In this comparison, we’ll be looking at two of the best performing iRobot robot vacuums, the
These products fall into two different price categories, and I’ll detail how these products are similar and different to help you make an informed decision.
Both robots represent milestones for iRobot. The Roomba 980 was the first iRobot with smart navigation (it navigates in neat rows), while the S9+ is the first with a D-shape design similar to the Neato Botvac series.
A quick overview of the
Roomba S9 and 980
- Airflow: 19.74 CFM
- Deep cleaning: 91.9%
- Auto empty: No
- Bag capacity: N/A
- Navigation: LIDAR & SLAM
- Map saving: No
- Number of maps: N/A
- Containment: No
- Selective room cleaning: No
- Recharge & Resume: Yes
- Dustbin capacity: 600ml
- Side brush: One
- Battery: 3300 mAh Li-ion
- Run time: 120 mins
- Noise: 74.2 dB
- Airflow: 25 CFM
- Deep cleaning: 93%
- Auto empty: Yes
- Bag capacity: 2.5-liters
- Navigation: Camera & SLAM
- Map saving: Yes
- Number of maps: 10
- Containment: Yes
- Selective room cleaning: Yes
- Recharge & Resume: Yes
- Dustbin capacity: 500ml
- Side brush: One
- Battery: 3300 mAh Li-ion
- Run time: 75 mins
- Noise: 74.1 dB
Introduction to the
Roomba S9+ and 980
Out of all the products in iRobot’s robot vacuum lineup, these two have the highest airflow, and not surprisingly, both picked up the most in cleaning tests.
But the price difference between these variants is significant, and the question is, why is it that much?
I’ll break down the features of each to help you decide which will best suit your needs.
One feature users will enjoy with the Roomba S9+ is its clean base station that empties the dustbin after every run.
iRobot pioneered self-emptying robots with the Roomba I7+, and the S9+ is a souped-up version with a larger motor and a revamped design – a D-shape that houses the wide extractors and new five-prong side brush.
It has the most airflow out of all the Roomba products I’ve tested at 25 CFM, so it didn’t surprise me it performed the best.
The square front is a departure from other Roomba products with a round frame. This shift enabled iRobot to put in wider extractors to improve efficiency since it picks up more debris per pass.
Another upgrade is the side brush, now smaller in diameter and rotates slower, so it doesn’t scatter as much debris.
Airflow is superb (for a robot vacuum) at 25 CFM in the max setting and has the cleanest pickup.
This Roomba has the iAdapt 3.0, which utilizes VSLAM (or Visual SLAM), combining a camera sensor and SLAM for navigation.
One significant difference between this and the 980’s iAdapt 2.0 is its ability to save maps (up to 10), unlocking a whole bevy of other features (selective room cleaning, keep-out zones, etc.).
Lastly is the clean base station that ties all these features together. It’s a feature gaining popularity over the past year, with more brands implementing it in their products.
iRobot still has one of the best auto-empty designs out there with its ramp-style port and bagged system.
This feature will automatically empty the robot’s dustbin after every run, so you don’t have to do it manually.
Excellent Cleaning Performance for Less: Roomba 980
This power enables it to have the second-best overall cleaning scores out of all the robot vacuums I’ve tested at 97.65% and (also) second in deep cleaning tests at 91.9%.
These numbers are good barometers of a robot’s potential to clean your home.
The Roomba 980 still utilizes the same round frame as iRobot’s older options, hindering its efficiency versus the S9’s wide cleaning path.
Still, it has one of the cleanest pickups, thanks to the high airflow and excellent agitation from the extractors.
Unfortunately, it only has iAdapt 2.0. The camera sensor will recognize landmarks, but it can’t save maps.
There’s no access to features like keep-out zones and selective room cleaning, hampering its usability somewhat.
But this variant is much, much cheaper than the
Similarities of the
Roomba S9 and 980
Even if these variants look very different, there are similarities, which we’ll look at in this section.
The first is the VSLAM technology that combines a camera sensor and SLAM, enabling both to traverse in a more predictable straight-line pattern.
Using a camera helps it recognize landmarks, helping them avoid obstacles better, provided these landmarks stay in place.
But if you’ve done any photography, you’ll know that cameras heavily depend on light, which is the case for these robots.
You’ll need to turn on the lights for it to function efficiently.
One variation is the S9 can save maps, and the 980 cannot.
Both robots use the same 3300 mAh battery. This is the largest capacity iRobot battery available.
However, the Roomba 980 will run longer at 120 minutes versus the shorter 75-minute run time of the S9 since the latter has a bigger motor.
3. Recharge and resume
Since these robots have VSLAM, both have the recharge and resume feature where it continues cleaning after recharging if the battery runs low.
It’s a massive feature for these robots since run time isn’t their strongest suit.
Differences between the
Roomba S9 and 980
Next, we’ll look at the variations, and there are plenty.
One glance, and you’ll see the most glaring is the shape. The Roomba 980 has the traditional round frame, while the S9 utilizes a D-shape design popularized by Neato.
This difference has a lot of ripple effects, especially with performance.
If you’ll look at this photo, it’s obvious, the S9 has wider extractors in front, while the 980’s rollers are in the middle, between the rubber wheels.
The roller’s relocation to the front significantly improves the S9’s cleaning performance since dirt touches the extractors first before the side wheels.
If you’ve watched my video review on YouTube, the coverage test shows the effectiveness of this design.
2. Extractors and side brush
Another difference is the extractors and side brushes. The difference isn’t just length but structure, with the new extractors around 30% wider, having deeper grooves, thus improving agitation.
But the claimed agitation improvement isn’t significant because of how close these are in cleaning tests.
With that said, I like the wide extractors and relocated side brush that spins slower since it won’t scatter as much debris.
The Roomba 980 cleans well, but it lags with efficiency since it has a narrow cleaning path and a faster-spinning side brush.
3. Dustbin design and capacity
The Roomba 980 has the larger dustbin at 600-ml, a hundred more than the S9’s 500-ml volume.
I like the S9’s design better with the broader opening since it’s easier to empty.
However, if you get the variant with the clean base station, I’d give the edge to the S9 since the bag nearly quadruples the 980’s capacity at 2.5 liters.
4. Map saving
It can save up to ten maps, and at each map level, users can add partitions, name these partitions, draw keep-out zones, and set clean zones.
These variations (outsize the shape and cleaning path) separate the Roomba 980 and S9.
Consumers need to think long and hard if these variations are worth the premium add-on.
5. Keep out zones and clean zones
I’ve mentioned keep-out zones in the previous section, but I’ll expound on it in this section. These are containment boxes that block the robot from going into these areas.
Unfortunately, the iRobot app doesn’t have the invisible wall feature found in LIDAR-based robots like Dreame Tech (L10 Pro, Z10 Pro, and D9), Ecovacs, and Roborock, so you’re limited to boxes and rectangles as containment.
Clean zones are similar to zoned cleaning you’ll see in other brands like Roborock, but the difference with iRobot’s version is you can save these zones, which provides quick access.
I like this quirk, especially if you have areas in the house that may need more attention – this feature will be handy.
Run time comparison
One downside with the S9’s high airflow is the shortened run time at just 75-minutes.
The high-powered motor eats more current than the 980, so it’s an unfortunate ripple effect. That number further goes down to around 45 minutes with the max setting.
In comparison, the Roomba 980 will run longer at 120-minutes in the lowest setting.
These variants are compatible with the iRobot home app, but there are variations with the features, which we’ll look at below.
1. Map Saving [Roomba S9 only]
It can save up to 10 map levels, so it’s an excellent option inside multi-level homes if you don’t mind moving the clean base station around.
Since iRobot relies on a camera, you’ll have to turn on the lights for this robot to create the map successfully.
It has a mapping run option that shuts the motor to increase its coverage. You’ll have to open all doors and remove any roadblocks to quicken the process of creating the map.
Once the run is complete, it’s possible to save the map and set partitions.
I wouldn’t trust the default partitions since they aren’t as accurate as LIDAR, so users will have to set it manually.
2. Keep out zones
These are rectangular or square boxes that are no-entry zones to the S9. I like this feature since all homes have these areas, and it’s more convenient than placing a physical barrier.
3. Clean zones
This feature is similar to zoned cleaning, where folks can draw boxes and designate them as “clean zones” where the robot will vacuum.
One wrinkle iRobot added is an option to save these zones for quick access, and you can use it with the scheduling feature, further enhancing its usability.
These robots have a scheduling feature, giving more autonomy since users can schedule runs. But only the S9+ can schedule multiple runs per day.
The S9+ benefits more in this aspect because of the self-emptying feature.
However, one downside with the S9 scheduling is the minimum gap of 3 hours, so technically, you can set a max of 8 runs per day.
iRobot did this (I think) because of the shorter run time than its competitors exceeding 150 minutes.
The Roomba 980 app can only schedule a maximum of one run per day.
But there’s an option to automate the process every time you leave home.
Unfortunately, it’s still only one automatic cycle per day.
This tab shows the previous cleaning cycles, floor area, the time it took to finish, and the corresponding map. It doesn’t have any other function other than notifying you how much you’ve used the robot, much like a car’s odometer.
These robots have a similar type of navigation, using a camera and floor sensors and moving in straight lines.
The Roomba 980 was the first iRobot product with intelligent navigation, but it lacks map saving. It moves in straight lines, unlike other Roomba models like the 675, 690, and E5 that pinballs around.
In comparison, the
The wide extractors and higher airflow give it the upper hand with efficiency per pass as it picks up more.
Map saving unlocks other features for the S9 that aren’t available with the 980, such as keep-out zones and zoned cleaning.
iRobot doesn’t specify suction or power figures. To check airflow, I used an anemometer at the primary brush roll.
Here are the results for both variants.
The S9 has around 23% more than the 980 at 25 CFM (980 has 19.74) at the max setting. You could see this variance at play during the cleaning tests, which we’ll look at in the next section.
I test all robot vacuums using various debris types to check how well it performs on hard floor and carpet.
These variants picked up some of the highest scores, reflecting the excellent agitation and high airflow combo you don’t see in most other brands.
|Sand on hard floor
|Carpet (Surface Pickup)
|Carpet (Deep Cleaning)
Simply put, these are the best vacuuming robot vacuums available.
If cleaning performance is a priority and you don’t mind the quirks, consider these two options.
Which is better on hard floors?
The S9 and 980 are neck-and-neck with only a slim margin separating them on hard floor tests based on test results. Both picked up 100% of sand, one of the most challenging stuff to clean on this surface.
Here’s a before and after shot with the S9.
And the Roomba 980
But I’d give the slight edge to the
Edge cleaning comparison
The difference is evident with these photos that the S9+ will clean better and more efficiently than the 980.
There’s only very little debris left with the S9+, while the 980 left a good chunk.
Hair wrap comparison
Most are on the axles.
One positive takeaway from these experiments is that hair wrap cleaning is easier with these extractors than with a traditional combo brush.
There’s no need to use scissors as hair easily comes off the roller and axles.
Which is better on carpet?
If you look at the averages, the Roomba 980 is slightly better on carpet (0.10% better), but the S9+ is better in deep cleaning tests by close to 2%.
The difference is much, to be honest, and too small to declare an outright winner.
I’d give the S9+ a slight advantage with the high airflow, wide cleaning path, and map saving.
It should be more efficient at a per pass with the 30% wider extractors, and with the more powerful motor, it should be better at deep cleaning carpet.
Regardless, you won’t go wrong with these robots for cleaning carpet as both will pick up debris well.
Run time comparison
These robot vacuums use a 3300 mAh Li-ion battery, iRobot’s largest battery option (most of their products utilize an 1800 mAh battery).
However, the Roomba 980 will run further at up to 120 minutes versus the 75-minute run time of the S9+.
One reason is S9 uses a larger motor, and the broader extractors may need more juice to spin, whereas the 980 uses the same extractors as the 960, so the motor won’t be as taxed.
If you use the max setting for the S9+, that number will go further down to 45 minutes.
With the high airflow, both robots will produce a lot of noise. Not surprisingly, the S9 and 980 have nearly the same output at 74.1 and 74.2 decibels, respectively, based on the sound meter test.
iRobot products are notorious for being loud, even lower-end variants like the Roomba E5 and I3.
All robot vacuums will require maintenance to run efficiently over the long haul.
Fortunately for iRobot owners, its modular design makes upkeep straightforward.
But here’s a quick overview of what to check, clean, or replace.
- Extractors: Perhaps the most abused component since it’s responsible for debris pick up. Use a clean cloth to wipe any debris build-up and remove hair wrapping on the roller and axles.
- Side brush: Another hair magnet. Remove any strands tangling on the arms and base.
- Dustbin and filter: Regularly empty the dustbin for the Roomba 980. If you have the S9+ with the auto-empty dock, this won’t be an essential task since the clean base station does it for you, but check at least once a month and clean any accumulation. Check and clean the filter, replace it after two to three months to maintain performance.
- Wheels: Wipe the side and caster wheels to remove any dirt build-up on the surface.
- Sensors: Check and clean the drop sensors once a month to remove and dust accumulation that may trigger an error code.
- Body: Wipe the robot’s body using a clean, dry microfiber towel to remove and dust accumulation and remove any debris obstruction on the top-mounted camera.
- Clean base station [S9+ only]: Make sure to keep the port free from obstructions. Replace the bag when full, and clean the ramp to remove any stray debris dangling over it.
Availability of parts
Parts availability will not be a concern for both variants since iRobot is popular, and there’s a supply abundance (both OEM and third-party).
The 980 has the slight advantage of being an older and cheaper option.
You can buy just about any component, from easy-to-find parts like extractors or filters to more obscure stuff like the side wheels or side brush motor on Amazon or eBay.
It also shares a lot of the same components as the 960, further enhancing parts availability.
|Recharge and Resume
|Number of Maps
25 CFM (Max)
Where can I buy these robots?
These robots are available in online stores like Amazon. Check the links below for the latest pricing.
- Roomba S9+ on Amazon (w/ clean base station)
- Roomba S9 on Amazon (robot only)
- Roomba 980 on Amazon
- Roomba 981 on Amazon (similar variant w/ accessory variation)
Disclaimer: I will earn a commission if you purchase from any of the links above, but at no extra cost to you, so it’s a win-win for us!
Which is the better option, the
Roomba S9+ or 980?
The considerable price difference between these variants is a significant deal-breaker for most consumers.
But cleaning performance shouldn’t be the primary reason, since both options are close in this category.
The S9+ has a slight edge with efficiency since it has wider extractors and more airflow.
Other considerations include whether the clean base station and map saving are enough to sway you to spend considerably more for the S9+.
5 Reasons to choose the
- Auto-empty convenience: The S9+ has a clean base station that empties the dustbin for you automatically after every run, ridding users of this menial task.
- Better efficiency: The 30% wider extractors enable the S9+ to pick up more debris per pass along with the slower spinning-side brush, increasing its proficiency.
- Deep cleans better: This variant is the best deep cleaning robot vacuum available.
- Map saving: Imprint smart mapping allows the S9+ not only to draw maps but also save them (up to 10), unlocking other features like keep-out zones, zoned cleaning, and selective room cleaning.
- More autonomous: The high-end cleaning performance and clean base station make the S9+ the better option for autonomy. You can schedule it and not touch it for weeks, only replacing the bag or filter when needed.
4 Reasons to choose the Roomba 980
- Costs much less: Depending on what sub-variant, you’ll spend up to three times less than what you’ll have to pay for a
- Cleans almost as well as the S9: The cleaning tests scores of these two robots are really close and shouldn’t be a primary sticking point.
- Efficient navigation: The 980 was the first iRobot product with smart navigation. Despite its age, it still holds up well and is much proficient than random navigating Roomba options.
- Large dustbin: Its 600-ml dustbin capacity makes up for the lack of a self-emptying feature.
The Verdict: How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
Cleaning tests reveal that these robot vacuums are incredibly close, having too small of a variance to declare one an outright winner. So this shouldn’t be your primary deciding factor.
You should look at the other features and decide whether it’s a priority. Do you need the self-emptying or map saving feature along with its other added benefits?
If the answer is yes, consider the
But if those features are non-essential to you, save on the Roomba 980 and still enjoy its high-end cleaning performance benefits as one of the more underrated iRobot options available.