Six years ago, I drove from my crummy little apartment in the part of Berkeley that’s too close to Oakland to somewhere in the south bay that I don’t really remember to pick up, in person, what I’m pretty sure was a development prototype of the Neato XV-11 robotic vacuum. I was instructed to return it in 24 hours, or they’d send a robotic hit squad after me. I wrote a blazing fast review of the XV-11, taped a butter knife to it and let it duel my iRobot Roomba 560, and then brought it back to Neato, having inflicted a bare minimum of physical (and emotional) scarring.
Since then, Neato Robotics has established itself as a solid and capable competitor to iRobot’s Roombas in the autonomous vacuum space. The XV-11 series has been incrementally upgraded, with a much more significant redesign in 2014 in the form of the BotVac series. Late last year, Neato announced the BotVac Connected, which adds WiFi connectivity and an app that lets you control your robot from anywhere in the world. This is Neato’s top of the line model and currently sells for US $700. We took a look at it at CES, and then Neato promised to send us one to check out at home.
Neato’s robots, starting with the XV-11 and continuing with the BotVac Connected, are notable because of their ability to rapidly generate accurate maps of the spaces that they’re in, and then localize and navigate to efficiently clean those spaces in nice straight lines. For a long time, this was a capability that was almost entirely unique to Neato, but over the last few years, other robot vacuum manufacturers have added mapmaking to their robots, most recently iRobot with its Roomba 980, which uses a camera for helping with localization and mapping. So the question is, now that Neato isn’t the only robot vacuum on the block with this technology, how does the latest version look? Does its six-year-old navigation system still hold up, and can it survive in an increasingly competitive market without the feature that made it unequivocally unique?
We’ve got a full review for you after the break, complete with some long-exposure cleaning pics and an interview with the Neato robotics team.