Vacuum Wars: Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum vs iRobot Roomba 980

While not quite as prolific as smartphones, robot vacuums are becoming more and more common in homes around the world. iRobot likely has the widest brand recognition among all robot vacuum manufacturers with its Roomba brand, but everyone from tech giants like LG and Samsung, to startups like Neato have jumped into the game, debuting products with unique features and navigational algorithms. Xiaomi has recently jumped into the fray with its aptly named Mi Robot Vacuum, and as is usual for a Xiaomi product, the Mi Robot Vacuum retails for considerably less than other competitors out there. Folks looking to buy Xiaomi's robot vacuum can expect to pay around $350 to get it shipped to their door, a stark contrast from the $899 that iRobot charges for the Roomba 980. Is the extra price of iRobot's highest end vacuum still worth it? Let's take a look!

Mobility and Behavior

Both vacuums feature a circular, hockey puck-like design that's become familiar in the robot vacuum space. Few robotic vacuums adopt different designs and it's for good reason; having a circular vacuum with a rotating side brush really is a fantastic design. Both vacuums are nearly identical in height and circumference too, so aside from the visual design differences it's difficult to know right off the bat if one will be better than the other. Even the wheelbase and style is the same, with rubber rear wheels that features deep tread and can extend up to 2 inches for uneven surfaces. We've seen Xiaomi use other product designs as an "inspiration" for its own products in the past, and it's pretty clear the Roomba 980 was the inspiration for the Mi Robot Vacuum. This is why we combined two seemingly different categories into one for this particular comparison, and it helps truly tell the difference between the two vacuums. Because both vacuums feature essentially identical rear wheels and a single, 360-degree rotating front wheel for tight corners, the act of moving around isn't very different as a whole. On a flat floor with no obstacles you'll find the vacuums are very similar in their overall movements, making tight turns with the two large rear wheels as the pivot point.

As these vacuums are just short enough to make their way under certain pieces of furniture, you'll find the behavior of each vacuum to be very different if they get stuck. The biggest main difference between the designs is the large hump on the top of Xiaomi's vacuum, which serves as a way for its laser-guided navigation system to work. Unfortunately this also serves as an odd spot for the vacuum to get lodged underneath furniture, while the Roomba's relatively flat top helps keep it away from such situations. The Roomba isn't immune to this, but iRobot's methodology here is pretty simple; if the Roomba 980 can't continue forward or turn at all, it simply backs up and reassess the situation. Xiaomi's AI-based routine gets a little more aggressive, however, and does it's best to force itself to cover as much ground as possible. While this sounds good at first, in practice what the Mi vacuum ends up doing is scraping itself against the bottom of the furniture it's stuck under, making rather harsh grinding noises as it tries its hardest to rotate out of a situation rather than simply backing up.

Moving into corners and around the edges of walls shows a very different behavioral pattern here though. As we'll discuss below the Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum begins by sectioning a part of the house off virtually, starting around the perimeter of this section and moving inward from there. What we see is virtually no overlap between the perimeter cleaning and the inside cleaning, and a very tentative nature when it comes to nearing walls. Often you'll find the Mi Vacuum keeps away from directly touching a wall or other surface, including furniture legs, and will often stay a few millimeters away from the edge. Roomba's behavior usually keeps it hugging the walls, which seems to do a slightly better job of getting certain things out from the corners than Xiaomi's bot.

Winner: iRobot Roomba 980

Navigation

Likely the largest difference between these two robotic vacuums are the navigational systems. As we saw from our previous comparison between the Roomba 980 and the Neato Botvac Connected, the Roomba's navigational methods can sometimes leave a bit to be desired. iRobot has created a new type of navigational methodology with the Roomba 980, and while it's a significant improvement over older iRobot products, it still heavily relies on bump-and-go navigation rather than what seems to be a considerably more intelligent method of mapping things out as Neato and Xiaomi use. Both the Roomba 980 and Mi Vacuum use Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, or SLAM for short, which actually maps out your home and learns where walls, furniture and other obstacles are while the vacuum is cleaning.

What's different between these two is how they actually see the world, and it's Xiaomi's laser-based navigational methods that prove their worth over the more simple camera-based solution that iRobot uses. Once started the Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum does a sweep of the area and lays out a small perimeter to start with. It then makes its way around this virtually cordoned off area and sweeps the edges first, including any walls and furniture legs in the way. From here it moves inward and covers the inside of this perimeter in rows or columns, being careful not to overlap its path more than once if possible. From here the Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum moves on to another cordoned off area until it completes the map of your dwelling, and returns home to charge.

The Roomba 980 is the complete opposite though, and begins with a single line from its beginning point until it runs into something. From here it makes a 180-degree turn and heads back in the original direction until it reaches another obstacle, whether it's a wall or other object in the room. The Roomba continues this pattern for a while until it reaches a fairly square area that it has cleaned inside, and then proceeds to go around the perimeter of the area it just vacuumed. What we've found in tests is that the vacuum seems to initially miss quite a bit when making its first run through a room, but generally cleans up the remaining spots after beginning the perimeter section of the cleaning. Still there were a few times where the Roomba wouldn't be able to get underneath a chair or other smaller area, not because it couldn't physically fit underneath, but because it couldn't successfully navigate through. While the Roomba seems to rely more on cleaning a single room in one fell swoop, it's the small, very intentional sections that make the Mi Vacuum so effective, and a methodology that ends up giving Xiaomi the crown in this category.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum

Spot cleaning

Sometimes you don't want to have the vacuum take the time to cover the whole house. Instead it might be better to simply have it clean a small section, especially if something spilled. Each vacuum has a spot clean mode, but Xiaomi's is a little more hidden than iRobot's without a doubt. While the Roomba 980 has a single target clean button right on the top, the Xiaomi Mi Vacuum needs to have its power button pressed and held for a few seconds until spot cleaning mode is initiated. For this reason it's possible that some users will never know it even exists, and reminds us why minimalist design isn't always the best in every situation.

Actual spot cleaning, however, is very different between each vacuum. iRobot's spot cleaning methodology has been updated since we last compared it to the Neato Botvac Connected, but the overall design of the spot clean is exactly what it looks like on the aforementioned target clean button. The Roomba 980 moves in a simple circular pattern, about 3 ft. in circumference, and doesn't extend outside of this circular target for any reason. iRobot has updated the pattern to make the Roomba 980 turn around and repeat the circle again instead of continuing in a single direction the whole time, but this doesn't help for when it runs into something. If your spill isn't exactly in the middle of the floor without any objects nearby, the Roomba will simply hit the object and turn around, likely never reaching the other side if it doesn't fit perfectly in this circular target.

Xiaomi's methodology is quite different, and actually resembles a snippet of the regular cleaning methodology. Upon initiating the semi-hidden spot clean mode, the Mi Vacuum scans the area and determines a roughly 5-6 square foot area, and then proceeds with its normal pattern of sweeping the perimeter of this area first, followed by very specific pattern of making rows inside of this perimeter. In addition to this the Mi Vacuum works its way around any obstacles in the way and simply avoids them, continuing on with its cleaning process after it has passed them. It's not just this significantly better design in laying out the area to be cleaned first that gives the Xiaomi the win, it's the avoidance of obstacles without interrupting the cleaning pattern that puts the cherry on top.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum

Roller Brushes

The actual act of sucking up the dirt and debris found throughout the home involves a handful of different systems, but picking up those particles heavily relies on the brushes themselves. It's not just the design or material of the brushes either, the placement, size, number of brushes and actual rolling methods of each can play a massive part in how effective the vacuum is at the end of the day. Xiaomi relies on a single brush placed in the middle of the unit, which takes up slightly more than half of the width of the vacuum and sits in-between both pairs of large, rear wheels.  This single brush is made up of alternating layers of silicone and traditional vacuum brushes, spiraling around the base to help move debris toward the center. In addition to this a large rotating brush, located on the right side of the vacuum, pushes debris out from corners and into the center of the vacuum.

While the brush material helps loosen particles and hair from surfaces, the silicone material comes in behind it and helps to sweep up smaller particles. In addition to this the longer brushes have the likelihood of pushing particles out of cracks and crevices, like the grout in tile or the spaces between flooring and transition strips. In addition to this it's super easy to clean debris and other long particles like hair or string that will inevitably get caught in the roller. This single roller is removed by a set of two clips that hold the container in place, and the roller simply drops out of the vacuum once this cover is removed. Even still you'll have to regularly maintain the cleanliness of the brushes to ensure they are operating at peak performance, simply because things can become easily entangled in the brushes themselves.

Only having a single brush can still let particles escape though, and that's why iRobot has outfitted the Roomba 980 with two rollers instead of one, calling them Debris Extractors.  In addition to having two rollers, each roller spins the opposite direction towards each other, pushing debris in from both back and front of the vacuum into the center. These rollers are completely made out of silicone too and have a design that's unique to iRobot's Roomba line. In practice this design loosens more debris and seems to pick up more dirt than other types of roller brushes, and on top of this require far less maintenance than a traditional brush would. Hair only gets caught in the outside section of the rollers, and this hair easily slides out once the brushes are removed. The act of removing the brushes is just as simple as the Xiaomi Mi Vacuum's are, so there's zero difference between both products from that perspective.

Winner: iRobot Roomba 980

Dust Bin and Filters

As with many other parts of these two vacuums, the filters used are identical in every way. They're not only the exact same design, they also feature the same European E11 HEPA rating, which fulfills a requirement of filtering out at least 95% of all particles pushed through the system. This means cleaning schedules and such are also identical, so what's left is the way you actually remove and reinsert the filters themselves.

iRobot's design on the Roomba places the dust bin at the back of the unit, behind a tray that slides out via a large button. In practice this bin can be rather tough to remove, especially if you don't press it just right, and really requires a bit more force than one might like to place on a $900 product. Xiaomi's design, on the other hand, is equally as elegant as Neato's design on the Botvac Connected, and only requires the lid on top be lifted up. From here the single dust bin and filter compartment can be easily lifted out and emptied without worry of pulling the product too hard or spilling contents.

Winner: Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum

Barriers

While navigation on both of these vacuums are stellar, you may not always want them to go in every nook and cranny of the house. That's why each vacuum ships with its own way to block off paths, but as we've seen in the past, each vacuum handles this task very differently. Like Neato, Xiaomi uses rubber strips to keep the Mi Robot Vacuum out of areas.  he vacuum ships with a large magnetic strip that can be cut into sections of your choosing. Extra strips can be had for about $12 per roll and is designed to be placed on the floor as a physical barrier to the vacuum. Once the vacuum hits the magnetic strip it immediately stops, turns around and moves along in its path. The trick comes more in the times the vacuum does its initial perimeter sweep, as it can hit the magnetic strip at an angle and physically move it instead of being stopped by it. These strips work best when weighed down by something, but that's not always feasible depending on the area they are in.

iRobot, on the other hand, uses active barriers that stand about 6 inches high and require AA batteries to operate.  These barriers have two modes of function; the first is a straight line, where you place the barrier at the edge of a wall or other some such arbitrary place and point the laser barrier across the space you wish to block. The Roomba 980's sensors then see this barrier and will never cross it, so long as no physical obstacles block the laser's path of course. The second mode is a radial barrier that sets up a 20-inch diameter circle, extending 10-inches in each direction away from the barrier. This allows users to create a smaller barrier around objects like pet food bowls or end tables to keep the vacuum away from. While the Roomba's barriers require batteries and the Mi Vacuum's do not, the functional differences between the two create a massive gulf and a very clear winner in this category.

Winner: iRobot Roomba 980

App

One of the best features of a robotic vacuum is the ability to remotely control said vacuum from a smartphone app. All the big name robot vacuums have apps now, but like anything else, each manufacturer has a different vision of what information they want to provide customers when it comes to each vacuum. Taking a look at iRobot's app, which has been updated since we last explored it some months ago, and now features an easier way of pairing the Roomba 980 with multiple devices at once. Aside from this the rest of the app is similar, featuring a remote start/pause/stop feature that allows you to vacuum your home while not even being present. In addition to this iRobot offers information on how dirty your vacuum's sensors, debris extractors and filters are, letting you know when they need to be switched out or cleaned out. There's also full cleaning history here, including how many square feet have been cleaned, time taken to clean, and individual cleaning events that give you more information on each and every time the vacuum has ever run in your home.

Xiaomi's Mi Home app is Xiaomi's universal app for every single one of their connected products, and although it's available to download on the Google Play Store worldwide, its functions are different depending on which Xiaomi server you select. To even be able to pair the Mi Robot Vacuum with the app, you'll need to select Mainland China as your locale. While this isn't necessarily a problem since the internet doesn't rely on connected regions, it certainly will present a massive language barrier and will be a total deal breaker for some folks. Selecting English (or another language) as your default in the app doesn't make everything that language, only the main menus, and you'll likely need to use Google Translate to get through most of the app's functions if you don't read Chinese. Once you get past all this, however, you'll be presented with one of the finest apps available, which provides you with tons of information about the Mi Robot Vacuum.

The main screen of the app immediately shows you a map of your entire home, letting you know every single square foot that has been covered by Xiaomi's cleaning process. This is something that iRobot's app doesn't show at all, and something Neato only just added to the Botvac app as well. This helps users readily identify problem spots that the vacuum cannot clean, and also helps folks know whether or not a certain room was or wasn't cleaned. On top of that it helps you find the vacuum if it got stuck rather than relying on chimes and other sounds to do it. Outside of this the rest of the app is nearly identical to iRobot's in terms of features, including being able to start/pause/stop the vacuum remotely, schedule cleanings, see how dirty the vacuum is and a full history on cleaning cycles. Once Xiaomi can support more languages, it'll be a winner, but until then iRobot's app gets the edge.

Winner: iRobot Roomba 980

Personality

While both vacuums look very similar, they certainly don't feel like similar personalities. Xiaomi has designed its robot to feel more like a personal household assistant, giving you clear commands for every little thing it does. Starting a mode let's you know it's about to clean the house, spoken with a clear, clean female voice. Errors are presented in the same fashion, with a clear female voice letting you know exactly what the problem is. The biggest caveat here is of course the fact that this vacuum is only technically sold across the Asian continent, and our particular Mi Robot Vacuum is the Chinese variety. That means if you don't speak the specific dialect of Chinese the vacuum does, these clear, clean errors and announcements simply do nothing for you. However if you're a resident of China or are able to speak the language, you might find the soothing voice and clear commands a real winner in Xiaomi's camp.

iRobot has taken a very different approach and feels almost as though it pulled the Roomba 980 off the stage of the latest Star Wars movie. Instead of error codes or voice commands, the Roomba 980 sings, hums and generally sounds like like a R2-D2 or a similar friendly droid. These sounds and songs are all cheerful and clear, and each error and command has a very distinct sound to it. After just a few days you'll easily identify what's going on with the vacuum, be it starting a cleaning cycle by emitting the "beep beep beep" sound of a truck reversing, or singing along as it begins a target spot clean. It's really quite charming and gives the Roomba 980 tons of character, and as a bonus it's completely language independent too.

Winner: Tie

Cleaning Process

At the end of the day what might be described as a menial difference between how you clean the brushes or change out the filters may simply not matter, as these nuances likely won't change how well the actual vacuum cleans. Who is the winner in this category?  Find out in our video below, where we put each vacuum head to head in a series of 6 tests of cleanliness!

Overall Winner

It's literally a dead heat here, with one tie and four wins to each vacuum. Xiaomi took the slight edge in our cleaning tests above, claiming 4 victories in 6 tests, but many of those victories were only by a thin margin. Still what's impressive here is that Xiaomi has managed to keep up with iRobot in overall functionality, and once they open up the app to more regions and languages the win could very well be in the bag for Xiaomi overall. Still the cleaning tests prove that it's not better in every situation, and people with hardwood or tile floors who also have pets likely want to spend the extra money on the Roomba 980 for that extra cleaning power, otherwise Xiaomi's first effort in the space is an excellent choice for those not looking to spend more than $400 to get a truly great robot vacuum. If you've made a decision, check out both vacuums below at Amazon or GearBest!

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About the Author
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Nick Sutrich

Event / Reviews Editor
Nick has written for Androidheadlines since 2013, is Review Editor for the site, and has traveled to many tech events across the world. His background is as Systems Administrator and overall technology enthusiast. Nick loves to review all kind of different devices but specializes in Android smartphones, smartphone camera reviews, and all things VR, both here on the site and on our YouTube channel. He is very passionate about smartphones and the continued improvement they can bring into people’s lives and is an expert on many different types of technologies, including mobile devices, VR, and cameras. Contact him at [email protected]
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