The Roomba series of robot vacuum cleaners from iRobot isn’t the only game in town anymore, but their product line still leads the market in terms of their included technology and features. Now that the concept of the robot vacuum has been around for a few years, though, there’s quite a few different Roomba models for customers to choose from. If you’re considering the Roomba 980 vs 960, you might find it a bit difficult to determine exactly what makes them different from each other—and which one is the better option for your home.
There are three main areas where you’ll see noticeable differences between these two entries in Roomba’s 900 series: the maximum suction available, the complexity of the on-board AI, and the battery. For a more in-depth look at just what you can expect from the 980 and 960—and which choice is ideal for you—take a look at the full reviews below.
If you want the most advanced and comprehensive robot vacuum you’ll find on the current market, the Roomba 980 from iRobot is one you definitely want to check out. Not only does it include the most advanced navigation AI yet, giving you truly hands-free scheduling and operation, but it also gives you an impressive whole-home clean that’s more thorough and efficient than what most full-sized vacuums can offer.
The Roomba 980’s suction is powered by a Gen 3 motor using iRobot’s patented AeroForce system. This uses three different stages of suction, pulling in and picking up any kind of mess. Even large particles aren’t a problem for this little vacuum, thanks to the Power-Lift Suction stage. Kitty litter, road salt, and other larger debris aren’t a problem. The Multi-Surface cleaning brush uses anti-tangle technology that’s perfect for both people hair and pet hair. This is important if want the Roomba to clean while you’re not there to remove tangles and clogs.
While the standard setting is powerful, for tougher tasks like ground-in dirt or dust deep in carpet fibers you can activate the Power Boost mode. Once activated, you’ll get up to ten times the suction compared to other Roombas, easily removing dirt from carpet fibers. You still shouldn’t set your Roomba loose on a shag carpet or similar material, but this does make the Roomba 980 more suitable for higher-pile carpets than the majority of robot vacuums.
Edge and corner cleaning are always a concern with robot vacuums, especially round models such as the Roomba. The brush on the vacuum’s edge helps to alleviate this problem. They’re set at an angle that lets them reach beyond the main cleaning area and push stray particles into the suction path. It still won’t quite get the whole way into corners, but it performs better in this area than its competitors.
The Roomba 980 is also better at transitioning between floor types than past models the company’s put out. When it changes surfaces, the cleaning head changes its height automatically, making sure the brushes never break contact and preventing any loss of suction.
The compact and lightweight design of the iRobot Roomba has always been one of its main selling points. Its 3.6” profile is much lower than what you’ll find on most upright vacuums, and allows it to move around underneath furniture without getting stuck. The fact that it’s so lightweight also means that it won’t scratch or damage your hardwood floors.
The only downside to the vacuum’s small size is it leaves less space inside for dust and debris to be collected. This means emptying the bin more often than with other vacuum designs. This is most frustrating if the bin fills up during a scheduled cleaning session when you’re not home, but as long as you plan ahead by dumping out the bin before you leave for the day it shouldn’t be a problem.
The iAdapt 2.0 navigation used on the Roomba 980 takes the intelligence of previous models to a higher level. It has even more smart sensors than most robot vacuums, and uses a Visual Localization program that makes efficient use of that data. It also has vSLAM and Smart Mapping technology, letting it keep a record of where it’s already gone. This lets it clean whole levels without wasting time going over the same area more than once. It also has Cliff Detect sensors that keep it from falling down the stairs, so you don’t have to worry when it’s cleaning an upper level.
The Roomba 980 also uses those advanced sensors to identify trouble spots and give them extra attention. They patented dirt detection technology built right into the sensors alerts the Roomba to particularly dirty spots, whether these are set-in stains or high-traffic areas like entryways.
The Roomba 980 communicates with other devices via Wi-Fi. This means it’s compatible with smart home and voice control software like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, without the need for a smart home hub. Once your Roomba’s linked up with one of these services, you can use voice commands to start and end cleaning sessions.
For more in-depth control, you can use the free HOME app from iRobot. There are lots of options for customizing your vacuum’s cleaning pattern. The app also lets you see maps of cleaned areas, schedule future cleaning sessions (as many as seven per week), or check on your vacuum’s status from anywhere.
The Roomba 980 is powered by a lithium ion battery, the most powerful one to yet come installed on an iRobot vacuum. You’ll get as much as two hours of continuous use per charge. Whenever the battery runs low, the Roomba will go back to its charging station automatically. When it’s powered up, it’ll pick up its cleaning job where it left off.
The most useful accessories that come with the Roomba are the Virtual Wall barriers. You get two of these in the box. They allow you to cordon off specific areas; the Roomba will see them as a wall. You can prevent the Roomba from spilling your pet’s water bowl, for example, or from damaging delicate valuables like vases or statues. These barriers run on AA batteries, which also come included, so they’re ready to go when they arrive. If two barriers isn’t enough, extras only cost about $50 on Amazon.
The two virtual walls aren’t the only things that come with the vacuum. It also includes a charging station, a spare filter, and an additional side brush. Swapping out these parts is easy, too, making maintenance a breeze.
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The first difference in the comparison of Roomba 980 vs 960 comes down to price. The Roomba 960 costs about $200 less than the 980. The reason for this price difference is that some of the features that come standard on the 980 aren’t included on the 960. If you don’t need these features, though, the 960 is comparatively a better value.
Cleaning power is the most important factor for a good vacuum. In this regard, the Roomba 980 and 960 are very similar vacuums overall. The Roomba 960 also uses a three-stage AeroForce system, producing impressive suction power on a lot of different kinds of flooring. It also uses a self-adjusting brush head so it’s always set correctly for whatever surface it’s cleaning.
The Power-Lifting suction feature on the Roomba 960 can dig ground-in dirt from low- and medium-pile carpets. It also uses a similar tangle-free brush and won’t clog for any kind of hair, making it just as fantastic for dog and cat owners
There is no Power Boost mode on the Roomba 960. The maximum suction power on this model is only around half that of the 980. This will mostly be noticeable if you have a lot of thick carpets; the 960 might not be enough vacuum to get the job done.
Design-wise, the differences between the Roomba 980 vs 960 are purely aesthetic. They’re both built with the same slim profile, letting them clean under furniture without getting stuck. They also give you a similar bin size and brush configuration. Even the location of the power button and indicator lights is the same; basically the only difference between them is the top plate’s color (the 960’s is gray, while the 980’s is black).
Like the 980, the 960 uses Wi-Fi, making it automatically compatible with voice activation services like the Google Home Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. The HOME app is identical with both models, giving you the choice of scheduling, managing, and reviewing cleaning cycles. In terms of connectivity, the experience with both vacuums is about the same.
The internal AI on the Roomba 960 is slightly more limited than what comes in the company’s top-tier option. It still has dirt detecting sensors for recognizing high-traffic zones and uses the iAdapt 2.0 software for navigation. It doesn’t’ use the same Cliff Detector sensors as its more expensive cousin, however; for higher floor use it’s probably wise to make use of the virtual wall.
You can see the map of where your vacuum has cleaned by going into the HOME app. Like with the 980, it has built-in localization software that keeps track of what areas have been cleaned, making it equally efficient at navigating larger spaces. Most users won’t notice much difference in the AI of these two models. Where it will be most obvious is in larger homes with a more complex layout.
The “Recharge and Resume” feature comes on all the 900 series models, so going with the less expensive option won’t mean sacrificing this particular feature. There’s a bit less oomph to the battery on this model, though it still gives you as much as 75 minutes on a single charge, which is plenty for most homes and uses. Like other iRobot vacuums, the 960 has the intelligence to sense a low battery and navigate back to the charging station without any intervention on the user’s part.
You’ll find the charging station, a spare filter, and a second edge brush when you open the box on your arriving Roomba 960. It also comes with a single virtual wall (with 2 AA batteries installed). One of these might not be enough, depending on your home. Since they only cost fifty bucks, though, it’s still a better value to buy the 960 and an extra virtual wall than to buy a Roomba 980, especially if that’s the only thing you’d be missing.
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Every vacuum in iRobot’s 900 series is durable and powerful, offering users truly hands-free operation thanks to both the iRobot app and compatibility with smart home systems. Both of these options will let you schedule up to seven cleaning sessions each week. Since they also both have a tangle-free brushroll and the ability to restart a job after charging, it’s easy to schedule these sessions when you’re away from home—and count on the Roomba to have the floors clean when you come back.
Comparing the Roomba 980 vs 960, the 980 is the better vacuum overall. The users who will see the most benefit from it are those with larger, multi-level homes. You’ll get around 45 additional minutes per charge on average with the 980, so it can get more done in each go before it has to go back to the charging station.
The more advanced Cliff Detector sensors are also helpful, letting you use your Roomba on higher home levels without having to worry that it will fall down them and break.
You’ll also find the Roomba 980 is a more appealing option if your home’s carpets are especially plush. Not many robot vacuums are capable of truly deep cleaning on thick carpets. The Power Boost option on the Roomba 980 gives it this ability.
If you’re buying a vacuum for a relatively small space, like an apartment, the Roomba 980 is more vacuum than you might need. The Roomba 960 is definitely a better value, especially if you mostly need it for cleaning low-pile carpets or hard floors. For people who do have more complicated cleaning situations, though, the 980 is well worth the investment, giving you years of worry-free, hands-free cleaning power.