iRobot Roomba i7+ hands on review: Powerful, self-cleaning and a bit loud
This premium self-cleaning robot vacuum and station is high on smarts, but may not work for every home
Robot vacuums appeal to those who find cleaning the house as enjoyable as a visit to the dentist. A rolling sweeper who picks up after you is almost a delight, and the iRobot Roomba i7+ takes that one step further, designed for those who don't even want to empty the bin. The company sent us its $1100 robot, with its new Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal, which spent quite a bit of time cleaning our home, and doing its best to tackle piles of dog hair. It's powerful, it's fairly thorough, and it's also very loud.
The iRobot Roomba i7+ comes out of the box almost ready to install. You get the Roomba i7, the charging and disposal station, along with an extra brush and vacuum bag. One brush and bag are already installed for you. (Note: You can also buy the Roomba i7 separately for $800 without the combined charging station and emptying bin.)
Unlike its predecessors, or competitors, the iRobot Roomba i7+ is a very large product. The robot cleaner itself is small. It's the base station here that's quite sizable. Part charger and part bin, the station is where the Roomba goes to empty itself when the cleaner is full, as well as get juiced up for its next round.
The entire set-up is big — 19 inches tall, about 12 inches wide and 15 inches deep, and made of black plastic. This isn't a charger you're going to tuck under a sideboard or bookshelf. It needs space, and it's likely going to be seen.
After plugging the station into an outlet, you'll charge up the iRobot Roomba i7, download the app and connect the two via Wi-Fi. That's it. In the app, you'll want to set up two features, one for Cleaning Passes and one for Smart Maps.
Cleaning Passes lets you decide if the Roomba i7 is going to do one basic pass across all areas — this might be for people who live alone, without pets, and aren't messy. Not me. You can also set it for two passes, or for Automatic, where it does one pass for bigger areas and two passes for smaller rooms. I started with Automatic, and as you'll see later, I found that I needed two passes in every room.
You'll also likely want to set up Smart Maps, which will create a diagram of your space, and let the Roomba know where to go — and even allow you to send the robot directly to a specific room for extra cleaning should you need it.
The iRobot Roomba i7 is definitely a powerful machine — and it lets you know that too by how loud the vacuum is while running. We found the sound louder than other Roombas, and even competition robot vacuums. If you're in another room, you can still hear this Roomba at work.
Even louder? When the i7 goes to empty its bin. The sound was so alarming, as a matter of fact, that I came running from another room thinking the robot had chewed up a piece of furniture. (That's not actually possible as the vacuum itself doesn't have metal parts — the sweeper brushes and rollers are made of plastic and rubber.) I also wondered if a belt was broken inside the vacuum itself. But the cleaner was just doing its thing.
Emptying takes just a few seconds seconds (watch the video) but it's not something you want your robot to be doing while you're sleeping, while you are relaxing or in the middle of a phone call. Just something to keep in mind
While the i7 does an admirable job cleaning, the dog hair in my space almost proved too much. I found tufts of hair in spots on the floor where it couldn't pick up the debris. The vacuum even got what's best described as a hair ball, where it couldn't even empty its bin for all the debris stuck inside. After I got it cleared — by hand — everything went back to normal. I did notice that when I ran the Roomba more frequently — and switched to two passes in the Cleaning Passes section, these tufts disappeared, and clogs didn't appear again in the machinery.
The vacuum also had some trouble cleaning my rugs, with occasional bits of dirt left in the shag carpet. That was unfortunate as it's the rugs I really wanted cleaned the most, and often attracted the most debris.
The big feature on the i7 is its ability to empty its bin on its own. The robot knows when it's full, and makes it way to the Clean Base to have all the dirt removed. This cleaning station, like the i7, can be bought on its own for $350 and will work will all Roomba i Series vacuums.
Why is the cleaning station special? Robot vacuums, while able to sweep on their own, must be emptied by hand. With a traditional vacuum you insert a bag — usually quite large — and after a month or so, you'll empty that into a trash can, never seeing what's been swept up. With a robot vacuum, the bin needs to be emptied almost after every run. These bins are quite small, and bits of dirt and dust are going to be seen, and sometimes get out.
The Automatic Dirt Disposal is meant to solve that. A traditional vacuum bag is fitted into the station, and when that gets full, you take it out and toss. Dirt isn't seen, dust doesn't escape — it's perfect for anyone who never really wants to see how filthy their home can get.
The app is gem. Here's where the brains of the i7 lives. You can create a Smart Map of your space, letting the vacuum roll along and diagram the inside of your home. Roomba's mapping ability is fairly well known, raising eyebrows after its CEO said that the company could offer its mapping data to other companies for free back in 2017.
But for home owners who really want to make sure spaces are cleaned, and regularly, this is the feature that gets that done. Here you can send the i7 to clean specific rooms, or stay out of them as well. (Maybe someone is napping, or a dog needs a break from a rolling machine he is sure will consume his toys.)
There's a history section too, where you can see when the robot cleaned, how long it worked, how often it emptied its bin, how many Dirt Detects were tackled — spots it really needed to clean — and even if there were issues. One afternoon we were out, the i7 started cleaning the house, and got stuck — in some yarn — for four hours and 13 minutes. We found it, battery drained of course, and set it right.
You can schedule the Roomba to work during certain times of the day. I never have a regular schedule, calls can come at anytime, and found it easier to just activate the Roomba when I needed wanted it to work. Also, I hated the idea of the robot running around by itself with my dog if I wasn't home.
Dirt Detect is one of Roomba's better features. Using sensors, the vacuum actually zones in on areas it thinks are particularly dirty, spending more time there to clean. I realized my rug, for example, was clearly a catch-all for multiple issues as the i7 liked to focus on it, rolling back and forth often.
The rug also, as I mentioned, posed a challenge for the i7. The Roomba didn't clean that surface as well as competitors have in the past. Vacuuming is never a perfect cleaning solution. I'm always stooping to pick up a piece of fluff. But from a $1100 vacuum cleaner, I do expect quite a lot.
Worth the $1100 price tag?
If you live in one of those bamboo-floored modern spaces, very little furniture, perhaps no pets or small children, the iRobot Roomba i7+ is a wonderful machine. Schedule it every day, even every other day, and you're likely to have spotless floors.
For those with large pets, rugs as well, the i7+ is a solid machine, but at $1100 we're not sure it's going to solve all your vacuuming problems. If you're particularly squeamish about empty a vacuum bin, and would prefer to just pull out a bag as you would with a larger traditional vacuum, then the self-emptying ability will certainly appeal to you. We think many will really like the premium features the Roomba supports, like mapping and extra cleaning passes. Just make sure you have room in the house if you choose to buy the added Clean Station, and also plan to run this hefty machine often.
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