Roomba Combo j7 Plus review: an excellent robot vacuum with an okay mop
Roomba Combo j7 Plus review: an excellent robot vacuum with an okay mop
The Roomba Combo j7 Plus is a top-of-the-line robot vacuum that can also mop and empty its own bin. Thanks to its ability to map your home and avoid common household clutter, it’s one of the few bots I’ve tested that rarely gets stuck. All this autonomy makes it a good household cleaning companion, though it’s a better vacuum than a mop, and you do have to refill its water reservoir fairly often. But it’s one of the only robot vacuums that can reliably vacuum all your rugs and carpeted areas and vacuum and mop your floors in one go without dragging its damp, dirty mop over your nice rug.
iRobot’s first combo mop / vacuum, the $1,099 Combo j7 Plus takes the excellent j7 robot vacuum and adds some new sensors, a bigger battery, a small water reservoir, and a robotic arm that raises and lowers a very small mopping pad.
That robot arm is key. Almost every other robot vacuum with a mop requires manual intervention: you have to remove the mopping pad so it will tackle carpets and put it back on when you want mopping action. But the Combo j7’s arm keeps the mop pad tucked away on top of the robot when not in use, then lowers itself behind and underneath the robot when needed. This operation is entirely autonomous and worked reliably and smoothly in my testing. It’s also very fun to watch.
The mop only deploys when the robot is on a hard floor surface — wood, tile, concrete. If it’s in mopping mode and encounters a rug, it won’t go over it (I tried to trick it, but it always backed away). Cleverly, when you send it out on a job it vacuums all the rugs and carpets first, then deploys the mop and and cleans and vacuums the hard floors. It’s not entirely hands-off, though; depending on the size of your home, you’ll have to refill the water reservoir at least once to mop it all.
The Plus in Combo j7 Plus means it comes with iRobot’s Clean Station, an auto-empty base that charges the robot and sucks the dirt out of its bin. The regular j7 vacuum can be bought with the base (as the j7 Plus) or without it, but you can currently only buy the Combo with the base, which partially explains the eye-watering $1,099 price tag.
The Combo works well if you have of hard flooring combined with lots of plush rugs and carpets
Design-wise, the Combo j7 looks almost identical to the j7. The only difference is the smooth top piece of the robot is broken up slightly by the mopping plate. This is still a good-looking robot; it’s easily the best design in the world of robot vacs. Its matte black plastic doesn’t show dust or fingerprints, and small touches — like the brushed aluminum top piece with a small iRobot logo — are much classier than the loud designs of competitors such as Shark and Roborock.
The Combo has all the smarts of the j7, including AI-powered obstacle avoidance plus new onboard acoustic sensors to determine the floor type. It uses those sensors, plus the knowledge it gleans from mapping your house, to determine its cleaning pattern. When it enters a room, it vacuums the rugs and carpets first, then mops and vacuums the hard floors before moving on to the next room. There is no option to mop only; the robot is always vacuuming and sometimes mopping.
It’s a decent mop
It can only mop if you attach the pad (which is removable so you can clean it) and if its 210 ml water tank is full. Without both of those in place, it just vacuums. When it runs out of water, it continues to vacuum, and you get an alert in the app to refill the tank. This does require manual intervention: you have to take the combined dust bin and water reservoir out of the back of the robot and fill the water tank. (iRobot says it’s fine to use any cleaning solution in its bot; most robot mops only take water or their own cleaning solution).
The small tank does not last long: after mopping my kitchen floor, it was generally spent. You can get more mopping out of it by reducing the water flow level in the app, but in my testing, the highest setting was the most effective. Handily, you can set different water levels for different rooms. I had it take two passes and mop on the Ultra setting for the kitchen and dining room floors but had it use Eco for the living room.
The Combo doesn’t use any scrubbing action to clean the floors, just the downward pressure from the mop arms and the friction from the pad dragging across the floor as the robot moves. iRobot says that programming it to do two passes is the most effective way to use the mop for more stubborn stains. In testing, that was true, but with two passes, I was filling up the tank a lot more often.
While its rug-avoiding method works well, its mopping is lackluster.
The only other robot vac / mop that doesn’t need you to attach its pad when you want it to mop is the Roborock S7 line. Roborock handles the “don’t drag a damp mop pad over my rug” problem by lifting its mop a few millimeters when it encounters carpet. But this only works on low pile rugs and carpets, whereas the Combo j7 can go over any rug or carpet, thanks to that robot arm.
While its rug-avoiding method works well, its mopping is lackluster. This is true of almost every other combo vacuum and mop I’ve tested, however, especially compared to a Swiffer-type mop and some manual labor.
Yes, it works well enough to pick up fine dust the vacuum misses, but it won’t get dried milk up unless you send it out four or five times, even with a cleaning solution, by which point you may as well have grabbed the Swiffer. iRobot has a dedicated mopping robot, the Braava Jet M6, which does a much better job at mopping — it obliterates dried milk stains. But it’s very slow and can’t handle rugs or high-room transitions in the same way the Combo can.
Both the Roborock S7 Plus and the S7 MaxV Ultra do a better job at mopping floors than the Combo j7. The S7’s mopping pad is twice the size of the Combo’s and vibrates ever so slightly to simulate scrubbing. The S7’s oscillating motion did a better job of cleaning a dried milk stain in one pass than the Roomba did in two passes, though it didn’t completely remove the stain in its regular mode. The Roborocks have a high-intensity mopping level where the bot doesn’t vacuum at all, moves more slowly, and scrubs more intensely. That mode did completely remove the dried milk and left my floors feeling like someone had actually mopped them.
Roborock also sells an Empty Wash Fill dock for its S7 MaxV Ultra robot that automatically refills the robot’s water tank and scrubs the mopping pad, in addition to emptying its dust bin and charging its battery. While the Roomba Combo j7 Plus does come with an auto-empty dock, filling the water tank and cleaning the mopping pad are on you. And you do have to refill the water tank frequently, despite iRobot’s hands-free claims; it never got through my 800-square-foot downstairs without needing to be refilled.
In iRobot’s corner, the Roomba’s auto empty station is much less of an eyesore than the Roborock’s, and the Combo j7 Plus with the station usually costs about $300 less than the Roborock with the Empty Wash Fill base. Plus, Roombas don’t talk to you, unlike almost every other robot vac I’ve tested, including the Roborocks. Seriously, these things are Chatty Cathys — “I’m going to clean the kitchen.” “I’m stuck, and I need help.” “I’m very annoying.”
…but a great vacuum.
Ultimately, the Combo j7 Plus adds a bit more convenience than most vacuum / mop models and will get your floors a bit cleaner than the regular j7. And while it’s an okay mop, it is an excellent vacuum. Roombas are the best at actually vacuuming of all the models I’ve tested. This is partly because of a unique dual rubber brush system that helps it dig into carpet fibers and pick up dirt better from hard floors.
The j7 and Combo j7 have the same software and the same vacuuming features. I reviewed the j7 when it first came out, but thanks to several over-the-air updates to its robot brain (or operating system), it has gotten significantly better. I encourage you to read my earlier review of the Roomba j7 for more background, and I’ll go into some of the updates here.
The j7 is the only iRobot vacuum with AI obstacle avoidance. This means it’s smart enough to know to go around that sock, cable, or pile of poop. Roomba’s AI obstacle avoidance is very good, much better than the Roborock S7 MaxV, its closest competitor, and better than the Samsung JetBot AI that I originally pitted it against.
I put this down to the Roomba’s ability to figure out what objects are in its way and decide what to do about them rather than just avoiding anything lumpy. This is key: you want a vacuum to clean right up close to a litter box or pet bowl but definitely not dog waste.
In testing, the j7 almost always gave pet waste and cables a wide berth (if it does make a poopy mistake, iRobot promises to send you a new robot). It got close to — but not in a tangle with — socks, baseball caps, and backpacks and right up to pet bowls and litter boxes. You can give the robot more definitive directions in the app, which lets you designate clean zones for areas you want to target cleaning, no-mop zones, and keep-out zones.
This is worth doing if you have anything delicate you want it to avoid; Roombas are very bullish and will bang into furniture, and AI avoidance isn’t foolproof. While the Combo j7 rarely got tripped up by anything in my testing, it did occasionally get stuck under a piece of furniture.
You designate these zones on the map the iRobot app creates when you run the robot. (Of note, iRobot was recently purchased by Amazon, a move which may be to gain more insight into our homes through those maps. The deal has not yet closed.)
The j7 maps more quickly than previous Roombas, thanks to its onboard camera. This helps it identify not only rooms but also furniture and appliances. I could easily set up a clean zone in front of the stove and send the robot there with a voice command to clean up after dinner.
The bot can also identify things like Christmas trees and pet bowls and suggest clean zones for you — although I didn’t have any of these set up during my testing. It will also suggest keep-out zones after each run if it encounters obstacles.
Voice commands are a great way to control the Roomba, and it works well with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri (using Siri shortcuts). The Combo also has specific mopping commands, so you can tell it just to vacuum or to mop and vacuum.
Smart home data privacy: iRobot
Bringing connected devices into your home also brings with it concerns about how the data they collect is protected. The Verge asks each company whose smart home products we review about safeguards it has in place for your data.
The primary home data managed by a robot vacuum like the Roomba Combo j7 are the maps it generates and image data from its onboard camera. iRobot says it does not sell customer data and that no data is shared with third parties without the customer’s knowledge or control. It outlines its Privacy Principles on its website.
The robot vacuum collects usage data, the level of dirt detection, the Wi-Fi signal strength it receives, and the map of your home, including furniture and obstacles. iRobot says this data is encrypted and stored securely.
Image collection is opt-in and helps with navigation and obstacle avoidance. iRobot says images are not viewable by the company unless you opt-in both to image collection and to sharing each image with iRobot. If you view your map or obstacle avoidance images on your phone the data is shared through the Cloud. You can opt-out of sending map data to the Cloud in the app.
You can also choose to share data from the robot with third parties such as Amazon and Google for voice control.
The Roomba Combo j7 does not need to be connected to Wi-Fi or the Cloud to work — but you won’t be able to use features like scheduled cleanings, customized cleaning features, and voice control.
iRobot’s app is also one of the cleanest and easiest to navigate, especially compared to Roborock’s cluttered interface. A couple of new app features address some of my biggest gripes with the Roomba. First is a new on-the-fly skip option. When Roomba starts on a job but encounters resistance — say, a husband watching TV — instead of stopping the job entirely, you can tell it to skip this room, and it will go off and continue the rest of its job.
There’s also a new quiet drive feature, so when you send it to clean a specific room, it doesn’t start up its loudest motors until it’s there, again making it less likely someone will turn it off because it’s annoying them. Roomba is one of the few robot vacs where you can’t set the suction level; others offer quiet and medium modes in addition to regular and ultra.
Of course, the best way to ensure a robot vacuum finishes its job is to run it when no one is home. You can do this with the iRobot app using IFTTT and your phone’s location or events from other connected devices you might have — such as an August smart lock locking, an Ecobee thermostat going into Away mode, or by connecting it to a smart home platform such as Alexa.
I tested the IFTTT and the Alexa integrations, and in both cases, the Roomba started to run when I left and docked itself when I arrived home. If you don’t want it to stop every time you arrive home, you can also set it to pause and ask if you want it to continue.
These quality-of-life touches go a long way to making Roomba’s robots some of the best you can buy. And the iRobot OS that runs them is on all the bots the company currently sells, not just the high-end models. Another thing I like about Roombas compared to much of the competition is their repairability. You can buy (not inexpensive) replacements for many of the moving parts on these bots, greatly extending their lifespan.
The Combo j7 Plus is a relatively small improvement over the j7 Plus. I would have liked to see more scrubbing action from the mop and also a bigger footprint (that mop is really small). But it does clean hard flooring better than the j7, so from that perspective, it’s worth the price difference, especially if you have a lot of rugs in your home. But I’m not sure slightly cleaner floors are worth the $300 premium. If you have a j7, you certainly don’t need to upgrade, but if you are looking for your first Roomba, it is a small step up over the non-mopping j7.
If you want a robot to really mop your floors, I prefer the Braava Jet M6, a dedicated mop bot that you can get in a bundle with the j7 often for less than the Combo j7 Plus. But it is slow and limited in its maneuverability, so it’s best suited to keeping single rooms like a kitchen or bathroom clean. And two robots take up twice the room.
Another option is robot vacuum mops from Ecovacs, DreameBot, and Yeedi, which use two large round oscillating mops. In my testing, these do a very good job of scrubbing your floors, and some come with bases that can refill the mop for you. But these won’t clean carpets and hard floors in the same run; you have to manually attach the pads when you want to mop.
This is where the Combo j7 does best — better than the Roborock S7 line, thanks to its ability to clean high-pile carpets. Just press the button and it will clean it all (until it runs out of water). If you have lots of hard flooring with lots of plush rugs and carpets, then the Combo j7 will work well for you. Otherwise, the regular j7 vacuum, without the conversation piece robotic mop arm, is a better choice.
Speaking of that robotic arm, it is an impressive piece of engineering design. It’s not too out there to extrapolate that this type of accessory mechanism could be deployed in other ways. A robot arm to pick up clutter, perhaps, or a robot foot to help the vacuum crack the final frontier for these impressive cleaning bots: stairs.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge
Agree to continue: iRobot Roomba Combo j7 Plus
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
You need to register for an iRobot account using an email address to use the app (Android or iOS) and agree to iRobot’s Terms of Service, which include:
- iRobot Terms & Conditions
- iRobot End User License Agreement
In total, you get three mandatory agreements.
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