For over a decade now, the process of running a robot vacuum has been largely the same. Sure, navigation has improved tenfold and homes can be vacuumed remotely thanks to connected apps, the core problem of having to empty the vacuum after each use has always prevented robot vacuums from being a fully autonomous experience. That all changes with the Roomba i7+, a robot vacuum that is truly autonomous from start to finish. The experience begins with a single command from the iRobot Home app on your smartphone and ends with the robot’s dustbin being emptied all by itself on the specialized docking base.
It’s this base, called the Automatic Dirt Disposal, that truly sets the Roomba i7 apart from all other robot vacuums on the market, even iRobot’s other lines as well. While the Roomba 980 remains one of the best robot vacuums on the market for overall cleaning tasks, that doesn’t mean there weren’t things to improve, and the Roomba i7 does a masterful job at improving on almost all of the 3-and-a-half-year-old Roomba 980’s few shortcomings.
The improvements begin with the price. At $799, the Roomba i7 is $100 cheaper than the Roomba 980 when it launched in 2015; a trend that bucks what we’ve seen in most technology sectors. While plenty of less expensive robot vacuums have made their way into homes across the world, the Roombas and Neatos of the world still get by with a more expensive price for two reasons: support and reliability. With this in mind, it’s great to see iRobot dropping the price for those that want a powerful, reliable vacuum that comes with support and a good warranty.
But Can it Clean Itself?
Those that want the full experience the Roomba i7 can deliver will need to shell out considerably more though, as the i7+ retails for $1,099 as of this review. While the i7+ ships with the Automatic Dirt Disposal base, the vacuum itself is identical to the standard i7, meaning folks that start off with an i7 can always purchase the clean base later on for around $350 separately. As the clean base transforms the Roomba i7 into a fully automated machine, it completely changes the paradigm for robot vacuums as we’ve known it.
While it sounds like a silly first world problem, the need to manually empty a robot vacuum after each and every run can turn into a reason not to use it over time. While the automated emptying sounds like pure laziness at first, the fact that the vacuum can run in totality without intervention of any kind means that people are more likely to use it, and therefore will contribute to a cleaner, less stressful house over time instead of becoming a point of annoyance. It also helps to cut down on possible needed maintenance with problems that could be caused by taking the dustbin out on a regular basis.
You’ll still need to periodically check on the filter inside and the roller brushes, but iRobot’s designs in these areas also help to significantly cut down on maintenance. iRobot has tweaked the design of the roller brushes to optimize performance and longevity, including a new mechanism that adjusts the height of the rollers to better match the height of the floor being vacuumed. iRobot’s roller designs work better on most surfaces because they aren’t brushes at all, rather, they are textured silicone rollers that help grab debris without getting tangled as traditional brushes can.
The new motor design also helps with overall performance, as it’s not located inside the body rather than within the dustbin, as on previous Roombas. This also has the added bonus of reducing costs on replacement dustbins, if you ever need to replace one, and reduces the overall noise while the Roomba is vacuuming. The only thing that’s super loud is the Automatic Dirt Disposal base, which reaches noise levels up to 67dB while it’s emptying the Roomba. For reference, the Roomba regularly vacuums at 56dB on hard floors, with a spike to 58dB while it’s cleaning carpet. It takes about 10 seconds to empty the Roomba, but there’s no mistaking when this is happening, as you’ll hear it clear through the house.
Dirt is pulled through a new port on the underside of the Roomba, brightly green colored and marked with the words Automatic Dirt Disposal. This new base station is rated to hold up to 30 full dustbins worth of stuff, which means you’re likely to go months without ever worrying about emptying the base station itself. The cloth bags are allergen-rated just like the filters on the Roomba itself and can be tossed in the garbage once full. Replacements can be bought in 3-packs for around $17, meaning the upkeep cost of the vacuum sits at around only a few bucks a month at most.
These bags can be emptied and reused but aren't expressly designed to serve this purpose. Instead, they are designed to be disposable, and since it's cloth, are also biodegradable. Also new on the underside is a second-generation dirt and cliff detection sensor, which can now properly differentiate between a cliff (i.e. stairs) and a dark area rug. Previous sensor generations had a hard time telling the difference between these two and would often act erratically when trying to clean these types of rugs.
This often meant sections of the house wouldn’t be cleaned, since the vacuum physically couldn’t perform its job, and will no longer happen with the Roomba i7. When this dirt sensor seems a spot as extra dirty, the Roomba will continually vacuum back and forth on that spot until it’s marked clean. Likewise, with carpets, the Roomba i7 will pick up the pace and increase suction up to 10x as much as previous Roomba models, furthering the idea that this is likely the best robot vacuum on the market for folks with carpets and pets.
Smart App, Smart Assistant
iRobot’s new per-room cleaning functionality is absolutely brilliantly executed, and this brilliant design extends throughout most of the app as well. An initial run will map the home, opening up the option to section off the house into rooms using a map generated by the Roomba i7. Options to clean one, two, three or any combination of rooms in the house is available, so if you’ve got one or two rooms that got dirty from dinner or something similar, you can clean the kitchen and dining room while leaving the rest of the house alone. The iRobot Home app also supports up to 10 floor plans without the need for an additional charging base, and can be swapped between from within the app.
While the app is fully featured in almost every way, it is missing one feature that many other robot vacuums have: virtual boundaries. Some manufacturers like Neato call these no-go lines, as they are designed to give users a quick and easy way to block off portions of the home. This can manifest itself in anything from a messy kids room with toys scattered everywhere, to an area where pet food might get easily spilled. With the current map design you can at least section off the house and choose to simply not vacuum these areas, but it's not quite as easy or robust as a simple virtual boundary line would be. iRobot ships with i7 with a physical "lighthouse" style virtual wall that's been used for generations on iRobot vacuums now, but physical barriers aren't always convenient or possible to use when trying to vacuum remotely.
The Roomba’s navigation is identical to the Roomba 980 in component design, but iRobot’s software smarts have increased dramatically over the years. The Roomba 980 was never a poor performer in the navigational realm, but vacuums that utilize laser-guided mapping were always more accurate. This time around, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two, as the camera module on top of the Roomba i7 is incredibly accurate in depth measurement, even in dark rooms. This is especially the case when the robot is utilizing a saved floor plan, as it can reference both the visual data from the camera and compare to the saved map data.
Floorplans cannot be viewed while cleaning, unlike Xiaomi or Roborock’s vacuums, which will show you the real-time location on the map. If the Roomba gets stuck, however, it will show you a map with the location of the vacuum so that it can be more easily found. iRobot designed its Home app to pair with vacuums on your network, not ones linked to your iRobot account, meaning you'll need to physically be on the same network as the vacuum to pair with it. This design is for security reasons, as the configuration and all the mapping data is stored on the vacuum and can be immediately accessed the moment a vacuum is paired with the app. This keeps someone from getting into your account and doing nefarious deeds with any personal data the vacuum might store, like floor plans, for instance, and is a design we applaud iRobot for.
The Roomba i7 will pair with your iRobot account specifically for linking to your favorite virtual assistant, meaning you can ask your Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa-powered device to vacuum your home using the Roomba i7. You can even work the Roomba i7’s operation into your Routines within Google Home, for instance, which will activate the vacuum based on any number of situations you setup. Want the vacuum to clean the place up when you leave for work in the morning? How about do a quick regularly scheduled sweep after you turn off the connected dining room light after dinner? Routines are powerful ways to customize your smarthome, and the Roomba i7 fits into that mix perfectly.
It’s clear that iRobot was going for the proverbial throat when it designed the Roomba i7 and is turning the robot vacuuming industry on its head with its release. This is the absolute best robot vacuum money can buy, but that’s part of the problem for many people; there’s just no easy way to justify the price of a robot vacuum that costs over $1,000 dollars. That’s not to say it isn’t worth it, because, in the end, the results speak for themselves. Folks who are willing to pay the money will get the absolute best robot vacuum experience on the market, no doubt about it.
It’s not just about the cleaning power of the new hardware or the convenience of full automation that the Automatic Dirt Disposal base brings, it’s the reliability and support iRobot is known for. We regularly recommend many less expensive robot vacuums that offer similar features for a significantly reduced price, but you often get what you pay for in the long run. A less expensive robot vacuum will likely work just fine in a house without pets or lots of carpets, but throw those things in the mix and you’re looking at a recipe for a reduced life for many robot vacuums.
Thus far in our usage over the years, iRobot’s Roomba line has proven to be the single most reliable of all robot vacuums on the market, and it’s easier to get parts and service for Roombas than it is for the less expensive, non-US-based brands. In fact, some brands don’t offer any warranty support for buyers in the US at all, making the cheaper price seem less desirable if you’re anticipating heavy use. If you’re not willing to settle, the Roomba i7 is the best robot vacuum you can buy. The real question is whether or not its unique feature set is worth the cost for you.