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Roomba 981 Review

The Roomba 981 is an exclusive model for Amazon. However, it’s specs, features, and software matches that of the original Roomba 980.

Smart Control and Advanced Navigation

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Roomba 981

The Roomba 981 robot vacuum offers a nice mix of bells and whistles, including smart controls, advanced navigation with an on-board camera and Recharge + Resume for extended run time. The cleaning performance was also good. In our tests it removed 95% of all debris by weight we tested it against.Check Price

Pros

  • Good cleaning performance overall, 95% removal score
  • Wifi-connectivity with smartphone app control
  • Maps spaces as it cleans for better navigation

Cons

  • Struggles with fine debris on carpeted floors
  • A little loud when running on hardwoods and low pile carpet

Design

The design of the Roomba 981 has an updated aesthetic compared to the original robots in the 900 Series.

Controls on the Roomba 981 robot vacuum
Controls on the Roomba 981 robot vacuum

Like other Roombas, it has a round body with a bumper on the front, dust bin and filter release on the side, and simple controls on the top.

Controls on the top include:

  1. CLEAN: starts an automatic cleaning cycle
  2. Home: sends the vacuum back to the charging dock
  3. Spot: begins a radial spot cleaning cycle

There is also a camera directly below the controls. This camera helps to map the room as it is cleaning, allowing the Roomba to navigate in straighter lines and avoid obstacles.

Roomba 900 series brushrolls
Roomba 900 series brushrolls

In addition, if the vacuum needs to charge up in the middle of a cycle, the internal map allows it to return to the exact spot where it left off.

Roomba calls this technology “Recharge + Resume”.

How does it look?

The Roomba 981 has a bronze top cover and matte black sides. The 2-tone look is simple and sleek with an all-black charging dock.

Top of the Roomba 981 robot vacuum

How It Cleans

The Roomba 981 uses a standard three-stage process for cleaning messes—agitate, lift debris, deposit it into the dust bin.

It has a centrally located camera on the top of the vacuum which can detect obstacles and help the vacuum to navigate in straighter cleaning patterns.

What’s on the underside?

The underside of the 981 has a dual rubberized brushroll with two large wheels located at each end of the brushroll.

Underside of the Roomba 981 robot vacuum

There is also a spinning 3-arm brush on the side of the vacuum which captures debris along corners and edges and pulls that debris into the cleaning path of the brushroll.

Roomba 900 series spinning side brush
Roomba 900 series spinning side brush

The front of the vacuum has a small directional wheel and two charging contact pins.

After cleaning, the robot will automatically drive back to the charging dock and juice up before the next cycle.

Size & Dimensions

The Roomba 981 is about the size of any midsize robot vacuum. Exact dimensions are:

  • Width: 13.9″ diameter
  • Height: 3.6″ tall
  • Weight: 8.7 pounds
Roomba 981 robot vacuum size and dimensions

Accessories & Parts

Parts and accessories that come with the 981 are pretty typical of classic Roombas. The exact list of contents in the box includes:

Dust Bin: releases from the side of the vacuum and can be emptied directly into the trash can; also houses the HEPA filter

Roomba 981 dust bin

Charging base: standard charger; plugs into the wall and acts as a navigational beacon for the robot to return to after completing a cleaning run

Roomba 981 charging base

HEPA filter: uses a traditional HEPA filter, designed to capture particulate down to 0.3 microns

Filter for the Roomba 981 robot vacuum

In addition to the parts listed above, the 981 model also included the dual brushroll and spinning side brush.

Cleaning Tests

With any vacuum that rolls through the doors of Modern Castle, we have a series of tests we like to run. We look at everything including how it navigates, avoids obstacles, cleans a variety of debris, run time, and more.

To test performance we run cleaning tests on three different flooring types—hardwoods, low pile carpet, an dhigh pile carpet.

We also test against four different debris types, ranigng in size and density. Debirs teswted includes:

  • Rice
  • Dry cereal
  • Kitty litter
  • Granulated sugar
Cleaning test debris types
Testing Debris – From left to right: Rice (3 oz.), Kitty Litter (3 oz), Cereal (1 oz), Sugar (3 oz)

Our vacuum cleaning process strives to be as consistent, fair, and true to real world use as possible. Our tests utilize the following procedure:

  1. Measure the weight of the testing debris and weight of empty vacuum debris container.
  2. Spread the respective debris type evenly across the central portion of the testing lane.
  3. Run the vacuum cleaner over the testing lane.
  4. Measure the weight of the now filled container and take notes on the cleaning performance.

While we haven’t been able to run full tests on the Roomba 981, we have fully tested the 980 model. The 981 and 980 share the same:

  • Motor
  • Suction power
  • Run time
  • Brushroll
  • Filter

Because of the overwhelming number of identical specs between these two models, we can safely assume that these two models would have identical performance.

Here’s a full rundown of the performance of the Roomba 980 robot vacuum:

Overview

95%

Hardwood

100%

Low Carpet

97%

High Carpet

87%

Hardwood Floor

On hardwood floors, the Roomba 980 was a pro and captured 100% of all debris tested against.

Cereal

100%

Kitty Litter

100%

Rice

100%

Sugar

100%

Roomba 980 hardwood cleaning tests

Low Pile Carpet

When tested on low pile carpet, the results were still quite good. Here, it captured 100% of the cereal, kitty litter, and rice.

Sugar was a bit trickier and it only captured 89%, due largely to sugar particles sinking into the carpet fibers.

Cereal

100%

Kitty Litter

100%

Rice

100%

Sugar

89%

Based on these initial numbers, we decided to run the 980 one more time over the carpet and it was able to clean 8% more sugar than the first time, only leaving 3% of sugar still on the floor.

Between the two runs, I was impressed with the performance of the 980 on low pile carpet.

Roomba 980 low carpet cleaning tests

High Pile Carpet

For low pile carpet, the 980 continued to dominate against cereal, kitty litter, and rise. This go-round the 980 only captured approx. 47% of the sugar.

I noticed the vacuum clogging up a bit with the sugar during these tests so we decided not to give it a second pass here.

While it’s a bit unclear what caused the issue with sugar on high pile carpet and not low pile carpet, these results are still worth documenting.

Cereal

100%

Kitty Litter

100%

Rice

100%

Sugar

47%

Roomba 980 robot vacuum high carpet tests

Usability

Let’s talk about overall usability. Getting started with the Roomba 981 is pretty simple and quick, following a few basic steps.

First, let’s talk about the unboxing…

  1. Unbox the vacuum and remove all original packaging
  2. Make sure the filter, brushroll, and spinning brush are installed properly
  3. Plug in the charger and place th evacuum on the charger.

That’s it.

While the 981 will likely come with the battery mostly charged, it’s still a good idea to juice up before that initial cleaning.

Getting Started

If you want to get to cleaning right away, you can simply press the CLEAN button after the vacuum is charged and it will get to cleaning.

Roomba 981 docked at the charging station

If the battery gets low while it is cleaning it will drive back to the charger. fuel up, and continue cleaning whree it left off.

Roomba calls this technology Recharge + Resume.

How do you set up the app?

To set up the app, you simply install it on your smartphone and follow the in-app prompts to connect the app to the vacuum.

Roomba 980 iRobot app
iRobot app

It takes just a few minutes.

From the app, you can:

  • Start a cleaning cycle
  • Schedule a recurring cleaning cycle in the future
  • View current cleaning map
  • View maintenance reports

Maneuverability

The maneuverability of the Roomba 981 is fantastic and pretty consistent with what we’re used to seeing from Roomba.

Roomba 900 series wheels
Roomba 900 series wheels

It is moderately sized, but still has a fairly low profile and a zero turning radius so it can squeeze under tight furniture and around obstacles.

This vacuum has a number of different sensors and an on-board camera for improved navigation. It is designed to run cycles with straighter paths and avoiding more obstacles as it cleans.

Maintenance

Maintenance on the 981 modes is not unlike the maintenance you’ll see on the majority of other Roomba models.

Emptying the dust bin on the Roomba 981 robot vacuum

Maintenance tasks include:

  1. Empty the dust bin regularly: Release the dust bin by pressing the small latch on the side of the vacuum. Remove the bin, open the hatch and empty the contents into the trash.
  2. Clean and replace filter as needed: You can wipe the HEPA filter clean with a dry brush or gently tap it on the side of the trash can. Replace as needed.
  3. Clean brushroll and spinning brush: Make sure the brushes remain clear of debris that can wrap around the axel and negatively impact performance.
  4. Replace battery as needed: This may vary depending on use, but if you notice the run times getting shorter or not being able to hold a charge, it may be a sign that it’s time to replace the battery.

Value

Let’s talk about value really quick for the Roomba 981. Is it worth the cash?

Honestly, in my opinion, the value just isn’t as good today as it was when the 980 first launched. To clarify, this isn’t to say it’s a bad value by any stretch. It’s still a good value, just not as good as many newer models.

There have been countless newer models from Roomba and even competitive models outside of Roomba that offers more vacuum for less money, in my opinion.

Here’s three quick comparisons for robot vacuums that are a better value.

  • The Roomba e5 uses a more advanced filtration system and better cleaning performance.
  • The Roborock E4 has a longer run time and better cleaning performance.
  • The Roomba i3+ has a self-emptying dust bin and better cleaning performance.

It’s hard to recommend the Roomba 981 when there are so many other higher performing robots for the same price or even less.

Roomba 981 Specifications

Here is the complete list of specification details for the Roomba 981:

Specifications 
TypeRobot
ManufactureriRobot
ModelRoomba 981
Length (inches)13.8
Width (inches)13.8
Height (inches)3.6
Weight (pounds)8.7
Floor TypeAll (indoor)
Battery3,300 mAh
Dust Bin Capacity0.3 L
CordlessYes
BaglessYes
ReturnsVaries by retailer
Warranty1-Year limited
Check PriceCheck Price

Who Should Buy the Roomba 981?

It’s value priced with solid performance, advanced navigation, and in-app controls. If you’re looking for a good robot vacuum with a few bells and whistles that won’t break the bank, the Roomba 981 could be a good option for you.

I would recommend the Roomba 981 if you’re looking for the following features in a robot vacuum.

  • Advanced navigation: The 981 navigates in straighter lines and is also better at avoiding obstacles, compared to most robot vacuums without an on-board camera.
  • Great cleaning performance: Overall, this Roomba is top-notch when it comes to cleaning performance. The results on hardwoods were flawless and still good for carpet tests as well. The only real spot where it struggled was cleaning sugar from high pile carpet, but this feels relatively minor in the scheme of overall performance testing.
  • Smart control: You can control this robot using your smartphone and the iRobot Home app or even pair it up with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for voice-controlled cleaning cycles. Digital maps show where the Roomba has cleaned and can also be used to help identify any trouble areas in your home.

For more information or to check the price on the Roomba 981, click here.

Amazon's Exclusive Roomba 980
  • 97%
    Design - 97%
  • 95%
    Performance - 95%
  • 95%
    Quality - 95%
  • 93%
    Usability - 93%
  • 94%
    Value - 94%
95%

Summary

The Roomba 981 is as an Amazon-exclusive Roomba in the 900 series. It’s specs, hardware, and software are identical to that of the original Roomba 980. It has smart controls, advanced navigation, and an on-board camera. The smart app offers digital mapping, scheduled cleaning cycles, Recnarge + Resume for extended run time. It performed well in our tests, removing an average of 96% of all debris across 3 different floor types.

About Derek Hales

Derek HalesDerek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ModernCastle.com. He has been featured in Fast Company, Reader's Digest, Business Insider, Realtor.com, She Knows, and other major publications. Derek has a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Kansas State University. Hales has been testing and reviewing products for the home since 2014.

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