleaning: 91.9%
- Map Saving: No
- Auto Empty: No
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Introduction to the Roomba 960 vs. 980
These two variants sit right in the middle of the Roomba product range between the E-Series and I-Series robots.
All options in the 900-Series (960, 980, 981, 985) are iRobot’s least expensive options with smart navigation.
Unfortunately, it only has the iAdapt 2.0, meaning it cannot save maps. So the navigational functionality is limited to traversing in straight lines.
There’s no access to more advanced features like keep-out zones or zoned cleaning – only available in select I-Series options (I6, I7, I8) and all S-series robots.
Roomba 960: Less Expensive Alternative
The Roomba 960 was released later than the 980 and provided a less expensive alternative to consumers. However, the difference isn’t much (as of the posting of this article). And considering the downgrades with run time and performance (more below), the 980 may be the better option if you can obtain it at a discount.
Two downgrades include a smaller battery (1800 vs. 3000 mAh Li-ion) and a weaker motor. The former isn’t much of an issue since it has “recharge and resume,” so it’ll resume cleaning if it doesn’t finish previously.
Yet the latter can be a sticking point as the 980 picks up debris better. Still, the 960 is decent, even on carpet,s where it did better, and it would be a good option if you could get it for less than the 980.
Roomba 980: Better Value for Money Alternative
After testing this robot extensively, the 980 is one of Roomba’s best options if cleaning performance is a high priority.
It picked up more debris across all the cleaning tests versus the 960 on hard floors and carpets.
Airflow tests reveal the Roomba 980 doubling the 960’s score in its max setting. Even in Eco mode, it had more airflow, enabling it to pick up more. And combined with the larger battery, the 980 still runs further – up to 120 minutes.
If you don’t mind not having the Imprint Smart Mapping (or the option to save maps), plus the advanced navigational features and only value debris pick up, the 980 is an excellent option.
The Roomba 980 has similar specs to the Roomba 980.
Similarities between the Roomba 960 and 980
There are a lot, and I’ll enumerate them below.
1. Navigation: Both robots have the iAdapt 2.0 navigation that incorporates a top-mounted camera and SLAM. These machines traverse in neat rows but lack the Smart Imprint Mapping only found in select I-series and S-series robots.
2. Brush layout: The 960 and 980 have the same brush type and placement underneath.
3. Counter-rotating extractors: Each has iRobot’s patented counter-rotating extractors that are excellent in picking up surface and embedded debris.
4. Single side brush: Both have a single side brush with bristled tips.
5. Dustbin design and capacity: The dustbin for both robots load from the rear and have the same 6-liter volume – one of the largest in iRobot’s product line.
6. Dimension: These robots have the same dimensions at 13″ wide and 3.6″ tall.
7. App compatibility: The Roomba 960 and 980 are compatible with the iRobot Home app. Each has the same set of features, with a few exceptions.
Differences between the Roomba 960 and 980
Next, we’ll look at the differences, most of which are found within.
- Airflow: The Roomba 980 more than doubles the airflow of the 960 with up to 19 CFM in performance mode. In comparison, the 960 only tops at 9.33 CFM on its single setting.
- Battery: Another difference is the battery capacity. The 980 comes with a 3300 mAh Li-ion battery, whereas the 960 has an 1800 mAh battery.
- Run time: Roomba 980’s larger capacity battery enables it to run further – up to 120 minutes versus the 75 minutes of the 960.
- Deep cleaning performance: Thanks to the higher airflow, the 980 did better in deep cleaning tests – with a 91.9% score, higher than the 960’s pick-up of 85.6%.
How do the Roomba 960 and 980 navigate?
I mentioned earlier that both robots have the iAdapt 2.0, which combines a camera and SLAM for navigation. This combo enables both to traverse in neat rows and pinpoints their location, making either an excellent option for cleaning larger homes.
It’s a significant upgrade over entry-level Roomba options (614, 675, 690, E5) that only pinball around.
Since a camera heavily relies on a light source, iRobot placed a secondary optical sensor underneath, similar to the one found in the Roomba I3 and Roborock E4 as a backup if the lights go dim.
I’m unsure if the camera has night vision, as iRobot doesn’t specify, but I’m guessing it doesn’t, so it’s best to run these robots during the daytime.
Coverage is also excellent as both picked up most debris I spread around the room, except for areas it didn’t fit.
Dirt detection tells the robot to do additional passes on dirtier areas, and this technology is quite handy on surfaces like carpets.
App features of the Roomba 960 and 980
Both robots are compatible with the iRobot Home App. The interface is quite basic, only showing a graphic when the robot runs.
Also, the app features are simple compared to other brands in its price range, like Roborock and Dreame – both of which have live maps and access to features like an invisible wall and no-go zones.
The iRobot Home App does these functions.
First, it allows users remote access to the robot. So even if you’re out of the house, it’s possible to turn on the robot.
Second, users can schedule clean-ups once per day. The app also enables the robot to run when it detects you are leaving home.
Lastly, you can tweak the robot settings from the number of passes, enabling/disabling edge cleaning, and more.
The only difference is the option for the Roomba 980 app to select power settings, something absent in the Roomba 960 since it only has one setting.
Robot vacuum manufacturers don’t have a unified spec to disclose power. Most use watts as a measure, but it can be misleading. So I decided to use an anemometer, which measures air turbulence in a specific area, the main brush.
The Roomba 960 produced 9.33 CFM in its one power setting. In contrast, the Roomba 980 had more airflow – up to 13.74 CFM in Eco mode and 19.74 CFM in Performance mode.
It more than doubles the output of the 960, and you’ll see in the cleaning performance section how it affects debris pick up.
Next, we’ll go to the main section, which is how each robot cleans different debris types.
I put both robots through a series of tests of different debris sizes to see how much it picks up.
And here are the results.
|Roborock Model||Roomba 960||Roomba 980|
|Carpet (Surface Pickup)||96.87%||
|Sand on Hard Floor||97.06%||
|Carpet (Deep Cleaning)||85.6%||
You can see that the Roomba 980 picked up more debris in all the cleaning tests, from Quaker oats to heavy debris like pet litter.
The higher airflow plays a significant role in why it did better. In the sand on hard floor test, the power variance is most noticeable as the Roomba 980 picked up a perfect 100% versus the 97.06% score of the 960.
Which is better on hard floors?
Hands down, it’s the 980, thanks to the superior airflow, enabling it to pick up more debris. The results in various tests were consistent, and regardless of debris type, the 980 will do a better job cleaning this surface.
Even in Eco mode, it still has more airflow, and there’s no need to use the Performance setting. I suggest using the automatic option where the robot stays in the lower setting, only increasing suction over the carpet.
The airflow difference is magnified in the sand on hard floor test, with the 980 making a cleaner pass.
You won’t see in the before and after photo, but the 960 left more sand, whereas the 980 didn’t.
Edge cleaning comparison
One area that most round-shaped robots struggle with is cleaning edges. The Roomba 960 and 980 are decent but not great, with almost similar results cleaning this area.
I hoped for better results, especially for the Roomba 980 since it had excellent cleaning dynamics.
It wasn’t as good as other robots I’ve tested, like the Roborock S4 Max, Ecovacs T8 AIVI, and ILIFE A10.
Hair wrap comparison
The Roomba 980 is better for cleaning pet hair than the 960. It resisted more hair tangles on both the five and seven-inch tests.
In comparison, the 960 didn’t do as well, with most of the hair wrapping on the rollers. I didn’t weigh the hair since a tiny percentage only went inside the dustbin (less than 10%).
I’d go with the 980 if you need to clean pet hair as it resists tangles better.
Which is better for carpets?
Again, the edge goes to the Roomba 980 with its higher airflow. The Roomba 960 yielded better results on this surface than hard floors but still lags behind the 980.
It didn’t do as well in deep cleaning tests, picking up an average of 85.6% – a few percentage points lower than the Roomba 980’s score of 91.9%.
My choice between the two would be the 980 since it consistently picked up more in all the cleaning tests on this surface.
Run time comparison
Not only does the Roomba 980 pick up more debris, but it will also run longer.
It has a larger capacity, 3300 mAh Li-ion battery, and iRobot says it runs for up to 120 minutes in Eco mode.
Contrast that to the Roomba 960’s 1800 mAh Li-ion battery with a 75-minute run time – it’s a significant difference.
Please realize that the 980 runs longer and has higher airflow, so it picks up a higher percentage of debris.
One downside of having more suction is the noise. The Roomba 980 is the noisier robot with up to 74.2 decibels in its highest setting and 66 decibels on Eco mode.
The Roomba 960 isn’t as noisy, but I wouldn’t consider it isn’t docile as well, with 68.1 decibels.
Avoid using these robots late at night, especially if you’re near your neighbors or you’ll get complaints.
As with all robot vacuums, Roomba products need maintenance to run at their peak. I’ll list down the components that need cleaning or replacing for your information.
Check out my article about cleaning a Roomba 980 if you’re interested in knowing how these robots are maintained. Since the 960 and 980 are the same robots with design, the steps you’ll see there will apply to both.
- Extractors: iRobot claims that these rollers are maintenance-free, but it isn’t. Expect hair and debris build-up, especially on both axles. Check these areas for any accumulation and clean as needed.
- Side brush: Hair tends to wrap around the base. Use a Philips screwdriver to remove the brush and remove any hair or debris build-up.
- Dustbin: Empty the dustbin after every run. Grab a microfiber cloth to give it an occasional wipe down. Remember that the HEPA filter isn’t washable, so replace after every two or three months. You can use a handheld brush attachment like a V7 Trigger to clean debris build-up on the folds and extend the service life.
- Wheels: Use a clean, dry microfiber towel to wipe the side and caster wheels.
- Drop sensors: There are six of these on the 960 and 980. Gently wipe with a clean microfiber towel to remove any contaminants from sticking on it and firing an error code.
- Top-mounted camera: Use a microfiber towel to wipe the camera sensor on top and the whole body. I’m sure you noticed me recommending a microfiber towel because soft enough that it won’t scratch the surface, and dust sticks to it like a magnet. It’s the perfect cloth for cleaning robot vacuums.
Availability of Parts
One thing I like about Roomba products is the sheer availability of parts. Even with older models like these two, there are many options from iRobot and other manufacturers. Components from filters and batteries to more obscure ones like the drop sensor or side wheel assembly are available from stores like Amazon or eBay.
Other Roomba Comparisons
- Roomba S9 vs. 980
- Roborock S7 vs. Roomba S9+
- Roomba S9 vs. Roborock S5 Max
- Roomba Combo J7+ vs. J7+
- Roomba 690 vs. 960 Comparison
|Run time (Turbo mode)|
|Recharge and Resume|
Where can I buy these robots?
You can purchase both these robots from online stores like Amazon. Check the links below for the latest pricing and any promos (if it’s sale season).
The Roomba 980, 981, and 985 are essentially the same robots, so get the least expensive of these three.
Disclaimer: I will earn a commission if you purchase through any of the links above, but at no extra cost, so it’s a win-win for us!
Which is better, Roomba 960 or 980?
These robots have a lot of similarities, but the two differences could be deal-breakers either way.
Even if it’s priced higher, I feel that the Roomba 980 is still the better value option.
Not will it run much longer, but it also cleans better – both surface and embedded debris.
The Roomba 960 is decent but a notch below the 980 despite being the cheaper alternative (if the 980 isn’t on sale).
However, I feel that the downgrades aren’t worth the cost savings. To help you, I’ve listed reasons why you should purchase either.
4 Reasons to choose the Roomba 980
- More airflow: The Roomba 980 has more airflow (more than double) than the 960, equating to better cleaning performance.
- Larger capacity battery: This model has a larger 3300 mAh Li-ion battery, which runs further (120 vs. 75 mins).
- Auto setting option: Users can use this setting for the best run time and performance balance. It’s an option absent in the 960.
- Better run time/airflow balance: Not only does the Roomba 980 run longer, but it also cleans better thanks to its superior airflow.
3 Reasons to choose the Roomba 960
- Less expensive: I’d only recommend the Roomba 960 if you can get it for less than the 980. Otherwise, the downgrades aren’t worth it.
- Decent on carpets: Despite the low airflow, this robot still picked up 85.6% of embedded sand in deep cleaning tests – one of the better scores of the robot vacuums I’ve tested.
- Recharge and resume: The short 75-minute run time shouldn’t be a concern as this robot has recharge and resume. So it resumes cleaning (automatically) if it doesn’t finish the task previously.
The Verdict: Roomba 980 is the Better Value Option
After testing both robots extensively, the results were convincing. The Roomba 980 is the better robot overall, especially in two key aspects – cleaning performance and run time.
Considering these models have the same features, I recommend the 980, even if it’s the more expensive option.
I feel that the 960’s downgrades are worth the cheaper cost. Since it doesn’t clean as well and doesn’t cover as much ground.