Over the past few weeks, I’ve been testing and writing about self-emptying robot vacuums.
These two brands are pioneers in this industry: Shark and iRobot. And for this article, we’ll be comparing two of the cheaper alternatives – the Shark IQ and Roomba I3+.
These two models are similar but different in many ways, and we’ll be unpacking those below.
A quick overview of the Shark IQ and Roomba I3+
I put all robot vacuums through a rigorous series of tests to check how it performs and holds up. These experiments are designed to spot potential weak points that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
- Airflow: 18.87 CFM
- Deep cleaning: 80%
- Mopping: No
- Auto empty: Yes
- Auto empty dustbin capacity: 1.8 liters
- Bag capacity: No bag (bagless)
- Navigation: Smart Navigation
- Map saving: Yes
- Number of maps: 1
- Containment: Yes
- Selective room cleaning: Yes
- Recharge & Resume: Yes
- Dustbin capacity: approx. 400ml
- Water tank: N/A
- Side brush: Two
- Battery: 2990 mAh Li-ion
- Run time: 60 minutes
- Noise: 64.8 dB
- Airflow: 7.27 CFM
- Deep Cleaning: 84.7%
- Mopping: No
- Auto empty: Yes
- Navigation: Smart Navigation
- Map saving: Yes
- Containment: No
- Selective room cleaning: Yes
- Recharge & Resume: Yes
- Rubber extractors: Yes
- Dustbin capacity: 400ml
- Side brush: One
- Battery: 1800 mAh Li-ion
- Run time: 75 minutes
- Noise: 64.9 dB
* If you click this link and purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Airflow tests were done using an anemometer. I rubbed 100 grams of sand on mid-pile carpet for deep cleaning tests, weighed the dustbin empty, then full, and subtracted to get the results.
Noise levels are taken by a sound meter from a few feet away. The results you see are from the highest setting.
Dustbin and auto-empty capacities are taken from manufacturer sites, but for Roomba, it’s just an estimate (based on the eye test) since iRobot doesn’t specify it.
Introduction to the Shark IQ and Roomba I3+
As mentioned earlier, Shark and Roomba are pioneers with auto-empty robot vacuums.
iRobot was the first to introduce it when they launched the I7+. Shark introduced the IQ series afterward as a cheaper alternative to the more premium Roomba options.
Pioneer Budget Auto Empty Robot: Shark IQ
Shark introduced the IQ auto empty robot as a “budget” alternative to the Roomba I7+.
But compared to cheap self-empty options now, the price isn’t considered as such.
However, during the time, it was, and you could say it’s a game-changing product, paving the way to what we have now.
The early Shark IQ options had one fatal flaw – it lacked a floor tracking sensor, making it difficult to create maps.
Often, it took many runs to save the map successfully, and video reviews have confirmed this issue.
Newer variants don’t have this issue, and I have one of the second-generation IQs.
The Shark IQ optical sensor is beside the right wheel assembly (check photo).
It took only a single run to create the map, so make sure to get the variant with the floor tracking sensor to avoid this issue.
The IQ has a bagless self-empty dock with a 1.8-liter capacity – easily the smallest of all self emptying robots I’ve tested.
Depending on your preference, this could be a plus with the cost savings of not purchasing bags.
But there’s exposure to allergens emptying it. If you’re not careful, some debris may spill on this area.
It relies on a top-mounted camera and floor tracking sensor to create the map and track location, similar to the Roomba I6 and S9.
Underneath it has a twin side brush system with single prongs that spins at the slowest pace.
While it doesn’t scatter debris as much as Roomba, it’s much worst at edge cleaning.
Shark says that the IQ has an active anti-tangle system, which I’ve tested, but it only works for shorter five-inch hair.
Cheapest Roomba Self Empty Option: Roomba I3+
After launching the Roomba I7+ and S9+, iRobot set its sights on the budget auto empty niche with the I3+.
It’s currently their cheapest self-emptying robot to date.
One feature lacking is the VSLAM (or Visual SLAM).
VSLAM is an algorithm relying on a top-mounted camera and floor tracking sensors to create and save maps.
The lack of a VSLAM means that while the Roomba I3+ can draw maps (thanks to the optical sensor), it cannot save them.
Thus it doesn’t have access to advanced navigational features such as keep-out zones or selective room cleaning.
It functions similarly to the more expensive I6+/I7+ but without containment and zoned cleaning features.
This variant shares the same components as its more expensive sibling, so cleaning results aren’t far off.
Similarities between the Shark IQ robot and iRobot Roomba I3+
We’ll look at the similarities between these two auto self empty robots in various facets.
Both options utilize a round shape with a minimalist interface.
One difference is that the IQ has a top-mounted camera, and iRobot does not, highlighting the variation with their navigational algorithms.
Another difference is the diameter, with Shark IQ being smaller at 12.8″ versus the I3+’s at 13.34″.
2. Dustbin placement and capacity
The Shark IQ and Roomba I3+ have similar-sized, rear-mounted dustbins at 400 milliliters.
Shark’s dustbin has a wider opening making it easier to clean or empty (should you choose the robot-only option).
The Roomba I3’s dustbin has a narrower opening, making it more challenging to clean or empty.
Since these products have the automatic self-emptying feature, dustbin volume shouldn’t be a deciding factor.
3. Auto Empty Dock
Piggy-backing on the previous point. These robots have a self-emptying base station that empties the robot’s dustbin.
One difference is the disposal system. iRobot has a bagged system, while Shark utilizes a bagless design.
4. Recharge and Resume
These variants have recharge and resume – a feature that instructs the robot to recharge then continue cleaning (where it left off) if it doesn’t finish the cleaning cycle.
Differences between the Shark IQ and Roomba I3+
Now, let’s look at the differences between these robots.
1. Navigational algorithm
The most significant variance internally is the navigational algorithm that each robot utilizes.
Shark relies on VSLAM, which is a more advanced algorithm that offers map saving and containment features.
In comparison, the I3+ relies primarily on gyroscopes and an optical floor sensor to track its location.
Yes, it can draw maps thanks to the floor sensor, but it cannot save them. Therefore it lacks containment and zoned cleaning features present in Shark.
It’s a reason why iRobot could bring the price further down.
2. Brush design and layout
Another difference is the brush design, as this photo shows.
The Roomba I3+ utilizes iRobot’s patented counter-rotating extractors that are among the best at agitation and carpet cleaning performance.
In comparison, Shark uses its own patented design – the self-cleaning brush roll similar to the Vertex cordless with an active anti-tangle system.
Another difference is the number of side brushes. Roomba has a single-side brush, while Shark utilizes two single-pronged side brushes.
3. Battery and Run Time
Run time will vary with these robots. The Shark IQ has a shorter range at 60-minutes versus the Roomba I3+ at 75-minutes, despite having the larger 2990 mAh li-ion battery.
But it’s not a surprise since the IQ has the more powerful motor and airflow of 18.87 CFM versus the I3+’s output of 7.27 CFM.
4. Self Empty Dock Design
These robots use varying self-emptying dock designs.
The Roomba I3+ has a ramp-style design, where the robot sits on a ramp, while the Shark IQ relies on a vertical port.
If you’re familiar with my YT channel and blog, you’ll know that my preference is the former, as the ramp offers better stability.
Vertical ramps don’t have as much since the robot’s outlet port and the dock’s inlet port need a proper alignment for the self-emptying process to work.
These arrows point to the base station’s inlet and robot’s outlet ports. If these don’t line up, debris may spill on the surface, creating a bigger mess.
It’s a non-issue on hard surfaces since it has a solid base. But the alignment issue props up on carpets.
Shark rectifies this issue by offering the SharkMat – an accessory that places the robot on a solid surface to address it.
But it’s an added expense and may not work on thicker pile carpets.
5. Base Station Dirt Capacity and Size
The auto empty dirt volume also varies, with the Roomba I3+ having the larger capacity at 2.5 liters.
Shark’s capacity is a bit smaller – at 1.8 liters and please note it’s a bagless system, so there’s no need to purchase bags regularly.
One plus with the Shark IQ’s self-emptying station is its compactness. Place it beside a Roomba base station, and you can see the size difference.
It has a handle, making it the easiest of all self-emptying robots to move around.
Next, we’ll look at the various app features of these robots, the similarities, and the differences.
Both options don’t have a remote, so users will need to download their respective apps to unlock all the features.
Please note that these apps are only compatible with 2.4G WIFI and not 5G.
Map saving [Shark IQ only]
Thanks to VSLAM, the Shark IQ can save maps.
Unfortunately, it only saves one map level, which defeats the purpose of its base station’s portability.
Containment [Shark IQ only]
Map saving has added benefits and one of which is adding containment zones.
The SharkClean app has access to no-go zones, which are boxed areas off-limits to the robot.
However, it lacks an invisible wall feature, so users cannot block diagonal areas on the map.
None of the VSLAM robots I’ve tested so far have this feature, but the Shark IQ does have a magnetic tape that serves this purpose.
It’s an old-school and cruder approach to a virtual wall, but it can help block doorways.
Evacuate and Resume [Shark IQ only]
The SharkClean app has this feature that tells the robot to base after 30 minutes to empty the dustbin.
It’s a feature I don’t see in other apps and helpful for large or dirty spaces to ensure the dustbin doesn’t overfill.
Cleaning Passes [Roomba I3+ only]
One advantage the Roomba I3+ has over the Shark IQ is thoroughness.
The iRobot app has a provision to do a two-pass run versus the IQ’s default one-pass run.
Add the dirt-detect feature – it beats the IQ easily in this area, despite the latter having the extended run feature, which didn’t work as advertised during tests.
Both robots have a scheduling feature, so consumers can automate the vacuuming task and take advantage of the auto-empty feature.
But only the SharkClean app can schedule multiple runs per day – up to three. One run in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
The Roomba I3+ app can schedule more runs per day.
But with a minimum gap of three hours per run.
iRobot did this (I’m guessing here) because of the short-range to give the robot enough time to recharge.
Technically, both robots have smart navigation, meaning each can track its location in its internal map.
One difference is the algorithm used. Shark IQ has the VSLAM algorithm reliant on a top-mounted camera and a floor tracking sensor for navigation and tracking.
Since it uses a camera, it relies heavily on a light source to function. It moves in straight lines, but I noticed it going in the shortest round from end to end.
Thanks to the gyroscopes and optical floor sensor, the Roomba I3+ moves in neat rows, even without VSLAM.
It actually utilizes a crisscross pattern similar to the Roborock S7+, which provides more thoroughness.
Both are decent at avoiding furniture and not getting wedged on six to eight-legged office chairs, which is an issue with random navigating robots.
Coverage and Efficiency Comparison
Another test I do with these robots is the coverage and efficiency test. The coverage part involves checking how much debris it picks up in a single two-pass cycle.
And the efficiency part checks how long it takes to complete the cycle.
There wasn’t much difference with the results. Both were decent, picking up most of the quaker oats.
Shark was above-average given it only went around once, picking up most debris scattered in the middle portions, but it struggled at the edges.
Roomba I3+, despite its two-pass run, didn’t do much better than the Shark IQ.
One glaring issue is the fast-spinning side brush that scattered debris, but it was better cleaning the edges.
The Shark IQ completed its run in around 18 minutes, while the Roomba I3+ finished at 22:43 minutes.
Please realize that the Shark IQ only has a one-pass cycle, even with the extended run feature turned on, which almost doubles the I3+’s result.
Considering it had a crisscross navigational pattern, the Roomba I3+’s result is decent but not as efficient as the Roborock S7+.
Shark IQ wins this comparison as it has more airflow than the Roomba I3+, even in its lowest power setting.
One thing going for the Roomba I3+ is its counter-rotating extractors, which make up for the airflow disparity.
It’s one of the better carpet cleaning robot vacuums, especially deep-cleaning embedded dirt (more on this below).
Cleaning Performance Comparison
Roomba was better with the overall scores despite the massive disparity in airflow. But that was buoyed by its higher deep cleaning results.
Shark was better with most surface debris tests: hard floor, carpet, and sand on hard floors.
|Sand on hard floor|
|Carpet (Surface Pickup)|
|Carpet (Deep Cleaning)|
These results show the importance of airflow in determining cleaning results. It’s not the end-all-be-all stat, but it’s critical in determining how a robot vacuum will perform.
Which is better on hard floors: Shark IQ or Roomba I3+?
One barometer I use for determining hard floor performance is how much sand it picks up. The Shark IQ picked up a few more percentage points than the Roomba I3+ (97.3% vs. 95.5%).
Here’s a before and after shot for the Shark IQ.
And Roomba I3+.
It picked up more because of the higher airflow, plus the slow spinning side brush that didn’t scatter as much.
Edge Cleaning Comparison
One downside to the slower spinning side brush is its inability to clean edges effectively.
I’ve already pointed this out in the coverage test, but the edge cleaning experiment confirms this.
The Roomba I3+ didn’t pick up everything, but it was better than the Shark IQ.
Hair Wrap Comparison
Shark IQ was much better overall, with shorter five-inch strands.
You could see the active anti-tangle system at work as it picked up nearly everything, only a few strands wrapped on the brush.
Before the Shark IQ review, I was expecting more, honestly. Unfortunately, it stalled during the seven-inch test, and this much was on the brush.
The Roomba I3+ did better with longer 7-inch strands, but the difference wasn’t much.
But with shorter five-inch strands, it only picked up 58%, and here’s how the brush looks after the experiment.
Which is better on carpets, Shark IQ or Roomba I3+?
There wasn’t much difference with surface debris on carpets.
The Shark IQ was slightly better with surface dirt (96.82% vs. 96.22%) but lagged behind the Roomba I3+ at deep cleaning tests (75% vs. 84.7%).
Shark’s higher airflow was a factor with surface debris.
However, Rooba’s extractors were much better with embedded dirt, along with the more thorough navigation and dirt-detect system.
Run Time Comparison
The Roomba I3+ utilizes a smaller 1800 mAh Li-ion battery and yet still runs longer at 75 minutes.
One reason could be the smaller motor that doesn’t require as much current.
Shark IQ has a larger 2990 mAh Li-ion battery, but it only runs a maximum of 60 minutes.
Having the recharge and resume feature does mitigate the short range of these robots.
But if cleaning a larger home is a must, then you’ll have to look at the Yeedi Vac Station that runs for up to 200 minutes.
The Shark IQ produced less noise than the Roomba I3+, topping at 64.8 decibels (versus the I3+’s 64.9 dB) despite having more airflow, which is impressive.
Roomba products tend to be noisy, and the I3+ is no exception.
Part of robot vacuum ownership is maintenance. It’s essential to clean different components to prevent unnecessary wear and tear. I’ll show you which parts to check and replace in specific intervals.
- Primary brush: It’s the most abused component of any robot vacuum since it picks up debris. Check and clean once a week to remove dirt and hair accumulated on the roller and axles.
- Side brush: Next most abused part is the side brush. Likewise, detach and clean once a week to remove any hair and debris sticking on the arm and base.
- Dustbin and filter: Even with the self-empty base, dirt will accumulate inside the dustbin. Fortunately, for these variants, their dustbins are washable, making the process easier. Do this at least once or twice a month. However, the filter isn’t washable, so remove washing. Tap the filter on a solid surface to dislodge dirt and replace once every two or three months.
- Drop sensors: These sensors are located underneath the robot. Use a clean, dry microfiber cloth to wipe off any residue dust and contaminant, preventing an error code firing and disabling the robot.
- Robot body: Wipe the robot body to remove any fingerprints and smudges at least once a month.
- Auto empty station: Keep the ports going into the auto-empty stations clean and free from any obstruction.
- Bag and base station dustbin: Replace the Roomba I3+ bag when full. For the Shark IQ, empty the dustbin over a wide trash bin. Clean the Shark IQ base station filter if it’s dirty.
Availability of Parts
Shark and iRobot are two of the more popular robot vacuum options. There will be a plethora of parts available for these brands.
The Roomba I3+ and I6+/I7+ share many components, so these will be in abundant supply on Amazon or the iRobot website.
Shark also has plentiful parts available from major online stores like Amazon or the SharkClean website.
One advantage for iRobot is the availability of internal components such as the side brush motor or wheel module, even on their website.
Gyroscope + Optical Sensor
Gyroscope + Optical Sensor
1800 mAh Li-Ion
|Recharge and Resume|
|Number of Maps|
|Water tank capacity|
Where can I buy these robots?
The Roomba I3+ and Shark IQ are available in online stores like Amazon. Check the links below for more details.
Disclosure: I will earn a commission if you purchase through 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: Shark IQ Robot or the iRobot Roomba I3+
After testing these robots comprehensively, each option offers compelling reasons to buy.
The Shark IQ is the cheaper alternative with a bagless dock, so there’s no need to purchase bags over its lifespan and save money long term.
In comparison, the Roomba I3+ offers a more thorough vacuuming performance with its crisscross pattern but lags with advanced navigational features.
The absence of VSLAM means it doesn’t have map saving and containment features.
5 Reasons to Choose the Shark IQ Robot
- Cheaper alternative: The Shark IQ offers a more affordable option with a self-emptying base.
- No bags: Its bagless base station means a reduced cost of ownership since you don’t have to replace bags continually.
- Excellent for shorter hair: Shark’s anti-tangle system works well with shorter five-inch strands but may struggle with longer hair.
- Compact auto-empty dock: The slender IQ self-empty station with the handle is easy to transport around the home.
- Decent at surface debris: The Shark IQ scored higher than the Roomba I3+ with most surface debris tests.
5 Reasons to Choose the Roomba I3+
- More thorough cleaning: The crisscross navigational pattern and the dirt-detect sensor make the I3+ more meticulous at vacuuming homes.
- Better at deep cleaning: iRobot’s counter-rotating extractors are some of the best at picking up embedded dirt, and the I3+ is no exception.
- Less exposure to allergens: Its bagged system is less messy to empty and eliminates exposure to allergens.
- Base stability: The ramp-style base station is usable on different surfaces.
- Parts availability: iRobot offers a wide range of replacement parts options in case anything breaks. And its modular design only requires a Philips screwdriver to replace.
The Verdict: A Close Call and Will Depend on Budget and Surface
These robots are very close in terms of cleaning performance and navigation.
Neither outperformed the other in any of the tests by a significant margin, so choosing one will boil down to what surface you need to clean and what features to prioritize.
The Shark IQ would be my choice for those who want to spend less and not mind the lack of thoroughness.
If you value thoroughness, you can get around this limitation by scheduling it up to three times per day.
It does well enough on surface debris to warrant consideration but is still decent with embedded dirt.
Some consumers who commented in my video review told me that they prefer the bagless system as it offers better cost savings since there’s no bag to purchase.
The Roomba I3+ is an ideal option for people who want their robot vacuums to pick up embedded stuff on carpet.
Its counter-rotating extractors are fit for this task.
Plus, it has more thorough navigation, meaning it will clean in a crisscross pattern and do extra passes on filthier areas.
Yes, it’s more expensive, but the availability of parts and modular design bodes well for long-term ownership.