Roomba S9 vs. 960 [High-end vs. Mid-Priced]

Roomba S9 vs 960

Roomba made headlines when it launched the 980, their first product with predictable navigation.

It was a significant shift as all of their previous products utilized a standard algorithm moving randomly.

The Roomba 960 was released shortly after the 980, providing consumers with a less expensive alternative.

Please check my comparison here to learn more about the similarities and differences between the 960 and 980.

However, the 980 is no longer in production because the Roomba I7 (the none “plus” version) is close with price and performance but with the imprint mapping feature that gives it the ability to clean different zones.

The S9 is another change in direction as it is the first Roomba to use the D-shape design similar to the Neato BotVac.

It is currently iRobot’s flagship robot vacuum and their best performing product to date.

In this article, we will be comparing these two, the Roomba S9 vs. 960.

A quick overview of the Roomba S9 vs. 960

Roombs S9+Roomba S9
Power: 25 cfm
Run Time: 75 mins.
Deep Cleaning: 93%
Dust Cup: 0.4 liters
Auto-Empty Bin: Yes
Map Saving: Yes

Roomba 960
Power: 9 cfm
Run Time: 90 mins.
Deep Cleaning: 85.6%
Dust Cup: 0.6 liters
Auto-Empty Bin: No
Map Saving: No

*If you click this link and purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Introduction to the Roomba S9 and 960

Introduction to the Roomba S9 vs 960

In this section, I’ll give you a brief introduction to both of these robot vacuums, their strengths and weaknesses, and the different sub-models available.

There is a considerable price difference between the S9 and 960, but surprisingly the Roomba 960 doesn’t lag too far behind when it comes to cleaning performance.

There are some issues to note with the 960, particularly with cleaning heavy stuff like sand on hard surfaces because of the low airflow.

The S9 is the best performing Roomba all-around and their smartest robot vacuum to date, thanks to the new bumper sensor and the brushes’ upgrades.

The Roomba S9 represents a seismic change to the direction of iRobot with regards to its robotic vacuums. They no longer utilize a round design that their most loyal customers have grown to love.

It now has a square front that utilizes much wider extractors and a redesigned side brush that aims to improve performance and efficiency, especially around edges and corners where previous Roombas had struggled.

This model is (currently) Roomba’s flagship model, and there are two options.

All these upgrades come at a premium as the S9+ is one of the most expensive options available and costs way over a thousand dollars.

The robot-only version (without the “plus”) is cheaper but still currently at the four-figure mark.

Thanks to the broader extractors, this variant is Roomba’s best performing robot on carpet and hair.

The clean base station gives it hands-free autonomy similar to the I7+ that cleans better.

Advantages of the Roomba S9+

  1. Outstanding at cleaning carpet: The Roomba S9 is the best robot for cleaning embedded dirt on carpet (93%), thanks to the broader brushes that sit lower and provide better agitation.
  2. Excellent at cleaning edges and corners: The square front, wider extractors, and redesigned side brush all work together to make the S9 the best Roomba at cleaning edges and corners.
  3. Hands-free autonomy: The automatic dirt disposal system empties the robot’s dirt canister every time it docks, which frees you up from this task.
  4. Cleans specific areas: The smart imprint navigation allows the S9 to clean particular areas in your home at the time and day you choose through the app.
  5. Great at cleaning hard floors: This robot has one of the highest airflow numbers that enables it to pick up hard-to-clean stuff like sand well on hard floors.

Potential issues

  1. An expensive robot: The S9 is the most expensive option available and one of the biggest reasons it isn’t as popular as the I7.
  2. Complaints about buggy software: Reading the reviews section, I noticed several people complaining about software bugs that can cause the robot to get stuck in tight spots.

The Roomba 960 is similar to the 980, albeit a smaller motor and battery.

It has the same iAdapt 2.0 navigation as the 980 but with the worst performance on hard floors (at least for cleaning sand) due to the lack of airflow.

The camera-based VSLAM system departs from the random moving Roombas, so this robot is much more efficient.

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01/24/2022 12:00 am GMT

It’s the cheapest smart navigating Roomba, but it does not have the smart imprint system, so it doesn’t save the maps. The Roomba 960 won’t clean a specific area like a Roomba I7 or S9.

This model also does not have a clean base, so you’ll have to empty the dust cup after every cleaning cycle.

Surprisingly, the Roomba 960 performs better on carpet than the Roomba I7 based on embedded sand tests, so it is a good option for homes with such.

Advantages of the Roomba 960

  1. Cheapest Roomba with Smart Navigation: The Roomba 960 is the least expensive Roomba robot with an upgraded navigation system that goes in a predictable back and forth pattern.
  2. Cleans carpet well: Despite the low airflow, the 960 did well at cleaning carpet with a 91% score.
  3. Smart navigation: Unlike the older Roomba 600 and 800 series, the 960 has smart navigation that helps it traverse more efficiently.
  4. Restart and resume: This robot will automatically resume cleaning where it left off after recharging if it doesn’t complete the task on the previous attempt.

Potential issues

  1. Not as good on hard floors: The low airflow hampers its performance, at least for cleaning sand on hard surfaces.
  2. Short run time: This robot will run for only 75 minutes, but the recharge and resumes make up for it.

Design of the Roomba S9 and 960

This section will look at the similarities and differences between the S9 vs. 960. And there is much to talk about here.

Roomba S9 Design

Roomba S9

One thing that stands out with the Roomba S9 is the shape.

Gone is the round design that consumers have known ever since iRobot started manufacturing robot vacuums more than two decades ago. In its place is a D-shape design that brings a lot of benefits.

It’s like putting the efficiency of Neato and the high-tech gadgetry of the I7 in one robot.

The square front allows iRobot to put in wider brushes (to be more specific, extractors) and reposition the side brush.

These design changes, along with the 3D time-of-flight sensor, drastically improve how the S9 cleans edges and corners, which was a weak point with earlier Roomba models. It also enhances the way it navigates around tight spots.

Top view

Roomba S9 plus top

The robot’s center is a round gold disc that’s the top of the dust cup.

There are three buttons on the upper right: home, clean, and dock.

An IR sensor (front bumper) helps the S9 pinpoint the charging dock. And an optical sensor underneath helps it draw maps and track location in lowlight conditions.

But the primary sensor is the top-mounted camera, aiding it in remembering landmarks in your home.

Roomba S9 camera

Bottom view

Roomba S9+ extractors

The S9 has wide extractors that are 30% wider than the I7 that spans almost the robot’s entire width.

Another change from the I7 is the placement and design of the side brush. In the Roomba I7, the side brush sits in front of the main brush while the S9 is closer. Almost at the side.

It also has more prongs (five, to be exact) that rotate slower.

This change minimizes the scattering issue that plague other Roomba options like the 675, 690, E5, I3, I6, and even the J7.

Behind the main brush is the opening for the clean base station to suck out the dust cup contents.

Only the “plus” version has this slot, while the base version (without the “plus”) doesn’t have it.

Roomba 960 Design

The Roomba 960 retains the shape of the Roomba 800 and 600 series robots. It has the same design cues as the more expensive 980 but with a lighter color scheme.

One disadvantage of the round shape design is its poor pick up on edges.

It also limits the brush’s size, and the robot needs more passes to clean the same area as the S9.

Top View

Top view of Roomba 960

The 960 has a minimalist design with only three buttons – the clean, home, and spot clean. All functions, such as scheduling, are accessible inside the app.

iRobot has ditched the scheduling buttons on the robot because consumers did not find it easy to use.

Behind the clean button is the onboard camera, the primary sensor for the upgraded navigation system.

The dust cup slides in on the back, and the notch you see is the release button that unlocks it.

Bottom View

The 960 design is similar to the 980 and 800 series robots. It has a single side brush right in front of the rubber extractors at the back.

Roomba-I7, 960, and 890 Comparison

You’ll notice that all three models from different generations have the same layout and brush position.

One variance would be the grooves, which are deeper in the newer I-series versus the 800 and 900 series.

Similarities and Differences of the Roomba S9 and I7

Now let’s look at how similar and different these robots are.

Similarities of the Roomba S9 and I7

  • Smart navigation: These robots use the VSLAM (or Visual SLAM technology) that relies on a camera to map its exact location and help it remember areas cleaned and not cleaned.
  • Recharge and resume: Both models will resume cleaning after recharging if they have not cleaned the entire level.
  • WiFi and Smartphone app: The majority of the controls for these two products are in the iRobot Home App, where you can schedule, adjust power, check status, and much more.
  • Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant: There’s an option to use voice to control these robots through Alexa or Google Assistant, whichever app you prefer.

Differences between the S9 and 960

  • Persistent maps: The S9 has smart imprint navigation (a.k.a. persistent mapping) that saves the map that the robot draws in the cloud. This feature gives users the option to pinpoint areas to clean at specific times.
  • Shape: The 960 has a round shape, narrower extractors, and a three-prong side brush, while the S9 has a D-shape design with broader extractors, and a five-prong side brush that works better at cleaning edges.
  • Auto dirt disposal system: The S9 has the “clean base” station that automatically empties the dirt canister using a second vacuum inside the dock.
  • More airflow: The S9 has a higher airflow with 22 CFM while the 960 tops out at 9 CFM. This disparity shows in the hard floor cleaning tests, where the S9 does a lot better when cleaning sand.
  • Price: The Roomba 960 costs almost a third of that of the Roomba S9+, which is staggering.

How do the Roomba S9 and 960 navigate?

When the 980 came out, it was a landmark moment for iRobot as this model was the first Roomba product that had smart navigation making it more efficient than earlier models.

No longer will it pinball in a random direction, but it goes in a straight back and forth cleaning pattern capable of cleaning a more substantial area with better proficiency.

Roomba 960 Navigation

The 960 uses that same smart navigation capable of creating a map of your home and using it to pinpoint its exact location.

On top of the robot is a camera (angled at 45 degrees behind the “Clean” button) that aids it in finding the most efficient path around the home.

The data gathered from the camera goes to the VSLAM software that builds the map and keeps track of the robot’s position.

Around and below the robot are sensors that aid it to avoid obstacles and fall from cliff points.

The floor tracking sensor helps with map creation and location tracking. It’s the same sensor found in the I3.

This feature enables the 960 to recharge and resume cleaning afterward when the battery runs low.

So the 75 minute run time of the 960 won’t be much of an issue.

The camera continually takes snapshots of its environment and looks for distinctive features as it moves.

This helps it track remember areas it has cleaned and areas it hasn’t.

Roomba S9 Navigation

One difference between the Roomba S9 and the 960 is the ability of the S9 to save the maps it draws.

iRobot calls this imprint smart mapping, taking all the data from the camera and optical sensor to draw maps.

The S9 has a unique feature they call “mapping run,” where it goes in exploratory mode (with the vacuum motor shut) to fast-track the map creation process.

Having the motor shut helps conserve battery life and allows the robot to cover a larger expanse.

The ability to save maps has several benefits. One of which is that it allows consumers to clean a specific room or area.

You can use this in conjunction with Alexa or Google play. For example, you can say, “Roomba, please clean the living room,” and the robot will only clean that area.

It brings usability and convenience to the next level.

The S9 also has a new sensor on the front bumper called the 3D time-of-flight sensor that constantly scans what’s ahead at a rate of 25 times per second.

This sensor helps the S9 get close (millimeters close) to clean the edges and corners of rooms effectively.

It also helps the robot navigate small areas better and avoid bumping hard into shiny or reflective objects.

How do the Roomba S9 and 960 clean?

The Roomba S9 and 960 rely on a single side brush, counter-rotating extractors, and suction to pick up dirt from the motor behind it.

iRobot has a patent on these extractors, so I doubt that you’ll see it in any other brand.

It’s one of the best at picking up dirt, especially on carpets where it doesn’t rely too much on airflow.

However, the S9 more than double the 960 power output with 25 CFM versus the 960’s 9CFM.

Both models have acoustic sensors that “listen” to dirt as it’s picked up. The more noise it detects, the more passes it does.

Roomba 960

Roomba 960 side brush

The 960 still uses the old three-pronged side brush with the long bristles to funnel dirt at the edges towards the main brush.

One issue with the 960 side brush is the velocity at which it spins. It tends to scatter dirt rather than clean it. The robot eventually picks up dirt that it spreads, but it is annoying.

Behind the side brush is the primary brush or extractors that counter-rotate to agitate and clean dirt.

Roomba robots have scored consistently high in cleaning tests, and these two brushes are a big reason.

Roomba S9

The S9’s design is vastly different from the 960, I7, and other Roomba products before it.

It has a broader brush (by 30%), and a more compact side brush with more arms.

Roomba S9 side brush

The changes intend to improve how the robot picks up dirt along the edges and overall efficiency.

Cleaning tests show that the S9 performs better at cleaning corners, deep cleans better, and tangles less.

The side brush also spins at a slower pace. So it doesn’t spread as much dirt around as the 960 did.

Not only will the S9 clean autonomously, but it also empties the bin by itself, thanks to the clean base station.

iRobot says that the bag inside can hold an equivalent of thirty S9 bins, so that’s virtually a hands-free device for up to a month depending on how much dirt it tackles and coverage.

This feature is only available with the “plus” version that’s much more expensive.

Cleaning performance

The power discrepancy is evident in the cleaning experiments where the S9 beat the 960 in every category.

Model
Roomba 960
Roomba S9+
Overall
93.92%
97.93%
Hard Floor
96.15%
99.5%
Sand on hard floor
97.06%
100%
Carpet (Surface Pickup)
96.87%
99.25%
Carpet (Deep Cleaning)
85.6%
93%

It’s not just an airflow issue. The S9’s wider brush and slower spinning side brush are huge factors why it picked up more.

If cleaning performance is a top priority, the S9 wins by a landslide. But the 960 was decent, at least with the deep cleaning tests.

However, the lack of airflow hurts it most on hard floors where the scattering issue is magnified.

Which is better on hard floors?

One barometer I use to determine robot vacuum performance is sand. If it does well on sand, chances are it will do well on other debris.

The Roomba S9 is by far the best option for sand I’ve tested, picking up a 100% average,

In contrast, the Roomba 960 is slightly worse at 97.06%. It’s not a significant discrepancy, but the eye test shows that the S9 is much better.

Roomba S9 sand on hard floor

Edge Cleaning Comparison

Another experiment I did was edge cleaning. The S9’s D-shape frame makes it much better in this area.

Roomba S9 edge cleaning

After one pass, it picked up nearly every crumb on this test area and got most of it.

The 960 was decent, but the round frame hampers its reach and efficiency.

Roomba 960 edge cleaning

You could see that it left traces of debris after a multi-pass cleaning run, so advantage S9.

Hair Wrap Comparison

Another advantage of the S9’s wide extractors is its resistance to tangles. The nine-inch wide rollers will resist tangles better, picking up 80% on both five and seven-inch strands.

Roomba S9 seven-inch hair wrap

Most of the hair is wrapped on the axles.

Roomba S9 five-inch hair on axles

The Roomba 960 is much worse, picking up 15% on both lengths.

Roomba 960 hair on roller

You could see how much it struggles in the photo above. Nearly every hair strand wrapped on the roller and axle.

I wouldn’t recommend the 960 on hair (pet or human).

Which is better on carpet?

The S9’s high airflow makes it the better on carpet, and the test results confirm.

It did better on both surface and embedded debris by a chunk. One telltale metric is the deep cleaning test, where it picked up much more (93%) than the 960 (85.6%).

Surface experiments also confirmed that the S9 is better.

How long will the Roomba S9 and 960 run?

The 960, with its smaller Li-ion battery, will run for only 75 minutes.

This lack of range doesn’t hinder it, thanks to the recharge and resume feature where the robot continues operation if the battery runs low at any point in the cleaning cycle.

Once the battery is low, it recharges and resumes cleaning where it left off.

The S9, thanks to its bigger battery, will run longer – up to 120 minutes. Again, how long it runs won’t be an issue because smart navigating robots will resume cleaning after recharging.

But the added range makes it better suited inside larger homes.

Dust cup comparison

The Roomba 960 loads from the robot’s back while the S9 dust cup sits in the middle and is accessible by opening the gold disc on top.

The 960 has a larger capacity at 600-ml versus the S9’s 400 ml.

However, I’d still give the S9 the edge with its clean base station since it increases capacity by 30-fold.

 

Even with the smaller capacity, the S9+’s automatic dirt disposal system negates the disparity as it empties the bin for you.

So it can go further without intervention.

Maintenance and running costs of the S9 vs. 960

The autonomous quality of a robot doesn’t mean it’s maintenance-free.

Components like the sensors, dustbin, brushes, and filters need periodic cleaning.

Here are the basics of Roomba maintenance

High-Efficiency Filter [replace once or twice a month]

Roomba S9 Filter

Roomba 960 Filter

Roomba 960 filter

iRobot recommends replacing the filter once or twice a month. Take note that the high-efficiency filters aren’t washable. You’ll need a brush or a handheld vacuum with a brush to dislodge dirt from the filters and extend its service life.

Clean base bags [S9+ only]

Roomba S9 clean base bags

Replacing these bags is only applicable for users of the S9+ with the clean base station.

It has an equivalent capacity of 30 bins, lasting for weeks (iRobot says up to a month).

Unless you live extremely dusty or have a dozen pets, you don’t need to replace these often.

Side brush [varies]

Roomba S9 Side Brush

Roomba 960 Side Brush

Roomba 960 side brush


The side brush is another part that will eventually wear out – either the bristles run out or the rubber arm breaks.

How long will it last? That will vary between six months to a year, but it will depend on how much upkeep it gets.

Regularly check if hair wraps around the base. If it does, removing the brush is simple, with just a small Philips screwdriver.

Rubber extractors [depends]

Roomba S9 extractors

Roomba 960 extractors

iRobot says that the rubber extractors in the 960 and S9 are “tangle-free.” That is true to some extent, but long hair will wrap around the extractors of the 960. The S9 with the wider brushes are more resistant it hair wraps, but you’ll have to check it periodically so that it lasts as long as possible.

Since there’s friction, this part will eventually wear out, and there’s no exact timetable when to replace it. iRobot says one year, but it can go longer.

Battery [depends]

All new Roomba vacuums will have Li-ion batteries of varying capacities. The S9 comes with a large capacity of 3,300 mAh li-ion battery that will run for up to 120 minutes.

These batteries should last for at least two or three years with proper maintenance, such as keeping it plugged in when in use or disconnecting the battery from the robot if you’ll not be using it for an extended period.

One advantage of the Roomba over other brands is the availability of batteries from iRobot and the aftermarket. Replacing the battery is a simple task requiring only essential tools.

Full bin sensor [every two weeks]

There’s a sensor inside the dust cup that needs some TLC every couple of weeks.The full bin sensort fires a signal to the app that the bin is full.

Castor wheel [depends]

Another part that gets a lot of abuse is the castor wheel. For the 960, it’s the wheel in front of the main brush that steer the robot. In the S9, it’s at the back of the rubber wheels.

This part will gather much dirt and hair, and you must regularly clean this to keep the robot running smoothly.

The frequency will depend on the environment; just regularly give a visual check.

What’s the size difference between the Roomba S9 and 960?

The Roomba S9 measures 12.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall, while the 960 measures 13.8 inches wide and 3.63 inches tall, making it the bigger robot.

Other Roomba Comparisons

Comparing Roomba to other brands.

Spec comparison between the Roomba S9 and 960

Model
Roomba 960
Roomba S9+
Roomba 960
Roomba S9
Width
13.8"
12.5"
Height
3.63"
3.5"
Self-Emptying Base
No
Yes
Recharge & Resume
Yes
Yes
Smart Mapping
Yes
Yes
Run time (Turbo mode)
75 mins.
120 mins.
Airflow
9 CFM
22 CFM
Warranty
1-year limited
1-year limited
Price

Where can I buy the Roomba S9+ and 960?

You can buy both these robot vacuums from online stores like Amazon and Walmart.

Disclaimer: I’ll earn a commission when you purchase through any of the links above, but at no extra cost to you, so it’s a win-win for both of us!

Which robot should you buy?

Choosing between these two models will depend on these factors: the amount of money you’re willing to spend and the features you value the most.

There’s no question that the Roomba S9 is the superior performing robot all around, thanks to the changes in design and software.

It will pick up dirt better on hard floors because it has more airflow.

Corner and edge cleaning are also superior to the 960 because of the wider brush and the square front design that does better on these areas.

The upgrade in navigation thanks to the 3D time-of-flight-sensor. This upgrade makes the S9 hug the edges and go around furniture better.

Though some may disagree, check the reviews.

The most significant differences between the S9 and 960 are the smart imprint system and auto dirt disposal, making the S9 a truly autonomous household helper.

The latter eliminates the tedious task of having to empty the dust cup. And the smart imprint system allows consumers to clean select areas to clean in the home using the app or voice.

This convenience is simply not possible with the Roomba 960. But all these features will come at an expensive premium if you’re willing to spend for it then by all means.

The Verdict: The Roomba S9 is the Superior Robot But

One of the biggest surprises for me comparing these two is how the Roomba 960 does so well at cleaning carpet.

Despite having a third of the airflow of the S9, it was still able to pick up 91% of the sand on medium-pile carpets.

It is a testament to the great design cues of the rubber extractors exclusive to Roomba products since they have a patent for it.

The Roomba S9 is the best performing robot for cleaning embedded dirt with a score of 94.5%, which is better than some stick and upright vacuums.

5 Reasons to choose the Roomba S9

  1. Best robot at cleaning carpet: The high suction and great agitation of the S9 make it the best performing robot at cleaning embedded dirt on carpets.
  2. Empties the bin automatically: The plus version of the S9 has the clean base station that does this task for you.
  3. Smart imprint system: Persistent maps save the cloud data and help the robot clean specific areas on schedule through the app or voice.
  4. Excellent on hard floors: It will clean hard floors equally thoroughly.
  5. Truly autonomous: The smart imprint and auto dirt disposal system make the S9 a truly independent robot vacuum.

3 Reasons to choose the Roomba 960

  1. Much cheaper: The 960 costs more than a third less than the Roomba S9+.
  2. Surprisingly did well on carpets: Despite the lack of airflow, this robot will clean carpets almost as well as the S9.
  3. Recharge and resume: It can recharge then continue cleaning if the battery is low to clean larger areas without any issues.

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