Real life rarely delivers on the tech-utopia visions of science fiction writers, but the Roomba Combo j9+ Auto-Fill Robot Vacuum and Mop comes awfully close. It’s a for-real housecleaning robot that vacuums your carpets and mops your floors with no human effort and no complaints—just as a robot should.
Many robo-floor-cleaners are more trouble than they’re worth—gimmicky gadgets that are soon abandoned because they’re complicated to set up, hard to customize, or don’t actually clean that well. But the J9+ isn’t like that. It quietly toils away and rarely requires attention beyond emptying the bin and refilling the water tank. It actually does what you’d want a robot vacuum to do, and it does it with style. I don’t want to gush, but this thing is like a childhood dream come true, if you dreamed of robots cleaning your house.
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Robot Weight: 8.9 lbs
Robot Dimensions (in): 3.4 x 13.7 x 13.7
Battery Type: Lithium-ion
Base Dimensions (in): 15.8 (W) x 16.4 (D) x 16.3 (H)
Base Weight: 21.9 lbs
How well does it clean?
Before I dig into the j9+’s finer points, let me address the most important feature for a robotic floor-cleaner: It cleans really well. The unit is powerful enough to suck up anything that’s likely to be on your floor, and it changes suction strength based on whether it’s on a hard floor or a carpet. The machine’s sensors even identify areas that are particularly dirty and it gives them a second pass. It also covers as much of your floor as is possible for a round object—oddly shaped obstacles might limit it from getting everywhere, but that’s geometry for ya.
The wet-cleaning is similarly functional: It scrubs floors really well, with a dual scrubbing action, either using water or a floor cleaning solution. That said, it can’t scrub a hard floor as thoroughly as as a person on their hands and knees with a scrub-brush, so humans aren’t totally obsolete, but for day-in-day out un-gross-ifying, it’s more than good enough.
An advanced, autonomous cleaning system that you don’t have to know anything about
From a technical point of view, plopping a robot into a random house and asking it to figure out how to navigate obstacles and vacuum and mop the floors without hurling itself down the stairs or sucking up the socks you left in the bathroom is a technical problem on par with a self-driving car navigating city streets. But the complexity required for the J9 to work is never passed on to the consumer. Your part is easy: You plug in the base, fill up the water tank, download the app, and connect it to your network. The robot takes over from there.
On its first few runs, the vacuum disc starts patrolling your home, feeling things out with its front-facing camera and various sensors, lightly bumping into obstacles, and learning where the stairs are without going over them. It identifies different floor types, learns which part of the house is particularly dirty, and gives each room a name (“living room,” “kitchen,” etc.). Then a map of your home is sent to the app. You can fix up any mistakes manually from there as well as mark areas as “no go zones.”
I tried it at both my house and a friend’s house, and it was 100 percent correct both times about the rooms and layout. I set up a manual “don’t go there” around the cat’s water bowl, but other than that, it did everything.
Once you approve the maps, the device creates a logical, efficient cleaning path that includes knowing how powerful to suck based on the kind of flooring or carpet, when to break out its mop-arm for wet-work, and what areas it should avoid.
Maybe it goes against the device’s “you don’t have to think about it” vibe, but I wanted to monitor the camera feed to see things from my vacuum’s point of view and be able to manually direct the disc like a remote control car, but those features aren’t available. Maybe an update will come some day.
Controlling the Roomba j9+ from your phone
You can control and customize all of the cleaning specifics from the app. You can create different cleaning jobs like “vacuum and mop everywhere” or “vacuum the dining room.” You can either hit the “go” button when you want clean floors, schedule times for a cleaning jobs, or set it to start as soon as you leave the area around your house. This is done with a logical, simple interface that you will be able to understand instantly if you have ever touched an app.
Because the machine’s navigation is camera-based instead of achieved through LIDAR or random chance like many other robo-vacs, the J9 will not perform well in the dark, so you’ll have to leave the lights on if you want a 3am cleaning.
When the vacuum’s onboard dirt tank fills up, the robot will automatically return to its base, empty itself into a bin, then head back to resume its job. It does the same with the mopping—if the water tank gets low, it goes home and fills up from the base’s reservoir, then starts cleaning the floor again—you don’t need to do anything.
Your mileage may vary, but for me, this was all seamless. There was no point where I had to look for a manual online, or figure out why it wasn’t connecting to my wi-fi—it just worked in an intuitive way. Other than changing the machine washable mop-head (you get two with the unit), you don’t have to do anything until it uses up all the water in the tank—that takes a month or so—or the base’s vacuum bag fills up every 60 days or so.
Obstacle avoidance and P.O.O.P—the Pet Owners Official Promise
Credit: Stephen Johnson
From a robot’s point-of-view, the landscape of your home changes every time you leave something on the floor, so obstacle avoidance is vital, particularly when the obstacle is animal waste. One of the selling points of the iRobot J9+ is that it will not track animal crap all over your house. iRobot is so serious about this that it offers customers its Pet Owners’ Official Promise (P.O.O.P). The company will replace the entire unit for free if it rolls over animal waste in its first year.
When the machine identifies an obstacle, animal waste or other, it steers clear and sends a picture to the app, asking you to help it learn what it’s seeing. It’s essentially asking: “is this a permanent feature, or did you just leave your socks on the floor?” Once you’ve thrown your socks in the hamper, you can send it back out there to clean up what it missed.
I tested the J9+’s poop-avoidance technology (as well as its relationship to cords, and whether it would fall down the stairs or get itself trapped in some weird corner and start beeping for help) by creating a robo-gauntlet. I spread chocolate bars and various wires in all the rooms of my house, and moved the furniture around to try to funnel it toward a step. But alas, it outsmarted me and navigated it all without breaking a sweat. It sent me review pictures like this though, with the animal dropping helpfully highlighted:
Credit: Stephen Johnson
Geometry still exists, though, and some household items are so oddly shaped that it can get stuck—it got trapped under a bicycle tire in my hallway once (don’t judge my lifestyle) but that was the only incident of “I’m trapped!” distress it suffered in over a month of constant use.
The overall design of the Roomba J9+ robot vacuum/mop is perfect if you just don’t want to think about cleaning
Credit: Stephen Johnson
The technology inside this robot is as advanced and cutting edge as anything on the vacuum market, but I was just as impressed with the unit’s overall design aesthetic—everything about it is no-hassle, low-key, and unobtrusive, from the intuitive UI of the app, down to the home base’s design. Speaking of: The base of the J9+ is impressive. It reinforces the overall feel of the product by being intuitive when you need to use it, and unobtrusive when you don’t.
When you have to replace the machine washable scrubber or install a new filter or vacuum bag, you won’t have to look up anything on a website or consult a manual, you can just do it. The rest of the time, the base is aggressively neutral. Its mellow faux-wood top and lack of any visible controls means it could pass for an end table and it blend in just about anywhere—it’s so innocuous it’s practically invisible. You can even put plants on it.
Will your Roomba vacuum spy on your home?
A vacuum as a possible security threat seems a little silly, but the device does use a camera to help develop a detailed look inside your home. I’m not sure how a fish-eye view of my kitchen floor would interest anyone, but you never know, so I spoke to an iRobot representative specifically about privacy concerns over their vacuums. He assured that no photographic information is connected to individual users or used for any reason but obstacle identification, and even then only if you opt in. No data about the layout of your house is sold to anyone, either.
Overall: this vacuum is really great
I went into this a robot vacuum skeptic. Other devices I’ve tried seemed to basically knock themselves against walls until they located my speaker wires and ate them. But after a month or so of using the j9+, I’m a believer. I couldn’t make it run over fake poop (and I tried) and my floors are as clean as they have ever been without me having to use a vacuum or mop like a caveman.