Appearance, Size, and Weight
When you consider the physical appearance and qualities of these two vacuums, the differences between them are negligible and of no consequence. They incorporate the same design style, display the same surface features at first glance, and the arrangement of the 980’s control panel is a perfect replica of the 960’s. The only difference between the two vacuums is the color tone. While the 960 is light grey in color with charcoal accents, the 980 opts for a much darker greyish tinge.
Both vacuums have the same height and diameter, making them equal in terms of size. If you carried both vacuums, you would be hard pressed to say if one was lighter than the other as they have roughly the same weight. In simple terms, you can’t choose between these two vacuums on the basis of aesthetics, size, or weight.
The Roomba 960 comes with a Gen 2 motor; an older generation motor found in previous versions of iRobot’s Roomba series. The Roomba 980 is equipped with a newer and more powerful motor. This motor is responsible for the additional capabilities of the 980 such as the Power Boost feature (which would be explained later).
AeroForce Cleaning System
Both vacuums are designed with Roomba’s patented AeroForce Cleaning System for vacuuming dirt and debris. This system consists of 3 stages: agitation, brushing, and suction. The dual counter-rotating brushless extractors on the vacuum disturb the surrounding dirt and debris, loosening them up for easier vacuuming. The disturbed dirt is then brushed by the extractors and suctioned off into the dirt bin.
If you’ve used vacuums fitted with brushes, then you are quite familiar with the arduous task of disentangling pet hair from said brushes either in the middle or at the end of the cleaning process. With the Roomba 960 and 980, the possibility of this happening is drastically reduced thanks to their brushless, tangle-free rubber extractors. However, a few customers complained that they still went through the disentangling process with their Roomba vacuums. I did notice that these complaints were rare and the culprits were very long pet hair. So, if your dog or cat sheds really long hair, then you might have to do some untangling.
Suction Power (for Hardwood Floors)
iRobot claims that the Roomba 960 provides a vacuum suction 5 times greater than previous Roomba vacuums while the 980 has a suction power 10 times that standard. This invariably means that the Roomba 980 has double the suction power of the 960. Some reviews clearly state that the more powerful motor of the Roomba 980 is responsible for this higher suction power. After a bit of research and tons of customer reviews, I have come to the conclusion that this claim of better suction power for the Roomba 980 is not true for all floor types.
Click here to see the Roomba 960
Click here to see the Roomba 980
Both vacuums provide roughly the same suction power on hardwood floors (including tiles and laminate flooring). The 960 has proven to be as capable as the 980 in suctioning up all types of mess from hardwood floors; from large food clumps to smaller debris. It might seem hard to believe, but the more powerful motor of the Roomba 980 does not make it a better vacuum than the 960 on hardwood floors.
Power Boost for Carpets
When it comes to carpet cleaning, the Roomba 980 shines, proving quite superior to the 960. The newer and improved motor of the 980 plays a huge role here as it provides greater suction power needed for the vacuum to effectively clean your carpets.
Once the Roomba 980 approaches a carpeted section in your home, it automatically switches into this Power Boost mode. It becomes way noisier and emits a revving sound due to the increased power supply. Most users report that this feature is indeed powerful and their carpets thoroughly cleaned.
This is the biggest (and quite frankly, the only) difference between the Roomba 960 and 980 as the former lacks this Power Boost feature. Despite this obvious lack, the 960 does an adequate job on your carpets though the results aren’t as terrific and superior as that of the more powerful 980.
Both vacuums are fitted with sensors that automatically detect when they’ve switched from one floor type (e.g. hardwood) to another (e.g. carpet) and adjust their cleaning style to suit the present floor type.
Both Roomba vacuums are fitted with side brushes for edge cleaning. These brushes are designed to remove the dirt from areas that cannot be easily accessed by the main dirt extractors such as room corners and floor edges. They sweep the dirt into the path of the extractors, and the dirt is then brushed and suctioned off into the designated bin.
iAdapt Navigation 2.0
The beauty of robotic vacuums is their ability to clean your home thoroughly without manual guidance or direction. The Roomba 960 and 980 are capable of self-navigating through your home with the aid of an on-board camera and several optical and acoustic sensors. The on-board camera helps the vacuum to visualize the room, locate landmarks, avoid collision with household items and other obstacles, construct and regularly update the map of the room, and forge an effective cleaning route.
Dirt detection sensors are responsible for detecting areas in your home having the most dirt, such as the kitchen, dining section, and other high-traffic areas. Once these messy areas have been detected, the Roomba vacuums go to work, concentrating their efforts in cleaning up these dirty areas. The vacuums are also fitted with cliff detection sensors for recognizing when the vacuum is approaching a drop-off point (for example, stairs) and halting and redirecting its movement.
The cliff detection sensor makes it possible for these vacuums to clean the upper floors of your home without you worrying if they are going to tumble down the stairs. One reviewer wasn’t particularly pleased with the cliff detection technology as his Roomba vacuum saw the edge of his carpet as a cliff and refused to clean it. However, since this is just one negative complaint in a thousand of positive reviews for the cliff detection technology, I would probably put it down to a quirk in the design or landscape of the house.
Virtual Wall Barriers
Virtual Wall Barriers are very important accessories that come with your Roomba robotic vacuums. They are standalone devices that can operate in two different modes to curtail or restrict the movement and range of the vacuums. When you place the Virtual Wall Barrier in the open doorway of a room and set it to Virtual Wall Mode, it creates a virtual wall blocking the entrance to the room. This prevents the vacuum from leaving the room (if it was in the room before you placed the wall barrier) or entering the room (if it was busy cleaning another area of the house when the barrier was placed). If you set the Virtual Wall Barrier to the Halo Mode instead, a 26-inch restrictive circle would be created around the barrier. The vacuum cannot enter that circle.
Click here to get more details on the Roomba 960
Click here to get more details on the Roomba 980
These Virtual Wall Barriers and their dual modes come in handy when you don’t want the vacuum to clean a room, area or section in your house or when you want the vacuum to thoroughly clean only a specific room in the house.
The Roomba 960 comes with only one Virtual Wall Barrier while the Roomba 980 has two.
Both Roomba vacuums are fitted with an AeroForce HEPA-style filter that captures the smallest dirt particle. This provides advanced cleaning and rids the air of allergens. The filter needs to be replaced on a bi-monthly basis. iRobot takes care of the first replacement by providing you with an extra filter for both vacuums.
The Roomba vacuums are reputed to be able to clean an entire floor level in just one go. For machines with such an amazing cleaning range, their bin size has been a source of disappointment and complaints for many users. Both vacuums are fitted with a 0.3L dirt bin. This means you would have to empty the bin quite frequently before the cleaning process is done. As evidenced by several customer reviews, this can soon become tiring and frustrating.
If you’re tired of emptying the bin, you can continue cleaning your floors even when the bin indicator signals that the bin has been filled. However, your floors won’t be effectively cleaned as there is no space to store any suctioned dirt.
iRobot App and Alexa
To schedule cleaning times and sessions on the vacuum, activate the Power Boost feature (this applies to only the 980) and edge-cleaning feature, and instruct the vacuum to make two cleaning passes instead of one, you must install the iRobot app on your iOS or Android smartphone, connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, and sync the app with your Roomba vacuum. Both the Roomba 960 and 980 can be used with the iRobot app.
Users of the Roomba 960 and 980 have long since clamored for these vacuums to be compatible with home automation systems. iRobot listened and now, the Roomba 960 and 980 can work with Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. If you own an Alexa device and have sufficient Wi-Fi connection, you can control your Roomba vacuum using voice commands.
One recurring user complaint yet to be solved is the lack of steering or piloting in the iRobot app. Let’s say there is a particularly dirty spot in your house you want cleaned. You should be able to direct your vacuum towards that spot, right? Wrong! You can’t tell your vacuum to spot clean a particular area in your home with your iRobot mobile app. However, we’re hopeful that sooner rather than later this feature would be integrated into the app.
Auto-Recharge and Resume
Your vacuum’s battery could become depleted in the middle of a cleaning project. The Roomba 960 and 980 are designed to automatically pause the cleaning process once their battery drops down to a particular level (usually 5%), return back to their charging base or station, dock, and recharge for about 90 minutes. Once the battery is full, they immediately resume the previously unfinished cleaning job.
Battery and Run Time
These Roomba vacuums are designed with Lithium-ion batteries known for their long lifespan and overall durability. However, the Roomba 980’s battery has a much higher capacity than the Roomba 960. When fully charged, the Roomba 980 has a run-time of 120 minutes while the 960 has a shorter run-time of 75 minutes. iRobot states that these run-times were attained from using the vacuums on hardwood floors in their test labs. This simply means that in real-life situations with carpets that require longer time for efficient cleaning, the run-times might actually be lesser than these stated figures.
Pros and Cons of the Roomba 960
- Great suction power on hardwood floors
- Seamless navigation
- Can auto-recharge and resume
- Older motor
- Lesser run time
- No Power Boost feature for carpets
- Small bin capacity
Pros and Cons of the Roomba 980
- New and improved motor
- Longer run-time
- Power Boost feature for carpets
- Greater suction power on hardwood floors
- Seamless navigation
- Can auto-recharge and resume
- Small bin capacity
- Power Boost mode is noisy