Roomba 790 from iRobot

Pros: Extremely thorough and easy to use
Cons: Needs a little help with crowded spaces or hard-to-reach areas
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


At first, it was hard to justify buying a Roomba from iRobot. But I have asthma, our cats have asthma, the vibrations from the handle of a vacuum aggravate my tendonitis, and there’s a limit to just how much of the cleaning my husband can do around work and everything else. So, we decided it was worth it after all and made it our early holiday present to ourselves. We immediately saw we’d be limited to the most recent models, since the inclusion of a true HEPA filter (again, those allergies) was very important to us. Ultimately we settled on the 790. While the wireless controller sounded nice, that wasn’t what decided us. It comes with all the extras already included: three virtual lighthouses/walls, a convenient case with a bunch of extra filters and brushes, etc. The newer models are supposed to have better algorithms for handling clutter, and better capacity for coping with pet hair.

I admit, I’m frustrated easily, and there were a few moments of frustration when pulling it out and setting it up. The first bit was my own fault: I forgot to check how much of what sort of batteries we needed. Each lighthouse takes two C cells and the remote takes four AAs. Luckily the virtual walls that came with our Scooba (thanks mom!) also happen to work with the Roomba, so I didn’t even have to wait until we could make a trip out to get started.

I was a little put off by the fact that the included manual is on DVD; when I want to look up a quick bit of troubleshooting or maintenance instructions I like to be able to grab the manual and leaf through, without having to load up a DVD. That said, luckily they did include quick-start instructions on the inside of the DVD sleeve. The only trouble we had was that those instructions didn’t include bin removal, which you have to do at the start to get one of the labels out. We did eventually figure out that it’s a simple case of pressing the button-like depression at the top and pulling it straight outward.

We set up the charging dock, docked the Roomba 790, set the clock (momentary confusion due to the instructions showing a set of “buttons” that didn’t show up until the Roomba was powered up, since they’re touch-screen), and let it charge. It took a little while to charge, but not excessively so.

First we gave it a go at the living room, which is definitely the largest room in the house, with hardwood floors. It stopped and returned to its dock without covering the whole room, which turned out to be due to a full bin. It supposedly has a full bin indicator, but we haven’t spotted that yet. (I really need to get around to loading up that darned DVD. Or finding an online pdf I can print.)

After a second go-round in the living room, we were pretty impressed. All those scrubbing brushes are very effective, and we were pretty shocked by how much dirt the bin had in it. Note that the dust bunnies that were hiding beneath some furniture mostly just got blown around the floor, but those are easy to grab up once they’re in the open and throw away, and once you get the Roomba going regularly those shouldn’t be a problem any more. It doesn’t fit beneath the grating near the base of our coffee table, but that’s easy to move out of the way now and then, and it definitely does fit beneath couches and chairs (not to mention dressers, but that’s another room). It did miss the spot beneath a narrow bookcase that had only one opening it would have fit through, but that can be fixed by putting it there deliberately and starting it up again. The virtual lighthouses have a narrower beam than the old virtual walls, so we didn’t have to angle them away from the room. We did find that any thin cords, such as lamp cords, need to be pulled up out of the Roomba’s way so it doesn’t try to suck them up. On the rare occasion when there’s an error, such as the Roomba getting stuck on a “cliff” (such as the top of stairs), which doesn’t happen often, it’ll beep and play a voice-recorded description of the problem (most such problems can be easily solved by moving the Roomba to another part of the floor and pressing ‘clean’ again.)

After a recharge it handled the dining room and hallway with great aplomb. We simply used one lighthouse at the entrance to the living room and one at the entrance to the kitchen, and closed the doors to other rooms. It took two fills of the bin in the room where we keep the cats’ litterbox, but that’s hardly a condemnation of the size of the bin. Mostly we were just amazed at how much stuff it got out of the carpet (yes, it handled carpet just as well as hardwood; it also handled the transition to the door mats on the hardwood floor just fine). It handled the space beneath the dressers in our bedroom with no problem, although again in one case it had to be placed beneath the dresser and started up there. By and large the Roomba 790 covers areas well, but it does occasionally miss a spot that has limited access. Again, not much of a problem. If you have a lot of furniture you may need to move it around a bit, since the Roomba isn’t entirely tiny and does need some space to get around. Ultimately I think we’re unlikely to use the scheduling function much because our furniture will need a small amount of moving. On the other hand, it’s so easy to use that I think I might just set it loose on one room every day. That ought to be enough to keep the house quite nice. I’m happy with the quality of the HEPA filters, too—Selene (one of the cats) hasn’t had an asthma attack in three whole days, which wasn’t the case last week before we ran the Roomba.

I can’t yet go into things like long-term durability, although I hope to come back and add notes later. However, I’m extremely impressed with its thoroughness and ease of use. If your life is busy enough that you have trouble getting to the vaccuuming, or you have a disability that makes cleaning difficult, the Roomba is a fantastic option.

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