It can empty its own dustbin
The Roomba i7+ is the only robot vacuum system that can empty its own dustbin. The 19-inch-tall Clean Base is both a charging dock and a vacuum for your robot vacuum. Whenever the Roomba i7 returns to the dock, the Clean Base sucks the debris out of the bot’s bin through a trap door and into a disposable vacuum bag.
It really works: In a month of testing, I haven’t emptied the i7’s dust bin by hand. Whenever I look at the bin after it’s been auto-emptied, it’s always empty except for a light coating of dust and maybe a couple of stray hairs pinched in the rubber gasket.
The self-emptying bin is an order of magnitude more convenient than the typical daily bot-vac maintenance routine: bending over, pulling out the bin, walking it over to the trash can, shaking it out, cursing the dust that floated onto your clothes, wondering if you should finally replace the filter, and putting it back. With the i7+, you don’t have to think about any of that until the app tells you to do something.
According to iRobot, the bag is big enough to hold 30 full bins’ worth of debris before you need to replace it, which could take as long as a few months to fill up, or as little as a couple weeks (that mostly depends on how much hair it needs to pick up). After a month of testing in a house with one long-haired cat, one long-haired person, and two short-haired people, my bag was maybe 40 percent full. A three-pack of replacement bags costs $16 as of the time of writing, but we would not be surprised to see cheaper knockoffs appear on Amazon at some point.
Sure, I feel like a bum, sitting here and complaining about what a burden it is to dump a tray of dirt into a trash barrel. The Jetsons got it right: We’ll always find a way to whine our way through chores, even when a robot does most of the work for us. Whatever. iRobot figured out a way to make their luxury gadgets even more convenient than before, and I like it.
And if you have several very hairy pets, the Clean Base might be a game-changer. We’ve heard from readers who have tried to use robot vacuums but find that the bins get so stuffed with dog hair on every single run that the robot never comes close to cleaning their entire house before it loses suction or just quits the session. That’s not a problem with the i7+, though, because it empties itself anytime it senses that the bin is full.
The Roomba i7 has a bunch of slick navigation features, but the slickest of all is that you can tell it to go clean specific rooms. A couple of other robots have similar “smart mapping” features, but none of them are as easy to use as the Roomba’s. After a couple of training runs and a few minutes of tinkering in the app, you can say, “Alexa, tell Roomba to clean the kitchen,” or pick as many or as few rooms as you want from a checklist, and the i7 will go clean only those parts of your house.
I found myself using the smart maps for pretty much every cleaning session, either to avoid cluttered rooms that usually cause problems for the robot or to run extra sessions in rooms that get dirty pretty quickly.
My foyer, for example, is a robot death trap these days. Even though Roombas are among the least-likely of any robot brand to get stuck mid-session, certain obstacles like power cords, stray laundry, cat toys, and my daughter’s bouncy chair will snag just about any robot. Some or all of those hazards are strewn across my foyer floor at any given time. I just don’t have the patience or wherewithal to put everything away every time I want to run the robot. So, pretty much every time I run it, I just tell the Roomba i7 to skip that room. No futzing around with physical barriers, no crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.
On the other hand, my kitchen could stand to be vacuumed twice a day. (It is a busy, multifunctional room and I am a slob.) So a few hours before or after the big session that cleans most of my place (apart from the foyer, of course), I send the Roomba i7 to tidy up the kitchen. It makes two passes and takes 13 minutes start to finish. The best part is that I don’t have to worry that it’ll spend its time cleaning some other room that I don’t need cleaned, slowly driving me and my wife nuts with the noise and puttering presence. You just can’t trust most other robots to clean only the space you want them to clean unless you set up barriers.
So how does the Roomba i7’s nav system work? The bot has a camera that looks up and across the room, trying to keep and eye on the spots where your walls and ceiling meet. If you opt-in to the smart-mapping feature (iRobot calls it Imprint Smart Mapping), the i7 spends its first two or three runs in a new space running in a grid, learning different landmarks around your house—ceilings, walls, cabinets, big furniture, and so on. You can have it clean your floors as it learns, or you can send it on an exploration-only training run to extend the battery life and help it figure out your floor plan faster.
Once it has your floor memorized, you can pull up the smart map in the app, add borders between rooms, and then picks names for the rooms from a list. After that’s all set up, you can send the i7 to clean specific spots, either by selecting them from a checklist in the app, or giving voice commands through Alexa or Google Assistant.
I was skeptical about how useful the smart mapping and room-specific cleaning would be: My attitude for years has been as long as it keeps the floors tidy, who cares what path it takes? Robots with semi-random, bump-and-run patterns work well if you run them regularly and leave them alone—I’ve even argued that they’re more effective than some bots with accurate mapping abilities. But with the Roomba i7, I found that the option to target specific rooms is actually so useful that I use it pretty much every day.
The Roomba i7 is not the only robot with smart mapping: EcoVacs, Roborock, and Neato each have their own versions. But the i7 works better than the rest because the nav system is much more sophisticated. Those other bots all have to start from their docks, otherwise their two-dimensional, lidar-generated map of your walls and rooms and virtual barriers becomes unusable and might as well be a map of Mars.
The Roomba i7 approach has a bunch of important upsides:
- You can put the Roomba i7 down anywhere in your house, turn it on, and it will figure out which room it’s in. So you can still take advantage of the smart mapping features, even if you don’t start the i7 from its dock.
- Since you don’t need to start the bot from a dock, it’s much easier to use the Roomba i7 in multi-story homes (or in multiple homes). Yes, you do need one dock, somewhere in your life, in order to charge the i7. But as long as the bot has some battery life, you can put it down anywhere on any level of your house, on a dock or not, and the smart-map features will still work. The i7 can save up to 10 different smart maps—that should be plenty for almost everyone. The smart-mapping EcoVacs and Roborock bots each only save one map at a time. Neato does support multiple floors, but you need to buy a dock for each level (at about $40 each).
- If the Roomba i7 gets stuck mid-session and you have to go rescue and restart it, the i7 will remember where it left off and finish the session as planned. With the other bots, if you put them down and restart them more than just a foot from where they got stuck (sometimes even less than that), they’ll probably lose track of their location. So you might as well bring it back to the dock and start the session from scratch.
- And the i7 shaves a few minutes off of each session by learning how to clean each room using the fewest turns—basically, driving parallel to the longest wall in the room.
It’s still really good in a lot of un-flashy but meaningful ways
On top of those category-leading features, the Roomba i7 also nails most of the bot-vac fundamentals: avoiding and escaping most traps, covering as much ground as possible without missing patches and cleaning up most types of debris on most kinds of flooring, all without being obnoxious. Like other Roombas, it’s also one of the most-repairable robot vacuums, so you should be able to keep it working for many years as long as you’re willing to swap out parts as they wear out.
One surprise is that it’s relatively quiet, at least compared to other high-end robots. We measured the i7 at about 60 decibels (C-weighted) on carpet, which is a few decibels quieter than the Neato D7 and older Roomba 980 (which has the same suction). It’s still loud enough that you’ll get a little tense if you’re near it for long enough (at the end of a long day, I don’t really want to hear this thing), but it’s pretty tolerable for a vacuum with relatively strong cleaning power. The noise from the Clean Base can come as a surprise, though.
The Roomba i7 also seems to work on black rugs, unlike most other Roombas and many other robots. iRobot used new drop sensors this time around which can better distinguish beyond a dark floor and an actual staircase.
Finally, the Roomba i7 has an excellent cleaning-head design. Two counter-rotating, rubber-nubbed rollers are especially great at digging hair out of carpets and much more resistant to hair-tangles than typical brush-and-blade designs. The older Roomba 800 and 900 series bots had essentially the same extractors, though the nubs on the i7 rollers are actually a little bit longer than the older ones were. iRobot says this should make them a little more effective at picking up larger debris, though we didn’t try to verify this. I never found that the Roomba 960 or 980 struggled with household debris, though they did seem to underperform in other reviewers’ controlled tests, compared to super-sucking flagship robots from Neato and Samsung, among others.
Other notable specs:
Dimensions: 13.34 inches diameter by 3.63 inches height
Weight: 7.44 pounds
Battery life: 90 minutes
Recharge time: 90 minutes for about 80 percent charge, 3 hours for 100 percent
Compatible voice assistants: Amazon Alexa, Google Home
Dock dimensions: 12.2 inches by 15.1 inches by 19 inches (WDH)