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The iRobot Roomba 960 is a best-selling entry in the iconic 900 series. It comes in slightly cheaper than the Roomba 981/980, which ranks among the most highly-rated robot vacuums we have ever covered. That price difference is small enough that we approached this review expecting a similar experience. The most distinct difference in the early stages, outside of the price, is that the 960 is slightly older than its more expensive counterpart, having launched in the UK in October 2017. There were not massive technological advancements in the eight months that passed before the Roomba 981 hit the market, so we feel the compromises will be slight. Among our main goals for this review is to discern whether the price difference is worth it, and all will be revealed as we proceed through the full review below.
- Decent suction at 900 Pa in conjunction with the AeroFore 3-stage cleaning system
- HEPA filtration, ideal for pet owners and allergy sufferers
- Can be programmed to avoid certain rooms
- Return and recharge technology to ensure the Roomba keeps going until the job is done
- Full suite of connectivity spanning mobile app, Wi-Fi, Amazon Alexa and Google Home
- Decent run time of 75 minutes on a full charge
To many interested observers, the 900 series represents the jewel in the crown of the iRobot Roomba range. In fairness, what come in as entry-level models when this brand is involved, like the Roomba 606 and Roomba 671, do so at otherwise mid-range price points. We have come to accept that if you want a Roomba in your home, they don’t come cheap. With that said, they are often well-worth their price tags, as both of those models clearly demonstrate. The 900 series slots in nicely as while the models are more expensive, they strike a balance between the lower end and more expensive models like the Roomba i7.
In the box, we find the standard kit. The Roomba itself is reassuringly heavy and stable, while the charging station feels sleek and like it is designed to take up as little space as possible. The Roomba 960 comes with a single virtual wall unit – one fewer than the Roomba 981 – and the standard collection of spares and vacuum cleaning tools.
We referred to this Roomba as being reassuringly weighty, but that works both ways. If you or whoever you are buying for has limited mobility, or you simply do not fancy a workout when taking your robot vacuum upstairs, you may prefer a lighter model. Nevertheless, the more than 6 kg at which this model weighs in will not break many backs, but you are not paying for a particularly lightweight and sleek design.
Given what it costs to introduce the Roomba 960 into your home, you may be taken aback by the 900 Pa suction listed. On paper, it is not impressive, with the 981 clocking in at 1,200 Pa and the Eufy RoboVac 15C MAX more than doubling it at 2,000 Pa for less than half the price. However, as always on Roombas, the suction power alone does not tell the whole story. Sure, it does not suck dirt in as powerfully as either model mentioned, but there is more to the Roomba cleaning potential than airflow.
The double rubber brushes on this unit adapt to different surfaces and prioritise weakening dirt and getting it into the dust box. Naturally, the less ground-in the dirt, the easier it is to suck up and the less straight suction it requires. The internal cleaning system has been upgraded over the 600 series too. Models in that series use AeroVac technology, while the 960 and 981 benefit from up to five times stronger suction enabled by the AeroForce system. It all adds up to every component working together, as the brushes and motor assure owners of an overall clean befitting the Roomba brand.
The iRobot Roomba 960 uses the aforementioned rubber brushes and a HEPA filter. Between them, that makes the model ideal for pet owners and those with airborne allergies. We have mentioned in previous reviews how even most budget robot vacuums are capable of picking up pet hair – they are not the most sophisticated form of dirt in the home. However, what happens afterwards always counts, and if you need to spend 10 minutes after each clean cutting hair out of the brushes, you may start to wonder whether a robot vacuum is worth it.
The Roomba 960 overcomes this with the rubber brushes that make tangling unlikely if not impossible. Cheaper options like the ILIFE V3s Pro overcome the issue through the removal of the brush altogether, but the rest of the clean can potentially suffer without those bristles dislodging dirt in carpets. We know which we prefer, but there is the fact that the Roomba 960 costs over four times as much as the V3s Pro to consider too.
An area in which the 960 fails to shine is battery life. We have to be fair and acknowledge that we consider 75 minutes of runtime as the benchmark, and this robot vacuum meets that benchmark. However, it is impossible to assess the 960 without the 981 being at the front of your mind. Both are identical in their 2-hour charging time to full, but the 981 lasts 2 hours on that full charge. With a small to medium home, or a single floor, 75 minutes of cleaning is adequate. For anything more substantial, or a more hands-off experience, we would find the 120 minutes of the 981 more reassuring. Both models do admittedly benefit from return and recharge technology, meaning that if they do run out mid-job, they will head back to base, charge up and pick up where they left off.
The dust box capacity is the same 0.6-litres that you’ll find on most Roombas, and another slight quality of life improvement you get at this price is a full bin indicator. It will not take long to get used to the required emptying schedule, but it is nice to take the guesswork out of it.
The iRobot Roomba 960 would not be a true representative of the 900 series without the pinnacle of Roomba connectivity, and everything we have come to expect is on display here. When you first set the Roomba up, you’ll want to add it to your home Wi-Fi network, at which point you can start to make use of the app and also voice commands using Amazon Alexa and Google Home. The app allows users to begin cleaning and send their robot vacuum back to base with a tap from anywhere in the world – the handiness of that will come down purely to personal preference.
Incidentally, Roombas do not tend to come with the standard remote controls that accompany the likes of Anker’s Eufy RoboVacs, so if you or the recipient of this Roomba do not have a smartphone or Wi-Fi, the buttons on the unit itself will be the only option to start and stop it.
This Roomba 960 is not the quietest robot vacuum you can buy, with 65 dB in operation edging toward the louder end of the spectrum. It is acceptable, as plenty is going on under the hood, but if your preference is a machine that quietly cleans the house while you watch television peacefully, it might be worth looking elsewhere.
iRobot Roomba 960 – Pros and Cons
- Outstanding connectivity, typical of Roombas in the 900 series
- Great cleaning across hard floors and low- to medium-pile carpets
- Plenty of added functionality and features focused on making your life easier
- The Roomba 981 is only slightly more expensive and superior enough to justify the price
- Relatively loud when in use at 65 dB
- The 0.6-litre dust box capacitty does not make full use of the return and recharge functionality and usually fills during a full cycle
iRobot Roomba 960 – The Verdict
The iRobot Roomba 960 is a very impressive robot vacuum cleaner. This model in a vacuum – excuse the pun – ranks among the best smart robots we have covered, as reflected in the rating. However, we do not operate in a vacuum, and this model has been unable to shake the memory of the Roomba 981 at any point. When you reach the price point at which these models reside, an extra £30 or so is a less likely deal-breaker. In short, we feel that you get more than £30 worth of value for your money if you step up to the next model in the series. There are hardware considerations: the 981 comes with two virtual wall units compared to the one in the Roomba 960 box. Those clever lumps of plastic retail for around £50, so you’re already getting good value if you have a use for them.
iRobot Roomba 960 Review
Aside from this, the 960 has a smaller-capacity battery which reflects in the runtime on a full charge, and the difference in suction power is noticeable in homes that experience significant dirt build-up. We explore the differences more in our Roomba 900 series comparison, but that is a summary of what to expect. If you think there’s a chance that you’ll fall in love with the virtual walls, then it may be an idea to get two rather than one from the outset, and everybody tends to prefer more power. The area of your floors dictates the importance of runtime, and it is these factors combine that will decide whether the extra money for the Roomba 981 is worth it. We feel that the upgrade is worth it overall, and reflects in our scoring. Nevertheless, the iRobot Roomba 960 remains an outstanding smart robot vacuum, and anyone that takes the plunge will not be disappointed.
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