Roomba 860 vs 880. Is the 880 still the king?

Even in 2017, a few years after their release, the Roomba 860 and 880 still sit at the top of the list of best robot vacuum cleaners. You can see why. For the (surprisingly reasonable) price, you're getting one of the most well-rounded electronic cleaning products out there.

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Powerful, with enough automation to make using it as simple as setting and forgetting, both the Roomba 860 and 880 are awesome little machines that make keeping your home clean so much simpler.

But how do they compare against each other? Comparing robot vacuums can be hard, especially if you've never owned one. Luckily, you've got our review, which details how both units work, the similarities, and the differences.


What's the difference between them? The Roomba 860 vs 880

Honestly, at a glance, apart from the color it's hard to tell them apart, and that continues all the way through. The Roomba 860 and 880 are very similar in operation, with a few minor differences that make the 880 much easier to use, especially if you've got a larger home.

Roomba 860 vacuum cleaner review

Roomba 860

irobot Roomba 880 vacuum cleaner review

Roomba 880

The physical Looks

Looking at both of the systems, they seem incredibly similar. From the outside, the only real difference is the color of the hull. The 860 comes in silver, with black accents, and the 880 is almost entirely black. Overall, the 880 looks more stylish, but it's a purely aesthetic choice, and both will look good buzzing around your floor.

Controls

Both have the same layout of control buttons in the center of the unit, with a large silver 'clean' button that starts a cleaning cycle, and four smaller buttons, with dock, clock, schedule and spot functions.

Clock sets the internal timer on the unit. Dock sends the unit back to home base to charge. The schedule allows you to program a cleaning routine into it, which it will automatically try and follow as best as it can.

A spot is a little different, a smart function that allows you to deep clean an area. After selection, the Roomba will spiral out from its starting point a few feet, then return to where it came from, which deep cleans the offending area. I really like this function. It's great for ground in mud or particularly unruly patches of hair. Just set it up and leave it to do its thing.

Both systems also have the same smart system of utility lights across the top, that shows you at a glance what's going on with your machine. First off, there's a battery light that flashes amber when it's charging, sits at green when she's ready to go and glows a warning red when it's run completely out of juice and needs to be manually charged.

There's also a full bin light lets you know when you need to empty it out, and an anti-tangle light, just in case something gets stuck in the brushes and needs to be manually cleared out.

Size

irobot working on the carpet

Both the 860 and 880 are exactly the same in terms of dimensions. Short, with a maximum running height of 3.6 inches, it's going to fit under medium sized couches and chairs with absolutely no issues.

At the widest point, they're 14 inches across, and a solidly built 8.4lbs (3.8kgs) that make it surprisingly simple to pick them up and move about, especially with the built-in carrying handle.

When you turn them over, both models are absolutely identical, with a few nice touches that are a huge improvement over previous models.

Aeroforce cleaning power

First off, all 800 series models have an upgraded Aeroforce cleaning system, which uses two bristle-free extractors that rotate inwards, which speeds up airflow and gives more powerful suction, as well as being so much easier to clean.

50 %
Improved suction

Because there are no bristles when issues happen all you have to do is snap the extractors out of the system and brush them down.

Supposedly, compared to the 700 and 600 series models, the 860 and 880 have around 50% improved suction and performance.

We aren't scientists, but we do know that, even amongst top tier robot vacuums, the performance of the 800 series holds up incredibly well, picking up a high percentage of dust and debris, even difficult things like hair and food crumbs.

Built inside brush

irobot built inside brushes

The built inside brush is awesome at hitting edges and collecting dust from hard corners, something that a lot of robot vacuums can suffer from. But the brush built into this sweeps dirt straight into the center of the system, where it's easily picked up by the main brushes.

iAdapt navigation system

One major criticism with earlier models of Roomba was the scuffing and damage it could cause as it went about its duty because they had a tendency to slam into furniture at full speed. But now, with the improved edge sensors, the 800 series all slow down as soon as they get near an obstacle, and try their best to navigate around it.

You're still going to experience a little bit of bumping and bouncing around with the 860 and 880, but it's nowhere near as bad.

On top of this, it's got the standard suite of sensors, including improved dirt sensors around the edge that will aim this at patches of hair and debris, as well as cliff sensors that prevent it from committing honorable suicide down any steps you might use it near.

Dustbin

800 series models have larger dustbin than in previous models, but they still fill up fast in larger houses. In general use, you'll probably have to empty the bin and clean the filter every couple of uses. 

Emptying the bin is easy, once you get the hang of it, and cleaning the filter is as simple as using a conventional vacuum brush attachment on it for a few seconds.

 

Maintenance

In general, with the 880 and 860, you'll find that you're trading in low-maintenance cleaning, but high maintenance between cleans.

AeroForce High-Efficiency Filters

AeroForce High-Efficiency Filters

It's not hard to keep your Roomba at top capacity. You're going to have to clean the dust filter, every so often, and replace it a few times a year. The debris extractors also have to be removed and brushed down every three or four months as well.

Ironically, you'll also have to clean the dust sensors every so often, otherwise, it will stop seeing patches of dust and hair, which means the cleaning performance will go way down. Apart from this, it's good to go.

The battery

Both models have an improved lithium Xlife battery, which supposedly lasts a lot longer than standard batteries. In our experience, you're looking at around an hour and a half of total cleaning time before it sends itself back to the home base for cleaning.

HEPA filtration

Both models come with HEPA certified filters. HEPA, or High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters, are mandated by the Department of Energy and have to meet a certain standard, making them capable of being used in places like hospitals.

 

Comparing the iRobot Roomba 860 and 880

When you compare the 860 and 880, you're basically looking at the same model, with accessories that adapt the 880 for larger homes and simpler, less time intensive use. They're physically identical, with the same excellent performance and powerful suction, ease of use and other options. So why is the 880 more expensive? Simple.

The accessories

The Roomba 880 comes with a lot more, justifying that higher price tag. In the box, you'll find a remote control, so you can change settings from across the room, or even from across the house, which is excellent if you're, for example, on the phone and it automatically starts. Or if you're looking for a well-deserved lie in and it kicks in a preprogrammed routine.

In contrast, the Roomba 860 just gives you the system itself, plus one light wall. As well as the remote, the 880 comes with a pair of light walls that also function as lighthouses. Here's what that means.

Light walls

It's normally used to keep it out of areas you don't need it to go. For example, throw it across a doorway, and there'll be no accidental wandering through the house or down the street.

Lighthouses

 
irobot roomba virtual wall lighthouse
A light wall is a small, relatively unobtrusive device that you can set up anywhere in your house that broadcasts an invisible beam of light that your Roomba will not cross.

On the other hand, lighthouses are a lot more technologically adept. First off, they function as light walls, just like the above.

But you can also set them to lighthouse mode, in which case, once your Roomba has completed its current room clean, the light wall switches off and lets the vacuum through, so it can move into the next room and start a new cleaning cycle.

What this means to you is you can set these up, and with a bit of tinkering, have three rooms regularly patrolled and kept clean by your new piece of kit. It really is impressive, especially once you see it in operation.


FAQs

Why would you buy a robot vacuum cleaner?

We'd never deny that robot vacuums are a luxury, but they're a luxury that can make your life so much more convenient. Especially considering that, if you set them upright, you'll never even see it in operation.

Imagine coming home to a house that's clean and free of dirt and dust, every day. Imagine Only having to get the normal vacuum cleaner out once or twice a month, if that.

 
 
 
irobot roomba on the floor
Bear in mind when looking at these that you're still going to have to get your traditional vacuum cleaner out every now and then. Robot vacuums are still a relatively new piece of tech, and right now they can't completely replace standard vacuum cleaners, especially if you've got a large house or one with primarily heavy pile carpets.

But that's not to say they aren't good. The latest models clean incredibly well, with huge increases in performance that basically match normal stand up vacuum cleaners. This means that whilst they're still a luxury for most people, the disparity in performance that you might have seen even just five years ago is all but gone.

 
 
irobot roomba clean mode with phone
 

With that in mind, that makes Roombas exceptional if you've got a busy job, new children, or even if you live alone and you simply want to automate another household chore. If this is the case, you should seriously consider an intelligent vacuum.

 
I also personally know someone who bought a Roomba because they suffered from a disability that made it difficult to use a vacuum cleaner without pain and exhaustion. It's literally perfect for this role.
 

Roombas are also an excellent choice if you've got pets. The 860 and 880 models are a lot better than they used to be at picking up pet hair and other large debris, and the new brush roller types require a hell of a lot less cleaning and maintenance, which is something I'm truly thankful for. The days of picking tangled hair out of the brushes is a thing of the past.

How do these vacuums perform on different types of flooring?

 
iRobot on carpet
Roombas have no problem navigating on pretty much every single type of floor, and transfer from, for example, hardwood floors to deep pile carpets with no problems.
 

We have noticed a slight issue with climbing onto particularly deep rugs, but the machine is smart enough to attack it from several angles until it works out a way to get on.

Bear in mind, the docking station has to be on a hard, flat surface, which can limit where this lives, but it's only a minor issue.

Can I use accessories from my old Roomba with these?

Yes. The 860 and 880 are both compatible with any light walls, lighthouses, and remotes you might already have.


The final say. Which one should you choose? Roomba 860 vs 880

Because they are so similar, choosing between both models can be difficult. Here's a cheat sheet, if you're still undecided.

Choose the 160 if...

  • You have a smaller home, or you only have one or two larger rooms that need cleaning
  • You won't need to change the setting often
  • You want a decent robot vacuum for a low price

Choose the 880 if...

  • If you have a larger home with multiple rooms that need to be cleaned
  • You want the ease of use of a remote
  • You want the accessories that come with the 880

Honestly, if I was choosing between them and I didn't absolutely need the remote and accessories, I'd probably choose the 860 over the 880.

Whilst they're both incredibly useful and effective pieces of kit, for me there's just not enough difference to justify the price increase. But then, I know I'd be far more likely to get hands on, rather than use the remote.

At the end of the day, it's up to you. Both systems are amazing. Both do what they do exceptionally well, and will leave your floors clean, dust and hair free with no input from you.

 
 

I can't see anyone who picks one of these up being disappointed, so don't worry. If you decide to go for the slightly more expensive option, you're still ending up with an excellent product. After all, there's a reason it's still in the top three electronic vacuums after so long.

 
 
 
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