When I’m thinking about buying a new piece of tech, the first question I ask is the most important:
“How much will this annoy my cats?”
In the case of the iRobot Roomba 980 robotic vacuum cleaner, the answer is clearly ‘a lot’, with heaps of potential for YouTube gold. But surely any old robot hoover could annoy my moggies — do I really need one that costs the best part of a grand?
Again, yes. Not because it’ll annoy them any better or worse than a cheap one, but because as my long-haired furbabies run around the flat, they leave huge clumps of themselves everywhere. And since I don’t particularly enjoy vacuuming twice a day to try and keep on top of it, I need a robot servant that’s up to the task.
I was an early adopter of the robot hoover, due entirely to my personal laziness rather than any kind of prophetic visions for a future smart home. I bought the Roomba 580 all the way back in 2008 — ten years ago! — for £249.99, and proceeded to do absolutely no vacuuming for the next two years until I sold it to buy a games console, and regretted it ever since.
I thought by 2018 we might have the housework robot The Sims promised, but in the absence of that, I’ll take a much-upgraded Roomba. The 980 is the pinnacle of robohoov technology right now, and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again. Read on to find out why.
1. It works with your phone
Everything and its sister has an app these days, and a lot of them are useless. “Check how your laundry wash is going!” Yay…!
But the Roomba one (for iOS and Android) is actually useful, and I mean that in the best sense: it allows you to be maximally lazy. Watching Netflix and realise the floor’s looking a bit grubby? Someone coming round in half an hour and you’re still on the bus? Go into the app and tell Roomba to get to work. Sometimes it takes a while to respond, but it does dutifully trundle off its little base station and fix your floor. You can also use the app to schedule cleanings, which is handy.
2. It knows where it is
Earlier and cheaper iterations of the robot hoover just careened around your floor at random, creating a bizarre pattern on the carpet and vacuuming some bits three times while others weren’t reached at all. The Roomba 980 has mapping tech built in, so it systematically cleans everywhere until it’s done the whole floor — you can even see a 3D map of your home in the app.
Roomba can’t climb stairs (yet) but you can just carry it and set it going again, or get one per floor, Ms. Multiple-Storeys-McMoneybags.
3. It can handle different kinds of flooring
My flat is a challenging mix of laminate, carpet, rugs and things I left on the floor. Roomba managed these beautifully, switching between different types of flooring and adjusting the suction accordingly with some fancypants tech called AeroForce.
Beware, though: it doesn’t like cables. Which gave me the excuse I needed to bundle them all up neatly with cable ties. Alternatively, you can use the two ‘lighthouses’ it comes with to mark off certain areas, either in a straight line like a trip wire, or in a circular no-go area. I did this with the cat food station, because otherwise Roomba snarfed their dinner, which they like to store anywhere but their bowls.
4. It has brushes and suction
…which means despite being circular, it does get right into the corners (I’ve checked. I might be lackadaisical with my own cleaning, but I’m a hard taskmaster with my service robots). It also detects particularly dirty areas and ramps up the suction to get them extra-clean. Strangely, it always went into this mode next to my nightstand. Ahem. I don’t eat Doritos in bed, what are you on about?
5. It gets under the sofa
Well, some sofas, anyway. It’s about 9cm tall, so it gets easily under one of my sofas but not under the other one. It does easily dance in and out of chair legs, under tables and other furniture, and the sensor means it’s not constantly bumping into things or indeed falling off steps.
6. It keeps going ’til everywhere’s done, even if it has to recharge
This has never happened in my flat because it’s tiny, but if the 980 can’t get your whole home done in one cycle, it’ll go back to the base station (pictured), recharge, then carry on. It goes for up to two hours in theory, but never needed more than an hour to do my strangely-laid out flat with its many obstacles.
7. It sings little songs
As Roomba backs off its base station, it makes a noise like a truck reversing, which makes me laugh every time. And then when it gets back to the base station — where it impressively drives itself without any human intervention — it sings a little “yay!” song, which makes me happy.
And if it gets in trouble, it has special noises to alert you — maybe I’m just overly prone to anthropomorphise my tech, but it genuinely sounded distressed to me when this happened. It only got stuck once in a month of cleanings, though.
8. It’s amazing for people with pets
Bird seed, cat hair, kibble, random bits of stuff they dug out of the bin — whatever mess your pets have made, Roomba is far better at spotting it and sorting it out than I am. It’s made a huge difference to all the tumbleweeds of cat fur that were hanging around under the furniture, and emptying the decently-sized bin (typically twice per cycle in a two-bed flat) proved as much in the grimmest way possible. Mmmm dusty hair, my favourite.
9. …Not least because it really freaks them out
Cats don’t love hoovers at the best of times, but Mawri’s face when the stationary Roomba suddenly came to life with no human intervention, making reversing noises and brazenly advancing towards the very confused cat, was a sight to see. She tried whacking it with her paw once, then admitted defeat and hid on top of the cat tree until it had finished.
No YouTube gold for me, then, but a very clean floor and zero effort expended, leaving me free to do more important things like chain-watching Mrs Maisel and getting more Dorito crumbs everywhere.
Well, gotta give the robots something to do, eh?
I want one
The Roomba 980 is available now for — slight wince — £899.99. But how much would you pay to never have to hoover again? Exactly.
Plus, yes, you can get cheaper ones — including from iRobot themselves — but you don’t get the mapping system, which makes a huge difference to how well it performs, and the suction tech isn’t as advanced.
If you’re shelling out for a house robot, go for the best — it’s worth it.