Roomba S9 vs. 960: High-End vs Mid-Priced Option

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Roomba S9 vs 960

Roomba made headlines when it launched the 980, which was their first product that had predictable navigation.

It was a significant shift as all of their previous products utilized a standard algorithm that goes in a random direction.

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 to it in terms of 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: 22 cfm
Run Time: 120 mins.
Deep Cleaning: 94.5% *
Dust Cup: 0.4 liters
Auto-Empty Bin: Yes
Smart Maps: Yes

Roomba 960
Power: 9 cfm
Run Time: 75 mins.
Deep Cleaning: 91% *
Dust Cup: 0.6 liters
Auto-Empty Bin: Yes
Smart Maps: Yes

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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 take note of 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 upgrades with the brushes.

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July 5, 2020 4:45 pm UTC
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July 5, 2020 4:49 am UTC

The Roomba S9 represents a seismic change to the direction of iRobot with regards to their robotic vacuums. No longer are they utilizing 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.

It is Roomba’s best performing robot on carpet and hair thanks to the broader extractors. 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 in terms of cleaning embedded dirt on carpet 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 dirt canister of the robot 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 why it isn’t as popular as the I7.
  2. Complains 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 a similar product to the 980, but with a smaller motor and battery.

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

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

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July 5, 2020 4:48 am UTC

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 be able to 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 the 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

In this section, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between the S9 vs. 960. And there is much to talk about here.

Roomba S9 Design

Roomba S9 Design

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

Top view of the Roomba S9

At the center of the robot is a round gold disc that’s the cover for the dust cup. On the upper right are the buttons (three in total) for the home, auto clean and spot clean function.

In front is another sensor that helps the S9 accurately draw the maps and pinpoint the location of the charging station.

Behind the golden disc is the camera that is central to the S9’s navigation system.

Bottom view

Bottom view of the Roomba S9

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

Comparing the S9 and I7 brush roll
The Roomba S9 brush roll is 30% wider than the I7, as seen in the comparison above. This gives the S9 better performance at cleaning corners.

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 rotates at a slower pace. The change prevents it front flinging large particles of dirt around, which is an issue with the older Roomba models such as the 690, 890, and even the 960.

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

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

Roomba 960 Design

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 size of the brush, 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 of the 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 on-board camera that is 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

Bottom view of the Roomba 960

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 Roomba generations have the same layout when it comes to the position of the components. The difference would be from the 890 to the I7 is the extractor grooves, internal parts, and software.

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 it has not completed cleaning 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 the round shape, narrower extractors, and a three-prong side brush while the S9 has a D-shape design with the 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 it comes to 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.

Notable of these sensors is the floor tracking sensor that helps the software track the robot’s position.

This feature also gives the 960 the ability to recharge and resume 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 smart imprint mapping. This feature takes all the data from the camera and front sensor to draw maps.

The S9 has a unique “training mode,” where it just navigates around the area with the vacuum motor off.

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

The ability to save maps has several benefits. One of which is it allows consumers the option 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 around small areas better and avoid bumping hard into shiny or reflective objects.

How does the Roomba S9 and 960 clean?

In terms of cleaning, both these robots use the same three-stage system that makes it one of the best performing robot vacuums based on consumer reviews.

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

iRobot has a patent on the rubber 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.

Both robots have acoustic sensors that “listens” to the amount of dirt picked up. The more noise it detects, it tells the robot to do more passes and increase suction.

Roomba 960

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 of which it spins. It tends to scatter dirt rather than cleaning it. The robot eventually picks up dirt that it spreads, but it is annoying.

Behind the side brush is the main 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 why.

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 that has more arms.

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

Cleaning tests show that the S9 performs much 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

Despite the power discrepancy, the Roomba 960 isn’t too far off from the S9 when it comes to cleaning. But with some exceptions.

Roomba S9 will perform better overall.

The high airflow, wider extractors, and better side brush design make the S9 a better robot when it comes to cleaning different floor types.

The S9 has 22 CFM, which more than triples the 960’s 9 CFM.

This is felt most in cleaning non-carpet surfaces.

It will pick up most of the dirt on hard floors from dust to large stuff like Fruit loops. The broad brush also helps it resist tangles better than the I7 and 980.

However, with the brush sitting lower to the ground and having a tighter tolerance, it doesn’t pick up Fruit loops as smoothly as the I7 did. It will clean them up, but you’ll hear a “crunching” sound from the extractors crushing it.

On the plus side, the new brush design gives the S9 outstanding performance when it comes to deep cleaning carpet. In a test done, it was able to pick up around 94.5% of sifted sand on medium-pile carpet.

It also does an excellent job of picking up surface debris on carpet. Regardless of size, the S9 will pick up stuff like Cheerios, quaker oats, sand, dust, and hair well.

The redesigned side brush does a better job of directing dirt towards the main brush and not kick it around.

Roomba 960 works best on carpets.

The low airflow of the 960 is felt most on hard surfaces. It can pick up dust, and Fruit loops without issues, but when it comes to cleaning sand, it will struggle immensely.

Cleaning tests reveal that the 960 did poorly at cleaning sand.

Roomba 960 on Hard Floor

The fast-spinning side brush also is another issue as it tends to kick dirt around rather than pick it up.

Where the 960 stands out is cleaning dirt on carpets – whether it is surface or embedded dirt.

The biggest surprise for me is how well it picked up sand on carpets. It was able to score 91% at cleaning 100 grams of sand, which is better than the I7 that only scored 79%.

The bottom line

While the Roomba S9 did better overall, it’s hard to overlook what the 960 is capable of on carpet. In one of the biggest surprises in my vacuum reviewing career, it scored a 91% at cleaning embedded sand on carpets.

If you don’t mind the lack of the smart imprint feature and want a  reasonably priced robot that cleans well on carpet, then the 960 is an excellent option that costs only a fraction.

One advantage that the smart imprint system has is the hands-free convenience that it brings to the table. No longer will you have to empty the robot’s dust cup.

Remember to follow these steps to set up your home for the Roomba to do its best work.

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 much of an issue because these are smart navigating robots that 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 back of the robot while the S9 dust cup sits in the middle and is accessible by opening the gold disc on top.

When it comes to capacity, the 960 is larger with a 600-milliliter capacity.

The S9’s plus bin can only hold up to 400 milliliters.

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.

Items like the sensors, dust bin, and brushes need periodic cleaning to keep it in tip-top shape.

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, so it will last for weeks (iRobot says up to a month).

Unless you live in an 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. It’s the full bin sensor that 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 helps 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.

Spec comparison between the Roomba S9 and 960

Roomba 960
Roomba S9+
Roomba 960
Roomba S9
Self-Emptying Base
Recharge & Resume
Smart Mapping
Run time (Turbo mode)
75 mins.
120 mins.
22 CFM
1-year limited
1-year limited

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 goes 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 that makes 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 the option 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 sand on medium-pile carpets.

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

The Roomba S9 is the best performing robot when it comes to 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 data in the cloud and help the robot clean specific areas on schedule through the app or voice.
  4. It also does well 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.

The Roomba S9+ is available in online stores like Amazon and Walmart.

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 so it can clean larger areas without any issues.

The Roomba 960 is available in online stores like Amazon and Walmart.

Take note that if you make a purchase with any of these links, I’ll earn a commission but at no additional cost to you. So it’s a win-win for both of us.