Neato Botvac 80 Robot Vacuum Cleaner Review
The reasonably priced Botvac 80 is as good a vacuum as it is a robot.
In a world of cookie-cutter robot vacuums, the distinctive Neato Botvac 80 (MSRP $499) stands out. Its old-school, toy-like design looks less like a modern robot vac, and more like how your parents might've imagined the automatic vacuum of the future.
But there's more to this little guy than meets the eye. Of all the robot vacuums we've tested, only a small handful can master all the domestic terrains of our obstacle course. It's rare to witness a robot vacuum navigate from bare floors to a high-pile area rug and back again without getting stuck, but this Botvac won't get tripped up by a throw rug or bath mat.
In addition to its good suction and navigation, the Botvac's ability to handle any surface in your house means there'll be fewer places for dirt or pet hair to hide. And a retail price of $499 makes it more affordable than a lot of the competition.
Design & Accessories
Plastic, magnets, and infrared
When you open the Neato's box you'll find a charging dock, magnetic strip, and the unit itself. Compared to other vacuums, the lack of virtual walls and spare parts is underwhelming, but it's enough to get started.
The charging dock is a pretty standard one, and it uses infrared beams to guide the Neato into place. Throughout testing, the Botvac successfully found its way back to the dock though furniture legs and across carpets without issue. As long as you keep a mostly clear line of sight between the Botvac and the dock—not always easy in big rooms—it'll charge and keep on chugging. Depending on how much of the battery has been depleted, charge times can be up to two hours before the next cycle can begin.
Unlike iRobot, whose vacuums use "virtual walls" and beacons as wayfinding points, Neato opted for a simple magnetic strip as its "Do Not Cross" line. When laid on the floor, the six and a half foot strip can easily block off any doorway, or you can cut or bend it to cordon off areas like dog bowls or small pieces of furniture. Unlike virtual walls, magnetic strips require no batteries and can be hidden under area rugs—but they're otherwise lacking in style.
After you've set up the dock and figured out where you want to put your magnetic strip, there's still one more thing to do: set a schedule. Scheduling is important because the effectiveness of any robot vacuum pales in comparison to manual cleaning, and the only way to get your money's worth is to have your robot do its job every single day. Just remember you'll have to empty the bin once or twice a week depending on how dirty your floors are.
Cleaning & Navigation
Botvac has the edge
While circular robots are less likely to become stuck in corners, the Botvac's straight edge lets it clean closer to walls, earning it an above-average score for dirt pickup. On a typical run, the Botvac picked up 10 grams of dirt. So that's 70 grams over the course of a week, or about as much as a full-sized vacuum. No robot vacuum can get your floors totally clean, but this one can help maintain your carpets between manual vacuuming.
We're also relieved the Botvac 80 avoids a lot problems the XV-21—an earlier Neato vacuum—had with furniture and carpet navigation. We watched the Botvac run through our obstacle course multiple times, and not once did it call out for help. From bare floors to high-pile carpet and back, or crossing thresholds between rooms, the Botvac's big wheels kept spinning.
The only place the Botvac couldn't traverse was our clearance testing area. This robot vacuum's four inch height will prevent it from cleaning under the bottom edge of cabinetry in bathrooms and kitchens, so be sure to give those areas an extra pass yourself. In many cases, the Botvac didn't even try to sweep in places its whole body couldn't fit. That's actually a good thing, as it will save your furniture from scratches.
You'll be disappointed if you buy the Botvac 80 hoping it will clean all the nooks and crannies in your home, but pet owners will be pleased. We placed pet hair on high-pile carpet, regular carpet, bare floors, and under a six-inch shelf. The Botvac got it all without getting tangled up, acing our test.
Neato offers a one-year limited warranty that covers any defects of material or workmanship, and the company will replace or repair any defective product within that timeframe. However, the battery is only covered by a six-month warranty, under the same conditions.
If it fits, it'll clean
All robot vacuums involve the art of compromise. For its part, the Neato Botvac 80 offers superior suction and a large pickup capacity, but trades away the ability to fit into tight spaces. Its claustrophobic steering software does keep the Botvac from scuffing furniture, but misses some dirt in the process.
Of course this is a small price to pay for the Botvac's all-terrain mobility. Transitioning from bare floors to high-pile carpet and back again without skipping a beat is very impressive. And if you set it to automatically clean everyday, your pet's hair won't ever be a problem again. Got tall carpets and area rugs? Got a dog? Get the Neato Botvac 80, and save hundreds over a pricier robot vacuum.
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