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Should you buy Roomba's new $349 robot vacuum? That depends on your floors

The Roomba i5+ is a self-emptying robot vacuum and mop that cleans carpets quickly and to perfection. But there are things to note for potential buyers.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The Roomba i5+.

The Roomba i5+ does a great job on carpet.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Roomba i5+ is available now on Amazon for $349.
  • Cleans carpet quickly and to perfection.
  • Wet-cleaning feature failed to work and the brushes broke after two weeks.

Until I met the Narwal Freo, I was not a fan of allowing a robot vacuum to take over the floor-cleaning chores. However, since that robot came into our house, I've been a convert. The Narwal set a rather high bar, which the many devices I've tested subsequently have failed to clear. Sadly, the Roomba i5+ fell considerably short of the Freo.

Also: The best robot vacuums: Expert tested and reviewed

Don't get me wrong: The Roomba i5+ does a good job -- for what it is. But the i5+ has enough issues to make me hesitant to recommend it over the likes of the Narwal. Of course, not everyone can afford $1,200 for a robot vacuum

But for $349, the Roomba i5+ is a tempting package -- so long as you temper your expectations.

View at Amazon

The specs

  • Works on hardwood, hard floors, and carpet.
  • Automatic bin emptying (for up to 60 days before you'll need to change the bag).
  • Designed for both wet and dry cleaning. (More on this in a bit.)
  • 4-stage cleaning that pulls in dirt, debris, and pet hair.
  • Automatically returns to its last cleaning location when the battery is recharged.
  • Child and pet lock.
  • Compatible with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.
  • Automatically recognizes obstacles and drops (such as stairs).
  • Dimensions - 13.4"L x 13.5"W x 3.6"H.
  • Battery life - 180 minutes.
  • Voltage - 14.4 volts.
  • Weight - 7 pounds.

My experience

First, let me talk about the wet cleaning. The Roomba i5+ comes with two detachable bins: one for dry cleaning and one for wet cleaning. The robot is supposed to automatically detect which bin has been attached and clean accordingly. 

Also: I tested the world's first robot vacuum with twin motors for extra suction power, and they actually work

No matter how many times I've tried this, the robot does not automatically detect which bin has been attached. Because of that, I wound up with a soaked docking station and dirt collection bag (an odor that wound up permeating the entire second floor of the house). What happened was the robot decided to empty the bin before heading out to clean. When that happened, it emptied the contents of the wet cleaning attachment into the collection bag. 

After that, I attempted to connect the wet attachment without any water -- with the same result. (It sucked in what remained of the water.) No matter how many times I tried this, the i5+ failed to auto-detect the wet bin. Because of that, I've not been able to use the i5+ for mopping. I've checked the app for an option to manually tell the robot to go into wet mode but there is none.

The second issue I had was that the three-pronged sweeping brush lasted about two weeks before every arm had broken off. I realized this when I discovered the hardwood floor was just as dirty after cleaning as it was before. I then turned the robot over to find all three brushes had perished. Fortunately, I could purchase a six-pack of off-brand brushes on Amazon (which work for Robot Roomba i7/i7+ j7/j7+ i6/i6+ i8/i8+ i3/i3+ i4/i4+ i1/i1+ i2/i2+ i5/i5+ e5 e6 I J E Series and seem to last longer than the OEM product).

The underside of the Roomba i5+.

These after-market brushes last longer than what Roomba originally supplied.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

With those two big complaints out of the way, let's talk about what I do like about the Roomba i5+.

It's fast. Very fast. The Roomba i5+ cleans almost twice as fast as the Narwal Freo. As it roams around the floor, you might think it would knock you down if you stepped in its path.

Also: The best robot vacuum mops you can buy

The Roomba i5+ also does a great job on carpet. If your floors consist mostly of carpet, you'll be very happy with this vacuum. It also leaves a clear pattern on the carpet, which I like because it makes the carpets look like they're freshly vacuumed. When I vacuum manually, I can never achieve such consistent patterns.

The Robot is also very easy to pair with the app, which is very user-friendly. Anyone should be able to get the i5+ unboxed and connected without the slightest problem. Kudos to Roomba for making that process so simple.

ZDNET buying advice

Would I recommend the Roomba i5+? If all of your floors are carpeted, I'd say go for it. But be prepared to have to replace the brush pretty regularly. If your floors are mostly hardwood, I'd recommend going with a different robot, because the i5+ fails with the wet cleaning aspect. And given you're paying extra for that feature, there's no reason to bother.

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