(Pocket-lint) - The Neato Botvac Connected is by no means the first robot vacuum cleaner to grace us with its presence and it isn't likely to be the last, but it does offer something different to many of its competitors: Wi-Fi.
The Botvac Connected, once paired to a Wi-Fi network, consequently allows it to be controlled remotely through an app, as well as send instant notifications to the user's smartphone. Alongside this new connectivity, Neato claims the Botvac Connected will clean twice the area in the same amount of time as the company's earlier models, offer twice the airflow and pick up 50 per cent more fine dust when cleaning carpet compared to its competition too.
We adopted the Neato Botvac Connected to find out what it's like being able to vacuum from afar using our smartphone. Is the company's "smartest and most powerful robot" enough for us to dump our Dyson?
Neato Botvac Connected review: Design
The Neato Botvac Connected is almost identical in design to its predecessors, especially the Botvac D Series, but it brings a slightly more premium finish to the robot vacuum party, offering the same D-shape as the other two generations of Neato robots, rather than round like many of its competitors.
The new model is all-black, which makes it look less toy-like than the likes of the Botvac 85, despite the plasticky look and apparent joins between panels. The Botvac Connected features the same raised circular disc as found on the Botvac and Botvac D Series, but the disc is finished in silver rather than blue, with the familiar glossy black rim and centralised Neato logo, as found on the Botvac D Series, remaining in place. It's this disc that allows the clever LaserSmart Mapping and Navigation technology to do its job, figuring out a methodical way of cleaning your home.
The glossy black finish is replicated in the central rectangle lid that hides the 0.7-litre dirt bin and the power button beneath it, much the same as the D Series again. The dirt bin is simply lifted up and out in order for it to be emptied and the filter cleaned. There is a new filter on the Botvac Connected, as well as a new filter design to make it easier to pop out, and a new mesh screen to keep dirt from accumulating on the filter.
Again following the path of its predecessors, a small display sits on the right-hand side of the Botvac Connected's circular disc, allowing users to perform certain functions using the arrows next to the screen and the select button beneath it. The same two further buttons also remain either side of where the dirt bin is lifted from. The button on the right with the house starts a full house clean, while the button featuring several small squares performs a spot clean. We will go into more detail about those in a minute.
Neato offers a 276mm brush on all three generations of its robot vacuum cleaners: a spiral blade brush; combo brush; and side brush - all of which are present. The LG Hom-Bot has two side brushes compared to the Botvac Connected's one, but the main brush is wider on the Botvac, stretching across the entire width of the device.
The rounded edge of the Botvac Connected features a magnet that connects to the relatively small docking station. This is the Neato's home, where it retreats to rest and recharge, working in much the same way as the previous Botvac generations.
Neato Botvac Connected review: Features
The Neato Botvac Connected has all the same features as the Botvac D Series and many of the same features as the Botvac Series, but it adds a couple of functions here and there, along with the obvious Wi-Fi connectivity of course.
There are three main cleaning modes, comprising house clean, spot clean and manual clean. House clean and spot clean offer eco and turbo modes, which are new functions to the Botvac Connected. As you might expect, turbo is a more thorough clean, while eco is quieter and will prolong the battery.
When performing a house clean, the Botvac Connected will scan and analyse the area surrounding it using the Botvision laser navigation technology, which will work in the dark too. Once the room is scanned and an efficient path planned, the Botvac Connected will clean in 15 x 15-inch square segments. If the area is smaller than 15 x 15-inches, the Botvac Connected will complete the area in one go, while it it's larger it will divide the room up into virtual segments and clean each one at a time. Each segment is cleaned in a straight-line back and forth pattern.
Like its predecessors, the Botvac Connected uses what Neato calls SLAM technology to work out where it has and hasn't cleaned. So if the battery runs out of juice before it has finished, it will return to where it stopped cleaning after it has recharged.
For spot clean, the Botvac Connected comes off the docking base and turns right. It will perform a boundary clean of either a small spot size, which is the equivalent of 6.5 x 6.5ft, or a large spot clean, which equals 13 x 13ft. The large spot clean can only be set through the app rather than on the robot itself. Previous Neato robots only do a small spot clean, which is smaller than the Botvac Connected's small option.
Following the boundary cleaning, the Botvac Connected will perform the inside of the target area in the same straight line pattern as the house clean. This is slightly different from some competitors as the LG Hom-Bot, for example, will perform a spiral action for a spot clean. The accompanying Android or Apple app allows you to tell the robot which spot size to clean and which direction to clean it, with two settings available.
Manual Clean is where you control the cleaning path of the robot using the app and therefore this mode cannot be set on the robot. Through the app, which we will detail later in this review, the Botvac Connected can be guided forwards, backwards, or turned in an anti-clockwise or clockwise circle.
Scheduled cleaning is another feature and although not new for Neato robots or robot cleaners in general, it is made easier with the Connected model. As you would expect, the schedule feature makes it possible to set various times and days for the Botvac Connected to perform a cleaning routine. This can be set on the robot itself as with previous models, but it can also be set via the app. The app also offers the ability to set repeat cleaning days, such as every Wednesday at 9am.
The connectivity feature is by far the most exciting development of the Botvac Connected. Along with what we have already mentioned, it means you can start, stop, pause, schedule and receive notifications when you're on the move. Setup is simple and results in the Botvac Connected piggybacking onto your home network so there is no need for you to plug it into your router or anything.
Last but not least, to ensure the Botvac Connected stays within its boundaries or doesn't fall down any stairs, you'll need to put boundary markers in place. The boundary markers are black and around an inch wide and can be placed around anything you want the Botvac Connected to avoid, such as cat bowls. It's simply a cut-and-place job, making it nice and simple, although they are visible unless you are clever with placement. LG uses lighthouses to create barriers, which is a little more fiddly, but probably more subtle overall.
Neato Botvac Connected review: Performance and battery
The Botvac Connected performs very well and we had fewer problems with it than previous robot vacuum cleaners we've used. The new model comes with the same SpinFlow technology as the D Series, which is said to help with ensuring super clean floors.
We have been pleasantly surprised to come home to cleaner floors than we expected, as well as a clean rug, which was the biggest delight as the LG Hom-Bot struggled with the high-pile rug in our living room when it was employed as the Pocket-lint cleaner.
The Botvac Connected appeared to have no problems moving from wood floors to tiles to carpet without getting stuck. Neato says the Botvac Connected is capable of getting itself within 14mm of the wall thanks to the CornerClever technology too. Credit where credit is due: it did manage to pick up the majority of corner fluff without a problem.
There were a couple of issues when the Botvac Connected found itself stuck on the base of our bar stools though. We received a notification on our Apple Watch when we were out for lunch a few hours away from home saying "Pocket-lint Cleaner: I'm Stuck!". We would be lying if we said it didn't make us chuckle, but it was a little annoying given there was nothing we could do about it. With no camera on board, it wasn't even possible to see where it had got itself caught. Luckily it wasn't in a tangle with one of the cats but it would be great to see a solution added for this in future models, even the ability to operate manual mode when not at home would be helpful.
The manual clean was also a little disappointing in general, not least because it didn't work when we weren't at home. When at home using this mode you have to hold the direction command down for the robot to react, but it will only go so far before you have to lift your finger off and repress it for it to move further. This should be much smoother and a lot easier as if we wanted the robot to stop, we could lift our finger up, rather than the robot deciding it had gone far enough. Plus it's easier to grab an upright vacuum and clean with that rather than fiddling with an app.
We were impressed with battery life, however, which was another nice surprise. There is a new li-ion battery under the hood of the Botvac Connected which is said to offer 120 minutes on eco mode and up to 90 minutes on turbo mode. Plenty of time to clean the flat.
We had the Botvac Connected set to eco for the majority of the time as it was a little quieter in operation and we found its performance perfectly adequate. It managed a couple full house cleans before it required recharging - and the auto recharge and resume feature is brilliant so we have no complaints here. Turbo mode is a little more powerful and certainly useful to have but we didn't feel it was necessary to run it all the time.
One thing obviously scuppers the Botvac Connected: it won't do stairs. So while it will pick up the majority of dirt and keep on top of the vacuuming throughout the week, it isn't a Dyson replacement just yet. Think of it more like a way to keep the house tidy in-between the main weekly vacuuming session.
Neato Botvac Connected review: App
The app, available for Android and iOS, is what sets this robot vacuum apart from its competition, as well as other Neato models. It's a very simple app that is extremely easy to navigate.
You can even add another Botvac Connected by tapping the plus sign in the top right, or see a list of your robot army (if you're lucky enough to have more than one) and change the email and password of your Neato account by hitting the option menu in the top left.
Everything else is achieved by clicking on the respective robot you want to control on the main screen. We named ours the Pocket-lint Cleaner but you can change the name by clicking the settings and calendar icon in the bottom left under your robot's name. The opposite side of this icon shows the battery remaining on your robot.
Within the settings and calendar icon, it is also possible to add cleaning days, select a start time, decide which days you want that particular cleaning schedule to be repeated, if any, and choose eco or turbo mode. It's also possible to enable or disable the schedule altogether within this section.
Clicking on the robot name will provide you with the ability to choose between the three cleaning modes - house, spot and manual - by pressing the arrow at the bottom of the display. Once cleaning has started, you can also send the robot back to its base, pause cleaning or stopping cleaning entirely. Or switch from eco to turbo modes.
There's hardly any delay between commands we sent to the robot, to the notifications we received either. It's all very straightforward and works very well.
The Neato Botvac Connected has impressed us. It not only manages to seamlessly cross between varying floor surfaces, but it leaves them clean and it's able to cope well enough without being babysat.
Ok, so it's got stuck a couple of times. And without the boundary markers the Botvac Connected knocked into some things like the cats' water bowls every now and then - but it was more accurate and less clumsy than the LG Hom-Bot.
Its controllability also goes hugely in its favour. The app is fantastic and although we would like to see the ability to help the Botvac Connected out of a sticky situation remotely (which would need an on-board camera, which lacks), the app's simplicity makes this robot cleaner a delight to use.
Scheduling is simple, battery life is good, the design is familiar and kind-of pet-like, and the overall cleaning capability is up there with the best, if not the best we have reviewed so far.
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Although we won't be dumping our Dyson anytime soon - as that can do some things the Neato Botvac Connected can't, such as stairs - as robot vacuums go this Neato is an excellent cleaner that keeps on top of things for a much less painful weekly top-up vacuum.