Convenient in-app control and scheduling
Good suction on most surfaces
Easy to clean and maintain
Small bin capacity
Sometimes gets lost
Gets wedged under low furniture
The Roomba has been around since 2002, but we still think nothing says “The future is now” better than a little robot friend puttering around your house, cleaning up your messes. The Roomba 690 from iRobot takes housework one step further into the matrix with an app that lets you control and schedule your little guy remotely. Since not having to do your own housework, or even having to see it get done, is the castle in the sky of domestic life, we were very excited to see (and not see) the Roomba in action. Read on for our review of the vacuum cleaner with a cult following.
Design: Simple and serviceable
Since scheduling happens in the iRobot HOME app, the surface design of the Roomba 690 itself is pretty uncluttered. It has a user interface with manual buttons that start or stop a cleaning cycle, send it home, or instruct it to clean a spot more thoroughly. Lit icons indicate its charge level and Wi-Fi status. There’s also a folding handle that we found a bit unnecessary, considering the entire unit is just over a foot in diameter and weighs less than 8 pounds.
Everything is fairly easy to open, remove, clean, and replace, which is fortunate because you’re going to have to do all of that frequently.
The cleaning process involves two caged rotating brushes—one rubber and one bristled—that work together to scoop dirt up and into the bin. Another little side brush juts out from under the Roomba’s front end, helicoptering dirt out of corners and into the Roomba’s path. The bin, which holds the replaceable filter, has a release button on the top and slides out of the side easily. Everything is fairly easy to open, remove, clean, and replace, which is fortunate because you’re going to have to do all of that frequently; the bin is small (we had to empty it every day), and the brushes clog with some regularity.
Setup Process: Almost none required
This robotic vacuum arrives carrying a partial charge, so we were able to use it right out of the box. We removed the bin insert, removed the plastic strip that blocked the battery connection, and tapped the “clean” button on the top to start vacuuming. It surprised us with a cheerful mechanical tune and whirred into action. We watched the Roomba fumble with our rugs for a few minutes, but ultimately pushed the “home” button, so it would return to its home base to get to full charge. It took about three hours of charging to get there.
Roomba recommends that you position the home base in a fairly clear area, with 1.5 feet of clearance to the sides, and 4 feet out front. The robot is supposed to return to the home base automatically at the end of its cleaning cycle (spoiler alert: it doesn’t always find it), or when its battery is getting low, so it needs enough clearance to position itself correctly on the home base. To the Roomba, keeping the space “clear” seems to mean not just furniture and clutter but also rugs. An area rug positioned a few feet in front of the charging station confused it, throwing it off course repeatedly as it tried to dock. It eventually made it, but the docking was much smoother on a more consistent surface.
The App: Smart and easy to use
The Roomba can be controlled via the buttons on the robot’s surface or the app, available from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Setting up the app on an iPhone was fairly straightforward, though you do need to create an account. The app also needs your Wi-Fi password so the robot, the home base, and the app can get connected. The home base must remain plugged in at all times to maintain the connection.
The app design is minimal and easy to navigate. The “CLEAN” button on the first page either initiates the vacuuming or, if it’s already in a session, pauses it. There’s a history section for those who like to relive the glory of vacuuming sessions past. A care and maintenance section tracks the life left in the filter and the overall health of the robot and links to an in-app store for parts and accessories. Most helpfully, the app lets you schedule up to seven vacuum sessions remotely—one per day, whenever you choose.
Watching it do its work led to a lot of face-palming.
You can connect and control multiple Roomba or Braava jet mopping robots with the app, so they let you assign a name to each robot attached. If you allow the app to send you notifications, this can lead to fun, unexpected phone alerts such as, “The Big Baby needs your attention,” or “The Big Baby successfully completed a job!” It’s good for a chuckle at work, and what’s more futuristic than having an inside joke with your smart home?
Cleaning Performance: Best for minimalist spaces
We tried the Roomba 690 out on many different surfaces, with varying levels of success. The performance was best on low pile rugs and wood flooring—basically anything that wasn’t too textured or deeply grooved. If the home we tried the 690 out in had been minimally furnished, with either entirely bare wood floors or wall-to-wall carpet, then we probably would’ve been more satisfied with the results. As it was, there were some pretty big challenges that the 690 faced, not always successfully navigating a complicated space with varying textures of area rugs, flooring, and tile.
We placed the Roomba’s home base in a main living area on wood flooring, with plenty of clear space in front for it to launch and dock easily. Working along the wood floors, the Roomba was able to pick up fur, potting soil, bits of hay, and carpet fluff without too much trouble. When it rolls over spots it thinks are particularly dirty, a blinking light on the top indicates that it’s gone into “Dirt Detect” mode, and it will circle the spot to clean it more thoroughly. It records the number of these dirt “events” it finds in the app, though we aren’t sure why anyone would want their vacuum to literally add up how dirty their house is. Of note: We liked the idea of the “Dirt Detect” mode, but it seemed to choose spots arbitrarily. The “events” the Roomba encountered didn’t look any dirtier than the rest of the floor. Insert shrug emoji.
The course the Roomba takes looks completely chaotic since the 690 isn’t using mapping technology. It was a little stressful to watch it bump into a furniture leg, turn around, look like it’s going to figure it out, and then bump into the same leg again. We wished there was a remote control mode we could switch it to, particularly when navigating the thin legs of dining chairs and tables. As it is, watching it do its work led to a lot of face-palming.
There weren’t any stairs in the house we tried it out in, but the Roomba can sense drops and shouldn’t take any major falls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t avoid low-clearance furniture with the same level of sensitivity. It wedged itself very tightly under furniture more than a few times. It sends an alert to the app letting you know it needs help, but it wedged itself frequently enough for us to not feel comfortable leaving it to vacuum on its own during the day.
The performance was best on low pile rugs and wood flooring—basically anything that wasn’t too textured or deeply grooved.
In general, the floor should be as picked up and uncluttered as possible, which is actually nice because it forces you to keep a cleaner home. Power cords are especially vulnerable—the spinning brush thinks they’re delicious. The package includes a separate battery-powered “virtual wall” unit that can be set to project either an invisible linear barrier or a circular one. The Roomba won’t cross the invisible barrier, which worked great for preventing access to a room and protecting a cat fountain, but with a lot of electronics in our test house, we really could’ve used more than one.
A fringe lining the edge of a loop rug presented another big challenge. Coming at it from wood flooring, the 690 kept getting tangled up, backing off, puttering around a little bit, and then trying it from another angle. It eventually was able to lift itself high enough to make it onto the rug, but if the majority of rugs we were planning on using it on were long shag or heavily fringed around the edges, we’d worry that it would chew them up, or just not be as effective.
A medium-density synthetic shag rug, chunky jute loop, flatweave, and lower-pile machine-loomed rug all fared fine, but the Roomba met its match with a fluffy synthetic flokati-type shag rug. You really aren’t supposed to vacuum those anyway (though we do sometimes), but we thought the suction on the Roomba may be gentle enough to deal with the cat hair without maiming the fibers too badly. Unfortunately, after running it for a little while, we noticed that the Roomba was depositing fluff all over the room. We used the app to instruct it to go back to the home base, removed the bin, and saw it was filled to the brim with white fluff. The Roomba never realized its bin was full, which we thought was one of its features. The fibers had gotten wound around the wheel and brush on the bottom as well, which explains the flokati bunnies it had been leaving around the living room. We suspect this may happen a lot since iRobot has designed the brushes and front wheel to pop out easily for cleaning. The brand has bothered to include a little cleaning pick in the package. Either way, the tangles were easily eradicated and the pieces put back together, but buyer beware if you have a very soft shag or flokati rug like this.
Noise Level: Not too bad
Relative to most upright vacuums, the Roomba 690 isn’t that loud. It does bang into things every once in a while, but that’s more of a nerve-jangling issue than a decibel issue. Even better, operate it when you aren’t home (if you’re sure your house is picked up), and you’ll never have to hear it at all!
Price: Robots don’t come cheap
You pay a premium for convenience—the average cost of a robot vacuum is going to be higher than a traditional vacuum. At about $350, the Roomba 690 is on the lower end of iRobot’s robot vacuum line, with the highest-end model costing over three times that. While we can’t imagine the more expensive models vacuum that much better than the 690, they do include options like room mapping, so it knows that it’s fully cleaned the space, as well as automatically emptying their payload at the end of their work cycle. Those features really address the major issues we had with the 690, so it may be worth it to consider upgrading.
Competition: Floor mapping would be nicer
Neato Botvac D7 Connected: One of the big issues with the Roomba 690 is that it seemed to get a little lost when trying to find its way back to home base. It got stuck sometimes behind doors or in closets, where it would eventually run out of power. While playing hide and seek with your vacuum when you get home is conceptually amusing, it eventually got tedious, and the single “Virtual Wall Barrier” provided with the Roomba wasn’t enough to keep ours fully out of trouble. The floorplan and boundary customization section of the Neato Botvac D7’s app addresses this: The app allows you to designate multiple “No-Go” zones on a mapped-out floorplan of your space. You can draw lines across doorways or around obstacles that you want the Botvac to avoid. With a programmed floor plan, the vacuum always knows where its charging home is.
iRobot Roomba i7+: The 690 has decent performance, but the highest-end model from iRobot takes the convenience up a few notches with ten times the suction power of the 600 Roomba series robots. The Roomba i7+ also has the ability to learn and map up to ten unique floor plans. You can control which rooms you want the robot to concentrate on or avoid through the iRobot HOME app. The pièce de résistance of the i7, though, is its ability to self-empty its dirt collection bin into a wall unit that holds up to 30 loads, cutting you blissfully out of the vacuuming picture for much longer than the 690, which we had to empty every day.
- Product Name Roomba 690
- Product Brand iRobot
- Price $349.00
- Weight 12.3 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 18.7 x 16.5 x 5.5 in.
- Battery Type Lithium-ion
- Battery Life Roughly two hours
- Warranty One-year limited warranty
- What’s Included iRobot® Roomba® 690, Home Base® Charging Station, Line Cord, 1 Dual Mode Virtual Wall® Barrier (2AA batteries included), 1 Extra Filter, 1 Flat Cleaning Tool, Owner's Guide and Documentation Package