Good dirt pickup performance
Gentle on furniture
Unwilling to clean tight spaces
Unlike its predecessors, the 980 has the connectivity, battery life, and navigational skills to jet from room to room without getting lost. That makes it the first robot vacuum we'd recommend for multi-room cleaning. However, owners of small homes, folks with lots of clutter, and bargain hunters may want to steer clear of the 980.
That's far from an indictment of this model. Remember that robot vacuums are inherently a compromise, combining automation and cleaning in a single machine, powered by a single battery.
Indeed, the 980 excelled as an automaton, flitting around our robot vacuum obstacle course like a leaf on the wind. Got a home with fine furniture or delicate wainscotting? Here's a robot vacuum that won't scratch it.
However, the 980's gentle touch comes at the expense of superior cleaning. For example, the iRobot Roomba 650 was—by comparison—a far worse robot, ramming into furniture as if toppling bookcases made the room cleaner. But all that aggression translated to the brushes getting into more places, which in turn meant more dirt picked up.
That lack of added oomph also prevented the 980 from climbing atop high-pile carpets, a feat which only a handful of robot vacuums have achieved.
At the end of a cycle, the 980 only picked up 8.5 grams of dirt. To put that in comparison, the comparable Neato Botvac Connected—the highest rated robot vacuum we've tested in 2016—picked up around 11 grams. That might not sound like much of a difference, but the pickup gap adds up over the course of a week. Basically, you can get better dirt pick up from a vacuum that costs $200 less.
So what's the deal with the 980's high price tag? Even on sale, it's $699.
An app is what sets the 980 from other robot vacuums. Before you scoff, this particular app is quite the feat of software engineering. Once it's connected to your home's WiFi network, you can control the 980 from anywhere via a smartphone.
Imagine being at work and learning at the last minute that you have guests coming over. You whip out your phone and command the 980 to give your floors a once over. It doesn't matter if you're down the street or a thousand miles away, the 980 will get the job done.
It can even use included Virtual Wall Lighthouses to move from room to room. Just put Lighthouses in each room you want cleaned, and they'll guide the 980 from room to room—and back to the charger, if necessary. Other robot vacuums without this feature—like the LG Hom-Bot—can get lost if they stray too far from their charger.
We don't have a doubt that the technology to develop as this is expensive. In fact, if you look at Neato, which also offers a WiFi-capable robot vacuum, the increase in price between the Botvac and Botvac Connected is about the same as the jump between the not-connected 880 and the 980.
That leads us to the second question: Is it worth it?
If you need a robot vacuum that's designed to clean multiple rooms, the 980 is a great choice—at least until later this year, when the Samsung PowerBot Turbo VR9350 debuts its unique multi-room tech.
However, like all robot vacuums, the 980 isn't perfect. While it never got stuck during our obstacle course, it still shied away from tight spaces and high piles that its competitors had no problems with. Other robot vacuums—including our top-rated Neato—have WiFi connectivity, and other robot vacuums are better-looking.
The bottom line is that the 980 adds some excellent features to a pretty standard robot vac. iRobot has always been a prime mover in the robot vacuum space, and we have no doubt that the next generation of robot vacuums will stand on the 980's shoulders.
The iRobot Roomba 980's manual and warranty information can be found here
Meet the tester
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
Checking our work.
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