iRobot Roomba 790 review: A charming, low-maintenance little cleaning luxury

Performance

Rice (out of 2.5 oz.)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor
Neato XV Signature Pro
2.05
2.33
2.13
iRobot Roomba 790
2
2.32
2.25
LG Hom Bot Square
1.85
1.87
2.13
Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5
1.55
1.8
0.8

Pet hair (out of 0.2 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor
Neato XV Signature Pro
0.15
0.15
0.18
LG Hom Bot Square
0.083
0.02
0.08
iRobot Roomba 790
0.047
0.05
0.17
Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5
N/A
0.02
N/A

Sawdust/sand mix (out of 1.25 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor
Neato XV Signature Pro
0.42
0.43
0.92
iRobot Roomba 790
0.3
0.23
1.12
LG Hom Bot Square
0.23
0.27
0.75
Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5
0.15
0.13
0.07

The iRobot Roomba 790 was the top performer on hardwood in all but one of our tests and a close second in most of the carpet tests, nipping at the heels of the Neato XV Signature Pro. While none of them took in every nut and washer I threw out, the Roomba led this testing category, although like the others, it balked at picking up more than a few of the larger hardware pieces. It picked up competitive amounts of the debris I put in its path and, while it took longer than the other vacuums, it performed consistently well in terms of particle collection. In our living room test, the Roomba transitioned from the hardwood floor onto an area rug and off again with no trouble whatsoever.

The Neato outperformed the Roomba in our small, penned-in test areas, with nearly all debris types. When I scattered rice around a full-size living room, however, the Roomba outperformed every other vacuum. This highlights an interesting difference between the Roomba and vacuums that move in a more linear pattern. Only the Neato moves in perfectly regimented lines, but none of the other robots spent much time going over places where they had already cleaned. The Roomba will. It might take much longer to get through a room, but it will be more thorough.

In my own home, I was also amazed at how the Roomba navigated under our couch and ottoman, both of which have skirts. The Roomba hesitated in front of the skirt and then slowly pushed its way under the couch. Be prepared to face some shame and disgust when the Roomba reveals just how dirty it can get in places you don't normally clean. The Roomba easily navigated between chair legs and under tight furniture, never needing help to find its way out into the open areas again. Some furniture may cause it problems. For example, in our living room set, the Roomba got stuck on the sloped legs of an armchair.

The Roomba 790 performed well on both of our cliff tests. I put it on a kitchen table and then at the top of a flight of stairs. It went over neither edge and the sensors accurately steered it away from dangerous drops.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Roomba 790 looks about the same as iRobot's other 700-series vacuums. It includes more replacement parts in its accessory case. iRobot also improved the remote, going from mechanical buttons on the 780 model's remote, to the touch-screen version here. No robot in the Roomba line has ever had a caddy for a remote control, which seems like a next step for design improvement.

Other than the inclusion of extra accessories and/or replacement parts, the differences in the 700 model Roombas (the 760, 770, 780, and 790) seem negligible in terms of cleaning technology. The 770, 780, and 790 all include iRobot's patented Dirt Detect 2 sensor system with Persistent Pass movement. As far as what is included in the box, the only differences between the 790 and its predecessor, the 780, come down to the 790's accessories, from the touch-screen remote, to the trio of virtual walls/lighthouses, to the carrying case full of replacement brushes. All those extras justify the $100 price difference between the 790 and the 780, but I expect any performance difference between the two will be negligible.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

I should also mention that one of our favorite things about the Roomba was its personality. Between its audio cues, its design, and its circuitous pathing, the Roomba somehow seems plucky, and excited to do its job. I found myself rooting for it, cheering when it picked up certain debris, feeling let down when it didn't. I didn't connect on that level with any other robot vacuum in this group. It's sweet and rather adorable, as robots go.

Service and support
The Roomba comes with a category-standard one-year limited warranty. iRobot provides an online owner's center, which includes tutorial videos, accessory and part replacements, and troubleshooting information. For technical support, iRobot's Web site has a chat option or you can call 1-800-727-9077. All of the robot vacuums in this group, except the Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5 Plus, included similar warranties and service options.

Conclusion
None of these robot vacuums can replace your traditional, upright vacuum cleaner. They all have limitations. That said, both the Roomba 790 and the Neato XV Signature Pro are great options if you are looking for something to help you with the day-to-day floor maintenance. The Roomba 790 excels on hard flooring surfaces, but performs well on carpet as well. If you do not shy away from the $699 price tag and are looking for a robot vacuum with personality, features, and a wealth of accessories and replacement parts, the Roomba 790 is a reasonable buy. It's hard to justify the purchase, however, when, at $200 less, the Neato XV Signature Pro outperformed the Roomba in most tests. It really comes down to personality: the Neato lacks it completely, whereas the Roomba has it in spades. If that's worth an extra $200 to you, the Roomba is a great choice.

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