Last Updated: November 15, 2018
If you’re in the market for a robot vacuum and want to invest in the best, you are probably considering the Roomba 960 and 980. These two top of the line robot vacuums both come with Wi-Fi connectivity and mapping tech. But how do they compare? In this article we go over all the differences between the two models and what those differences mean for you.
For those who like details, you will find everything you need to know in the article below. For those who just want the summary: we recommend the 960 over the 980 because you get very similar features for a much cheaper price. Unless you must have the latest and greatest, go with the 960. (check 960 price here)
To skip to a particular section of the article, click on the appropriate link in the table of contents below:
- 1 Differences between Roomba 960 and 980:
- 2 Comparison Chart
- 3 Wi-Fi Connectivity and the iRobot Home App
- 4 Do I have to have Wi-Fi to use these Roombas?
- 5 Cleaning Power Comparison
- 6 Learning the Layout of your Home
- 7 Ease of Maintenance
- 8 Vacuuming Around Your Clutter
- 10 How Long The Batteries Last
- 11 Recharge and Resume
- 12 Sweeps Wall Edges and Corners
- 13 Multi-Room Navigation
- 14 Anti-tangle Tech To Prevent Chewing Loose Cords
- 15 Included Accessories
- 16 Cliff Detection
- 17 Carpet Boost Technology
- 18 Vacuuming on Hardwood Floors
- 20 Wait, what About the Roomba 880?
- 21 Differences between the Roomba 880 and 980
- 22 What We Liked About the 960
- 23 What We Liked About the 980
- 24 Conclusion
- Roomba 980 has carpet boost tech, 960 does not.
- Roomba 960’s battery lasts 75 minutes while the 980’s battery lasts 120 minutes.
- The 960 comes with 1 Virtual Wall, the 980 comes with 2.
- The 980 houses a newer generation motor, whereas the 960 uses the same motor as the ones in the 800’s series.
- The suction power of the 960 is only 5x air power while that of the 980 is 10x.
- The 980 usually costs $200 more than the 960.
|Optical + Acoustic
|Optical + Acoustic
|Carpet Boost Technology
|Sweeps Wall Edges & Corners
|1 Virtual Wall Barrier
|2 Virtual Wall Barriers
|1 Extra Replacement Filter
|1 Extra Replacement Filter
|Check on Amazon
|Check on Amazon
Even with the release of the i7, the Roomba 960 is still are favorite Roomba because its price to value ratio just can’t be beat. If you’re looking for premium features at a reasonable price, the Roomba 960 is a good bet.
Wi-Fi Connectivity and the iRobot Home App
Both these models can connect to your home network. This allows you to control the Roomba remotely and customize it to your liking. The same iRobot Home App is used for both models, and the app features are also identical between the two. The app is available on both iOS and Android.
Within the app, you manage the Roomba’s cleaning schedule and configure your preferences. One feature we particular liked was the option to vacuum more than once. Since these models can map out your house, they will only clean each area once as required. But if you want to make sure your floors are extra dirt-free, you can set it to make more than one pass over your floors. For those of you without a smartphone (what?!), that the app is not required for the Roomba to operate.
Bottom line: since the same app is used for both models, the app experience is nearly identical.
Do I have to have Wi-Fi to use these Roombas?
While connecting the 960 or 980 to your home’s wireless network is recommended, it is not required. Both machines will still work without Wi-Fi. However, you will not be able to use any of the functions that require the iRobot Home app. These functions are: scheduled cleanings (exactly what it sounds like), two cleaning passes (the Roomba will make two passes instead of just one), edge- clean (extra cleaning along walls), and carpet boost (Roomba 980 only).
Bottom line: you miss out on a lot of what these machines have to offer if you don’t have a home Wi-Fi network.
Cleaning Power Comparison
Image Credit: iRobot.com
On the official iRobot comparison chart, the manufacturer claims the Roomba 980 is equipped with a 10x AeroForce system where as the 960 is only equipped with the 5x AeroForce system. This might make you think that the the 980 cleans twice as well. However, we didn’t notice any obvious differences in suction power. They perform about the same and are both quite strong in terms of suction power. If suction power is the only reason you are leaning towards the 980, we don’t feel that its suction justifies the price premium.
Bottom line: For regular use in everyday life, the extra cost of the 980 don’t justify its price
Learning the Layout of your Home
The Roomba 960 and 980 both have two extra sensors over other Roombas. One is the onboard camera, which visually tracks items such as sofas, refrigerators, and tables in your house. The other is a tracking sensor that remembers where the Roomba has already vacuumed. Together these sensors allow the Roomba to learn the layout of your home and vacuum it more efficiently over time.
Unlike older generation Roombas, which use a random-ish pattern to decide where to go next, these machines vacuum in straight lines along the walls and won’t go back to where it has already cleaned (unless you tell it to in the app).
Bottom line: both have the sensors to map out your home and adapt to it over time.
An ad from iRobot showing how the Roomba sees your home, skip to 0:15 to see it create a map of the house as it vacuums:
Ease of Maintenance
Maintenance is my biggest concern when it comes to any appliance. These things are supposed to make our lives easier, and not be a headache to maintain. Luckily, both these robot vacuums have brushless extractors, which in our opinion is the single best design feature on iRobot’s vacuums over its competitors. This feature is exclusive to 800 and 900 series Roombas. If you’ve ever tried to pull hair out of the rolling brushes on your upright vacuum, you know how tedious it can be. Instead of using brushes, the rubber rollers beat and shake the dirt on the floor loose and into the path of the suction. Without compromising cleaning power, the tangle-free rollers takes the work out of maintaining them.
This is how I go about maintaining my Roomba:
- Empty the dust bin after every use (or, if you’re feeling super lazy, whenever the iRobot Home app tells you to). (30 seconds)
- Take the HEPA filter out of the dust bin and shake off any fine dust or pet hair (30 seconds)
- Once a week, check to see if there’s any stuck hair on the side brush, rubber rollers, and front caster, if so, remove them. (3 minutes)
Bottom line: same brushless mechanism is used in both models, trapped hair out is easy to pull out of rollers.
Vacuuming Around Your Clutter
Both models are designed to navigate around whatever is on the ground. One of the reasons Roombas have been so popular is that they are usually pretty smart when navigating your house. However, it can’t vacuum where it can’t reach, so you are still forced to pick up loose objects such as shoes and backpacks. You don’t always have to clear your floor before running the Roomba, but it is good to do so once in a while to make sure all areas are vacuumed.
Bottom line: both are able to navigate around your loose items
The 960 has a 2130 mAh Li-Ion battery and is rated to vacuum continuously for 75 minutes before having to recharge, whereas the 980 has a 3000 mAh Li-Ion battery and is rated at 120 minutes. This is one of the major differences between the two machines. More battery power means more area covered in one go. Although both systems are designed to automatically recharge and resume vacuuming to complete the job, the 980 will be more efficient if you have a large home. Given that Roombas are supposed to be used autonomously and pretty much ignored by you, it doesn’t make a huge difference in everyday use whether they last 75 or 120 minutes.
Bottom line: The 980 lasts longer than the 960 on one charge.
Recharge and Resume
If you have a very large home or unusually dirty floors, your Roomba might run out of juice before it is done vacuuming the entire level. As stated above, the battery life is approximately 1.25 hours on the 960 and 2 hours on the 980. The recharge and resume feature allows the Roomba to return to its dock when it realizes it won’t be able to finish cleaning in one go. This is called a “mid-mission recharge” and lasts for 90 minutes. After charging for 90 minutes, the Roomba will resume cleaning, picking up where it left off.
Bottom line: both have this feature.
Sweeps Wall Edges and Corners
All current generation Roombas are equipped with a spinning side brush and wall sweep algorithms to effectively clean against the wall. Because the Roomba is round, the side brush is required to sweep dirt along straight edges and corners into the path of the Roomba.
Bottom line: identical in wall edge and corner performance.
The Roomba 960 and 980 are both able to map and navigate multiple rooms. There is no limit to the number of rooms these Roombas can clean per level. Both these models will create a temporary map of your home. As mentioned before, if they run out of battery mid-clean, they will recharge and resume cleaning where they left off until the whole level is vacuumed. This feature is not available on lower-end Roombas.
Officially, both able to clean up to 2,000 sq ft per level. That number is slightly arbitrary but it is what iRobot “guarantees” that these Roomba will clean. Theoretically, there is no limit to the square footage the Roomba will vacuum in a residential house. Unless you have a mansion with 4,000+ sq ft per level, you will be ok with either of these machines.
Side note: If anyone has a house that large, please let us know your experience with the Roomba in that setting and also how to be as successful as you are. 🙂
Bottom line: both are able to clean multiple rooms in one go.
Anti-tangle Tech To Prevent Chewing Loose Cords
While it’s best to keep all your power cords away from the Roomba, they are designed with anti-tangle technology which promises not to devour your cords, tassels, and carpet fringes. Personally I still don’t feel quite comfortable letting it run wild over my cables, though. All available Roomba models today have this tech. Here is a video showing how it works, the video was made for an older Roomba model but it applies to current generation machines too.
Bottom line: every Roomba currently on the market actually has this feature
The 960 comes with 1 Virtual Wall Barrier, whereas the 980 ships with 2. These barriers are powered by 2 included AA batteries and used to mark sections of your home you do not want the Roomba to clean.
They can be set to Virtual Wall mode to prevent access to an opening of up to ten feet. Or they can be set to Halo mode to block off a circle with a diameter of 26″ around an object.
Bottom line: the 980 comes with 1 more Virtual Wall Barrier than the 960.
Both models are equipped with cliff detection technology, so you can use it to clean the upper levels of your home without worrying that it will take a plunge down the stairs.
Bottom line: all Roombas have this feature.
If it seems like your vacuum has to work harder on carpet than hardwood, it’s because it does. Carpet fibers trap debris and also get in the way of the suction force, making it harder get dirt out. That’s where the “Carpet Boost” technology comes in. This feature is only available on the 980, and is one of the most meaningful differences between the two models. (Thanks to our reader Frank for pointing this out!)
When the 980 senses that it is on a carpeted surface, carpet boost kicks in and the motor is revved up to increase suction power.
Bottom line: the 980 outshines the 960 in this area.
Vacuuming on Hardwood Floors
Both models excel on hard surfaces such as tile, hardwood, and laminate flooring. Because dust and debris are so much easier to suck up from hard surfaces, we rarely find it necessary to get out the upright vacuum. In fact, ever since getting the Roomba 980, I have only used our old upright vacuum twice in the past year. Once was before a boardgame party and the other was when I left a chocolate chip cookie on the coffee table and attracted about a gajillion ants into our living room. We have hardwood floors and the Roomba keeps it clean enough. I mop the floors with a Swiffer once every month.
Bottom line: both models are very effective on hard surfaces.
Wait, what About the Roomba 880?
I saw a lot of readers were wondering how the 880 compares to the 960 and 980. So I added the following section to clear things up.
Differences between the Roomba 880 and 980
- The 880 uses an older generation motor than the 980.
- The 880 does not have carpet boost tech like the 980.
- The 880 does not have Wi-Fi connectivity and does not support the iRobot app.
- The 880 has a battery life of approximately 1.5 hours compared to the 980’s 2 hours.
- The 880 has an NiMH battery, 980 has a Li-Ion battery
- The 880 comes with 2 Virtual Wall Lighthouses, the 980 comes with 2 Virtual Wall Barriers.
- The 880 comes with a remote control, Roomba 980 does not. (It uses the iRobot app instead.)
- The 880 cleans using a pseudo-random vacuuming pattern, the 980 uses a sensor and a camera to vacuum in somewhat straight lines like a human would.
A brief explanation on the different accessories: The VW lighthouses are necessary because the 880 lacks a location sensor and camera to map out its surroundings. So the idea is that you would place these lighthouse accessories in a room to divide your house into manageable sections. The lighthouse tells the 880 to stay in the room it’s in until it has completely finished vacuuming that room.
Since the 960 and 980 can map out an entire level of your home, the lighthouse accessory is not necessary. They come with VW barriers that can enter halo mode instead. As mentioned above, a halo is a circle about 26” in diameter that the Roomba is not allowed to enter, protecting things such as pet water bowls from being knocked over.
The Roomba 880 used to be the best Roomba on the market, but since the 960 and 980 came out, that is just no longer the case. The 900 series implemented a lot of technology (e.g. camera navigation, newer batteries, and remote app connectivity) that actually result in a different owner experience.
The 880 is stuck in no man’s land. It is like an old iPhone from two years ago that you give to your kids. A much cheaper model does the job almost just as well and the newer models blow it out of the water.
It does not have the advanced features of the 900 series Roombas to justify its price. If you had your eyes on the 880, skip it and either go a tier lower to the 860 or higher to the 960. Either one would give you a lot more bang for your buck. If money is no object and you just want the best robot vacuum on the market today, the 980 might just be the right robot vacuum for you.
What We Liked About the 960
- More affordable. Usually there is a $200 price difference between the two models.
- Makes compromises only in non-essential features, such as the battery life.
- Roughly the same cleaning power as the 980, despite what the boxes say.
- Wi-Fi and App enabled.
- Easy maintenance with tangle-free extractors.
What We Liked About the 980
- The best Roomba on the market.
- Longer battery life than the 960.
- Comes with 2 Virtual Wall Barriers, which cost $49.99 each to purchase separately.
- Stronger suction on carpet due to carpet boost
- Wi-Fi and App enabled.
- Easy maintenance with tangle-free extractors.
If you feel neither of these vacuums are right for you, click here to read a comparison of the best Roombas on the market today.
For most people, I recommend getting the 960 on Amazon. It is more affordable, and has essentially all the meaningful features of the 980 and everything you need in a robot vacuum.
If you have hardwood floors plus several area rugs, or a really large house with multiple rooms on the same level, then the Roomba 980 might be worth it for the carpet boost feature and longer battery life. I recommend checking the current price for the 980 on Amazon.