When it comes to cleaning, there's one thing we can all agree on: vacuuming is no fun. First, there's the setup that requires you to grab a clunky vacuum from your closet, find a nearby outlet, and somehow not trip on a long cord. Then, you pray for the thing to work, considering the lights flicker whenever its power button goes on. When you're finally cleaning up week-old Cheerios or a dust colony, you realize the vacuum doesn't suck up the mess. Oh, and we can't forget about the noise. It's an awful soundtrack of clicking, rolling, and picking up that drives you nuts and scares your pets.
Jennifer Jolly puts top robot vacuums to the test. Robot vacuums have been promising to do our dirty work for more than two decades now, but rather than provide the hassle-free cleaning help of our dreams, some just suck – and not in a good way. Sure, early models devoured surface detritus, but often left a trail of half-eaten dirt-crumbs and dust-bunny bits while they crashed into walls and furniture legs with about as much grace – and overall success – as a drunk person wearing a blindfold. But sweeping changes are underfoot in the robot vacuum world, with a few of the latest models inching closer to a kind of Rosey from "The Jetsons" reality than ever before. For instance, most robot vacuums come equipped with Wi-Fi now, so that you can schedule and control them from an app on your smartphone.
Your message has been sent. There was an error emailing this page. Vacuuming is one of the most loathed household chores. While it doesn't come with the ick factor of cleaning the toilet or the tedium of dusting, pushing and dragging a noisy, cumbersome vacuum is its own kind of torture. No wonder most of us only break it out the bare-minimum-recommended once a week.
Designing a budget robot vacuum is an unenviable task. Most robot vacuums already operate within a very limited set of engineering constraints. They all have to be about the same size and make below a certain level of noise. The batteries have to operate for a certain length of time. You can buy iRobot's entry-level vacuum for $299, and you can find Neato's for a mere $200.
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.