Neato BotVac 80 robot vacuum review

{ 30 comments }

neato-botvac-11

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-1

Package contents

Neato Botvac 80
Charging base
Power cord
Blade brush
Combo brush
High performance filter
Magnetic boundary marking tape
Instructions

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.

neato-botvac-2

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.

neato-botvac-7

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.

neato-botvac-8

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.

neato-botvac-3

When you flip the BotVac over, you’ll find the wheels, side brush and main brush.

neato-botvac-9

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.

neato-botvac-4

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.

neato-botvac-5

The charging base is large, but it’s not too unsightly.

neato-botvac-6

The power cable wraps into the back of the base so you can keep it short and tidy.

neato-botvac-10

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.

neato-botvac-12

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.

neato-botvac-13

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.

neato-botvac-14

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.

neato-botvac-16

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!

neato-botvac-15

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.

Final thoughts

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!

Updates 04/30/15

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!

Updates 11/04/15

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. 🙁

Updates 12/14/15

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.

Source: The sample for this review was provided by Neato. Please visit their site for more info or Amazon to order.

 

Product Information

Price:$479 - $599
Manufacturer:Neato
Pros:
  • Maps the room to vacuum faster and better
  • Good suction
  • Vacuums under furniture
  • Schedule cleanings
Cons:
  • Filter requires regular cleaning
  • Can get stuck for what seems like no reason
Posted in: Home and Kitchen, Reviews
{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Matt Penning February 6, 2015, 12:13 pm

    That sounds like a great way to vacuum. Thanks for the thorough review.

    What is it with Ladybugs? We started getting them crawling across the floor with snow and ice outside! Hibernating, I guess.

    • Julie Strietelmeier February 6, 2015, 12:15 pm

      @Matt we’ve had them for quite a few years. They always swarm around October, then disappear outside, but show up inside when it warms up and the sun is shining. Some how the get in the house and we have them all year round. A few here and there.

  • Andrew Baker February 6, 2015, 2:23 pm

    We had our Roomba for years and years until it died (Foster dog MAX might have helped this). We went a long time replacing the roomba, as we had bought TWO houses and the ~$600 price tag just didn’t jive with our “responsible spending” However when a refurbished $600 model showed up on meh.com for $150 I decided that was in the range I could work with. Anyways, we love it, and are considering a second unit (when they showup on meh.com again)

    Anyways been very happy with them. Two things tho. First Julie is that “purple vent” is actually a spinning Lidar eye. If you look into it when you first turn on you will see it spinning up. This is how it maps the room. Laser Range finding. Seconds the only problem I’ve had with my model is if you go too long and don’t empty the dirt bucket the debris can work it’s way in. We got animal hair wrap around the drive belt for the lidar eye. This prevented it from spinning giving us the message “help I can’t see” or something to that effect. Fixing this was not hard, Google search gave us detailed directions. However if we clean the trap often this hasn’t happened since. I find the nice straight vacuum lines of the Neato much more pleasant than the random lines of the roomba.

    • Julie Strietelmeier February 6, 2015, 3:19 pm

      @Andrew I had meant to go back and edit the part about the vent and forgot about it before I posted it. Yes, you’re right. I’ll make sure to update that now. Thanks for the tip on the air compressor. I have one of those too. Just too lazy to go outside in the unheated garage when it’s 15 degrees outside to clean a vacuum filter 😉 My method of cleaning works too but probably not as good as your way.

      • Andrew Baker November 5, 2015, 9:30 am

        If you are feeling adventurous, you probably have a loose/broken/tangled Lidar belt causing “My path is blocked”. Fix isn’t that hard if you get down to it.

        • Julie Strietelmeier November 5, 2015, 9:33 am

          Lidar belt? Is that like muffler bearings?

          • Andrew Baker November 5, 2015, 9:42 am

            LOL nope this actually exists. The spinning Lidar sensor is driven by a belt. If the belt starts to slip, or something throws of the speed the Lidar will not map correctly and think something is in it’s path. Replacing this belt or in my case removing the tangled fur is often the fix.

  • Andrew Baker February 6, 2015, 2:25 pm

    Oh and To clean those filters, I use my air-compressor in the garage. Blow the air the opposite way through filter. Good as new.

  • Sandee Cohen February 6, 2015, 7:05 pm

    I got a Roomba two Christmas’s ago. At first I thought it was a really dumb gift. But I too have fallen in love. I don’t mind it bumping into things. But it is horribly noisy. I have to put in noise-cancelling headphones while it scurries around.

    Also, it can bump into my leg as I’m working. With the headphones on, I thought it was the cat.

  • RGrenader February 7, 2015, 10:53 pm

    Julie: Does Max ever chase, bat, attack, leap onto or chew on the Botvac? I would consider it if the lazy fuzzballs would get off of their butts and get some exercise?

    • Julie Strietelmeier February 7, 2015, 10:57 pm

      @RGrenader The first image in this review sums up how he acts around the vacuum. 😉

  • DStaal February 8, 2015, 12:31 pm

    I’ve had one of the original models for a while (since they came out) – you’ve summed up my experiences with it pretty well. 😉

    I do need to go in and see why it thinks it’s jammed all the time now though – it won’t run for more than 5 minutes without a complaint. (That was after several years of daily use though, so…)

    Note for pricing they do have models as cheep as $375, in the XV series.

    • Julie Strietelmeier February 8, 2015, 3:06 pm

      @DStaal maybe it needs a new battery…

      • DStaal February 8, 2015, 3:42 pm

        I’ve seen the error messages for a bad battery (I had a few issues with the first two they sent me), but I can try again. 😉

        (I note they’ve redesigned the batteries since I got mine, based on the looks of the batteries on the accessories pages.)

  • Andrew Baker February 10, 2015, 12:46 pm

    Our Neato got a bit Mischievous yesterday.

    http://imgur.com/sWPmq8x

  • Kathleen Chapman February 13, 2015, 1:11 pm

    I’ve been eyeing a Roomba for probably a couple of years now, but right after I read your review a few days ago about how “this has quickly become one of my favorite gadgets of all time”, I immediately went and put the Neato Botvac into an online shopping cart. However, it is tax season and I think we owe so I have to hold off on my purchase… :'(

    • Andrew Baker February 13, 2015, 1:22 pm

      Oh come on, I think uncle-sam will understand.

    • Julie Strietelmeier February 13, 2015, 2:42 pm

      @Kathleen if I was really spendy, I’d buy a 2nd one so I wouldn’t have to carry it up and downstairs. I’m pretty tempted. If I could find one for half price, I’d go for it.

      • Kathleen Chapman February 13, 2015, 4:35 pm

        @Julie – Thank goodness I have a ranch style house. But if I had two floors, I would definitely buy two of them – only I would buy them maybe 6 months to a year apart. I think I can convince myself that the expense is justified since I am saving money by not having to hire someone to clean my house. I’ll be getting one, just not right away. Oh the joy of automated housekeeping!!

  • Kathleen Chapman March 3, 2016, 7:24 pm

    I finally got around to purchasing a Neato Botvac. I’ve had it for a few weeks now and my house is cleaner than ever because I have it vacuum every other day. I LOVE THIS THING! I also have the Hoover Linx cordless vac to get under a few pieces of furniture that the Botvac cannot reach. I was a little worried about it because other reviewers said that it would completely miss rooms and that it wouldn’t find it way back to the charging base, but I’ve had none of those troubles. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the amount of work in cleaning the filter. I used my other vacuum to clean it just like you Julie and then I read that one reviewer placed a single layer of toilet paper over the filter and it works like a charm! This vacuum ROCKS! They have a new WiFi connected version but the reviews on that said that for $700 it wasn’t worth the additional cost compared to the other models so I opted for the Botvac D85. So happy! 😀

    • Julie Strietelmeier March 3, 2016, 8:13 pm

      Thank you for the toilet paper idea! I’m going to try that. And speaking of the connected version, I’m supposed to receive one to review soon, and am looking forward to seeing if it’s a nice improvement over the other one.

      • Kathleen Chapman March 3, 2016, 8:44 pm

        I’m envious! I figured that they would be sending you the connected version. It sounds like it has some wonderful improvements like added battery life, a turbo function and the ability to go over the floor in a pattern that is perpendicular to the first path (or something like that) for better cleaning; all in addition to being able to remotely vacuum your house while your away. I’m sad that I couldn’t spend that kind of money on it. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

  • Rebecca May 19, 2016, 2:51 pm

    My botvac has trouble vacuuming my “open” floor plan. It really likes to vacuum around my table and chairs … Like it won’t stop going in circles around that and vacuum the room… Any tips for this? He does an awesome job in my bedroom but the other rooms he seems lost and doesn’t vacuum but one spot over and over again. Thanks for your input!

Leave a Comment