iRobot Roomba 960 and 966 review: A high-end robot vacuum at a reasonable price

The Roomba is the grandaddy of robot vacuum cleaners. Although there’s a huge range of other contenders on the market now, it’s still among the market leaders when it comes to robot vacuum tech. And it has an equally huge variety of different models in its line-up, with the ?900 Roomba 980 at the top of the tree and the ?350 Roomba 616 at the bottom.

The Roomba 960 is the firm’s latest model, and it’s one of the firm’s more pricey models, but it doesn’t miss out on much when it comes to core features. READ NEXT: The best robot vacuum cleaners you can buy[1]

Roomba 960 review: What you need to know

In fact, the Roomba 960 sits just below the top-end 980 in terms of features and just above the 896. The idea is simple: deliver most of the 980’s high-end features at a reduced cost.

Confusingly, you won’t find the Roomba 960 on iRobot’s website. That’s because it’s an Amazon exclusive model; confusingly enough, it turns out that it’s the same as the Roomba 966 just with a different colour scheme.

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iRobot Roomba 960 and 966 review: A high-end robot vacuum at a reasonable price

In either of its guises, though, the 960 doesn’t miss out on much compared with the top-end 980. It has the same core sensors and floor mapping technologies as the far pricier Roomba 960.

It has smartphone control and mapping, multi-room cleaning capabilities, and self-charging and dirt detection, just like its pricier sibling. In fact, the only things it lacks compared with the 980 is the more powerful suction motor and automatic deeper cleaning mode for carpets. It also has a smaller battery, which lasts 75 minutes rather than two hours, but since it will pause to recharge itself and then resume afterwards, this isn’t such a big deal.

Roomba 960 review: Price and competition

That’s a pretty strong selection of features, especially considering how much cheaper the Roomba 960 is than the 980.

Its normal price is ?799 compared with the ?899 of the Roomba 980[2], which is good enough but, currently, it’s available at 25% off making it an even more-more reasonable ?599. That makes it the same price as our current favourite, the Neato D5 Connected[3] and a ?200 cheaper than the more powerful Dyson 360 Eye[4]. The question is, can it keep up with such keenly priced and strong competition.

Roomba 960 review: Design, features and performance

If you’ve seen a Roomba before, you’ll know what to expect.

The 960 is a circular robot that uses a pair of wheels for traction and a third caster wheel for stability. It measures 350mm in diameter, stands 91mm tall and weighs 3.9kg, so it’s pretty easy to carry up and down the stairs to clean the other floors in your home. In the box is a charging station, which the robot returns to when it’s finished a cleaning job (or if it runs low on juice mid-run), plus a “virtual wall” gizmo, which is used to block doorways or areas you don’t want it to clean.

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iRobot Roomba 960 and 966 review: A high-end robot vacuum at a reasonable price

The dust-bin is mounted at the rear of the robot and it’s tiny – but that’s nothing new.

Whatever model of robot vacuum you use you’re going to have to empty it every time you use it; capacity differences of 100ml or 200ml are neither here nor there. What the Roomba 960 does have is all the core features you need in a robotic cleaning assistant and comes replete with an array of sensors and advanced cleaning tech. Underneath, a pair of cliff sensors prevent it from performing a suicide dive down the stairs (although it does approach edges at a heart-stoppingly fast speed).

On top is an infrared camera and another camera embedded in a well in the top of the device, which it uses to map out its surroundings, while a bumper sensor wraps around much of the front half of the 960. You don’t get laser mapping as with the Neato D5 but the Roomba 960 does seem to be able to map its surroundings pretty successfully and, instead of bumbling around randomly, makes its way around methodically. Its acoustic dirt sensors will even detect particularly grimy areas and go back over them just to be sure – a neat trick the D5 Connected cannot replicate.

It’s also pretty good at not getting tangled with hair or stuck and, while it’s wise to clear your floor of obstacles such as USB cables and mains extensions, the Roomba’s counter-rotating rubber rollers rarely become irrevocably ensnared. Plus, if you really want to be sure it’s covering all your nooks and crannies, you can check out the accompanying app (compatible with iOS and Android).

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iRobot Roomba 960 and 966 review: A high-end robot vacuum at a reasonable price

Not only can this be used to set up scheduled cleaning sessions so you can set the 960 about its chores overnight or when you’re out, but it will also ping you an alert when your robot is stuck and will display a map of the area cleaned for each job. You can even give your robot a name if you’re that way inclined or control it via your Echo or Google Home speakers.

What’s less impressive is the width of the Roomba’s cleaning head. Where the D5 Connected and Dyson’s heads run the full width of the chassis, the 960’s is contained between its drive wheels which leaves a considerable gap either side – and that means there will always be a strip around the edge of your room that hasn’t been cleaned as effectively as the centre. The Roomba 960 does have a single spinning brush on its right-hand flank, designed to sweep lingering dust away from skirting boards and low-lying cabinet edges, but it’s a bit weedy and only picks up surface gunk.

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iRobot Roomba 960 and 966 review: A high-end robot vacuum at a reasonable price

My other problem with the Roomba 960 is with its cleaning power.

In testing it failed to pick up a light sprinkling of Shake ‘n’ Vac on first clean and had to be ordered to do it again and it regularly left behind the odd ball of fluff or stray popcorn fragment in its wake as well. If you want more cleaning oomph, I suggest you opt for the Dyson, the Neato or the Roomba 980, which has a more powerful motor.

Roomba 960 review: Verdict

Overall, though, despite the slightly underpowered motor, the Roomba 960 is a solid choice. It’s reasonably priced and although its suction power may not be the best it is packed with clever features and, most importantly, it hardly ever gets stuck.

I’ve used many a robot vac and none of them have been resistant to marooning as the Roomba 960.

It simply gets on with cleaning, returns to base when it’s finished and resumes automatically if it needs to.

And that is exactly what you want a robot vacuum cleaner to do.

References

  1. ^ Best robot vacuum cleaners 2017 (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
  2. ^ Buy the Roomba 980 on Amazon.co.uk (www.amazon.co.uk)
  3. ^ Buy the Neato D5 Connected from Amazon.co.uk (www.amazon.co.uk)
  4. ^ Buy the Dyson 360 Eye from Amazon.co.uk (www.amazon.co.uk)

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