iRobot Roomba 880 review: This bot leaves the competition in the dust

Also, while the dust bin is easy to remove, if it isn't positioned correctly it will dump everything it just cleaned all over the place. And because it's small, you will need to empty that bin and shake out the filter pretty much every time you use it. It's also recommended that you replace the filter about six times a year and clean both debris extractors every four months (even more if you have pets). The sensors need to be cleaned periodically, too.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

You don't have to do much (or anything) with this robot vacuum while it's in use. But when it isn't running the upkeep makes this low-maintenance Roomba seem a bit high maintenance. Since it's so small and easy to lift, though, cleaning isn't nearly as involved as it would be with a larger, more traditional upright or canister vacuum cleaner.

Performance
So, how did it do?

First, all of the built-in sensors performed flawlessly. The cliff sensors that keep the Roomba from taking a tumble down a flight of stairs knew every time it got near an edge, stopped, and changed direction. The Virtual Walls and Lighthouses I set up also did a great job either confining or leading the Roomba where it needed to go to clean around my house. And when I tested it in my living room, it fit underneath a pretty low arm chair, the media center, and the coffee table without objection. Now that's dedication.

Megan Wollerton/CNET
Rice (out of 2.5 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor
iRobot Roomba 880
2.38
2.43
2.33
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

I also tested the 880 in a more controlled office setting and it did especially well on the rice test. In fact, it beat out the other four models on all three surfaces -- midpile carpet, low-pile carpet, and hardwood. I scattered 2.5 ounces of black rice evenly and let the Roomba run. It did a fantastic job. The side spinner brush really came in handy here. Any stray bits of rice were swept into the path of the Roomba and swiftly transported to the dust bin.

The Roomba picked up an average of 2.38 ounces on midpile, 2.43 ounces on low-pile, and 2.33 ounces on hardwood. The Neato struggled slightly here, yielding an average of 2.05 ounces on midpile, 2.33 ounces on low-pile, and 2.13 ounces on hardwood (it came in third on hardwood after the Roomba 790's 2.25 ounces).

This test really accounts for those bits of food that might end up lodged in your living room carpet when you're snacking and watching TV, or under the kitchen table, or in the kitchen itself during frenzied cooking and cleaning. And the 880 proved that it was up to the task on all flooring surfaces. This was the first test I performed, and it was already clear that iRobot had made fairly significant improvements to its vacuums since the 790.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

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
iRobot Roomba 880
0.12
0.10
0.17
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

Pet hair is one of those tests that can make or break a purchase decision. Take the Roomba 790, for example. It did well on most tests, but bring out the pet hair and it failed pretty miserably. That's one big reason why iRobot designed the 880 as a replacement. The newly designed Roomba 880 has fancy new bristleless debris extractors that remove pet hair (and everything else) with less fuss.

Overall, it performed marginally better in other tests, but much better than the 790 on the pet hair tests. The Neato is still the reigning champion of pet hair, though, with the Roomba 880 falling slightly behind and the other models falling far behind that. If you are interested in a well-rounded performer, the 880 is the best, but if you are primarily interested in having your bot tackle rampant pet hair, go for the Neato.

The Neato removed 0.15 of the 0.20 ounce of pet hair from the midpile carpet, 0.15 ounce from the low-pile, and 0.18 ounce from the hardwood floor during the office testing. The 880 removed 0.12 ouncs from the midpile carpet, 0.10 ounce from the low-pile carpet, and 0.17 ounce from the hardwood floor. Not bad at all.

iRobot's new AeroForce extractors are also designed to combat tangling better than previous Roomba models. But if you have a long-hair shedding fiend like my Australian Shepherd mix, Halley, you might have some issues. This is what happened after it spent about 10 minutes vacuuming my living room.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Basically, that isn't supposed to happen. And it didn't happen on any of the controlled pet hair tests I did in the office. But, in the wild west of my living room, Halley's long hair proved a bit of a challenge for the Roomba. The takeaway is that this robot vacuum is hearty, but some jobs are just too big. Points to Halley.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

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 880
0.4
0.43
1.18
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

A combination of sand and sawdust makes for a pretty stubborn mess. It can sink into carpet fibers and become quite tough to extract. I wish I could say that the Roomba 880 aced this test, but none of the robot vacuums performed particularly well here, especially on thicker-carpeted floors.

To see how the 880 compared with the other bots, I tossed 1.25 ounces of sand and sawdust mixture onto a midpile carpet, a low-pile carpet, and a hardwood floor. The Roomba 880 came in second on the midpile carpet, picking up 0.40 of the 1.25 ounces -- the Neato snatched up slightly more at 0.42 ounce. On the low-pile carpet it tied with the Neato, with a grand total of 0.43 ounce. And on hardwood, the 880 did much better overall -- 1.18 of the 1.25 ounces. This time, the Roomba 790 came in second with 1.12 ounces, and the Neato came in third with 0.92 ounce.

Now, the Roomba has a sensor that's supposed to detect debris, so I can't say I'm impressed that it thought it was done after removing less than half of that grainy mess. However, it still did better than most of the others, including the Roomba 790. This seems to be a problem with robot vacuum technology in general -- the suction just isn't where it needs to be yet. At least the improving performance trend is positive -- iRobot is clearly making efforts to improve the functionality of its products.

So while this robot vacuum is capable, it hasn't progressed to the point where it's cleaning like a top-performing upright model. If you expect any of them to have that level of suction, you will be disappointed. But most of you probably aren't spreading out handfuls of sand and sawdust over your carpet, either, so keep that in mind.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
In the expanding world of robot vacuums, the 880 surpasses many of its competitors -- and iRobot's very own Roomba 790. Its ability to seamlessly transition from carpet to hardwood, and clean anything, from mixtures of sand and sawdust to rice, really does set it apart. Basically, there isn't much that this hardworking bot can't clean.

In general, though, robot vacuums aren't equipped to replace traditional vacuuming. They simply don't have the suction of a similarly priced upright or canister vacuum, for instance. So, if you have a high-traffic area that's regularly coated in dirt, a robot vacuum is still a supplement at best.

For that reason, I still consider them a novelty, or at least a luxury (albeit one that also happens to be pretty darn useful). Maybe you are passionate about gadgets and want to see it perform firsthand. Or maybe you are interested in duplicating Tom Haverford's "DJ Roomba" (like me). Maybe both. That doesn't mean it won't do a good job cleaning your floors -- I especially love it for getting those annoyingly hard-to-reach places under furniture.

The 880 offers solid design, great features, and top performance in one charming little package. And that's exactly why this $699 Roomba 880 is a particularly special bot worthy of your consideration. That is, if you can afford it. And if it's just slightly out of your price range, look at the $449 Neato Robotics XV Signature Pro. It's $250 less, gets rid of pet hair even better than the 880, and it also performs extremely well overall.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Quick Specifications See All

  • Cleaner Type robotic
Hot Products