I've been an iRobot Roomba user for quite some time. and own three of the Roomba 530 series units. Although they aren't the smartest robots on the block (compared to units from Neato that actually map out your room), they are true workhorses that clean well, are cheap and easy to maintain, and for the most part, reliable. As a DIY guy, I've also done all the upgrades that come on the higher end 600 and 700 series, like the vacuum dustbin and brush unit upgrades, making the performance of my old school Roomba 530, as good as the newer models.
But there has been one upgrade that has alluded every iRobot Roomba: A reliable lithium based replacement battery. That is, until the Lithium Power Inc Roomba replacement battery hit the market.
Lithium Battery Technology Arrives for Roomba!
If you haven't heard of Lithium Power Inc, that's because their business used to be mainly behind the scenes, creating batteries for other companies to sell, or integrate, into finished products. But they also sell their products directly to enterprise customers, that put them in to call center UPS devices, or machines used on medical nursing carts in hospitals. It's this experience that has allowed them to create not the very first lithium based batteries for iRobot's Roomba robot vacuums, but the first ones that work great as a consumer drop in upgrade.
Lithium Power Inc also claims, that their lithium based battery, will last up to 800 charge cycles vs 200 cycles on generic and original replacement Ni-Mh batteries, thanks to its advanced circuitry. We'll just have to take their word for it. But a 1 year warranty is standard for some peace of mind.
As shown above, the battery comes in modest packaging, with a manual. Batteries that are shipping right now, will have slightly different stickers with the Lithium Power Inc. logo. But the product is the same inside. It works with every iRobot Roomba from the 500 series up to the brand new 800 series model.
An Easy Drop In Lithium Based Upgrade for Roomba
Installation of the battery is the same as any other Roomba replacement battery, with a couple of notes. After you pop the screws, put the new Lithium Power Inc Roomba upgrade in, and screw the cover back down, you'll need to initialize your Roomba, and charge the battery for up to 8 hrs, according to the manual.
On our iRobot Roomba 530, the initialization is performed by pressing the "spot" and "dock" buttons, but may be different on higher series models, so refer to the user manual for more info. The initialization may also be needed, if the battery goes into the aforementioned hibernation mode, when it's not charging, or has been unused for a while.
Lithium vs Ni-Mh - FIGHT!
In order to assess the real world performance, we set our Lithium Power Inc (4400 mAh) powered Roomba 530, against a Generic Amazon Ni-Mh (3500 mAh) powered Roomba 530, head to head, in a run down test, on carpet. The carpet will give the Roombas, more of a challenge, and hopefully, help run the batteries down a little faster, so we can observe the results more closely.
Now, it's important to note, that an upgraded battery of any type, will not exceed its maximum cleaning cycle time in a Roomba. It will return to the dock, when it's done the cycle, or when its battery is depleted (when sent for multiple missions in succession, for example). Because we want to run the battery down completely, from beginning to end, we started both Roombas, at the same time, with the dock plugged in. Then, we unplugged the dock, once the robots were underway, allowing them to run until depletion. This is also useful for making your Roomba run a "super-cycle", if your place needs a deeper cleaning.
If you're used to the battery indicator on the Roomba, with the standard Ni-Cd or Ni-Mh battery installed, the run times will increase. According to the battery manual, a fully solid green will run for 3 - 4 hrs, an orange will run 15 - 2 hrs, and the red indicator, will still have you 1 - 1.5 hrs.
Before we give you the run down results, we mentioned earlier, that the Lithium Power Inc Roomba replacement battery had a couple of advantages, that should show in testing. And that's the weight and the higher voltage. The Lithium Power Inc Roomba replacement weighs only 447 grams, while our Ni-Mh unit weighed over 682 grams. This difference in weight is easily noticeable when you pick both of them up and compare. And when you consider that the lithium battery is 14.8 volts (vs 14.4 volts for Ni-Mh), you also get a boost of performance with the higher voltage. A trick that many RC operators exploit for increased performance.
As a result of the weight drop and the higher voltage, the lithium powered Roomba 530 seemed to zip around a lot more easily, and was noticeably quicker when changing directions. You should be able to cover more ground with every cleaning cycle.
Finally, the Ni-Mh powered Roomba 530 clocked in with a time of 1:56:39, just short of 2 hrs. The Lithium Power Inc Roomba replacement battery powered unit gave us a total time of 3:01:53. This is nothing short of impressive.
MEGATechie Charged Up? Or MEGATechie Debbie Downer?
It's clear that the Lithium Power Inc Roomba replacement battery is superior to Ni-Mh units in many significant ways, especially in battery run time performance. Your Roomba should also become more responsive to direction changes, and the ability to make its way over uneven surfaces, like carpeting, thanks to the higher voltage and significantly lower weight. Long term, the lithium technology, and the company's specialized circuitry, should create a battery that will survive longer than any other Ni-Mh replacement battery on the market, including iRobot's own XLife extended batteries, which sell for $79.99 US. Our generic 3500 mAh Ni-Mh retails for only $29.99 US, but in our experience, you really don't know what you're getting sometimes. And that brings us down to the price.
The Lithium Power Inc Roomba replacement battery retails for $69.99 USD, and comes with a standard 1 year warranty, which is longer than the 90 days you get on the iRobot XLife unit, but the generic batteries are still tempting based on price. However, you can also extend the warranty to 2 years for an additional $10.00 USD. In theory, the battery should last up to four times longer, based on the company's claim of 800 charge cycles vs 200 charge cycles for most Ni-Mh replacements. So if you have to buy four $29.99 US generic replacements, you're still ahead, and you still get better overall performance.
As an iRobot Roomba user, with a compatible 500 series robot, I think this is a must have upgrade for anyone that is suffering through the terrible battery life and short run times on their original Ni-Cd batteries. For anyone that has a newer model 600, 700, or 800 series Roomba, it's still a worthwhile replacement, that will give your robot, a boost of performance. But since generic replacements with a 3500 mAh capacity cost quite a bit less, you really need to be using your Roomba regularly, to truly appreciate the advantages. And I can say that I definitely do, and will need a couple more of these in time.