At a glanceExpert’s Rating
ProsRetractable mop arm keeps carpets dryNew Clean Base design blends in with home furnishingsRecognizes and prioritizes dirtiest areasConsCompanion app’s maps are basic and many controls are buried in sub-menusMop pads must be cleaned manuallyExpensiveOur Verdict
With new intelligent automation features and an attractive new Clean Base, the Roomba Combo J9+ vac/mop hybrid further refines iRobot’s flagship product. But an inelegant app makes using this bot more of a chore than it should be.
The last time I reviewed a Roomba I was wowed by its most notable evolutionary leap: its ability to recognize and avoid pet poop. Admittedly, I had never considered the potential disaster of a robot vacuum colliding with dog droppings, but the benefits of averting it were pretty clear.
But the problem iRobot’s new flagship Combo J9+ addresses is one I have thought about – and probably every other robot vacuum user has as well: How do you best keep a mopping robot vacuum from creating a watery mess on rugs and carpets? Manufacturers have come up with a variety of imperfect solutions, ranging from placing physical and virtual barriers around carpeted areas to outfitting their robots with mops that raise themselves a few millimeters before rolling over rugs.
Tested during the rainy season, the Roomba Combo J9+ did a solid job of cleaning tracked-in mud from my home’s laminate floors
iRobot might have come up with the most effective idea yet: a fully retractable mopping arm. The arm sits unobtrusively on top of the Roomba Combo J9+ until you initiate a vacuuming and mopping job; it then lowers to the underside. When carpet is detected, the arm retracts back to the top of the robot until it resumes cleaning hard-surface floors. Because the mopping plate moves completely away from the floor, there’s no risk of carpeted surfaces getting soaked.
The Roomba Combo J9+’s door has a compartment for holding extra dust bags and mop pads.
The retractable mopping arm was actually introduced with the Roomba Combo J7+, an upgrade of the J7+ mentioned above. The Combo J9+ retains that feature and several others, while incorporating some all-new enhancements. One of the most striking is the new Clean Base design.
An innovative charging base
As charging docks get larger to accommodate water tanks and self-emptying bins, it becomes harder to conceal them among household furnishings. iRobot says it wanted to make sure the J9+ base station could blend in with the design aesthetic of the home, whether it was placed in the living room, bedroom, or kitchen.
The result is something that could pass for a small piece of furniture, featuring a black matte finish, beveled front door, and a faux woodgrain top that functions as a table surface on which you can place small objects, such as a plant or household knick-knacks. In practice, this last touch helps the dock further blend with your décor, despite its portly 16.3 x 15.8 x 16.4-inch (HxWxD) dimensions.
The door on the base station provides access to a water reservoir that holds 30 days of liquid to automatically refill the robot’s onboard tank, and a dust bag that can hold about 30 days of debris emptied from the robot’s dustbin. One of my favorite design touches is the pair of slots on the inside of the door that hold extra mopping pads and dust bags, so they don’t get misplaced.
The robot itself measures 3.4 x 13.7 x 13.7 inches (HxWxD) and features a single button on top to start, pause, and resume cleaning. When the robot is at rest or vacuuming, the mopping arm sits at the back, where it blends into the top surface. On the underside are a pair of ribbed rubber rollers and a single spinning edge brush.
The front-facing camera, first introduced with the J7+, has been kept and so has the obstacle avoidance technology, including pet waste recognition backed by iRobot’s P.O.O.P. (Pet Owner Official Promise) guarantee: If your robot plows into pet poop within the first year of your purchase, the company will send you a new robot at no cost to you.
Setup and performance
To set up the Combo J9+, you plug in the Clean Base and insert the robot into its slot to charge. The iRobot Home app facilitates the connection to your Wi-Fi through a straightforward prompt-driven setup. You’ll also need to remove the water tank from the Clean Base and fill it with plain water or a compatible cleaning solution before your first cleaning job. Finally, you have to lift the mounting plate from the top of the robot and attach one of the mop pads.
The robot can learn and map your space as it cleans or during a dedicated mapping run. The latter is quicker and is easier on the battery, but the option is buried in the app, so I just let it explore as it cleaned. After its first run, the robot had accurately mapped all of my home’s accessible space and labeled the rooms. It also populated the map with various icons indicating the type of floor surfaces, the dirtiest areas, and where it encountered obstacles. I was able to edit it to correct any inaccuracies and add cleaning zones and no-mop areas.
The maps are disappointingly basic, though. They’re rendered in drab monochrome with little detail. For comparison’s sake, consider the maps produced by Roborock’s premium robot vacuums, which use color coding to delineate rooms, allow you to add furnishings like couches and beds, and can be rendered in 2D or 3D. The iRobot app’s maps are sufficient for understanding and managing where the Combo J9+ cleans, but they’re pretty crude for such an otherwise sophisticated product.
The Roomba Combo J9+ comes with three levels of suction power and automatic carpet boost that ratchets up the suction when it recognizes carpeted surfaces. The latest version of its robot operating system, iRobot OS 7.0, also adds Dirt Detective intelligence to help it quickly identify and prioritize cleaning the dirtiest areas of the home first, and a SmartScrub mode that enables the robot to apply a back-and-forth scrubbing motion to better clean stains and sticky messes from hard-surface floors. Once you approve a map, all of this goes into effect as the robot plots an efficient cleaning path, knowing where to apply more suction, where to mop, and where there are obstacles to be avoided. This all appeared to work as advertised in my testing.
There was plenty of tracked-in mud on my laminate floors due to heavy rain during my testing period, and the Combo J9+ did a solid job of removing it. It was hard to see the scrubbing motion in action as the robot worked, but the elbow grease applied was evident in the results. I have a single area rug in my living room, but the retractable mop arm worked flawlessly each time the robot approached it.
The iRobot app provides full control of the Combo J9+, but many controls are buried in sub menus and the interface is lackuster overall.
Notably, the Combo J9+ does not include a pad-wash feature in its Clean Base. Self-cleaning mops have become more common, but iRobot says it wanted to avoid the odors these types of docks tend to produce over time, along with the extra cleaning users must perform to defeat them. To that end, the Combo J9+’s mop pads are machine washable, so you can simply toss the dirty one in the laundry and swap in a clean one after each job.
About that lackluster app
The iRobot app isn’t always easy to navigate, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of the robot’s controls placed up front. The home screen displays buttons for initiating cleaning jobs and manually emptying the robot’s dustbin and refilling its water tank. But virtually every control, including things you’d likely want to adjust before every cleaning job, such as suction power and water level, are relegated to a sub-menu.
The app doesn’t support a live map, either, so you can’t see the robot’s current location and where it has cleaned in real time. The app also devotes considerable space to the iRobot store and to pushing messages such as support tips and reminders to subscribe to iRobot’s mailing list. Ultimately, I found it adequate but not particularly enjoyable to use. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
Should you buy a Roomba Combo J9+?
The Roomba Combo J9+ doesn’t feel like the quantum leap the Roomba J7+ did, but that’s understandable given that it retains all of that vacuum’s many innovations. It’s automation enhancements and new furnishing-friendly design easily make it one of the most sophisticated combo robot floor cleaners you can buy. But consumers should reasonably expect a $1,400 robot vacuum to have a highly polished companion app, and in its current state, the iRobot app falls short of that; its design is lackluster and requires too much hunting to find critical tools and features.
That said, the Roomba Combo J9+ is still worth considering if you need a 2-in-1 mopping robot vacuum, but we’d advise waiting until the price comes down a bit to get your money’s worth.
Not the right robot vacuum for you? Have a look at our round-up of all the best robot vacuums we’ve tested, for our top recommendations.
This review was first published in our sibling publication, TechHive, and has been reproduced for inclusion here.