The original iRobot Roomba amazed us when it first came out, and 11 years later it’s still a pretty impressive piece of technology for your home. It has become the go-to name for robotic vacuum cleaners, and it’s still the biggest brand. Roomba is upgrading the line to what it calls the 800 series, starting with the $699.99 (list) Roomba 880. This vacuum is powerful enough to pick up most big dry spills, and there are plenty of ways to make it vacuum where you want, when you want. But it’s still incredibly expensive for a device that does a job you could do yourself faster with a much cheaper upright model.
The Roomba 880 looks almost identical to the Roomba 700 series, and besides the coloration of the body you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from the Roomba 790. It’s a large circular puck with a flip-up handle in the center for carrying, a large Clean button to start it, and several touch-sensitive buttons for programming its schedule.
It comes with two Virtual Wall Lighthouses, just like the Roomba 790. These small, black devices can be set to either Virtual Wall mode to project a boundary across doors or other spaces to keep the Roomba from crossing it, or to Lighthouse mode to give the Roomba a navigation point to help it move between rooms. The Virtual Wall Lighthouse can be set to three different ranges of virtual wall, up to eight feet in length. You can also put the Virtual Wall Lighthouse in a Virtual Halo accessory that projects the virtual wall in a circle around objects you don’t want the Roomba to bump into.
Like the Roomba 790, the Roomba 880 comes with a remote control so you can directly guide your vacuum. Unfortunately, the remote is a step back from the Roomba 790′s admittedly clunky controller. It’s shaped like a conventional television remote, but with much fewer buttons. It has a large rubber circle with Forward, Left, and Right directions, and three additional silver buttons below it for telling the Roomba to clean automatically, spot clean, or automatically dock. The rubber direction controller is very uncomfortable, and it’s easy to make the Roomba swerve left and right instead of move forward, or completely stop when you want it to go in a certain direction. The larger Wireless Command Center that came with the 790 and is available as an accessory for the 880 has three distinct direction buttons that makes controlling it and getting into small areas much easier.
When you turn the Roomba 880 on by pressing the Clean button on the body, it automatically starts vacuuming the room. The Virtual Wall Lighthouses, remote control, and Wireless Command Center help you direct it to different places, but you still have to manually turn it on to use it this way. If you just want the Roomba to sweep up after you regularly without going into every last corner, you can program it to vacuum at certain times and on certain days. This can be easily set by tapping the touch-sensitive controls on the Roomba’s body, selecting which days of the week and what times you want the vacuum to start cleaning without you.
The Roomba 880 sports a new brushless intake that, according to iRobot, prevents tangles from occuring when vacuuming and increases the vacuum’s suction. iRobot claims the Roomba 880 can remove 50 percent more dirt, hold 60 percent more dirt in its bin, and is five times more powerful than previous Roomba models. We can’t precisely test these claims, but the Roomba 880 picked up smashed Wheat Thins scattered across our news bullpen when I used it. It picked up most of the crumbs when told to either clean the general area or spot clean the really messy part (the bullpen is rather large, and the Roomba started wandering away towards other areas before it noticed the majority of the crumbs placed behind its starting point). A few stray crumbs in corners were picked up with manual control, though a big piece under a radiator took a few passes because the vacuum kept stopping under it whenever infrared remote contact was broken. I couldn’t test the tangle claim (I had plenty of Wheat Thins, but not nearly enough bits of string), but the suction definitely seems to have been improved.
The iRobot Roomba 880 can vacuum with gusto and has plenty of useful features, but whether it’s worth upgrading over the 790 isn’t as clear. If you have pets that shed, the new brushless system might be worth it. It’s still incredibly expensive for a vacuum, even if it’s a vacuum that does most of the work for you. For half as much, you can get the cordless upright Gtech AirRAM. It’s a vacuum you have to steer yourself, but it’s more powerful and is surprisingly easy and convenient to use. The Roomba might vacuum without you, but the AirRAM will let you vacuum much, much more quickly, without setting up virtual walls or otherwise babysitting it.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc