Roomba 692 vs j7+: Which robot vac delivers the sucker punch?
We compare an entry-level robot vac with a top-of-the-range one.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about robot-vacs so setup an in-home trial to compare a top of the range model with an entry level one. Over a couple of weeks I let them both battle it out for the title of robot king.
Running time: 95 minutes
Charging time: 180 minutes
Features: Wifi connected with app. Bump and turn navigation
The Roomba 692 is one of iRobot’s entry-level robot vacs. It’s a fairly standard-looking, disc-shaped robotic cleaner, with a simple charging dock. It has shiny plastic finishes which tend to show marks and dirt, and the front ‘bumper’ quickly gets marks from skirmishes with inanimate household objects. The 692 has a little flicker brush on the outside that reminds me of a deep-sea creature that bats microscopic food particles into its mouth.
Set-up was easy – download the iRobot app to your smartphone, connect the Roomba to WiFi, give it a name and you’re set. Within the app settings, the Roomba has an actual birthdate so clearly it’s intended to become part of the family. The children decided this unit would be named MartyAnnoyerBot, after our cat. However, Marty is a pretty placid feline and wasn’t remotely annoyed, or even particularly interested in the robot vac.
Once you're ready to clean, you just tap the button on the app and the picture of the 692 scuttles off the screen like a turbocharged cockroach. Unfortunately, the actual machine doesn’t move quite as quickly!
This was my first experience of a robot vac and I thought it would start out by mapping all the rooms, but as it’s an entry-level model it doesn’t have this functionality. Instead, it just randomly bumped its way around the house like a drunk stumbling in at midnight. It was surprisingly effective though, and managed to cover most of the rooms – even though it had a strange desire to spend most of its time dancing around in the bathroom. The kids and I enjoyed watching its random twists and turns and were egging it on to exit the kitchen and find its way into the lounge. Eventually it did, with not much battery life remaining.
MartyAnnoyerBot managed going from carpet to hard floor with ease. We have a two-level house and I was concerned about it falling down the stairs. When it got to the edge, it lurched over slightly, but quickly decided it wasn’t a suicide bot and retreated. With a two-storey house you have to manually take the unit downstairs to clean, or buy another unit for that floor – robot twins!
It was great for going under sofas and cleaning those hard-to-reach places that you just can’t be bothered to do yourself (don’t tell my wife I said that). However, in these no-man's-lands live treats the Roomba can stumble upon, such as old apple cores, orange peel, sweet wrappers and bits of toys. The 692 emerged from under the sofa making a coughing sound while bumping up and down. This continued for about 15 seconds until finally it pooped out a piece of Lego – kind of like a cat coughing up a furball.
Battery life was good – we got more than 90 minutes of cleaning before the ‘home’ button started flashing. Surprisingly it didn’t head ‘home’ to the dock straight away, but continued cleaning for another 10 minutes, then decided it had had enough and bashed and bumped its way back towards the dock, again egged on by the kids and me. We were all very excited to see it make its way home without running out of power.
For the second cleaning trial, I strategically placed small piles of flour in each room, then set the Roomba to run remotely after I got to work. I was pleased to see via the app that it had managed to return to the dock and recharge itself. Upon returning home I found it had devoured about 80% of the flour, with only two main patches not fully cleaned. Not bad at all, considering it works randomly. You can also do a spot clean for any extra dirty areas by picking up the unit, placing it on the dirty spot and pressing the ‘spot clean’ button. The robot will then do a localised clean before returning home.
Running time: 75 minutes
Charging time: 180 minutes
Features: Wifi connected with app. Camera based navigation with full mapping
The j7+ is one of the top models that iRobot offers. It’s a ‘self-emptying’ robot vacuum and comes with a docking bin station to save you having to empty it after each clean. This dock contains vacuum bags that get filled up each time the bin is emptied.
After unboxing with some very excited minors, all wanting to be the first to get the unit out of its box, 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.
Its brushed metal effect centre and matte plastics gave it a more of a premium feel than the 692. 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 unit is on its way back home. The dust box itself is ribbed and has a faux leather tab to open it up, which isn’t in keeping with the rest of the design, really.
Initial set-up was just as easy as the 692 – simply connect to WiFi using the app, name the unit and away you go. Foolishly I allowed the children to name this unit too, and we live on the delightfully named Butt Street in Wellington, so the kids decided it should be called ButtBot.
Then we just set it off to clean everything and explore the house. The j7+ has a built-in camera and light for navigation, but initially it bumped and stumbled around like the cheaper model had. Also, it would pause for a few seconds occasionally, like it was thinking about what to have for dinner. I kept checking the map on the app, thinking it would show a real-time update, but there was nothing.
It was only once the cleaning was finished that we found it had actually mapped the whole top floor, and it did so reasonably well – including indicating which areas are carpeted and which are hard floor. Then you can edit in the app where the room boundaries are by adjusting some green lines, and you can rename rooms. Once that’s done, you can send your robot out to just clean an individual room if required, which is a pretty neat feature.
ButtBot was reasonably quiet while cleaning, but the noise of the vacuum sucking the dust out of the robot into the dust bags in the dock was like a jet taking off! I found it quite ironic that all the power was in the dock and not in the vacuum itself, which would have made it amazing at cleaning the floors (or stripping the varnish off them).
Next day I set up the flour test to see how effective the vac would be. Unfortunately it had an issue with thinking its bin was full, returning to the dock before it had ventured into the depths of the lounge. So it managed to clean the flour in the kitchen but nothing else, and it wasn’t really any more effective than the 692 at cleaning up this mess.
Upon inspection, the bin wasn’t full so I’m not sure why the sensors thought it was – maybe the flour was the problem. Taking the bin out and refitting it sorted the issue. Somewhat frustrating though; perhaps it doesn’t like eating flour without the eggs and milk?
I took the vac downstairs to clean and map the lower floor. I closed off my son’s bedroom as 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 that 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 home to empty itself, but downstairs there is no dock so it just returned to its starting place and alerted me via the app that it needed to be emptied. This happened 10 times!
It sucked up a lot of dust, which is no bad thing, but if I hadn’t been home it would still be sitting there waiting for me like a patient puppy. With a two-storey home you are probably going to want to have a vac on each level, or be prepared to do a lot of manual emptying. This wasn’t an issue with the 692; maybe as the bin was bigger on the entry-level model, or the bin full sensor not being quite as finicky.
Later in the day I had an alert from the app – it had a new ‘suggestion’ for a cleaning zone. It had cleverly and correctly identified that the area in the kitchen next to the worktop is generally dirtier than other areas, so it could do an extra clean of that specific area if we liked. A cool feature.
And the verdict..
Which of these vacs wins the battle? Actually, I’d say it’s a draw. The cleaning ability of each unit was fairly similar, both sucking up a reasonable amount of dust and dirt. I don’t think either would be a full replacement for a normal vacuum, but they are certainly good for keeping your house tidy through the week. I liked the mapping capability of the j7+ and the ability to send it to clean a specific room, and the fact that you could remotely start a clean with either unit from the smartphone app.
For me, the ideal robot vac would be a combination of these models. I could probably live without the bulky dock as I was happy to empty the bin myself after each clean, and the 692 had a big enough bin to clean the top floor anyway. But the smarter functions of the j7+ are definitely a bonus if you can afford it. A mid-range offering from iRobot would likely be my preferred option, but if you are on a budget then the 692 is a pretty good place to start.
I was pleasantly surprised with my first robot vac experience and doubt it'll be long before we adopt one of our own into the family.
Thanks to Emma Basquille at iRobot for the loan of these machines.