The Best Roomba to Get in 2017 – with Model Comparison Chart
Last Updated: May 12, 2017
It’s 2017, and the Roomba lineup just seems to keep expanding. With so many models to choose from, it’s almost impossible to know which one to get. You don’t want to spend this much on a robot vacuum and not have it live up to your expectations. iRobot does us no favors when it comes to pointing out the differences.
Special Note (June 11): There is a price drop on the 960 and 980 on Amazon this week, click here to get the details on the deal.
The information on the official website is vague and sometimes downright misleading. The one saving grace in their naming convention is that the higher the Roomba’s model number, the more features you can expect to find. However, not every feature is a must, and you should be able to find a model that suits your needs best after reading this guide.
Choosing a Roomba should not be so hard. That’s where this guide comes in. I spent 18 hours extensively researching the best Roomba models so you don’t have to. If you’ve been wondering which Roomba model to get, look no further. You will find everything you need to know in this guide.
Only the five best reviewed Roomba models are included in this review to keep the information relevant and digestible. In addition, models that have been discontinued are not included in order to keep the guide up to date. In the review, I talk about what to like and what not to like about each Roomba, how it compares to other Roombas, and which Roomba is best for various situations (pets, long hair, multilevel homes, etc).
If you don’t have time to read the details, the bottom line is this: the Roomba 960 is the best Roomba for your money as of 2017. I will update this recommendation as new models become available, but right now, it is hands down the best robotic vacuum on the market. Click here to see reviews from other 960 owners on Amazon.
- 1 Roomba Models At a Glance – A Comparison Chart
- 2 Roomba 650
- 3 Roomba 860 – Best Roomba For the Budget Conscious
- 4 Roomba 880
- 5 Roomba 960 – Best Roomba For the Money Overall
- 6 Roomba 980
- 7 Commonly Asked Questions About the iRobot Roombas
- 8 Which Roomba Model is Best for these Specific Situations?
Roomba Models At a Glance – A Comparison Chart
|Included Accessories||1 x Virtual Wall Barrier||2 x Virtual Wall Lighthouse||1 x Virtual Wall Barrier||2 x Virtual Wall Barrier|
|Recharge and Resume||Yes||Yes|
|Wi-Fi & App Connected||Yes||Yes|
|Battery life||75 minutes||120 minutes|
|Our Picks||Best Budget Pick||Best Overall Pick|
|Current Price||Check on Amazon||Check on Amazon||Check on Amazon||Check on Amazon|
Oh how Roombas have improved in the past two years. The Roomba 650 used to be so good! Sadly this is no longer the case. It used to be the best selling Roomba because of its winning combination of price and features. But with newer models released, I can no longer recommend this Roomba because the newer models hands down blow it out of the water.
Having said that, there are still plenty of things to like about the 650. Two years ago, I would have recommended this model in a heart beat. Roombas use a psuedo-random pattern to navigate around your house, which actually results in a better cleaning outcome, especially on carpet. It’s programmable and self-docking, meaning you can have it start itself when you are away and come home to a clean floor and docked Roomba. Owners rate the Roomba 650 very highly. It does a great job picking up dirt and hair. It is able to get under most furniture, cleaning areas you normally can’t get to with an upright vacuum.
Now onto the main reason why I don’t recommend this model anymore–the rotating brushes. Designed like a conventional vacuum, the 650 picks up dirt by agitating the carpet or floor with a rotating brush. This works great in terms of producing clean floors, but becomes a headache when hair gets stuck in the vacuum. I hate this on my upright vacuum because I have to take a knife and start cutting the hair out of the brushes. With the Roomba 650, it’s slightly easier because the brushes are removable and iRobot includes a hair extractor to make the process easier. Still, it’s not a pleasant task.
Only choose the 650 if price is your one and only criteria. It IS still the most affordable Roomba (see Amazon), available today. However, I think most people should skip the 650 and pick a better model, like the 860. The brushless rollers alone on the 860 are worth every penny of the upgrade.
Areas needing improvement:
- Hair gets stuck in the rolling brushes, making maintenance a tedious task.
- Old version of Virtual Wall accessory requires 2 C batteries, which are not included.
- Even if price is the only concern, I would still recommend skipping this model
Roomba 860 – Best Roomba For the Budget Conscious
Having gotten the 650 out of the way, let’s look at some REAL Roombas. (Sorry 650!) This is the new standard in budget robotic vacuums. If you don’t want to spend too much money and want a robot that just cleans without any extra bells and whistles, the 860 is most likely the best fit for you (check Amazon price now).
How is the 860 better than the 650? Brush-less rollers (matters more than you think)
In the world of vacuums, brush-less rollers are no doubt the best thing since sliced bread. I love this new design so much that I no longer recommend vacuums with traditional rolling brushes. The manufacturer calls them “tangle-free debris extractors”, which is more complicated sounding than it needs to be. They are really just two rubber rollers with protruding “feet” that beat and vibrate the floor as the Roomba moves around. The vibrations shake the dirt off the carpet and into the path of the vacuum.
Compared to the Roomba 650, this results in an equally clean floor and much easier maintenance. If you’ve ever tried to pull hair out of a traditional vacuum brush roller, you know how tedious the process can get. With brush-less rollers, hair rarely gets stuck in the vacuum, and even when they do, pulling out the hair is a trivial task. Just pop out the rubber rollers, and any stuck hair can be easily pulled out.
My wife has shoulder length hair, and so much of it ends up on our floors. The hair eventually ends up stuck on the brushes of our upright vacuum. If I don’t clean the hair out every so often, it would make this terrible burning smell–something akin to a burnt hair and dust burrito. But tearing the hair out of the vacuum was so tedious, it used to be the chore I hated the most. I hated it so much that I avoided vacuuming at all costs unless the carpet was starting to look gross or we had a guest coming.
With the brushless Roombas, all the hair on the floor now ends up directly in the dust bin. We come home to a clean house and a dustbin full of hair and dust. Every time the Roomba vacuums, I look forward to seeing how much dust and hair it got this time. It is so satisfying to see all that hair and dust trapped in the bin.
The 860 includes a “Virtual Wall Barrier” accessory (used to be called Virtual Wall Halo), which is a beacon that you can position to block off access to certain areas. In Virtual Wall mode, the beacon emits a beam to block openings of up to 7 feet. In Barrier/Halo mode, the beacon emits a signal marking off a circle around the beacon instead of a beam. The signal tells the Roomba not to come near the beacon. This is useful for things you wouldn’t want the Roomba to knock over, such as pet water or food bowls. Click here for a detailed review of the Roomba 860.
Areas needing improvement
- As good as the brushless rollers are, the 860 is still a budget entry compared to other models in the Roomba line. Compared to the 880, the 860 only comes with 1 Virtual Wall Halo, a little beacon that tells the Roomba where to go and where not to go.
- People love it because it is really good for pet and human hair. If you home layout is simple and price is the main concern, go with the 860.
The 880 is an excellent mix of price and performance (check current Amazon price & any discounts). It features the same brushless rollers as the 860. iRobot doesn’t want to advertise this, but the Roomba unit itself that comes in the 860 box is virtually the same as the one in the 880. The only difference between the two models is the color scheme and included accessories.
Compared to the 860, which is equipped with 1 Virtual Wall Barrier, the 880 comes with 2 Virtual Wall Lighthouses. Note that the two accessories are slightly different. Both accessories can be placed in Virtual Wall (VW) mode, which emits a beam to block openings you do not want the Roomba to enter. The VW “Lighthouse” in the 880 is more sophisticated than the VW “Barrier” in the 860. You switch the beacon to Lighthouse mode and place one in the doorway of each room you would like the Roomba to clean. The beacons then act as a gate, telling the Roomba to stay in the room until it is done cleaning that room.
This method of vacuuming dramatically increases the efficiency of the Roomba because it saves time needless wandering between two rooms. Once the Roomba enters a room, it’s not allowed to leave leave until the room is vacuumed. And once it is done, it won’t go back into the room. iRobot explains how the VWLH works on its website. To learn more, here is a detailed review of the 880.
Areas needing improvement:
- The 880 is not able to recharge and resume, meaning that if you have a large home, it might be be able to completely cover the entire floor before the battery runs out.
- Although this is the best Roomba without Wi-Fi connectivity, I feel it is stuck in no-man’s land in terms of price and features. Either go up a model for better features or go down a model to save money without making too much compromise.
Roomba 960 – Best Roomba For the Money Overall
How is the Roomba 960 Better than the 880? – Wifi-Connectivity, Visual Mapping, & Recharge and Resume
The Roomba 960 is where things start to get really cool. Released in August 2016, it is actually the latest entry in the Roomba line. It is Wi-Fi enabled and therefore able to connect to your smart phone. This gives you the ability to start your Roomba when you’re away from home. (check Amazon for current price and any available discounts)
Another interesting feature of the app is that it will record how many square feet the Roomba vacuumed, the number of times it has cleaned in total, and the amount of time it spent vacuuming in total. You can set the Roomba’s cleaning schedule directly from the phone, and also change some preferences regarding how you’d like the Roomba to clean. The app also has reminders to tell you when the dust bin needs emptying and when the Roomba requires maintenance.
In additional to the app, the 960 is equipped with visual sensors. The 960 and 980 are the only Roombas currently on the market to have them. These sensors use your furniture and walls as landmarks to create an internal map of your house. Previous Roombas always use a pseudo-random pattern to vacuum, resulting in the haphazard cleaning pattern that puzzle most Roomba owners. With visual mapping, the 960 can finally vacuum in straight lines. Vacuuming in a pseudo-random pattern is fine and actually produces great results after multiple passes, but it is just so mesmerizing to watch the 960 vacuum an area lane by lane. If you have any hint of OCD, the lines traced by the Roomba 960 will satisfy that inner compulsion.
Finally, the 960 is able to automatically recharge when low on battery and resume vacuuming where it left off. Once again, the 960 and 980 are the only current Roombas able to do so, thanks to their visual mapping technology. This means that no matter how big your house is, the Roomba can clean an entire level when you are away, recharging as necessary. For an in-depth review of the Roomba 960, click here.
Areas needing improvement:
It’d be nice to have carpet boost like the 980, but considering the price difference, this is our favorite Roomba.
This is the best Roomba to pick up if you want the best combination of price and features. The technology on the 960 are not just marketing buzzwords but actually result in a great user experience. Our top Roomba pick.
What is the 980’s Main Improvement over the Roomba 960? – Higher Battery Capacity, Newer Motor, & Carpet Boost
The 980 is very similar to the 960 in terms of overall features, with the following differences:
The first difference is that it comes with two Virtual Wall Barrier accessories instead of just one. The Virtual Wall Barriers are nice to have, but one may already be enough for your household. You can also purchase them separately if you find that you need more. One or two should be enough for most households, though.
The second difference is that the 980 sports a better battery that gives it a continuous run time of 120 minutes instead of the 960’s 75 minutes. Given that both models are able to recharge and resume though, a bigger battery doesn’t mean too much to me. If I won’t be home when the Roomba is cleaning, who cares if it takes a break after 75 minutes to recharge?
The third difference is that the 980 sports a newer generation motor that the manufacturer claims to be 10x the suction power of the most basic Roomba.
The last difference is important for households with mostly carpet. The 980 is equipped with an additional “Carpet Boost” sensor that can tell whether it’s on carpet or a hard surfaces. When it detects carpet or area rugs, the motor is revved up to increase suction. The idea is that dirt is harder to vacuum off of carpet, so the increased suction will help compensate. For a detailed review of the Roomba 980, click here.
Areas needing improvement
Although it’s the best Roomba available today, its price is high.
If you have a lot of carpet (or multiple area rugs on hardwood floors) or if you just want the greatest Roomba on the market, you may want to splurge on the Roomba 980.
Commonly Asked Questions About the iRobot Roombas
Yes, most likely it will. Unless the height difference between two areas is very significant (i.e. over 3/4″), all current Roomba models should climb over the obstacle no problem with their 3 inch wheels.
How loud are Roombas while they vacuum?
Since they use similar motors and suction technology, the noise levels do not vary significantly between these five Roomba models. The noise level depends on the type of surface it is vacuuming.
On my hardwood floor, the Roomba 880 puts out approximately 65 decibels. It is quieter on carpet, measuring about 60 db. For comparison, a normal conversation is also about 60 db.
Although these are quiet by vacuum standards, they are not quiet enough for you to sleep while they clean.
Hair and Pets
If you have pets or a family member with long hair, pick anything but the 650. Not only are all the other models equipped with HEPA filters, they are a breeze to clean. With the 650, you will want to start pulling your own hair out while trying to extract the hair that’s stuck in the vacuum itself.
Flooring – Hard floor surface (such as hardwood, tile, marble, etc)
All the Roombas perform similarly on hard surfaces. Even though the different models claim 5x or 10x suction on their boxes, they all seem to pick up dirt equally well on a hard floor, even the poor 650 I keep bashing.
Flooring – Carpet
The best Roomba for carpet is theoretically the 980, since it is the only one with Carpet Boost and two levels of suction power. The motor does seem to rev up on carpet, but I haven’t detected in a noticeable difference in how clean our carpets are with the 980. In practice, any of the Roombas in this guide will do a good job.
Home Layout – Studio or One Bedroom
When it comes to simple layouts, any Roomba in this guide will do. The 650, 860, and 880 use a pseudo-random cleaning pattern, zigzagging around your home until it covers every inch. The 960 and 980 are more sophisticated and use its cameras to map your house, vacuuming big open areas in straight lines. Either method will work, so the cheaper models are good enough.
Home Layout – 2+ Bedrooms
The best Roombas for households with multiple bedrooms are the 960 and 980. Equipped with visual mapping tech, they are currently the only two Roombas on the market that can efficiently navigate and clean an entire level.
Home Layout – Multiple Stories
Unfortunately, there is no Roomba that can vacuum two levels in one go. The ability to climb stairs is just too complex for consumer robots with current technology. Some owners have suggested stationing your older Roombas on your upper levels when you get a new one.
Not everyone can afford two Roombas though. So until then, you can just pick it up and set it down on the level you’d like to vacuum and press the big “Clean” button in the middle. The Roomba doesn’t care where it is placed, and will vacuum the area in its entirety.
Which Roomba is your favorite and why? Let us know in the comment section below. If you find this article helpful, please share it with your friends!