Flashback to several weeks ago…
It’s 3:30pm and I race home from my day job so I can work on Gadgeteer reviews for 90 minutes until Jeanne gets home from work. I sit down in front of my MacBook Pro for some quality writing time when the phone rings. I answer the call. It’s Jeanne.
“Can you vacuum the floors before I get home?” She asks.
“Ok…” I sigh internally.
“Thank you! See you soon!” She hangs up.
ARGH! There goes my writing time. If only I had clone or a gadget that could do the work for me. If only…
Back to present day…
My wish has been answered and my new BFF is the Neato BotVac 80 robotic vacuum cleaner. Let me introduce you…
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
There are four models of Neato BotVac robotic vacuums. I was sent the BotVac 80 which has been designed to be used in homes with pets. Since I have a long haired 15 pound cat named Max, I was excited to receive this model.
Neato Botvac 80
High performance filter
Magnetic boundary marking tape
Robotic vacuums are nothing new, the Roomba series of vacuums have been on the market for many years. But the Neato BotVac differs from the Roomba and similar robot vacuums in three main ways: shape, suction and room mapping.
Shape and controls
First the shape. Instead of a round shape, the BotVac is shaped like a D. The front and sides of the BotVac are straight with the brush positioned across the front, which allows it to vacuum close to edges and corners.
The BotVac 80 has a white plastic shell with a purple cover on that protects the laser room scanner. There’s also a small LCD display on top which is used to set the time, date and vacuuming schedule. The schedule is separated into days, Monday thru Sunday, with only one scheduled event per day.
There are two buttons on the top of the vacuum that control the activity. Pressing the left button will cause the BotVac to vacuum a 4×6 foot section in front of the vac and then stop. The home button will wake the unit and start cleaning the entire room. There’s also a light around the home button that provides a battery charging status. It will glow green when fully charged and amber while charging. Pressing either button while the unit is cleaning will cause it to pause.
The dust bin and filter module are located in a pull out module on the top of the vacuum. This module lifts out of the BotVac for easy dirt disposal.
There is also a main power switch inside the dust bin cavity. You only need to turn this on once when you’re initially setting up the BotVac.
When you flip the BotVac over, you’ll find the wheels, side brush and main brush.
Two 10.9 inch brushes come with the BotVac 80. A combo brush and a blade brush. The combo brush has bristles and flexible rubber ribs. It’s the one installed in the vacuum by default and is great for picking up pet hair. The blade brush shown above is designed to be used on all floor types. Since I have a hair shedding monster cat, I did all my testing with the combo brush on both carpets and vinyl floors.
The BotVac has a 3600 mAh rechargeable battery. The battery contacts are located on the back of the vacuum. These two bars allow the unit to charge wirelessly through the included charging base.
The charging base is large, but it’s not too unsightly.
The power cable wraps into the back of the base so you can keep it short and tidy.
The base should be positioned with about 3 feet of clearance on both sides.
Setup, suction and room mapping
I located the charging base in front of a bookcase in my basement, set the BotVac up against the electrical contacts and allowed the battery to charge over night. I then scheduled it to vacuum the next day while I was at work. I set up my Dropcam Pro in the basement so I could watch it vacuum. The next morning I tuned in from my day job to see it start vacuuming. Unfortunately it got hung up after only 15 minutes into the job.
I intentionally raised the platform of my treadmill so the BotVac could sweep the carpet underneath it and that’s what ended up causing the problem. I came home to see the BotVac stuck on the base of the treadmill and also heard it make an alert noise every few minutes to let me know something was wrong. So I went downstairs, picked it up, moved it to a clear area and pressed the home button on top so it would resume vacuuming.
About 20 minutes later I heard the alert noise and found the BotVac had stopped vacuuming with a message on the LCD telling me to clean its brush. I turned the unit over and saw some (not really a lot) of cat hair in the brush bristles. I started getting a little nervous that this vacuum was going to require too much maintenance. I manually picked the hair out of the brush, turned the unit over and let it finish vacuuming the room.
When it finished, I pulled out the dirt bin which was full of cat hair, a few lady bugs and other dirt. Icky… but good. The suction power is another great feature of the BotVac compared to other robot vacs. The bin is easily cleaned by pulling out the filter so that the dirt can fall out into a trash can.
The filter was full of dirt too, but I banged it on the trash can and snapped it back into the bottom of the bin.
The next day I scheduled it to vacuum again and it got stuck before completely vacuuming the room. Argh!
This is where it got stuck the second time. I’m not even sure why it is stuck. There’s no reason why it can’t roll forward. My confidence level wasn’t very high that the Neato BotVac 80 was going to work out for me. But I didn’t want to give up after two days of problems, so I scheduled it to vacuum again the next day. This time it was able to complete the whole room! Check out the time lapse video below:
Here’s where we come to another reason why the Neato BotVac is better than other robot vacuums: room mapping. Most robot vacs roll across the floor until they hit something, pivot, roll till they bump something else, pivot and so on. The BotVac uses a laser scanner and proprietary navigation software based on SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) – the same tech used by the Google self-driving car. With smart mapping, the BotVac continually scans the room to creates maps so it can clean in a back and forth straight line pattern.
The BotVac had no problems sweeping under chairs and around all the obstacles in my basement living room – once I fixed the areas where it tended to get hung up. My basement room is about 20 x 15 feet, the BotVac took about one hour to vacuum that area before returning to its base. Sometimes it wouldn’t have enough juice to completely position itself back on the charging base and I’ve come home to find it a few inches away from the base. I think a little bit larger battery would be a great upgrade for future models. That said, the BotVac is smart enough to go back to the base when the battery is getting low, recharge and then automatically go back and finish the vacuuming the area where it left off.
The bad news is that the battery should last about a year if you use the vacuum three times a week. The vac will still work, but run time will be diminished. The good news is that the battery can easily be replaced. They sell replacements on Amazon.
For my next tests I moved the BotVac upstairs to see if it had any issues going from carpet to vinyl floors to area rugs. It didn’t. I was impressed by how well it picked up dirt on my kitchen floor. Cat kibble, dead lady bugs (we always have problems with them in our house) and crumbs were no match for the BotVac. It was even able to clean up the little pellets of clumping cat litter that Max kicks out of the cat box in his bathroom.
Other areas I thought might cause problems did not. The BotVac vacuumed under the bed without getting hung up and was also able to avoid falling down the basement stairway. I should also mention that the vacuum is not as loud as regular upright vacs. You can hold a conversation in the same room that it is vacuuming without much effort.
The only issue with the Neato BotVac 80 is that you will need to remember to clean out the dirt bin and make sure to clean out any stuck pet hair from the brush after each vacuuming session so that it doesn’t stop with errors the next time you have it scheduled to clean. The filter is the hardest thing to keep clean. I’ve started using a regular vacuum with an edge attachment tool to clean in between the folds of the filter at least once a week. Replacement filters will be an on-going expense with vacuum cleaner. You can buy a 4 pack from Amazon for $20.
I’ve been using the Neato BotVac 80 robot vacuum cleaner for a few weeks now and I absolutely love it. So much so that I have considered buying a second one so we have one on each floor. Although it took a few cleaning cycles to learn where the unit might get stuck and that the dirt bin and brush need to be cleaned regularly, this has quickly become one of my favorite gadgets of all time. I love coming home from work and opening the front door to see fresh vacuum lines on the carpet, which lets me know that it’s been cleaned. Rosie (we’ve named it) is definitely a keeper!
I’ve been using this robot vac 3 times a week for the past three months and am still really happy with the way it performs. Other than needing to manually clean the filter every week by sucking out the dirt using another vacuum, emptying the dirt bin between cleanings and keeping the cat hair from accumulating around the brush, it’s working very well. I keep the charging dock in my basement and carry the vac upstairs Mondays and Fridays. The battery sometimes does not allow the vac to complete a cleaning and it will need to go back to recharge before finishing. This can be a bit of a pain when I come home from work to find that the vac has managed to get stuck and has been beeping for assistance all day. I’ll get it out of its tight spot, press the button to let it continue and it will sometimes have to return to the dock to recharge. On more than one occasion it has decided to resume cleaning when we’re sitting in front of the TV trying to watch a show. I guess this is a small price to pay for not having to drag a full sized vacuum around!
I’m bummed. After eight months of using the Neato Botvac three times a week, it recently started having issues. It will stop vacuuming in the middle of the floor and say that its path is blocked. But there’s nothing in the way. I will usually pick the vacuum up and move it a few inches/feet and restart it. Within a couple of minutes it will stop and say the same thing, that its path is blocked. I have no idea what is causing this and even tried opening a support request through the Neato website weeks ago. I never received a reply which was disappointing. So for the time being, I’m back to using a regular vacuum. 🙁
I’m happy again! Andrew Baker suggested that I dismantle the Botvac to clean the laser. I finally made time to do this a few weeks ago and I can happily report that the Botvac has been working great ever since. I didn’t actually have to completely take it apart though. I looked for some cleaning videos on YouTube and checked Neato’s site which also has some videos and after following all of them, I’ve yet to get the blocked path error for no reason. I think it was some cat fluff on the laser that was confusing things.
On another note, I had opened a support request through the Neato site on 10/5/15 and didn’t receive a reply until 12/3/15. Two months! That’s crummy customer service.