Almost a year ago the Neato XV-11 vrroomed it’s way into CES and tried to wow us with its impressive robotic cleaning technology. It even appeared on many best gadgets of CES 2010 lists. However, after CES 2010 ended, months passed and we were almost certain that Neato would become vaporware since we didn’t hear hide any tails of the cleaning robot after the convention. Fortunately, we were surprisingly shocked when Neato popped up again recently at press conferences, it seemed ready to take the world by storm – one hardwood or carpeted floor at a time. Would this newest challenger beat the iRobot Roomba and take robotic cleaning to new heights?
Inside the box is a neatly packed Neato XV-11, charging base, and manual. There is also an extra filter for the dirt bin.
The Neato XV-11 unit itself looks more retro than an original Cylon. It’s overall design harkens back to the head of a retro vacuum cleaner that has that blunt front and then curves on the sides, which was designed for easier handling and turning under tight spots. Of course the Neato is anything but retro with its laser scanning detection (that’s the Cylon part) and monochrome LCD screen that gives you access to the menu screen and general operations of the device. This LCD screen will also display messages if the Neato runs into trouble or needs to alert you of an action it’s taking. This is unlike the Roomba that tells you to “please clean Roomba’s brushes.”
The charging station is designed to hug any flat wall and will leave a sizable footprint in your living room or wherever you choose to place it. In comparing it to the Roomba’s charging station, it certainly is bigger. However one big difference is that the Neato can be charged by directly being plugged into the AC adapter that connects to the charging station – eliminating the base from being used at all. The Neato also has no carry handle – making it a bit cumbersome to move from room to room.
There is nothing really complex about getting the Neato up and running. Just place it on the charging station and have it charge fully before using it. Once completed – you can set the time, program a cleaning schedule, or just activate it to start cleaning by holding the start button down for a few seconds. All your commands can be seen from the LCD screen on the Neato which makes it easy to choose different options. To start cleaning all you need to do is press the orange button and Neato will move off the base, scan the room with its built-in laser, and begin vacuuming. From the way Neato travels around on the floor you can really see that it is ‘thinking’ about where to go and vacuum.
As it made its way around my home it tried to avoid hitting objects and if it found an obstruction nearby, it would stop and scan the area again. Now I don’t live in a cookie cutter type of home, so the Neato had to make its way around an L shaped room with lots of corners and other open areas to vacuum. I did leave cords in the way so I could observe how the Neato handled getting caught up in them, as well as slippers. Would it just choke or shred my wires? Nope, the Neato was able to push my shoes around and eventually move away from them. However the cords did end up at times getting vacuuming into the machine – leading them to being dragged away, but the Neato did eventually shake them free.
While watching the Neato make its way around the floor, I noticed that it tends to concentrate on certain areas and totally ignore others. Sometimes it will just vacuum over and over the same area- but never the entire room. After this, the LCD Control Center would say it’s done and that it’s going back to the base after just 20 minutes. The Neato also tends to chug along on the floor…very slowly. This is unlike the Roomba that has a pep in its step. There is also no corner brush on the Neato that collects hair or dirt near corners – even though it boasts how well it cleans corners because of its design – it doesn’t all that well. Unfortunately it seems that if it’s not in Neato’s direct line of sight, it doesn’t vacuum it up. That said, I do like that the Neato’s sweeping brush is made very well and didn’t get tangled with hair too often. However for homes with pets or those with long hair – you will have to empty the Neato’s dirt bin frequently because it is small. If you plan on having it vacuum everyday – then perhaps the dirt collected will be less over time but for the first run – we filled that bin up quickly. When the brushes do collect too much hair, the machine will stop and request that you clean them. Fortunately, this cleaning, doesn’t require a screwdriver, you just need to unclasp the brush release guards and the sweeping brush will be set free for cleaning. Overall the sucking power was impressive on hardwood floors, but it did better on low pile carpeting versus high-pile.
At the end of the day the Neato XV-11, really could have been neat. Yes, it does feature snazzy laser technology and solid construction. It manages to sound very impressive when it gets started – it almost sounds like an airplane taking off, ready to suck in the dirt from your entire home when it first comes off the base. Overall, the Neato performs decently on carpeting and hardwood floors and as it proceeds to clean, you get the sense that it truly is thinking about what it is doing. It also handles clumps of hair well, without it getting tangled in the brushes and requiring it to be cleaned too often during vacuuming. However, even with its fancy laser technology, it doesn’t seem to be able to vacuum an entire room. If you are lucky enough to live in a house with absolutely square rooms or rectangle rooms, then Neato will performs best in those. But even in rectangular shaped rooms – it doesn’t cover the entire area. Throw some L-Shape or angular rooms in its path and it will only manage to vacuum just parts of it without even trying to go any further.
If you want it to vacuum specific areas of your home, you will need a boundary marker to contain the Neato to certain areas. Boundary markers are available to purchase separately. But even if you do use a boundary marker, it looks like it might be difficult to keep the rather flimsy material of the boundary marker down on the floor without it moving. This is no iRobot Virtual Wall. To its credit, the Neato’s LCD Control Center display adds a bit of panache and I certainly like that it avoided hitting into things, but sometimes it tries so hard not to hit into things that it misses vacuuming dirt up altogether. Neato didn’t even like going under my bed once because it detected my bed skirt as an obstruction in its way – I had to push the bed skirt away with my foot in order for the Neato to go under.
Despite its issues with vacuuming entire spaces, if you are just entering the robotic vacuum market then you might consider Neato. Neato is a hardy robot vac that has some innovative features that others on the market right now just don’t have. However if you are an experienced vacuum cleaning robot owner – I suggest sticking with what you have because the price just doesn’t justify the means. Neato XV-11 Vacuum Cleaning Robot retails for $399.00.
The Good: Solid Construction. LCD Display with menu functions. Laser scanning technology. Easy to clean. Can charge via the base or directly via the AC adapter. Has decent enough suction.
The Bad: Doesn’t vacuum entire areas of a room. Dirt bin is small. Boundary markers are flimsy. No corner brush. Doesn’t do well on high pile carpets – leaves dirt behind.
Update 10/28/2010: After emails and comments left by several Neato owners who claim to not have had the same bad experiences we have had, we are putting in a request for a replacement unit. We’ll update the review, once we’ve gotten a new unit to test out.
Update 11/20/2010: So after extensive use, my first impression of Neato XV-11 has certainly changed. The replacement Neato XV-11 vacuum lasted a total of 40 minutes before docking itself, instead of only 10 minutes like our original unit. It also moved a bit quicker around the room and covered much more areas this time around instead of just certain places or getting fixated on others. It also did a a better job cleaning carpeting too, my high pile shag was very thoroughly vacuumed and Neato picked up all the embedded crumbs and dirt left behind from my dog and crappy dinners. However, even though it is much improved versus my initial opinion of the machine, it’s sad that I had to get a replacement in order for me to truly experience what this thing could do. For the price it should be perfect out of the box. It is also still not perfect, the lack of corner brush, the bin size, and stiff bumper that will make gnarly gashes in your walls leave much to be desired. It also still doesn’t vacuum the entire room – it will vacuum about 75%. Unless you only plan on the Neato cleaning an empty room – then it should do just fine but throw a dining table, coffee table, and other assorted items in your room and Neato XV-111 neglected to vacuum under these but was obsessed with going under the couch. So in the end, the replacement Neato VX-11 certainly changed my first impression but there are still a few areas of improvement needed. And it turns out their is indeed a grip handle by the dirt bin.