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The Roomba 980 is among the most popular robot vacuum cleaners at this price point and the iRobot Roomba 981 goes one better – literally, in the case of the model number – although the robot vacuum model itself is exactly the same. For those keeping score, what is known as the Roomba 980 internationally is the Roomba 981 in the UK. They are slightly different colours and the plugs are adapted for the appropriate market. Otherwise, if you have landed here because you’ve heard great things about the Roomba 980, you’re in the right place. The 981 has the potential to bring power and connectivity together like never before. It even has a camera and full mapping capabilities. This robovac is highly regarded around the world and we’ve got all the reasons you should buy it in the full review.

  • Value for Money 95% 95%
  • Battery Life 95% 95%
  • Durability 95% 95%
  • Suction Power 90% 90%
  • Noise 80% 80%
  • Connectivity 95% 95%

Key Features

  • Strong 1,700 Pa suction, suitable for even the toughest cleaning jobs
  • Recharge and resume, so if the battery dies, cleaning still continues
  • Full connectivity spanning Wi-Fi, mobile app, Amazon Alexa and Google Home
  • Rubber brushes for enhanced cleaning capabilities over cheaper models
  • HEPA filter – perfect for pet owners and allergy sufferers
  • Impressive battery with 2 hours run time and just 2 hours to fully recharge

We suppose that we can accept that Robovac might not be the first smart cleaning site that you’ve visited. Second, third, fourth and more opinions matter, especially if you’re considering spending the considerable chunk of change, an iRobot Roomba 981 will set you back. Either way, you’ll have heard great things about this model and rightly so.

Before we continue, you might have skipped the introduction, where we mentioned the relationship between the 980 and 981. Simply put, if you’re wondering what the difference is between the Roomba 980 and Roomba 981, the answer is nothing except colour in some cases. Check Amazon for the 980, and you’ll find the 981 and not much else. Any of the good things you’ve read about the Roomba 980 elsewhere also apply here. If you haven’t read anything at all yet, you’re in for a treat.

We’ve said in the past that Roomba is to robot vacuums what Hoover is to the conventional kind, often used interchangeably. The Roomba 981 has done plenty to establish that reputation. It will clean just about any surface it faces, with only the thickest carpets proving to be an obstacle. Something is reassuring about this robot vacuum, and that reassurance begins from the moment you open the box.

Roombas are typically well packaged, and the 981 is no different. It is challenging to find reassurance from a cardboard box, however, and it is the contents that will let you know you’re in good hands. There are not all that many spare parts. Many cheaper models come with extra brushes and filters, but there is no more than an additional side brush in this box. You might feel like you receive great value with loads of spares, but the difference here is that if all goes to plan, the bits and pieces already on your Roomba won’t need changing.

Space that the spares would normally occupy is instead taken up by a pair of dual-mode virtual wall barriers and their batteries. You may have experienced basic virtual wall technology before, such as the boundary strips that come packaged with the Eufy RoboVac 30C. They block areas by lining them off, but these are smarter. They can handle straight lines all the same, but can also project invisible forcefields around food bowls, wiring or anywhere else you’d prefer your robot vacuum to steer clear.

Moving on to performance, the 1,700 Pa suction on the Roomba 981 is more than enough for any cleaning job. It is not the strongest on paper – both the Eufy RoboVac 11S MAX and Eufy RoboVac 15C MAX come in at less than half the price and up the suction to 2,000 Pa, but this is a part of robot vacuuming that is not all about the numbers.

Two factors work in the 981’s favour. First, the brush setup is unlike anything found on cheaper models. They work together to draw dirt and dust toward the machine and loosen any ground-in dirt. The suction is then on hand to pull that dirt into the dust box. That box is rather average rather than outstanding, with a 0.6-litre capacity. Your view on that will depend on the size of your home, but it can potentially undercut the return and recharge capabilities.

That too is a step up from cheaper models. The Roomba 981 is unlikely to run out of charge, with 120-minute run time. If it does, it will head back to base and recharge before continuing where it left off. Battery performance is outstanding overall. Not only does that runtime outdo much of the competition, but at just 120 minutes for a full recharge, it outperforms just about every other robot vacuum cleaner out there.

Further enhancing this model’s cleaning prospects is the powerful cleaning technology that is unique to Roomba robot vacuums. As with all models, when the Roomba 981 detects a particularly dirty area, it will increase the suction power and overall intensity of the clean, which results in up to ten times the standard power used elsewhere.

Connectivity is something that iRobot has always done well on its Roomba devices. You have to go back to the bottom end of the 6 series on the Roomba 606 to miss out on Wi-Fi and other functionality, and you do not even need to spend much more to introduce it, as you can on the Roomba 671. Indeed, there is not much more connectivity on the 981 than the 671, as both models will connect to your home Wi-Fi, link to Amazon Alexa and Google Home and enable users to activate the device from anywhere with the mobile app. The step-up comes from mapping.

Given the price, the Roomba 981 needs to represent a definite step up over the 671, and it does so by cutting out the haphazard nature of cleaning patterns. This model uses all the conventional sensors to tell where it is going and combines them with a camera to see its way around. This information then interacts with the app, where users can see what their Roomba is working on and adjust as required. This could be cleaning a specific room, avoiding others or helping the device to take the most efficient path.

Noise levels on smart robot vacuums have come on leaps and bounds over the years, and the Roomba 981 has been around for a while. It packs plenty of technology in, so some will consider it as reassuringly loud. Others will lament the fact that at 70 dB, it can be difficult to hear the television over an active cleaner. If a quiet clean is a priority, the 981 is not for you – although you’ll struggle to find equivalent cleaning and mapping capabilities with less noise.

Finally, we must consider pet owners and allergy sufferers. This is where lower-priced Roombas can fall out of favour. Models in the 6 series, for example, struggle on both counts as they use AeroVac filters rather than their HEPA equivalents and utilise cheaper roller brushes. The former is not quite as effective at the elimination of smaller particles, and the latter is susceptible to tangling. Indeed, what constitutes the best robot vacuum for pets often does not involve its ability to pick up pet hairs – the majority of models can do that. It is a combination of their ability to remove dander from the air and how long you need to spend trimming your brushes after each clean to get them back into working order. Other factors also apply, but this model has the basics covered.

The rubber brushes on the Roomba 981 ensure that hair tangles are a thing of the past, while the HEPA filters represent the best you can get for removal of dander and other small particles. That means that on top of this robovac being an excellent all-rounder, it has plenty to offer to pet owners and allergy sufferers, both of whom are likely to be comfortable with this price point.

iRobot Roomba 981 – Pros and Cons

  • Great connectivity for remote and voice activation
  • Superior battery performance and recharge resume technology for all home sizes
  • Suction power and brush technology to handle hard floors and low/medium-pile carpets
  • Potentially on the slightly expensive side for anyone on the fence about robot vacuums
  • One of the louder robot vacuum cleaners for the home market
  • Potential for more app functionality in the future – currently fairly basic

iRobot Roomba 981 – The Verdict

The iRobot Roomba 981 is iconic in the robot vacuum world, whether you know it by this name or the international Roomba 980 branding. The fact that it was released in September 2015 yet still ranks among the best overall robot vacuums in existence speaks volumes for the quality of the original engineering. There are robovacs out there with higher suction power, quieter operating volumes and other areas in which they are superior, but even the big names struggle to come close to the overall package. The 981 means business and if you are wondering whether the price is worth it, we answer with a resounding ‘yes’.

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iRobot Roomba 981 Review

The 981 is outstanding for the balance it strikes between price and functionality. It is nowhere near being the cheapest robot vacuum around, but it is far from the most expensive either. In landing in the middle, it guarantees mainstream appeal. Excellent cleaning, the ability to cope with pets and allergens and top-class connectivity come together for everything the average robot vacuum owner would need. It is low maintenance, with little more than the emptying of the dust box a concern, and it will be a long while before you require any replacement parts over and above what comes in the box. Unless you have hugely thick carpets, this device will cope with anything, and the only buyers that will look elsewhere are those that do not want to spend this much. In those cases, the Eufy RoboVac 15C MAX wins out. For slightly over double the price, however, the iRobot Roomba 981 is right up there in the value for money stakes and is a fantastic cleaner.

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