iRobot Cleaning Crew: Final Thoughts on Roomba 780, Scooba 230, Scooba 390 (Part 4 of 4)

I have to admit that I’m a victim of modern-day cynicism: In the beginning, I was certain that these three bots would be overpriced toys that could only do a negligible amount of cleaning, and I was almost positive they’d run into obstacles or other problems that would require my constant attention. In other words, I was sure that they wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I was in for a surprise.

After using the Roomba 780, Scooba 230 and Scooba 390 for a few weeks, I can decisively say this: These robots may not be perfect, but for what they do, they impressed the heck out of me and my husband.

Granted, we could probably do a better job if we cleaned all our floors ourselves manually, but who wants to do that? So we took a few things in stride, like the fact that the bots can’t lift furniture or move aside clutter to get underneath them, and that even in accessible areas, there were sometimes odd, random spots that were overlooked. We didn’t expect them to be equal replacements for good old-fashioned elbow grease, after all. We just hoped for something that could handle ongoing maintenance reasonably well, and we were actually prepared to be disappointed. End result? This trio of robots vastly outperformed our expectations. They cleaned roughly 90% of the areas we wanted — which is far more than I thought they would — and they did it rather decently. What a joy, to not have to clean these spaces or re-clean them after the units were done. And thanks to this maintenance job, we didn’t have to deep clean as much or as often, so for that alone, we were thrilled.

In all three cases, the robots performed very well when used in their intended manner. I was even more impressed when using the machines together like a hi-tech cleaning crew — the Roomba 780, to vacuum on a twice-weekly basis, the mini Scooba 230 to wash my bathroom floors and around the toilet weekly, and the larger Scooba 390 to handle my kitchen and the rest of my apartment’s sealed hardwood floors (at one room per day).

That’s not to say that they’re perfect. These units cost a good bit: $600 for the Roomba 780, $300 for the Scooba 230, and $500 for the Scooba 390. If you got all three, the cost would be $1,400. There are people who might not blink at that expense — hey, a maid could cost upwards of $2,600 a year, so that’s a bargain! — but it’s still a massive load of cash for a great majority of people, especially in this economy. That could lead to a tough choice for would-be consumers:

(1) Save money by doing everything yourself, but you’d have to deal with pain-in-the-neck, time-consuming floor-cleaning chores (say, ongoing do-it-yourself maintenance once or twice a week, along with deep cleaning once a month), or
(2) Buy the robots to save time and effort, but drop a big wad of cash. (You might still have to do manual deep cleaning once or twice per season, but the robotic crew can deal with in-between maintenance and touch-ups.)

Which option to choose? Only you and your wallet can say. But before you decide, check out some of the additional things my hubby and I took note of while using these robots:

  • All three products are well-constructed, not only in build quality, but also product design: Everything that’s supposed to be removed for empyting, refilling or cleaning pops out very easily, and putting them back is a cinch across the board. It’s all very intuitive, and designed to make maintenance simple for the end user.
  • Differences between this Roomba and Scoobas: The Roomba costs $100 more than the premium, newly released Scooba 390, and you can really see where the extra money went. Unlike the vacuum, the floor washers don’t have recharging stations/home bases, advanced scheduling, spot cleaning, on-board touchpad interface or a remote control. The Roomba even has a nifty set of combs and cleaning tools, to clear out the under-carriage bristles. Nice touch.
  • Roomba Virtual Walls and the Scoobas’ are not compatible. First off, the Roomba Virtual Wall/Light Houses take C batteries, the Scoobas’ take D. It would have been great if these took the same batteries. Also wished that they could work together to create a flexible system of virtual barriers. That would’ve been extremely handy.
  • Sometimes the Roomba’s vent will blow our cats’ hairballs asunder — which is not unique. All vacuums do this to some extent, but since the bot robot isn’t human-driven, it doesn’t notice and sometimes doesn’t wind up getting the hairball.
  • For the Scoobas, the only cleaning agent we could use (aside from water) is the company’s brand of floor cleaner. While the enzymatic cleaning packets aren’t expensive, we wished that we could use our own soap or detergent.
  • Side note for pet owners: We have two cats, a very skittish Maine Coon and a snarky, curmudgeonly black tuxedo cat. They don’t like guests and tend to freak out over a foreign presence in the home. Neither of them were at all bothered by these robots — which, frankly, shocked us. We were concerned about these machines upsetting our kittehs, even prepared for the possibility that they’d swat at these machines or otherwise mess with them. So far, not a single problem has surfaced. They’re not quite riding them around, like this guy, but it has been a pretty harmonious experience. They largely ignore the activity, or simply move away when the bots come calling.

With all that in mind, this is still an incredible robotic cleaning crew. If you can afford all three, I highly recommend snagging this. But if you can only afford one, I suggest going with either the Roomba 780 or the Scooba 390, depending on what type of floors you have. If you have mostly carpeting, with vacuuming being done more often than mopping, the cost will seem like a steal compared to all the time you’ll save. Likewise for homes with mostly sealed hard floors — once you live with the Scooba 390, even for just a short time like I did, it will be hard to imagine life without it.

Do you have an iRobot robotic vacuum or floor cleaner? How has your experience been? And if you could have any kind of robotic help around the house, what would you love to see someday? Tell us about it in the comments below.



Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...