iRobot Roomba s9+ review: this robot vacuum's advancements are worth the money if you can afford it

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At a Glance
  • iRobot Roomba s9+

iRobot, pushed the evolution of robot vacuums with the Roomba i7+, a super-sophisticated robot vac that could empty its own dustbin, thus delivering the most completely automated cleaning you could get. The s9+ doesn’t break any new ground, but it does build on the foundation laid by its predecessor, with strategic improvements including a new design, dramatically increased suction power, more accurate navigation, and the ability to be linked to iRobot’s Braava Jet m6 robot mop to perform dual cleanings of hardwood floors. That all adds up to the most advanced robot vacuum we’ve seen, one many will covet, but only a well-funded few will be able to afford.

Design

With the s9+, iRobot has introduced a D-shape design instead of going with their customary circular shape. As we’ve seen with Neato’s D-shaped BotVac products, this design helps the vacuum hug walls and angle into corners for more thorough cleanings. The s9+ is smaller than the BotVacs we’ve tested, though, measuring 12.5 inches across and 3.5 inches high, compared to the Neato Botvac D7’s 13-by-3.9-inch dimensions.

The new shape has brought some layout changes as well. The Home, Clean/Power, and Spot Clean buttons have been repositioned to the top right corner, and the iAdapt localization camera has been moved to the top back. This accommodates a copper-colored lid on top of the vacuum that flips open to access the relocated dustbin. Moving the bin from the back to the top of the vacuum makes it much easier to remove and reinsert, especially with the addition of a plastic handle.

s9 wall iRobot

The s9+ D-shaped design enables it to hug walls and angle into corners.

The underside of the s9+ has also been tweaked. A pair of grooved-and-threaded rubber rollers are still the main agitators for sweeping debris into the vacuums ample vent. But the suction has been pumped up to four times the power of the i7+, and 40 times that of the Roomba 600 series. The three-armed corner brush on the i7+ has been replaced with a five-arm one that’s been redesigned at a 26-degree angle to better grab dust bunnies and other debris from those tight spots.

The Clean Base, which doubles as the vacuum’s charging dock and its dirt disposal canister, looks pretty much unchanged. When its dustbin is full, the vacuum parks itself on the bottom of the Clean Base, which sucks the dustbin’s contents from a special vent under the vacuum. The dirt is deposited in a disposable bag in the compartment at the top of the Clean Base. Each bag can hold up to 30 dustbin’s worth of debris; once it’s full, you open the compartment’s lid, remove the sealed bag, and install a new one.

Setup and usage

The s9+ is relatively easy to install. The only real hurdle is still finding a workable location for the Clean Base. It needs of 1.5 feet of open space on its right and left sides, and 4 feet in front of it, with its back flush against a wall. It also needs a foot of clearance above it to provide unimpeded access to the canister, and it should be placed at least 4 feet from any stairs to reduce the risk of the robot falling. Proximity to an electrical outlet and Wi-Fi are essential as well.

s9 couch iRobot

The vacuum’s low-profile allows it to get under most furniture.

Once the robot vacuum is fully charged, you can initiate cleaning by pressing the Clean button on its top, or a similar button in the iRobot Home app, or by using Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa voice commands. The app provides the most control over the vacuum, including the ability to build and store up to 10 floor maps when you activate its Smart Maps feature.

It’s recommended you supervise the s9+’s first cleaning, as during this run, the robot vacuum will “feel” its way through the room with its various sensors as it learns the layout. It didn’t get into any trouble that required my intervention when I first turned it loose on my living room, but its wayward movement meant a lot of bumping into table legs and walls.

It takes two to five passes through a space to build a floor plan, but once it’s done, the s9+ does its best to divide it into rooms. It accurately delineated my downstairs into the living room, kitchen, entryway, and bathroom, but you can always create divisions yourself by drawing straight lines on the map and labeling the rooms.

roomba app Michael Ansaldo/IDG

The iRobot Home app lets you control the s9+, stores up to 10 floor maps, and provides a history of cleaning jobs.

With a completed floor plan, you have a lot more control over your cleanings. You can send the vacuum to a particular room, schedule cleanings, and set virtual barriers—iRobot calls them Keep Out Zones—to tell the robot which areas to avoid. I created a couple to keep the vacuum away from my dog’s crate and a tangle of electrical cords, and they worked flawlessly.

The s9+ performed some of the best cleaning jobs I’ve seen. My carpeted, hardwood, and tile floors were swept clean of dirt, dust, food crumbs, and pet hair. The vacuum was particularly efficient with the last as its rubber roller brushes prevent the tangles than can tie up bristles. When the vacuum encountered areas with heavy dirt, it went into Dirt Detect mode, moving back and forth to clean it thoroughly.

The vacuum had no problem transitioning my home’s different floor types, and its excellent navigation enabled it to avoid collisions with furniture and other obstacles. It got stuck just once, under an ottoman, and alerted me with a chime and a message in the app.

It should be noted the s9+ is not particularly quiet. The whir and clatter of the vacuum’s motor, suction, and various brushes won’t drown out conversation, but they are an intrusive background buzz. And when the vacuum empties its dustbin, the suction from the Clean Base is even louder. Those shouldn’t be deal breakers, though, and can easily be avoided by scheduling cleanings when no one is home.

The iRobot Home app, as I’ve noted in other Roomba reviews, makes managing cleaning a cinch. The vacuum’s current status is always displayed prominently, and controls for scheduling and viewing cleaning history and floor plans are all clearly identified. You can also access through the app the Imprint Link Technology that allows you to connect the s9+ with iRobot’s Braava m6 robot mop for combined cleaning. We’ll be taking a closer look at that in a dedicated review of the Braava m6 to come.

Verdict

The Roomba s9+ successfully refines the advances of the Roomba i7+, and that makes it our new pick for the most sophisticated robot vacuum. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for everyone. The s9+ costs a whopping $1,400, putting it well outside most folks’ budgets. The s9 robot vacuum is sold without the Clean Base—and thus the ability to empty itself—but that will still set you back $1,100. That’s a significant expense, especially considering even the best robot vacuums are still supplements to cleaning with a conventional vacuum. To be sure, the s9+ is worth every penny, but those of more modest means would do better to check out the many more-affordable robot vacuums—including several other Roombas—in our buying guide.

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At a Glance
  • The iRobot s9+ is the most advanced robot vacuum around, but it will be out of reach of many budgets.

    Pros

    • Self-emptying dustbin
    • Excellent navigation and cleaning
    • Can create and store up to 10 floor plans

    Cons

    • Clean Base requires more floor space than conventional dock
    • Very expensive
  
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