iRobot spearheaded the robot vacuum market with the Roomba, an iconic brand that’s as widely known as Ziplock or Tupperware are in the kitchen. Along with the name came the shape; a round, hockey puck-like design that roamed around, sucking up anything small enough to get in its way. 2019 brings about the biggest change we’ve ever seen in design from iRobot, and it’s all for the better too.
This new D-shape design is very similar looking to Neato’s Botvac series in many ways, including a smaller side brush and larger main brushes underneath. Just like the Botvac, the main brushes are more situated toward the front and are designed to work in tandem with that new squared-off front, which is designed to better clean corners of all kinds.
These brushes look very similar to the previous higher-end Roombas, including the Roomba 960, 980 and i7 series, but are 30% longer and have a slightly modified surface pattern. Like those vacuums, these rollers are silicone instead of bristles. That means they operate quite differently and, in most cases, are more efficient than traditional roller brushes.
I’ve always preferred iRobot’s silicone rollers to traditional brushes for several reasons. First off, they work better on hard surfaces, as each roller features a different pattern on its surface and both roll inward toward the suction motor. This dual roller style helps grab more particles and also keeps the robot from missing thing since the back roller pushes debris forward.
Secondly, these rollers don’t get hair clogged or tangled in them the way a traditional brush does. All the hair tends to go to the sides, which is easily removed by popping the rollers out and sliding the hair off the ends. It’s one of those little luxuries that you don’t fully appreciate until you’ve had to deal with both kinds.
The side brush has been redesigned and is no longer called a side brush. iRobot calls this one a “corner brush”, and it features more brustles than before, situated at a different angle that helps the vacuum sweep things off the very edge of a wall and into the rollers. I don’t care for how small these are though and feel like they would be more effective if the bristles were longer.
Inside is a new motor that’s rated at 40x more suction than the Roomba 600 series, which still makes it more powerful than both the Roomba 980 and Roomba i7 as well. Part of the improvement is in the design of the dustbin, which no longer contains the motor as it did on previous Roomba models.
That dustbin is now just a dustbin and is located square in the middle of the vacuum, which is extracted by flipping the lid up and pulling the bin straight up via the built-in handle.
Another little convenience is found in the way the dustbin is emptied. Pressing the button on top will open up the hatch on the bottom, which is a far more efficient and cleanly design than any other robot vacuum we’ve used.
Another modification to the dustbin is that it’s now fully sealed and works to keep allergens down in the house by keeping them from being reinserted into the air.
Now back to that new design. This vacuum looks absolutely exquisite, and while that sounds silly for a simple vacuum, the design here is modern and beautiful in every way. It fits better with designer furniture and distinctive looking appliances with its black and copper color scheme. This new brushed copper lid right in the center looks particularly regal, rimmed with color-changing LEDs that are situated just under the lid top. This new light ring isn’t just cool looking, it also serves a purpose.
These LEDs will change from white to green to purple to red, depending on the status of the vacuum and are effectively an enhanced version of what was found on the Roomba i7. The entirety of the new design screams high-end in every way, and really is an impressive rethinking of what had become a ubiquitous, almost generic design thanks to a swath of competitors sticking with the circular design of the past.
The worst part of the new design? No more handle up top. This seems superfluous, but it makes it far less convenient to pick it up and haul it somewhere for a spot clean, especially since it feels heavier and denser than older models.
Spot Cleaning That’s Actually Useful
It's a darn shame too because the new spot cleaning tweaks are fantastic. We go the economical route in our house and use hair clippers whenever possible, which is mostly easy to clean up with a broom and dustpan. There are always plenty of little hair follicles left behind, though, which is where a vacuum comes into play. A single spot cleaning with the Roomba s9 where my hair was cut was enough to get absolutely every trace of hair. That’s not something I can say about any other robot vacuum I’ve tried this test with.
iRobot is still using a single camera up top for navigation, but this time around has added in 3D sensors all around the front plate to help fine-tune navigation, especially around those low objects like furniture legs. These new sensors map the area the vacuum is looking at with laser accuracy and run at 25 scans per second. As a result, navigation is better than ever before, including the ability to hug the wall even closer than the Roomba i7 could.
Many of the new navigational features revolve around the new shape and how it handles corners. This isn’t just a generic behavior though, the vacuum behaves differently depending on whether it’s an inside or outside corner. You’ll find that the vacuum runs straight along a wall and fits squarely into an inner corner, then will back up and make a slight turn in order to pull any remains out of the corner with that corner brush.
Outer corner behavior is simply brilliant and looks quite smart when watching the vacuum in action. The vacuum will run straight along the wall and just past an outer corner. It’ll then turn 90-degrees to face the next wall, back up so that the entire corner is within vision, and then proceed along the next wall from beginning to end.
It’s really an impressive way to make sure every square inch is covered, and the corners are truly clean after a run.
As with previous high-end Roomba models, the Roomba s9 can detect extra dirty spots and carpets, increasing suction or making multiple passes to ensure an area is clean. Like the Roomba i7, iRobot’s second generation cliff detection sensor won’t be fooled by dark carpets as previous generations of robot vacuums would.
Pet Hair, Big Houses, No Problem
Also like the Roomba i7, the Roomba s9 ships with an optional Automatic Dirt Disposal base. This base will cost you somewhere around $300 and enables automatic emptying of the vacuum’s dustbin. While it sounds like laziness to have a vacuum that automatically empties its own bin, the reality is that it’s the real way to more effectively clean your home, especially if you have pets.
Dustbins for robot vacuums are, on average, about 0.3 liters (1.2 cups) in size. That size dustbin fills up fast if you’ve got pets, especially if they’re big dogs with long hair. Most of the time this results in a vacuum that can’t finish cleaning the house because it gets full and simply cannot continue.
In the Roomba s9’s case, the vacuum will just go back to the Automatic Dirt Disposal base, empty itself, and then head back to where it last cleaned.
The higher performance of the motor delivered worse battery life when compared to the Roomba i7 in my testing, but this can vary depending on your home's setup. For the review, I left it in the default "detailed clean" mode, which automatically adjusts suction based on what type of floor is being cleaned (hard floor, carpet, etc.).
iRobot says that the 'Detailed Clean' runtime is longer than the Roomba i7, which has a maximum runtime of 75 minutes on hard floors, while the Roomba s9 should run between 90 and 120 minutes depending on floor type. This includes mixed floor types, not just hard floors, so performance should be better than what I've experienced in my own home.
Battery life isn’t nearly as important for a robot vacuum as it is for something like a smartphone, but it still largely determines how long it’s going to take for the vacuum to clean your home. In my house, I found that it would clean for about 45 minutes or so, and then return to the dock to charge. Charging took about an hour and a half, followed by another 45 minutes of cleaning time. My house is about 50% carpet and certainly takes a bit more power to vacuum, but I also have a smaller home and expected it to run for longer than it did.
The longest I saw it run was around 75 minutes before needing to charge up. While it's possible that additional obstacles in the vacuum's path could have caused it to run longer than usual, the map data in the app doesn't suggest an inordinate amount of obstables. We're still in the process of unpacking and getting things into the right place after moving, so the cleaning path of the vacuum in my home is a little less square than some other homes might be.
My house has about 500 square feet that can actually be cleaned by a robot vacuum (read: areas where there no furniture or other obstacles are blocking its path). Even with only 500 square feet to clean, though, I found the Roomba s9 took nearly 3 hours to finish the job. That’s not exactly quick but it is incredibly thorough and that’s something to account for.
Among the other reasons to pay a bit more for a robot vacuum is the inclusion of features like multiple floor support. The Roomba s9, like the Roomba i7 before it, supports the saving of multiple floorplans, which is obviously important if you have a home with more than one floor. Buying more than one less expensive robot vacuum is always a solution, but then you’re still missing out on all the other features the Roomba s9 offers over cheaper robot vacuums.
At launch, the biggest downside with the app is the missing Keep Out Zones feature, which is currently only available on the Roomba i7. Once available, users will be able to block off certain sections of the home within the iRobot Home app, such as under furniture or around pet bowls, that the vacuum shouldn't clean.
Sharing is Caring
Floorplan sharing between robots hasn’t ever been something that was a necessity until the Braava jet m6 came along. As iRobot’s first mop that behaves exactly like a high-end Roomba and can mop the entire home via saved floorplan, it’s important that these two robots share data when kept in the same home.
If you’re fortunate enough to own both an iRobot Roomba s9 and a Braava jet m6, you’ll be able to have the Roomba vacuum the entire home first, followed by the Braava mopping the hard floors after. This is done within the app by pressing clean and then selecting the “mop after” from the selection ring. Just like the Roomba, you’ll be able to select which rooms you want to mop, and then the Braava will do its job.
At the time of this review, the actual floorplans aren’t shared between robots, so you’ll have to finish a few training runs in the app for each robot to create a floorplan before running this shared cleaning routine. It’s annoying that you can’t use the same map, no doubt, but these two robots are a bit different operationally. We’ll cover details in the Braava jet m6 review, but only hard floors can be mopped and, as the vacuum is designed to clean both hard and carpeted flooring, you wouldn’t want the same boundaries shared between the two, anyway.
The Best Clean Around
iRobot has, once again, created the greatest robot vacuum on the market. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the company that popularized robot vacuums is capable of delivering greatness, but it’s going to come at a cost. $999 will get you the robot vacuum by itself, and $1299 nets the package with the automatic clean base.
It’s more than twice the price of brands like Roborock, and still several hundred dollars more than the competition from Neato, and that’s going to be very difficult for some folks to get past. Cost is a huge factor in any product, but having the vacuum with the best pet hair cleanup and one that can be truly fully automated is certainly worth something in and of itself.iRobot Roomba s9 - Amazon iRobot Roomba s9+ - Amazon