Last week, iRobot quietly launched the Roomba 960, a new addition to the flagship 900 series of robot vacuums. The 960 doesn’t offer anything new at all in terms of technology. In fact, it’s a minor downgrade from the top of the line Roomba 980 that we reviewed back in December. But we’re fine with that, because it’s US $200 cheaper.
To be clear, the 900 series is still a premium Roomba for people who want Wi-Fi connectivity, an app, and VSLAM (visual simultaneous localization and mapping), which lets the vacuum keep track of where it is and clean in nice straight lines. If you just want clean floors without paying so much, the 500 series is (still) totally decent, and you can find refurbished units for less than $400 bucks. Having said that, we did like the 980 very much, and here’s what you have to sacrifice if you go with the 960 instead:
- You won’t get the enormous battery, meaning that you’ll get only 75 minutes of runtime instead of 2 hours. But that’s okay, because the robot will return to its base to recharge when necessary and then finish its cleaning job. This might be annoying if you’re running the robot while you’re home, but if you run it while away (using the scheduler or app), you won’t even notice.
- You won’t get the more powerful vacuum motor, meaning that you’re getting a Gen 2 motor instead of a Gen 3 motor. But that’s okay, because you’re getting a vacuum motor that’s been working quite well, thank you very much, in generations of Roombas well before the 900 series. I’m sure the 980’s Gen 3 motor makes it more effective on paper, but in practice, I’m really not sure how much you’d notice on a day-to-day basis, especially if you run your robot relatively frequently.
- You won’t get to pay $900 and you’ll pay $700 instead, meaning that you’re saving $200 on a 900-series Roomba with VSLAM and Wi-Fi that’s very nearly as good as the 980. And that’s definitely okay.
At $700, the Roomba 960 is going head-to-head with Neato’s own top-of-the line BotVac Connected, which we also like and also maps rooms and responds remotely to an app. To be honest, though, we’re hoping that the next year will result in both of these companies coming out with new software that leverages the connectivity and mapping features to get these vacuums doing some very clever things.
The iRobot Roomba 960 is available now at your local robot emporium, and online.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.