Good navigation capabilities. Handles different floor types well. Relatively quiet. Works with smartphone app and voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Shows map of cleaned areas.
Occasionally gets stuck under low furniture. Can't steer using phone app.
- Bottom Line
The iRobot Roomba 960 isn't cheap, but thanks to a mix of premium features and performance, it's the best high-end robot vacuum for the price.
Roomba is practically synonymous with robot vacuums, but what many people don't know is that there isn't just one definitive model. The line spans from the $375 Roomba 690 to the $900 Roomba 980. The $700 Roomba 960, the subject of this review, falls somewhere in the middle, though obviously its price puts its closer to the high end. It shares many of the same features with the top-of-the-line 980—like a camera for navigation, a smartphone app with detailed cleaning reports and maps, and Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control—but comes with only one virtual wall and has a slightly less powerful motor. That makes it a stronger value in our eyes, and our Editors' Choice for high-end robot vacuums.
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Roomba 960 vs. Roomba 980
The only visual difference between the Roomba 960 and 980 is color. The body of the 960 is a lighter gray, but everything else is the same. They both measure 13.8 inches in diameter and stand 3.6 inches tall. Controls are in the same spots, with a large Clean button flanked by Home and Spot Cleaning buttons. Indicator lights are located above the buttons, while a camera for navigation sits at the top center. Underneath, you'll also find the same components: two roller brushes, a side brush, cliff sensors, and a front wheel. The removable dustbin is located in the back.
Where the two bots differ is in weight. The 8.5-pound 960 is a smidge lighter than the 8.7-pound 980. That's because it has a different motor—the same as the one in the older Roomba 880. Another difference is battery. While we found the 980 can zoom around for up to 90 minutes, the 960 peters out after about 70. The 980 also comes with two virtual walls, while the 960 includes only one.
The Roomba 960 has Wi-Fi connectivity (on the 2.4GHz band only). Like other recent Roombas, you control the 960 using the iRobot Home app, which you can find in the Apple App Store and Google Play. It walks you through setup process and connecting to Wi-Fi, which is identical across all models. You can read more about that, as well as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, in my review of the Roomba 690.
One of the main differences between the 690 and the 960 is that the 960 has a Cleaning Preferences menu, which lets you customize the number of times it cleans a single room. Also, in the Lifetime Performance menu, you can view more detailed stats about each session, including total area cleaned. And it supports iRobot's Clean Map feature, which lets you see a map of where the robot has vacuumed. You still can't steer the Roomba using the app, however.
Most robot vacuums opt for random cleaning patterns, which can be frustrating to watch as they ignore obvious dust bunnies in favor of cleaning the same spot over and over again. That's true of the 690, but the 960 is much more methodical in its approach.
I tested the Roomba 960 at my apartment and was impressed by how deftly it maneuvered around furniture and obstacles. Thanks to the camera, it didn't bang into table legs or bookshelves, and often, I would see it pause momentarily as it calculated where to move next. While the knocked over one of my dining room chairs and the Roomba 690 pushed a shopping bag across my hallway, the 960 left things as they were. So while you should still clear the floors of cables and liquids prior to cleaning, you don't have to bend over backwards decluttering.
The 960 is also better than average at moving across different floor types. My living room rug features a black border and dark geometric shapes, and has tripped up many other vacuums in testing, including the Roomba 690. So I was pleased to see this wasn't an issue for the 960. It was able to reliably get on and off the rug with no trouble. The same held true for the transition between wood and tile from my hallway to my kitchen.
That's not to say it's perfect, however. While it was able to work its way underneath my TV stand, it got stuck under there and wasn't able to find its way back out. You can ward off problem areas like this with the included virtual wall, which lets you cordon off certain spaces.
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One issue with methodical cleaners like the 960 is they often only pass over an area once. But you can set it to make two passes in a room, which I found picked up any stray debris it may have missed the first time. So while the 960 doesn't have quite the same suction power as the 980, it still does an excellent, thorough job of cleaning your floors. The 980's biggest cleaning draw is its Carpet Boost feature, which lets you turn up the suction on rugs and carpeting.
As for noise, the 960 is surprisingly quiet. You'll definitely notice it if you're in the same room, but it's much quieter than your traditional stick vacuum. So far, only the Eufy RoboVac 11 has been quieter in testing.
At about 70-75 minutes, battery life isn't the longest we've encountered, but it's fine for smaller homes, especially apartments. Because of its methodical approach to cleaning, the 960 was able to do two runs through my living room, hallway, kitchen, and bedroom in about 45 minutes. It also didn't have any trouble automatically docking. Once I told Alexa to send the robot back, it made a beeline straight for the docking station.
While it certainly isn't cheap, compared with the $1,000 Dyson 360 Eye and the $900 Roomba 980, the Roomba 960 is a good deal. For $700, you get a lot of advanced features, like a camera for better navigation, Wi-Fi, voice assistant compatibility, and iRobot's Clean Map visualizations.
If you're torn between the Roomba 960 and 980, it boils down to two factors: Your floors and the size of your home. Unless you have a large, heavily carpeted home, then the 980's Carpet Boost, extra virtual wall beacon, and longer battery life aren't quite enough to justify shelling out an extra $200. That's why the 960 beats out the 980 as our Editors' Choice for high-end robot vacuums.
If $700 for the 960 is just too much, however, there are more affordable Roombas out there. The aforementioned Roomba 690 is under $400, and you still get a powerful clean, app control, and voice command capability. The 890 is slightly more expensive at $500, and has the same features as the 690 along with a more powerful motor. Neither supports Clean Map reports, but that's more of a perk than a necessity.
And if you don't care about Wi-Fi or any advanced features outside of simply cleaning, you should also take a look at the Eufy RoboVac 11. It'll get you a thorough, whisper-quiet clean for a fraction of the price, though that's about all it does.
By Victoria Song Analyst, Hardware
Victoria Song is an analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Since graduating from Temple University’s Japan Campus in 2010, she's been found reporting and editing in every corner of the newsroom at The ACCJ Journal, The Japan News, and New York bureau of The Yomiuri Shimbun. In her spare time, she bankrupts herself going to theater, buying expansions to board games, and cleaning out the stacks at The Strand. Someday, she hopes Liverpool FC will win the league, but she isn’t holding her breath…. More »
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