Hands-on Gear Review

iRobot Roomba 980 Review

Price:   $900 List | $799.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Excellent at navigating out of tight spaces, solid cleaning power
Cons:  Doesn’t handle pet hair well, pricey
Bottom line:  If you have a home with a relatively confined layout and floors that need exceptional cleaning power, then the 980 is the clear choice
Editors' Rating:   
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Bin Capacity:  .6L
Dimensions:  14" diameter, 3.6" high
Measured Weight:  8.5 lbs
Manufacturer:   iRobot

Our Verdict

While the iRobot Roomba 980 couldn't quite snag one of our awards, it was a very close second to the top products. This robot delivered high marks in both of our cleaning tests, doing very well on hard and soft floors. It also has an uncanny knack for negotiating its way into and out of the more confined areas of your home — think under the dining room table and around the chairs — which would trip up other robots. It also has a solid set of smart features, allowing you to remotely interface with the robot through a mobile app or connect it to your existing smart home products. However, it isn't quite the best at getting pet hair out of the carpet and its high price can easily deter you from purchasing it.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
David Wise and Austin Palmer

Last Updated:
Wednesday
June 13, 2018

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This robot received one of the top scores overall, finishing right behind the top trio of the Botvac Connected, Botvac D7, and the Xiaomi Roborock V2. The Roomba 980 is a little more proficient at navigating the tighter areas of your home than the Neato robots, but the pair of Neato bots have a definite edge when it comes to cleaning power. Conversely, the Xiaomi is a little worse at cleaning, but is far superior at navigating your home without incident.

The Roomba 980 by iRobot.
The Roomba 980 by iRobot.

Performance Comparison


To really see which of these products has the merits to deserve an award, we bought all of the best products on the market and tested them head-to-head to find the best. We have spent over two years testing these products, comparing everything from their cleaning performance to the various smart features and functions on each robot. We grouped these tests into six weighted rating metrics, with the results of the 980 explained below.

This robot handled confined spaces easily  venturing where other robots feared to even enter.
This robot handled confined spaces easily, venturing where other robots feared to even enter.

Navigation


Our most important metric at 30% of the overall score for each robot, this metric evaluated how well each robot autonomously moved throughout your home. The bulk of the score for this metric is based on how well each product navigated a room furnished with our fake testing furniture, with the remainder being based on how well each robot handled docking, high-contrast floors, and low furniture. The Roomba 980 did very well, receiving a 7 out of 10 for its performance.

This robot did quite well in our furnished room test, never once becoming stuck. However, it did inexplicably do a terrible job in one of our trials, seemingly abandoning a systematic cleaning method and taking an inexplicably long time to complete its cleaning cycle, but it did a stellar job in every other trial we conducted. It handled all of the confined areas with ease, though it is a little rougher on the furniture than the Xiaomi Roborock, tending to bump into the chair legs and bouncing off, rather than detecting them and artfully steering around them.

The Roomba 980 is particularly adept at getting itself out of tight places.
The Roomba 980 is particularly adept at getting itself out of tight places.

This robot does a great job of docking, heading straight for the dock when it is in the same room as its home base. Even better, it did the exact same thing when it was in a different room as well.

The 980 effortlessly finds its way back to the charging base.
The 980 effortlessly finds its way back to the charging base.

However, this robot's edge detection sensors are easily stymied by high contrast flooring, thinking it was a drop-off.



The 980 did rebound for a solid performance in our final test, easily driving under low furniture.

The 980 isn't afraid to venture under the couch  or other furniture.
The 980 isn't afraid to venture under the couch, or other furniture.

However, we did find the only noticeable concession to be slowing down considerably for the lowest of pieces.

This robot will clean wherever it can fit.
This robot will clean wherever it can fit.

Home Coverage


Following our Navigation metric, our Home Coverage evaluated how much of your home the robot successfully cleaned, rather than if it successfully drove around without getting stuck. It is almost as important as the previous metric, constituting 20% of the overall score for each product. The 980 again delivered another great performance, earning another 7 out of 10.


To see how much of a room the 980 actually cleaned, we revisited our fake furnished room from the previous test, this time paying close attention to where the robot actually went, rather than if it got stuck, using a combination of debris scattered on the floor and time-lapse photography to score the progress of each product. The 980 seemed to clean the room in its entirety, never shying away from any of the more confined areas and only failing to clean areas where the robot wouldn't physically fit.

The 980 doesn't shy away from obstacles.
The 980 doesn't shy away from obstacles.

This robot handles cleaning multiple rooms equally well, handily returning to its base to recharge and automatically resume cleaning if the battery level drops too low to finish your home on a single charge.

If you don't want your Roomba 980 to clean your whole home and only pick up a small mess, you can use the spot clean function. It wasn't the most sophisticated or largest spot clean function of the group, only covering a circular area of about 4' in diameter, but it does do two passes, spiraling out and back in from the starting point.

We weren't terribly impressed with the spot cleaning ability on the 980.
We weren't terribly impressed with the spot cleaning ability on the 980.

If there are areas of your home that you don't want the robot to clean, you can use the included virtual wall to designate an area as a do not enter zone.

The virtual barrier takes up only a small amount of space and is a little more inconspicuous than the magnetic strips.
The virtual barrier takes up only a small amount of space and is a little more inconspicuous than the magnetic strips.

This battery-powered box can either create a virtual wall that extends in a straight line about 10' in length, or it can create a circular one that is about 4' in diameter.

The 980 does well at keeping carpets clean.
The 980 does well at keeping carpets clean.

Carpet Cleaning


Moving on to how each robot vacuum cleaned, we spread a variety of different debris out on a section of low-pile, flat carpet and a swatch of fluffier, medium-pile carpet, then scored each robot on how much it sucked up. We didn't really test these on high-pile, shag carpet, as that is asking a lot out of any of these products. The Roomba 980 delivered another solid performance, meriting a 7 out of 10 for its stellar performance in this metric, which is responsible for 15% of the total score.

We started off by evaluating how closely each robot can clean in the corners of a room and along the edges. We spread out coffee grounds on a section of carpet, then placed our robot pen down and set each one loose. The 980 didn't do amazing, leaving a strip about 3.5" in width along the edges of the wall and a wedge about 5" across in the corners. This is a little more than the 1.5" or so of the top products, but still quite respectable.

The 980 left a wider strip of debris around the edges of the pen than the D-shaped robots.
The 980 left a wider strip of debris around the edges of the pen than the D-shaped robots.

Next, we scored how each robot did at collecting fine particles, using flour as our test mess. The 980 did reasonably well, collecting an above average amount of flour, but still leaving a decent amount of residual mess behind.

The 980 was great at getting the surface flour  but didn't do so well against flour that got imbedded.
The 980 was great at getting the surface flour, but didn't do so well against flour that got imbedded.

This robot did quite a bit better in our next two test: oats and rice collection. It delivered one of the best performances we have seen out of any of these products on the flatter carpet for both of these tests and at collecting oats from the fluffier carpet. It didn't do quite as well at getting rice out of the fluffier carpet, leaving a bit behind, but still collected the majority of the rice we laid out, only leaving about a teaspoon behind.

The 980 left about a teaspoon of rice behind.
The 980 left about a teaspoon of rice behind.

For our last test of this metric, we compared how well each robot picked up large items, using mini-wheats as our sample mess. The 980 did very well on both flat and fluffy carpet, getting all of the cereal on the flat carpet and only missing one on the fluffier carpet, mainly due to the somewhat narrow opening leading to the collection bin, causing the one missed mini-wheat to get stuck.

The 90 does a solid job at keeping hard floors clean.
The 90 does a solid job at keeping hard floors clean.

Hard Surface Cleaning


For our next group of tests, we repeated the tests from the previous metric, though this time we conducted them on a section of hardwood laminate flooring. This metric is also worth 15% of the total score, with the 980 again doing quite well, earning another 7 out of 10.

While the 980 did do the best at of all the Roomba models at cleaning in close to the edges and in the corners of a room, it still fell a little short overall, leaving a border about 4" in diameter.

The 980 doesn't clean as close to the edges as the D-shaped vacuums.
The 980 doesn't clean as close to the edges as the D-shaped vacuums.

This robot did much better in our flour collection test, getting all of the debris in the area covered by the main extractor. However, it did leave a little residual behind in the area that was only covered by the rotating brush. Despite this, it was still one of the best showings that we have seen.

The 980 was a top performer for picking up flour.
The 980 was a top performer for picking up flour.

The 980 continued its dominance in our next two tests, doing very well at collecting rice and oats, getting up all of the mess that we laid out.

The 980 had no trouble picking up oats.
The 980 had no trouble picking up oats.

Unfortunately, it struggled with larger items, failing to collect any of the mini-wheats.

Not the best of the bunch for pet hair on carpet.
Not the best of the bunch for pet hair on carpet.

Pet Hair


Next, we evaluated and scored how proficient each robot vacuum is at cleaning up after your furry friends, which accounts for 10% of the total score for each product. We spread out pet hair donated by a local groomer on sections of flat and fluffy carpet, then rated each product on how much it collected. Unfortunately, the 980 fell a little flat, barely collecting any hair in either test, leaving behind over 90% in both cases.

The 980's smart features allow it to be activated remotely.
The 980's smart features allow it to be activated remotely.

Smart Connect


For the final 10% of the score, we looked at the various smart features and functions built into each product. The 980 finished with a strong showing, possessing an impressive set of smart features that earned it a 7 out of 10.

This robot was quite reliable at connecting and remaining connected to wifi throughout our testing process. This robot also has a very functional companion app, allowing you to view a cleaning map of the robot's progress, track accessory life, adjust suction power, view its history, and set a schedule.

Pick and choose the schedule for you.
Pick and choose the schedule for you.

This robot also can interface with existing smart home systems, such as IFTTT, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa. You can only set the schedule on the app, rather than on the robot, but you can initiate a spot clean and send the robot home through physical buttons on the device itself.

The clean onboard interface of the 980.
The clean onboard interface of the 980.

Value


While this robot does offer solid performance, it is quite expensive, making it a poor choice if you are shopping on a budget.

Conclusion


All in all, the 980 is a solid, jack-of-all-trades that didn't particularly distinguish itself in any one category, but did solidly well at both navigating and cleaning your home. This product offers a good balance for homes that have floors that are more heavily soiled and are quite cluttered, but it is very expensive.

David Wise and Austin Palmer

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