iRobot Roomba j7+ robot vacuum review
iRobot is one of the more familiar names in robotic cleaning, probably because its robots can be purchased in major retailers such as Harvey Norman and Noel Leeming. We did a home trial of the Roomba j7+ ($1899), which is one of iRobot’s high-end models complete with an auto-empty dock.
- Premium design and build quality
- Object avoidance and highlights object on map
- Easy to add rooms to map
- Compact auto-empty dock
- Relatively quiet
- Can store up to 10 separate maps
- Detects dirty areas and suggests cleaning zones
- Sensitive “bin full” sensor
Features: intelligent object avoidance
First up, it’s important to state this is just a vacuum model, not a combo mop vacuum like a number of other models we’ve reviewed. If you want something to mop your floors as well, you’ll need to get the Roomba Combo j7, which is an extra $500, or buy a separate Robot mop.
iRobot Roomba vacs use a technology called vSlam (visual simultaneous localisation and mapping), which uses a camera along with optical sensors to create maps. The jury is out as to whether this is as good as the LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system that many other manufacturers use, but it does have the advantage of being able to learn the objects it encounters and avoid them (including pet poop!).
The J7+ is a mapping robot and needs to be setup first with the iRobot app, which can also connect to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa for voice control. The + part of the name refers to the auto-empty dock, which sucks the dust out of the robot into vacuum bags, reducing how often you need to empty it.
(A quick note about iRobot’s model names, the + symbol indicates the unit has a dock, so the J7 and J7+ share the same robot vac, but the latter also has a dock.)
Setup and design
After unboxing with some very excited minors, all wanting to be the first to get the unit out, we were a little disappointed to find what looked like a small dark grey toilet or potty. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law thought we’d bought a new record player.
The bot’s brushed metal-effect centre and matte plastics give it a premium feel, and it has a nice circular disc light in the centre, which has a swoosh-like effect, and goes blue when cleaning is finished and the bot’s on its way back home. The dust box itself is quite compact, is ribbed and has a faux-leather tab to open it, which isn’t in keeping with the rest of the design, really. Build quality is excellent, but then you would expect that at this price point.
Initial set-up is easy. Simply connect to WiFi using the app, name the unit and away you go. Foolishly, I allowed the children to name the unit too. As we live on the delightfully named Butt Street in Wellington, the kids decided it should be called ButtBot.
The iRobot app is a polished affair, with a 3d image of the robot on the main screen, which scuttles off when you send the bot out to clean. It’s easy to use, but it does differ from other manufacturers’ apps in the way it does some things.
Thankfully a recent update of the app allows you to clean individual rooms multiple times, but you cannot change the suction power like you can with many other robots.
But otherwise, the app has all the functionality we require, with scheduling and map editing that works well, along with a favourites section for your common cleaning routines.
To create a floor map, the J7+ needs to be sent out to do a full clean. The vSlam navigation means that initially the bot bumps around in what seems quite a random way.
You don’t get any real-time mapping updates, like a lot of Lidar bots provide, but have to wait until the cleaning is complete. This made me fear it wasn’t actually mapping but to my relief, when ButtBot returned to the dock, a full map appeared on the app.
The mapping is pretty good, indicating which areas are carpeted and which are hard floor. It also highlights (with a little cube icon) the positions of any obstacles on the floor it encountered – like cables, toys and, in the worst case, pet poops.
Which brings up a good feature of the j7 – the ability to avoid obstacles it recognises – which means you don’t have to tidy your floors before a clean as much as you might have to with other robots (but it’s probably still wise to do so if you want a good result).
Editing and clean zones
Editing the map on the app is nice and simple. You can use divider lines to separate out rooms and then rename them. You can also create keep-out zones for areas where the bot might get stuck or you simply don’t want cleaned.
A really nice feature iRobot has added is the ability to specify an area as a “clean zone”, which you can then send the J7+ to clean. For example, under your dining table if you have slightly messy eaters, or around the cat’s food bowl if you have a slightly messy cat, like we do at Butt Street.
Adding rooms to maps
If you need to add a room to a map (say the door was closed when you did the first clean), the app will automatically add it when it next does a full clean. It will then prompt you to divide and name the room accordingly.
The J7+ has been through our full lab test, it scored excellently for vacuuming on hard floors, but only just above average for carpets (although it’s not far off our current top score as most robot vacs struggle to clean carpets as well as standard and stick vacs). Overall, though, it scored high enough to gain our recommendation.
In our home trial it did a pretty good job and seemed to suck up a fair bit more dust than other bots we trialled. It’s quite a quiet robot, as it relies less on suction power and more on its twin rollers to pull debris into its hungry mouth.
The relatively small onboard bin means the bot will return to the dock to empty itself often if you have particularly dirty floors. Don’t worry though, it will resume its cleaning once it’s emptied.
We did find the onboard “bin full” sensor to be quite sensitive, so sometimes it will return to empty even though the bin isn’t actually full. In contrast to the quiet operation of the vac itself, the noise of the bot being emptied in the dock is like a jet taking off! The dock stores the dirt in disposable bags, and you will likely get a couple of months’ dirt in each bag before it needs to be changed. The app will tell you when.
Another neat iRobot app feature is the cleaning “suggestions” it makes.
We were notified of one after the first clean – being the area underneath our oven and hob – which the bot had correctly identified as being more dirty than other areas (I guess by using the camera and optical sensors).
That area can then be saved as a clean zone for future use, if required.
The app can store up to 10 separate floor maps, so if you have a multi-storey home, you can take the J7+ to these other levels, set it off to clean and it will create more maps for these floors.
We did this for our downstairs, after I closed off my son’s bedroom – it was too dangerous to send ButtBot into that realm of Lego, cardboard and other enemies to the robot vac race.
The j7+ did a great job of sucking up all the under-bed dust that doesn’t often get any attention. However, it did too good a job and quickly filled up its little bin. I’m guessing if it had been upstairs, it would have scuttled off to empty itself, but downstairs there is no dock. Instead, it returned to its starting place and alerted me via the app that it needed to be emptied. This happened 10 times!
So, the J7+ is probably not the ideal vac for a multi-storey property, unless you can afford to purchase another dock (and the auto-empty dock isn’t currently available separately in NZ).
Should you buy a Roomba J7+
If you are after a robot vac that looks good, has a compact auto-empty dock and cleans well, and you only want to clean one level, then the J7+ could well be the machine for you.
The iRobot app is refined, and the company is a well-respected maker of robot vacs. So, you’ll be getting a quality product with a good range of spare parts available in NZ.
However, for the price, there are probably better options out there now, especially if you have any hard floors that you want to mop.