iRobot Roomba 880 review: This bot leaves the competition in the dust
The iRobot Roomba 880 outshines its Roomba 790 predecessor and carries the brand to a new level of robot vacuum awesomeness.
Much like Dyson brand vacuums, I had heard my fair share of iRobot hype before I began testing the Roomba 880. I even had visions of following in Tom Haverford's footsteps and building a "DJ Roomba" of my very own. Sadly, my dreams of channeling "Parks and Recreation" were dashed when I unboxed it and began testing instead. Fortunately, though, what I discovered was a clever little robot vacuum that came in first or second place in every single performance category.
The Roomba 880 is a new model for iRobot and the very first 800-series bot for the brand. At $699.99, it will replace the equally priced Roomba 790 that Katie Pilkington recently reviewed.
So what's different? At first glance, not a whole lot. But, flip the vacuum over and you'll see something entirely new: AeroForce technology. I'll go into that more later, but it's basically a design and feature upgrade that improves performance a lot.
Yes, I would recommend the Roomba 880 to anyone in the market for a luxury-priced robot vac. It performed better than the $699.99 Roomba 790, and much better than the $799.99 LG Hom-Bot Square, as well as the $349.99 Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5.
Overall, the 880 will be best for someone who appreciates gadgets and understands that a robot vacuum isn't designed to replace all other floor cleaning. It also isn't the best choice for someone only interested in vacuuming up pet hair. For that, the $449.99 Neato Robotics XV Signature Pro holds steady in the lead.
The 8.4-pound Roomba is a cute and capable robot vacuum. It has a height of 3.6 inches and a width of 13.9 inches. It's finished in black (unlike the 790's blue finish), and has a carrying handle so you can easily transport it.
Stylistically, the 880 doesn't stray too far from iRobot's existing design. It has the same rounded look, and that same large Clean/Power button in the middle. The company clearly wanted to maintain the Roomba's unassuming, minimalist design and sturdy construction.
It comes with a removable dust bin with an easy-access release button, left and right side wheels, a removable caster wheel in the front, debris extractors, and a spinning side brush. Aside from the vacuum itself, you also get a Home Base, or dock, two Virtual Wall/Lighthouse sensors with four C batteries included, an extra HEPA filter, and a remote control with two AA batteries included.
The most interesting feature offered on the Roomba 880 is iRobot's newly designed AeroForce cleaning system. It includes two bristle-free extractors that rotate inward toward one another to speed airflow and increase suction. There's also a high-efficiency vacuum, and a new XLife battery that claims to last much longer.
The display on the top of the vacuum includes the following buttons: Dock, Clock, Schedule, and Spot. Hit the Dock button and your Roomba will return to Home Base to charge. Select Clock and you can set the day, hour, and minute. Choose Schedule and you can program a specific cleaning routine for your Roomba to tackle every week. And the unique Spot option targets small cleaning areas -- it rotates outward 3 feet from its starting point and then returns back to where it began to deep clean a particular section of floor.
The 880 also has various indicator lights to communicate with you as it cleans or charges. Docked, the battery light will flash amber as it charges and it will maintain a solid green color when it's fully charged. Solid red means that the battery is empty. A Dirt Detect feature senses debris and targets those areas for cleaning. A troubleshooting light will appear if there's a problem, and an antitangle light will display when the Roomba is trying to untangle itself from something. A full bin light lets you know when the tray needs to be emptied.
You can control those things directly on the Roomba, but you can also initiate regular cleaning and spot cleaning from the remote, dock the Roomba, or steer it around using the arrow buttons. And if you want to block off a particular room for cleaning, the Virtual Walls act like invisible fences; the 880 won't move past them. You also have the option of turning your Virtual Walls into Lighthouses. Position them throughout your home and your Roomba will be able to follow them around to clean room by room and get back to Home Base without getting lost.
This vacuum is very simple to use. Set it on regular clean, spot clean, or create your own schedule in advance, and let it go. You can also rely on different accessories like the Virtual Walls and the Lighthouses mentioned in the Features section above to keep it from leaving a room or to help guide it throughout your house and back to Home Base. The 880 requires very little effort and interaction from you (possibly even less than the Neato, since the Roomba has a remote for increased accessibility and the Neato doesn't).
The 880 also senses how long it needs to clean a given space and it will return to the dock to charge when it thinks that job is done. It doesn't get much easier than that. However, you can't exactly estimate how long it might take the Roomba to clean a room -- especially when you first get it.
So if you're in a hurry, a robot vacuum is not the most efficient cleaning method. Sure, it follows algorithms that cover as much ground as possible, but if you want to clean something fast, watching a Roomba run is a bit like waiting for water to boil. While ease of use is high, speed of use is a bit less predictable.
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.
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.
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.
Rice (out of 2.5 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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.
Pet hair (out of 0.2 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Neato XV Signature Pro
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.
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.
Sawdust/sand mix (out of 1.25 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Neato XV Signature Pro
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.
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.