Contributing author: Jennifer Blair
Roombas have gone through 10 generations since they were first introduced in 2002, and have only gotten smarter and more capable with each advance. However, sometimes a less advanced model can be a better choice not just because of price but also because of dependability. That’s the case with the Roomba 694 versus the Roomba i3 EVO.
After evaluating these two very different Roomba robot vacuums in the BestReviews Testing Lab, we found the basic Roomba 694 is still a good, affordable first robot vacuum for people who want one they can set and (almost) forget. The Roomba i3 EVO, on the other hand, sports more advanced features like mapping and systematic cleaning, but didn’t deliver the top-notch performance we expected for the price.
The Roomba 694 and Rooma i3 EVO have some significant differences in specs, reflecting the different Roomba generations they represent.
Battery life: 75 minutes | Dimensions: 13.4” L x 13.4” W x 3.54” H | Dustbin capacity: 0.35 L | Weight: 6.77 lb | Navigation software: iAdapt 1.0 Navigation Technology | Mapping: No | Self-emptying: No | Object avoidance: No | Scheduling: Yes | Selective room cleaning: No | Warranty: 1 year limited
The Roomba 694, which was released in 2021, has an 1,800 mAH (milliampere-hours) lithium-ion battery rated for 90 minutes of cleaning. However, during our testing, we recorded only 75 minutes before it needed to recharge. It has a 350-milliliter dustbin, which is somewhat stingy compared to the Roomba i3 EVO’s 500-milliliter bin, which may need to be emptied after every job. It uses iRobot’s basic iAdapt 1.0 navigation system, also known as bump-and-go navigation, which is effective but less efficient than Roombas with smart-mapping capabilities. It’s not compatible with self-emptying docks. While the 694 doesn’t support mapping or selective room cleaning, it does support scheduling via the iRobot Home app.
Read more: iRobot Roomba 694
Battery life: 96 minutes | Dimensions: 13.26” L x 13.26” W x 3.63” H | Dustbin capacity: 0.5 L | Weight: 7.44 lb | Navigation software: iAdapt 3.0 Navigation Technology | Mapping: Yes | Self-emptying: Yes | Object avoidance: No | Scheduling: Yes | Selective room cleaning: Yes | Warranty: 1 year
The Roomba i3 EVO has the same 1,800 mAH battery as the Roomba 694, but a shorter battery life for its higher suction power. It’s slightly taller and narrower, with a larger half-liter dustbin that also supports the self-emptying feature. The i3 was introduced in 2020 and then had “EVO” added to its name in 2022 when it was upgraded to have smart-mapping capabilities. The i3 EVO uses iRobot’s iAdapt 3.0 navigation system with smart mapping and selective room cleaning. It has row-by-row navigation, Wi-Fi and scheduling. Though it doesn’t come with the Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal for self-emptying, the i3+ EVO does.
Read more: iRobot Roomba i3+ EVO
Both the Roomba 694 and the Roomba i3 EVO come fully assembled and only need to be charged before use. The 694 comes with a pull tab protecting its battery that must first be removed before charging, while the i3 EVO does not.
To take advantage of app control or voice commands, you need to download the iRobot Home app for your smartphone. Activate pairing by holding down a button or pair of buttons on the top of either model and then follow the instructions on the app. We ran into trouble during this charging and pairing process for both of our test models, but persistence paid off eventually.
The Roomba i3 EVO offers what iRobot says is 10 times the suction of the Roomba 694. However, in our testing, we found the Roomba i3 EVO didn’t clean 10 times better.
Both models successfully vacuumed small particles like salt and coffee from carpeting, but left visible residue in corners and under furniture. Both robots scattered pieces of cereal with their side brushes and crushed other pieces under their wheels and rollers. The i3 EVO did collect all the cereal it could reach sooner than the 694 did, though.
The Roomba i3 EVO did worse in a pet hair test on carpet, leaving a wad of fur behind, while the 694 missed only some isolated hairs. On hardwood, the i3 EVO fared better, leaving less residue from table salt, pet hair and cat litter.
The Roomba i3 EVO is slightly quieter than the Roomba 694, hovering between 55 and 64 decibels compared to the 694, which consistently rated above 60 decibels. However, that is still much quieter than a standard vacuum, which hovers around 75 decibels.
The Roomba 694 and Roomba i3 EVO look generally similar. The 694 has a more dated design with glossy plastic that attracts fingerprints. The i3 EVO has a fabric-textured top surface that gives it a clean look.
The Roomba i3 EVO is heavier than the Roomba 694 by about a pound, which doesn’t materially affect its portability. It is slightly thicker and narrower than the 694 and, in testing, refused to go into spaces that the 694 did. This, however, was actually a benefit, as the 694 would sometimes attempt to wedge itself into spaces from which it couldn’t extricate itself.
The biggest difference between the Roomba 694 and Roomba i3 EVO is in navigation. The Roomba 694 does not have mapping. Instead, it uses what’s called bump-and-go navigation, choosing a semi-random direction until it bumps into an obstacle, and then changing direction. While tests have shown this is comparable over time to more systematic cleaning, it can be frustrating to an observer. In our own testing, we observed the 694 repeatedly ignore areas of floor while repeating other areas over and over again.
The Roomba i3 EVO uses a gyroscope and sensors to learn the layout of your home, which can then be used to send it to specific rooms for jobs or find its way home. The i3 EVO also cleans in rows, covering as much of a room as it can after doing the edges.
For a lower-cost, entry-level model, the Roomba 694 supports impressive smart features. It’s compatible with the iRobot Home app, which makes scheduling, suggestions and smartphone control possible, and allows voice commands from Alexa or Google Assistant. These features are also found in the Roomba i3, but it’s a welcome surprise for the 694.
Both the Roomba 694 and Roomba i3 EVO have a side brush for edge and corner cleaning as well as the ability to spot-clean specific messes. The Roomba i3 EVO also has a HEPA-style filter in its dustbin to reduce dust escaping back into the air.
Cleaning the Roomba 694 and Roomba i3 EVO is easy. Both models have removable internal dustbins, which can be emptied into the trash and rinsed in water. The Roomba i3’s bin is a little tricky to remove with an inset side latch button rather than a simple top button.
Both models should be flipped over to clean the rollers. The 694’s main bristle brush roller is more prone to retaining long hair, fur and string than the rubber rollers of the i3, so it needs more attention when cleaning. Clean both models on all surfaces with a soft cloth, especially their sensor windows and charging contacts.
The Roomba 694 is priced at $274.99. While still costlier than other entry-level competitors, its reliability and added smart features make it a value proposition. It’s available at iRobot and Amazon.
The Roomba i3 EVO retails for $349.99 on Amazon. But if you want a self-emptying version of the i3 EVO, you can instead purchase the i3+ EVO, which comes with the Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal and charging dock, for $549.99 on iRobot and Amazon. This makes it something of an investment for a lower-midrange robot vacuum, although the convenience of its self-emptying base is hard to ignore.
The Roomba 694 and Roomba i3 EVO come from different model lines and generations. They share many capabilities but differ greatly in others. While the Roomba 694 has lower suction and more rudimentary navigation and lacks smart mapping, it’s a solid entry-level robot vacuum that will make a difference in any home’s cleaning regimen. It’s particularly well-suited for anyone who wants a robot vacuum they can simply turn on with a button and leave to do its job, without fussing with smart features or apps.
The Roomba i3+ EVO is an acceptable solution for those who want smart mapping and the convenience of an included Clean Base. However, we found the i3+ EVO to be disappointing compared to the more affordable Roomba i4 EVO, which, if you don’t need a Clean Base, might be the better choice (or you can purchase the i4+ EVO with a Clean Base).
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Jmar Gambol writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.